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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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A Study in Slot Machine Research and Development

30 November 2005

Today's slot machines are no more machines than home computers are word processors. They are technological marvels more appropriately referred to as electronic gaming devices. Each and every game on casino floors around the world was meticulously researched and developed before it made its way into the company's new product line.

The competition among the globe's slot machine manufacturers is fierce. Their common goal is to see their product occupy as much space in casinos as possible, and the only way to do that is to convince the owners and operators of the casinos that their machines are the ones that people will want to play.

In addition to coming out with appealing themes using existing technology, a premium is placed on rolling out innovative concepts. Being "the first" is a distinction for which the brain trusts of the companies strive. Ideas are worked upon under top secret conditions so as not to give the competition a heads up.

WMS Gaming, with corporate headquarters in Waukegan, Illinois revolutionized slot play a number of years ago when it introduced "Reel 'em In", a game that's still popular. It was the first in the multi-line/multi-coin video technology that changed the way people play slot machines.

The company remains a trend setter. A couple of years ago it introduced the "cascading reels" concept to video slot play whereby symbols fall into place from the top of the screen instead of landing in place as the reels stop one by one left to right. The concept made its debut in the "Kaboom" and "All That Glitters" game formats.

Bill Wadleigh, executive producer for game development at WMS, is the genius behind cascading reels. I had an opportunity to speak with him at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas last month and inquire about ongoing development of this entertaining and unique aspect of video slot play.

"Cascading reels has been very well received, with both Kaboom and All That Glitters doing very, very well," Wadleigh said. "The cascading reels idea went through our market research process. We start with an idea, make a power point, show it to players and get their feedback. It took eight different versions before we got something that players thought had value and wasn't too intimidating.

"Those games have been out for well over a year now, and based upon their success we have come out with two more: Pyramid of Kings and Open the Vault. It's a game mechanic that we call an 'x-game', or one of the experimental games we do every year. We don't know if they're going to work, but we try to be the innovative company. IGT (International Game Technology) can make 100,000 games if they want. We can't. We make about 100 a year and we have to make sure that each one sells.

"Open the Vault plays a lot like Kaboom. If there's a match after the first cascade, the resulting cascade will pay as a multiplier. You start with 3-times pay for a line pay, which can re-trigger and increase. I like to think of this one as the next evolution of cascading reels.

"We'll come up with additional game mechanics that work well with it, but when you have a new mechanic it's best to bring the audience along. If they liked the original concept, they'll like this more because it's just more of what they learned to like. Some people have told me it feels like they're getting a free spin, or two spins or three spins for one play because quite literally you can hit it once and it can cascade several times.

"When you find a mechanic that hits the right chord with the audience, they'll find it. The good thing about video players is that most of them will try a new game when it comes out. It either has good success or it fails within the first 30 to 60 days."

Food for thought the next time you visit a casino and sit down to play your favorite machine.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp