Widely employing pop star and NASCAR themes, the slot machines of today have more in common with video games than one-arm bandits

May 13, 2013

Designer Bill Wadleigh recently spoke about his forthcoming NASCAR-themed slot machine, one which has a very interesting bonus game. His ideas ran thus: “We’ll just make a tire a wheel. Wheels are very attuned to gambling.”

However, the slot machine is not simply about wheels and reels, a thought also expressed by Wadleigh – “It is a video game”. And we can take him up on his word, since he was originally involved in the video game industry. Now the head of development at Bally Technologies, he has found himself increasingly closer to his roots, even as Bally and so many other slot machine producers are at the commencement of a process meant to close the gap between traditional reel slots and immersive video games.

“From a technological standpoint, on a slot machine, it’s pretty insane,” Wadleigh stated. “Insane in a good way.”

innovative slots ImageThe most immersive slots, including the NASCAR-themed one, have gone outside of the basic player-character interaction realm; they are accessorized with 3D engines, state-of-the-art video cards and complex mathematics. Thus, the machines offer gamblers scenarios that they can control, very similar to the video games popularized by Xbox and PlayStation.

Click the spin button on NASCAR in order to benefit from the “U-Race” bonus: once that happens, you are racing three laps at Daytona. There are four characters that you can choose to sit behind the wheel – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson or Kevin Harvick – but you are in control. Three arrows will appear as you begin the race: left, straight ahead and right. Pick one and that determines the driver’s decision.

When tapping the right arrow, “I can pass on the high side!” will be the driver’s response and he will act according to it. The forward arrow will elicit the confident “I’m going for the lead!” assertion and, behold, that’s what the car does. At the finish line, you are cordially informed “Couldn’t have done it without you!” – winning is not that easy, though, but there is money to be earned with every decision (the actual beauty of a bonus).

Wadleigh says that possibilities like taking part in a race or interesting bonus scenarios maintains the player’s interest and desire to play again. “We’re out to find something that’s compelling to a player,” he said. “And not just compelling once, but a repeatable event that has a lot of different variety in it.”

According to the American Gaming Association, there are more than 853,000 electronic gaming machines in the USA, Nevada being at the top of the list with more than 178,000. On the national level, casinos make 62% of their revenue from slot machines.

Slot makers invest a lot of time and energy into developing games based on television shows, movies or pop stars. Wadleigh expressed it as the industry’s desire to bring about something new and exciting, whether by a subtle, incremental change or a vastly radical one.

Pawn Stars is one example of how novelty and excitement can be brought to the world of slots – you have the opportunity to trade with the famous characters starring in the History Channel show. Once you roll the Rick bonus, the deal-savvy leader Rick Harrison appears on the screen. Among many things, you have the chance to sell him a rare gas pump from the 1930s.

However, Rick is skeptical about the item’s authenticity and asks you whether you’d like to call an expert. Once “Call an Expert” is activated, Rick calls and quickly afterwards gives you the answer: “Sorry, my expert said it’s a reproduction. … Thanks for stopping by my shop.”

Another bonus is the Old Man one, where Richard Harrison pops up saying “So, what do we have here?” It turns out to be an acoustic guitar from the 1970s that the Old Man examines and lets you make an offer.After that, he counters it and you accept the final price – $170, which is also your winning amount.

If the above-mentioned slot innovations are not compelling enough for proving how the gap between traditional machines and immersive video games is being bridged, one can take a look at IGT’s CSI (set in New York, Miami or Las Vegas), WMS’ Alice In Wonderland or Bally’s Michael Jackson and become convinced of the concept’s accomplishment.

It’s so much more than hitting 7-7-7,” Daniel Sahl (a sociology instructor at UNLV who has been studying the connection between slot machines and video games for the past three years) said. “(Manufacturers) are doing an amazing job tapping into the cultures people love.”