Since the first slot machines, there’s been a need to effectively communicate the value of the gaming experience while creating compelling content that resonates with the players. At the simplest level, the challenge to game designers revolves around how to show players—who are making the commercial purchase decision for entertainment—that spending more may provide greater win and entertainment opportunities.
Slot designers want to help players identify those opportunities where increasing their investment rewards them with more for their play and more from the machine.
Three main areas where slot games communicate value to players are the button panel, the game screen and the reels. In earlier games, and even in some games today, player value was communicated through line betting which surrounds the screen and structures the pay table. The more lines bet, the greater value per wager. It’s a mechanism that has reached a high level of awareness and understanding among players and remains an important aspect of slot games to this day.
Another early example of communicating value was the “buy-a-pay” mechanic. This was common for mechanical reel stepper games, and this offers players one set of payouts for betting one coin, but for an additional two or more coins it allows players to open up a whole new set of features—for example, 7s would become wild or payouts would increase dramatically. This example can also be extended to progressives that are only eligible for award at higher or max bets.
In each of these cases, the primary goal incentivizes players to increase their bet level and enjoy all the bonus features associated with it. Long before we had low-denomination and penny slots, these were some of the ways we communicated value—bet max, bet more, and unlock additional benefits in the game.
More modern evolutions in the industry have included custom button panel labels indicating “good,” “better” and “best” bet levels for special features and increased odds. These button labels help signal to players that the game is designed to deliver a spectrum of value opportunity as players move further up the button panel. It supports the idea that different bet levels provide a different type of experience.
Konami’s Xtra Reward is another key example where games had a basic pay table but for an additional bet, players would open up new bonus features, multipliers, or mystery event odds. It developed a huge following and drove players to realize that by betting a little bit extra, they get more for their money. Xtra Reward successfully demonstrated the extra value players receive for their bet, and proved to our industry the importance of this extra value to players.
Not only is effective communication important, it’s equally critical that the game play reinforces delivery of the added value. It has to be evident, and supported by how players tangibly experience the game. If they’ve experienced the game at both the lower level and higher level of investment and seen that there’s something different between the two, they will recognize the value. If they’ve played both but don’t see any benefit towards the higher value, they’re not going to continue to engage with it, regardless of the messaging. The game needs to tangibly demonstrate to players that by betting higher amounts, they can receive a better value.
Konami has several recent game developments aimed at just this. First introduced to market last fall, Konami’s Strike Zone mechanic has proven successful both in communicating player value and tangibly delivering through game play. Premiering in Celestial Sun Riches and Celestial Moon Riches, the Strike Zone mechanic is a specially highlighted reel area that activates special bonus opportunities and invites players to flexibly control its range by increasing their bet amount.
In the case of this series, players automatically receive a Strike Zone area of two center symbol positions, which can be expanded to activate a majority of the frame with wild multipliers and jackpot wheel spins. This feature is communicated to players through on-screen messaging and customized button panel graphics, and reinforced through graphic animations on the reels that demonstrate where and how the Strike Zone is providing additional symbol-driven bonus opportunities in every spin.
Strike Zone’s Star Watch Fire and Star Watch Magma games invite players to activate entire reel strips from left to right, up to the entire frame, by increasing their extra bet amount. Any star prize symbol that lands in the Strike Zone awards an instant credit prize or a wheel-spin bonus with guaranteed jackpot. The feature is described in multiple locations on-screen, and with each spin players see instant outcomes of the Strike Zone area they’ve activated. The bigger the Strike Zone, the greater the investment, but players see more value in selecting the higher bet.
Multi-denomination jackpot and progressive options have been a relatively recent development in the industry, and the communication to the player on the value of changing denominations has become critical to the success of the product. Some of the industry’s most popular progressive games include the option to change denomination and demonstrate to the player that the change in denomination comes with additional value.
One of Konami’s newest linked progressive games also leverages special visual cues around variable progressive contributions to communicate added value at higher bets. Power Boost Inferno invites players to increase their odds for the Supreme jackpot and receive additional pointers around a wheel bonus as they increase their extra credit bet contribution.
We will continue to see new game titles, from across the industry, in which communicating value is central to player experience and operator profit. And when the communicated value is effectively delivered, it facilities better entertainment experiences for players, higher average bet and play session duration for the machine, and greater revenues for casino operators.
The allure of slot games will always have a bit of mystery behind the mechanics, but it is important that the games are transparent enough to deliver on the promise of the players’ financial purchase decision. In the midst of the gaming entertainment experience, players want the assurance that they are getting the most entertainment for their investment, and that’s where slot designers can help inform and reinforce at the machine.
As senior director of marketing and product management at Konami Gaming, Inc., Steve Walther is responsible for global product planning, life-cycle support, and performance analysis, which includes gathering and prioritizing product and customer requirements, defining the product vision and roadmap, and building product launch and marketing strategies. His gaming industry experience spans more than 20 years.