Slot players are not reckless.
Players in slots of gambling. Clicking the SPIN button, although it looks like a simple action, mental processes are not. Gamblers base their decisions on how the game chips work and what winnings or “almost winnings” they get. This is called the potential of a mathematical model.
All casino games have a certain percentage of the slot return to the player (RTP), so how the players win and how often they do so becomes an important differentiating factor. How else do individual games become more popular than others? Volatility and payout distribution are the basic mathematical terms used in slot development.
First the design, then the math.
Slot developers have a saying: “visual style attracts players – mathematics keeps them”.
Like a storefront with a bad sign or a book with a bad cover, a very good mathematical model can suffer if the design does not attract new customers. However, what attracts one person can be completely indifferent to another. Therefore, it is not so much the design that is important, but the variety to reach more players. Overlaying a new visual theme on the same mathematical model is called a skin. A new promising mathematical model can be released on several skins.
One day, a beautifully executed game with Chinese themes failed in the first month after release. The skin of that model, made by another team with a unique, pre-trendered 3D design, was already in the final stages of development. We didn’t want to change it because it had just received the approval of GLI, the industry watchdog, and the marketing and sales departments were ready to launch campaigns. So we released the skin, and you wouldn’t believe it, but he came in. The same math, the same elements that were trained differently, gave completely different results.
In the end, people get tired of math, too. We tried to introduce new skins to give the model a new life, but none of them worked. Lessons learned? Never rely on one subject to determine the viability of a mathematical model, and do not underestimate the importance of design to create a hit.
So why not just make a new skin of a proven math model every time? Some games have a lot of skins to keep them profitable. But it’s worth going overboard, and it’ll look like a street with different restaurants serving the same food, or a shelf of books telling the same story. Players have different tastes and over time they get bored with their choices.
When a player sits behind another slot machine, he first looks at the visual style, and then draws attention to the slot features – which he saw in an ad or on the slot start screen. These swords are exactly what distinguishes one slot from another. They are patented and registered as trademarks. When a feature is successful, it can be reused in combination with other features or on another set of drums with slightly different volatility and payout distribution.
A whip is often a small change in the rules that creates the deceptive impression that the game will pay you. These can be unique symbols, re-spinning, pushing drums, paying side bonuses or increasing the number of free spins, etc. Whatever it does, it does not change the total slot payout percentage to the player (RTP), but only the perception of your chances of winning.
This interaction with the player makes slot machines more difficult than just pressing the SPIN button.
When a player notices a feature that he likes or has never seen, he can sit in a new slot. It can be expressed in different ways, depending on how it was combined with other features or a unique kind of drum. If players understand that this is just a skin of an old game, they are less likely to try it. And they will be even less interested in the appearance of the next game. When a player sees the sign “NEW Game”, he expects a new experience.
For this reason, the developers prefer a little experiment with successful mathematical models, rather than just change the skins. This is useful for filling the bank of machines with already successful mathematical models, but it is unlikely to repeat the success. Thus, every original game, every new change in the popular feature is nothing more than another attempt to repeat success.
Companies that develop casino games want all the math models to work perfectly. That’s not how it works. There is no Single SECRETARY RECEPT. Partly because of the variety of players, but more because they get bored and are looking for something new. An effective game can pay company bills for a while, but in the end sales are still declining. Companies take a haphazard approach – they combine innovative design, derivatives of mathematical models and changes and skins of old effective mathematical models. They constantly play into competition, read sales reports, track down successful trends, invent and patent new ideas and secretly decompile or steal math from each other.
Thus, an important metric for all companies developing slots is the number of original mathematical models that they produce. Large companies on the slots market are aimed at 50-100 new slot machines per year. From one third to half of them have new original math or changes in previously successful math models.
Progress in the slot machine
The player must have periods without victories to create tension, followed by bursts of intensity. This puts players on an emotional “roller coaster”. A shooter with poor balance can constantly throw enemies at the player, mixing every next wave with the previous one, creating a very intense, but ultimately quickly annoying user experience.
Progress in a good slot machine is similarly controlled by emotional slides, which corresponds to the volatility of the mathematical model. The player must lose as much – if not more often – and win to experience more pleasure in winning. Such winnings tend to be bigger.
Slots that constantly give small winnings, worsen the gaming experience. They are called “dribblers”. There are players who prefer these slots, as opposed to casino operators, because they lead to a very long time on the device with the same twenty or forty dollars with which the players entered the game. Players who like these slots can have fun all night at the price of a movie ticket. So it’s no wonder that they are usually popular in bars and local casinos.
Gambling mathematical models are more volatile. These games can have long series of zero or very low winnings before a big win or bonus, where players can win back their money. The right moment and a bit of luck – and you can break the jackpot or get a lot of bonuses and leave with a lot of money.
Of course, most players tend to just give money to the slot machine as if it were free money, completely forgetting that they may have lost hundreds of dollars in previous casino hikes. That’s how casinos make money.
It’s a huge mistake to exaggerate a small victory. As with progress, if a player constantly gets big winnings, symbol animations, bells and whistles, they make every victory ordinary. Players will stop noticing big winnings. For this reason, the slot machines do not animate the winning combination if the winnings are below x2 (doubled bet), but show huge fireworks coins and fountains of jewelry when you win x20 or more.
The simple appearance of the bonus, which players will patiently wait for, because it is from this bonus that you can most often win, will often be accompanied by a special animation. If you need 3 symbols to get the bonus, the games use these special effects during the rotation: the animation of the indicator and sound on the first symbol, even louder on the second, and then a special animation of subsequent reels with backlighting, acceleration, and adjusting the time of their stop to really create the effect of anticipation of victory. If the bonus drops out, the bell rings out – a piercing sound found in all games when a player gets a special win.
Like Pavlov’s dogs, players learn to listen to these sounds and expect these effects in anticipation of a big reward. They will continue to return to the game in the hope of recreating these sensations, repeating their victory or getting a bigger reward.
Other players will hear the bell and see which game is paying the money reward. They can stop their current session to see the ringing of the coins on the top screen (they are specially set to reach a bigger audience). They will remember this machine to try to replicate the success of another player.
Thus, the games are constantly competing for the emotions of players from victories. Visualization of victory in a compartment with the size of the winnings is crucial to the success of the game.
Understanding of player demographics
Slot machines, especially in offline casinos, unlike online or mobile social slots, are usually played by older women (50+). The average age of a female player is 53 years. Thus, they will not necessarily be interested in the latest trends in computer graphics or the same topics that you as a developer would like to work on.
When I first joined my company, I worked with many artists and animators who would like to work on a Pixar movie or a console shooter, but the reality was that their average age (25 years) was not the same as the average age of slot players. Should we be surprised that cartoon games and youth-stympantics did not perform well?
I insisted on 3D graphics because it was my backround, but of course it wasn’t necessarily something that would make a 50-year-old grandmother play. I had some success with 3D slots (“Goddess of the Woods”), but not with all 3D games, and given that they took two or even three times as much time and effort, it was hard to convince management that pure 3D makes financial sense. They would rather see two or three games with a simple 2D theme than one 3D game. They resorted to 3D for premium or licensed titles.
This point was confirmed by my other game (“Gold Dragon Red Dragon”), made in 2D in After Effects and Photoshop, which was released and tested in less than a month: it sold many times better than games that took much more time to develop.
Of course, dragons are almost always popular because they represent fantasy genre, and also symbolize wealth. We started to release much more games with dragons after Gold Dragon Red Dragon.
Then there are the licensed taitles. Companies such as IGT, Aristocrat and WMS produced games with movie, television and other celebrities. However, if they do not intersect with the target audience, as in “Wheel of Fortune”, “Sex in the City” or “Monopoly”, they do not have much success. Even though Dragon’s Lair, which I created, had a well-known dragon, popular as far back as the arcade machines of the 80’s, it did not find a response from the female audience of 50+. We overestimated its popularity with slot players.
Of course, preferences change, and quirks come and go. One great mathematical model on the subject can breathe new life into it. The Asian theme has always left and come back again, until it becomes so much that everyone gets bored. High 5 Games with IGT produced slots with the most realistic characters. The top screens were more like the covers of love affairs than slot machines. Given the popularity of novels, should we be surprised that such games were successful among the ladies 50 +? All other companies began to do the same so that pretentious cartoon or science fiction themes began to stand out. Thus, the theme and design come and go, but always keep your hand on the pulse of the latest trends.
The importance of research and understanding
It is necessary to play competitive games. This is the ultimate truth for video game designers. Although they can be blamed for creating similar games, all of them must first learn to be players. But just like video game designers, slot creators, being perfectly trained in math, still need to understand what players want and think about. Any good mathematician can make a game reach its intended slot percentage, and a good slot designer will invest in it “almost misses“, the balance of wins and losses and the frequency of fits and bonuses to get big winnings.
Understanding is closely related to the player’s expectations. If it is felt that the game has the potential to pay a lot and sometimes does so, players will continue to play and return to this machine to repeat the experience.
Volatility reflects how cruel the mathematical model feels. Players may feel that the math is sucking their money out. But if this happens with a few “near misses” on a fiche or bonus along with a few decent x5 and x10 wins, then it seems that one day the stars may come together: you will cash the winnings equal to the next payment for the car or monthly rent. If you have never seen such winnings, then the fault is a mathematical model with high volatility where only 1 out of 5 players (or sessions) wins. This leads to the fact that players spend very little time at this machine.
Casinos usually like such violent games because they get your money faster, but they return a lower percentage of players. This is ideal for targeted casinos like the strip in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, which players only visit once or twice a year. Unlike local casinos and bars with a lot of weekly return traffic, which prefer less volatile math. Manufacturers often offer different volatility and return slot percentages of the same game in different casinos.
Instead of imprisonment.
As I’ve gone from offline and online casinos for real money to social casinos on Facebook and mobile devices, I’m trying to incorporate lessons learned. However, I have found some significant differences.
Mobile players are a different audience. They’re younger and bigger than men. They play more often, but their sessions are shorter. They play while watching TV after dinner, during a break at work or while sitting in the toilet.
Paying real money to win and lose virtual money still amazes me. Some players do this deliberately, and it fits well with the free-to-play and pro bono models that rely on whales, which make up 1 to 2% of all your paying players. As it turns out, mathematical models that make casinos rich also make players lose chips and money in mobile games.
Players like to win even if it has no real value. Players in slots get something out of winning, even if it’s just a result of clicking the SPIN button.