Dr Eyal Loz, Chief Product Officer at RubyPlay, explains how casualising slot games in the midst of little slot innovation will help to attract the next generation of players.
ICE London 2023 featured an impressive line-up of new slot titles from content producers all over the world. Nevertheless, many showgoers commented on the lack of innovation in slots year-over-year. Is it just more of the same? Are we at the end of the line in product innovation for online slots?
What about games of chance in general? Sure, live dealer rooms and crash games are becoming more popular, with many content providers jumping on this trend and offering their own variants, but what about core slot mechanics, and is this the end of the era of the slot machine?
Slot players are very traditional in their preferences. An internal study commissioned recently found that 80 per cent of players in land-based casinos would like to see more variety in slots’ reel array sizes and layout, but when asked to list their favourite games, 80 per cent listed a game that featured a 5×3 reel format. The simple reality is that most players will ask for what they do not want, and will only play what is most familiar to them. For suppliers, this means there are diminishing returns on new experimental lines of products.
Therefore, the rate at which an innovative new slot feature will penetrate the main-stream product offering is very slow. Thirty years ago, the first multi-line low denomination machines started appearing; 25 years ago, free games were introduced; 20 years ago, wide area progressive jackpots became popular; and 15 years ago, these jackpot mechanics became symbol driven. In the past 10 years, we saw the introduction of the hold and spin mechanic, and the rise of persistent state games. Can you see the pattern? Even in this very traditional world of offline slots, we see movement in product innovation, but at a glacial pace.
The online social slot industry is not much different. On many occasions, social slot players migrated their play habits from the offline land-based entertainment providers to the readily available social online offering – first on their PC, and then on their smartphone. Therefore, players and suppliers alike brought with them their traditional expectations of what a core game experience is. A deep analysis of the landscape of the global social slot industry revealed that the two main areas of innovation were in the live operations offered to players, and the techniques in which players were monetized. Yes, there was some innovation in meta games attached to the core slot mechanics, but at the end of the day, innovation in the core slot product is staggeringly slow and mirrored the same trend in land-based slots. Many content providers routinely copied their library of offline slots into their app offerings.
In both land-based and social markets, the growth in the total number of active players is static. In social, the industry’s total number of daily active users has stayed the same for almost a decade. The demographic of social slot players is constant globally – a 50+ middle-class woman. Different operators are competing in the same player pool with an ever-increasing cost per install. Online slot operators are describing a very similar reality, with decreasing margins, which translates to suppliers struggling to stay competitive and profitable.
This all sounds very bleak! However, I believe that we can see a clear new trend arising. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”.
The casual approach
Younger players are experiencing games of chance en masse, but alas, with the evolution of complex slot mechanics over the past 40 years, they often find the games hard to understand and connect to. I believe that to connect with this key demographic, we need to casualise our games.
Globally, casual games that are simple to understand and easy to access are taking the world by storm. Coin Master – one of the most popular social games in the world is a simple 1-line 3-wheel slot! Online real money sites offering simple mechanics and instant access to the game feature are becoming increasingly popular with younger players. Even the top-performing live dealer roulette game from Playtech, “Fire Blaze Roulette”, features a standard slot Hold and Spin bonus round.
Spinning a crystal ball, I believe it is only a matter of time until simple-to-understand game mechanics such as crash, bingo and sports betting will start morphing with simple slot mechanics. These hybrid designs are a natural evolution of what is showing the biggest promise with younger demographics currently. Suppliers and operators that can combine these into their offerings will see a higher rate of adoption with younger players while maintaining engagement with more mature players. These younger players will probably seek and enjoy more complex slot mechanics in time – closing a full circle.
Dr Eyal Loz is a seasoned executive in gaming, leading studios and product innovation in global companies. Eyal has led many projects in real money online and offline, and in casual and social gaming. He is the Chief Product Officer of Rubyplay, a global supplier of regulated online gaming content.