Slot games are the bread and butter of the gambling industry, a timeless concept appealing to the young and old, the number one revenue generator for operators. At first blush, it seems like slot innovation has been rather stale over the years, but if you speak with slots enthusiasts or experts in the field you’ll discover there is a great deal going on behind the scenes with slots development.
When it comes to building appealing online slots specifically, developers must keep on top of content, market expectations, regulations, mathematics and design otherwise they will be left behind. One of the industry’s leading experts in online slot development is Ashley Sandyford-Sykes of AdoptIt Publishing Limited and also the trainer for Totally Gaming Academy’s Online Slot Development courses, a program designed to educate developers on the points mentioned above.
Sandyford-Sykes has a deep understanding in both the technical and product side of slots development and was the brains behind Openbet Casino and Microgaming Quickfire. After spending some time talking with Sandyford-Sykes, its apparent why he has found success in training slot developers, complete with plenty of expertise and a magnetic personality.
The first subject Sandyford-Skyes and I tackled was how to make online slots irresistible, the eternal question according to him.
“It’s a very big market with a lot of different people looking for a lot of different things, hence there are a lot of different approaches you can take. So for instance, lets say, familiarity. It’s a very key concept of slot design. You look at all those great branded slots everyone’s rolling out from Universal, Marvel, etc. It’s obviously key to that being a success, the familiarity a player’s got”, he said.
“I’d love to go play Superman because I know Superman as against this melon that I don’t really know at all. So just from a design perspective, getting familiarity is key”, he added.
Sandyford-Skyes also pointed out it doesn’t have to be a bought-in branded name to get slots players excited, developers and operators can build brands as well such as Novomatic’s “Book of Ra” or Microgaming’s “Thunderstruck”.
“Familiarity actually comes within your own brand as a games developer, or leveraging others. We all love Candy Crush, you’d be amazing at how many Candy Crush slots there are out there right now”, he said.
Seeing as there are literally hundreds of different online slots on the market, innovating and differentiating one slot from another are top of mind for developers and operators.
“As an industry, at the minute we’re spending a lot of time thinking about social components, skill-based components, virtual reality…we’re all kind of jumping over ourselves a little bit to get really hot topics up in there”, explained Sandyford-Sykes.
“Fundamentally, its how to do you get innovative and there are two bits from that. Actually go external to the industry, what else is happening everywhere else? What are the trends? What’s really on-market? I think that plays particularly well to things like VR and skill, etc”, he said.
“And the other component is actually looking internal into the industry. What do slot players really want, what do they really enjoy? I think using the social skill is a good example, because you’ve got that external influence, but you’ve also got that real internal influence”, he added.
When it comes to adding skill elements to slots, Sandyford-Skyes used the example of darts and how there will inevitably be just a few sharp players at one end of the spectrum and a lot of players who are not good at all at the other end of the spectrum. For slots, this would be equivalent to involving a large element of skill at one end of the spectrum and just a random number generator and chance at the other end of the spectrum, so no element of skill at all.
“Lets face it, if you try and tell a player that its all skill, its not really, it’s a fairly disingenuous relationship, no customer is going to come on that journey with you. So there are these two ends of the spectrum and we need to find the middle”, he said.
The middle ground with slots lies in the bonus rounds, a perfect point in the game to add an element of skill. “So I’m spinning a slot game and its all chance but when it gets to the bonus rounds, now its all skill”, he said.
“You’ve invested time and effort to get there, its probably taken a bit of cash to get there, you’ve now hit some nice different screens, things are whizzing around, you’ve put money, time and effort, I want to get some value out of it and then at that point making it skill- making it hard- but making sure they get good payback, its quite an enjoyable experience for a customer”, he explained.
Adding elements of skill is certainly an area for slots developers to differentiate themselves, but despite popular belief, there are also plenty of other opportunities for innovation in slot development.
“I think its massively exciting and massively interesting from an innovation perspective, but I use this term ‘incremental innovation’. A slot game has an understanding of what it is and I think we’re just going to constantly see little bits of innovation and change and it takes players on a journey”, he said.
“Going from a one-line slot to a thirty-line slot to a two, four, three-ways…twenty years ago I could have tried to present to a player four hundred billion different ways to win, but they just wouldn’t get it. Innovation has got us there. I fully understand when somebody says, ‘but its just different lines’, it is, but we innovate in different ways”, he added.
“I think its going to take off in a really big way. For me it will come in pockets. There will be a specific demographic of player-run markets that will get an awful lot out of, say, augmented reality. We will have companies that will be creating very intense augmented reality environments and a lot of that will be slot and gambling focused, we’ll look at them and say, ‘you are an innovator’ and they will be”, he said.