If you are familiar with the world of online gambling, you will have noticed that slots dominate almost every casino. In fact, land-based casinos started the trend with wall-to-wall slot machines on every casino floor. The reason for this is easy to see. Slots are easy to play, extremely fun and offer the potential for huge payouts.
What more could you ask for?
But where did it all start and how have slots trends changed over the years? Today online video slots dominate the casino market, but it wasn’t always that way. We take a look at how slots trends have evolved to adapt to the latest technology and player expectations.
The Birth of Slots
The evolution of slot games can be broken down into three categories, namely mechanical, electromechanical and online. Going back to the beginning, the first slot machine was invented by Charles Fey in 1895. It was called the Liberty Bell and featured the Liberty Bell symbol which still appears in many classic slots today. The machine was designed as an automated poker machine and consisted of three reels and a single payline. The bell symbol was the first ever jackpot symbol paying out the top prize.
The early 1900’s saw an explosion of mechanical slot machines, all based on the Liberty Bell. In the United States, anti-gambling laws led to the development of “Fruit Machines” that paid out various flavours of chewing gum depending on what type of fruit symbol lined up on the reels. This clever way to skirt the gambling law led to the use of fruit symbols that can still be seen today in may online slot games.
In the 1960’s, the first electromechanical slots were released which used electrical motors instead of mechanical springs. This also led to the implementation of additional win lines and increased reel numbers. Electronic slots paved the way for modern video slots, slowly introducing themes, bonus features and free spins. Before online slots came along, casino based electronic slots were the pinnacle of casino entertainment with thousands of players flocking to the casinos each day to try their luck.
In the late 1990’s the first online casinos opened their virtual doors. Of all the casinos games to make the transition to the digital medium, slots were certainly the most successful. They were also the best received by the online generation. Online casino operators could now create and design slots games without the limitations of an electronic machine. This meant that they could go bigger and in just about every sense.
Reels and Paylines
If we focus on the reels themselves, the first slot machines had three spinning reels. Today, most online video slots contain 5 reels. Some have up to 6 or 7 but the magic number seems to sit at the 5 mark. What has changed is the number of win lines. While the very first machine had a single payline, today’s machines often start at 25 and go all the way up to 999. Early online slots usually featured between 5 and 20 paylines. It wasn’t until the 2000’s that players started encountering slot games with 50 or even 100 paylines.
This change was driven by the players themselves who wanted more ways to win and more slot action. Fast forward a few years and the introduction of 243 ways to win machines became commonplace. Today the number of ways to win has increased to as many as 1000 or more, and seems to be getting higher each year.
One area where slots have changed a lot is in the area of theme and design. Early electronic machines featured basic static themes with minimal background music. Today, you can find a slot game with just about any theme you can think of. From underwater to space, comic books to action heroes, movies to music and just about anything in between. As technology improved, the themes became more elaborate. Opening videos, in-game video sequences, 3D animation and interactive bonus games have all made modern slots that much more appealing.
This is also true for slot bonus features. The Wild symbol was essentially the first bonus feature to be introduced into a slots game. When it appeared, it could replace any other symbol to form a winning combination. Today Wild symbols are common place. The scatter symbol was next to grace the screens. Taking any themed form, this important symbol could pay out in any position and was also used as a trigger for free pins.
Along with free spins, modern video slot games started introducing bonus games, which could be triggered by lining up three bonus symbols. This would trigger a second screen to pop up where players could physically interact with the game and win extra credit by making the correct choice. Today Wild symbols, Scatters and interactive bonus games are all par for the course. Current games have also added even more ways to win with gamble features, progressive jackpots and tiered bonus features, making them all the more rewarding, and enjoyable.