Bonus Slots

Published: 25/02/2012

For the better part of a century, slot machines remained pretty much the same as Charles Fey’s original 1898 invention. The industry standard was three spinning reels and the top jackpot paid for matching three symbols on a horizontal payline.

Even after the introduction of video technology and computer software to slot games in the 1980s, the only innovations were more of the same—more paylines, more reels and bigger jackpots. But then the paradigm shifted completely in 1996, when Chicago-based slot maker WMS released a fishing-themed game called “Reel ‘Em In.”

What set Reel ‘Em In apart from other slots was the placement of a second video screen above the one used as the “game window.” Instead of displaying reels, paylines and slot symbols, this second screen was dedicated to a new twist known as the “bonus game.” Cartoon characters appearing in boats would “fish” for prizes in the waters of a lake below.

The machine turned out to be such a huge success that WMS soon followed up with a full line-up of “bonus slots.” The early ones included Jackpot Party, Boom and Filthy Rich, all of which can still be found in casinos today.

What made these games so novel was their application of a multi-line, multi-coin format to their secondary games. Players were encouraged to wager more in order to gain access to the bonuses. In this way, they provided more animated graphics and more ways to win big than any of the previously developed classic slots. Bonuses could be won without aligning special symbols on a payline.

It is no exaggeration to say that an entirely new generation of video slots was introduced by the WMS games. Bonus symbols appearing in the slot window could trigger free bonus spins or else hold wild symbols in position for a match up on the following spin. They might also award “scatter bonuses” or transport the game to an entirely different mode, where more prizes were up for grabs in a non-reel game format.

It was the marriage of computer and video technologies that made all this possible, and once two were wed, makers began competing to show who could come up with the most creative bonus games. Themes began cropping up, from beer-guzzling contests and cowboy showdowns to motor sports, high street shopping sprees and oil prospecting. Over time, movie and television tie-ins would appear, from Austin Powers and Indiana Jones to Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

One reason bonuses became such an attraction was the extra dimension of anticipation they added to slot play. What appeared to be losing combinations might suddenly be converted into opportunities to crack bank vaults, jump motorcycles over ravines, dig for buried treasure, uncover jewels or joust with medieval knights. The bonus frenzy truly challenged slot manufacturers to tap their imaginations.

Once the egg of innovation was cracked, there was no going back. Makers took the next step and got rid of the anachronistic spinning reels altogether. In their place came “cascades” of symbols. When winning combinations came up, a payout would be made and the winning symbols would disappear, allowing the symbols above them to “fall” into place without increasing the wager. New symbols would fall down to fill in the empty positions on the screen. Because the cascades were potentially endless, players could hope to see winning combinations come up again and again.

Then, to supplement multi-payline and multi-denomination configurations, multi-bonus versions were introduced to provide even more ways to play and win. The number of winning combinations quickly became so large page after page of video paytables had to be displayed to show all the potential payouts.

One of the most recent trends has been the launch of personalized bonus slots. These machines can remember usernames made up by the players, and they draw on concepts developed in role-playing games, involving players even more directly in the action and guiding them through “levels” of proficiency. Of course, ever more exciting bonus opportunities are unlocked at each new level.

If there is a downside to the evolution of bonus slots, it is the hidden cost of playing them. A machine advertised as a “penny slot” can easily cost pounds to play if a shot at winning the maximum bonus is desired. Twenty paylines played at the max bet 10p per line is two quid no matter how it is promoted.

Additionally, winning bonuses is gradually replacing winning jackpots as the goal of such games. Without the occasional bonus win, a player can soon find his/her bankroll down to zero, so be sure to study the paytables carefully before wagering.

Published on: 25/02/2012

Go To bet365
Open Account Offer
Up to £100 in Bet Credits for new customers at bet365.
Min deposit £5 and 1x settled bet requirement to release Bet Credits. Min odds, bet and payment method exclusions apply. Returns exclude Bet Credits stake. Time limits and T&Cs apply.
Comment on this article
Your Name:
Your Email:
What is  + 7