SLOT MACHINES IN THE MODERN ERA

Real money slot machines have undergone a very radical transformation since their early days. In fact, after nearly a century where they remained very similar to the original prototype from the last 1800s they would be almost unrecognizable to their inventors today. In many ways, they’re no longer slot machines at all but digital multimedia entertainment machines that also have a ‘gambling component’.

Not everyone is happy about this. Casinos complain of ‘overkill’ in some of these games–that the fundamental experience of playing the slots has been lost in a melange of celebrity voices, flashing lights and ‘bonus games’. On the other hand, the best celebrity games are ridiculously profitable–if ridiculously expensive to license and build. There’s even some degree of backlash among some players–particularly serious slots players–who don’t like all of the gimmicks. Sadly, much of the US casino industry could care less what ‘experienced gamblers’ want and would rather attract clueless tourists.

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CELEBRITIES AND VIDEO SCREENS

In all fairness, the slot machine experience circa 2018 is amazing from a technological and design perspective alone. Multiple video screens, celebrity licensed voices, games based on virtually every TV show, video game, movie and countless other properties. The best of these games–Game of Thrones andThe Godfather for example–are downright spectacular to watch and play. That’s generally the idea among today’s slot machine manufacturers–the actual slot machine ‘game‘ is secondary to the ‘experience’ of playing these games. The target now is demographic–certain themes are designed for certain demographic groups. At one point, players would have their ‘favorite‘ slot machines but it was often based on how successful they’d been playing them in the past.

Now you’re likely to see younger men playing ‘The Godfather’ or ‘Game of Thrones’, 30 and 40 something women playing the ‘Sex and the City’ game and ‘Gen X-ers’ playing games based on Saturday Night Live skits like ‘The Coneheads’ and ‘Wayne’s World’. In many ways, it’s similar to pinball machines in the 70’s and 80’s but the improvement in technology has made all of the difference–you could play a game based on a ‘theme’ you didn’t like and enjoy it. It was still about gameplay. With today’s slot machines, the experience is too ‘immersive’–if you don’t like ‘Sex and the City’ you won’t like the game.

BONUS GAMES AND SKILL REWARDS

Another popular trend is awarding players ‘ non-cash’ prizes for certain accomplishments which are something that casinos obviously love. The thinking is that the ‘entertainment experience’ of these new wave of machines is enough of a ‘prize’ in itself. For that reason, you’ll find games that offer ‘bonus games’ as a payout along with cash payouts. There are also a growing number of ‘skill-based games’ with which casinos hope to attract the elusive millennial market. These games offer ‘bonus games’ or ‘bonus rounds’ that aren’t simply a function of luck. Of course, the casinos don’t want to make the skill component too significant in terms of the overall game.

So what’s the future going to bring? Gaming machine manufacturers and casino owners are having a hard time attracting younger players–and that will be necessary for their future survival. This group has gravitated toward games that are skill and/or intellect based–daily fantasy sports, sports betting and poker. The problem is that none of these events offer a huge ‘house edge’ for the casinos. They’re also looking at ways to emulate the ‘e-sports’ competitive video game experience. At some point, there’s going to be a serious generational disconnect between ‘old line’ casino managers and the interests of a digitally native audience.