Has the Humble Slot Machine Become too Complex to Enjoy?

Has the Humble Slot Machine Become too Complex to Enjoy?

If you haven’t been to Las Vegas or a major UK casino, say, in the last 10-15 years, your idea of what a casino gaming floor looks like is probably taken from the movies or tv shows. Of course, when we watch casino scenes in, for example, James Bond movies, we are well aware that the tension-heavy high-stakes poker games aren’t typical of what goes on in a real casino. But other films and shows tend to, perhaps indirectly, give us a false impression of how a casino operates.

The type of game that is probably the least recognisable from its on-screen presentation is the slot machine. Even the appendage machine is arguably a little misleading in this era of software-based casino games. The classic idea of the games is that they are machines with levers – the one-armed bandit. Think of, for instance, the iconic double episode of Friends, where Phoebe plays slot machines in Vegas, a cup of quarters in her hand while she tries to outwit her nemesis, ‘the lurker’.

But to be frank, the games have changed – dramatically. There are no levers to pull, and (in the big Vegas casinos anyway) you would be hard-pressed to find a slot game that accepts coins. Today, the games might be split over two screens, comprising of 3D video animations, sophisticated gameplay and even their own soundtracks. The point is that the slot ‘machines’ of today are as different to the one-armed bandits as a game like Call of Duty is to Pac-Man or Pong.

Kingdoms Rise resembles a video game

To give you an example, there is Playtech’s Kingdoms Rise. It is not a single game, but a series of games with a fantasy theme. Kingdoms Rise takes place over several interconnected fantasy lands – think of Game of Thrones’ Westeros, and you get the picture – where players use a map to jump to different realms. Over time, you can earn special coins to spend in a store to earn different features pertaining to the game’s realms and characters. It is a triumph for Playtech and hugely successful, but it doesn’t sound like a slot from our description.

You can still find casino slots that are a throwback to the classic machines. The Mega Joker progressive jackpot slot at Casino.com UK, for instance, is a huge hit for players who want to strip away all the noise and play a simple game. But, by and large, slots have become very complex, and you might argue that a lot of novice players won’t really know what’s going on. There is no danger of making a mistake, of course, as slots are programmed with random number generators. But there is still a sense of confusion for some.

Indeed, it’s worth pointing out that slots are the only genre of casino games that have changed with technology. The likes of blackjack, roulette and baccarat not only look the same as they 50-100 years ago – they embrace the fact that they have not changed. So why have slots changed so much? It’s a complex question, and there isn’t an easy answer.

Simple games can have attractive benefits

If we look at the two examples, Mega Joker and Kingdoms Rise. The former, despite its simplicity, has a huge jackpot that can match anything a modern casino slot has to offer. Mega Joker also has a much better RTP for players (think of RTP like house edge in reverse). In short, you are more likely to win by playing Mega Joker (although there is always risk). So, a game like Kingdoms Rise is banking on offering better entertainment value to balance that.

And that probably gets to the heart of it. As we mentioned, the changes in slots have been as dramatic as the changes in video games over the last few decades. People – like this author – might struggle to get to grips with Cyberpunk 2077 on a PlayStation 5, even though we mastered Tetris in the arcades in our youth. In sum, modern slots are catering for modern audiences – and they have to compete with rival entertainment like esports.

Even though they are disappearing from the casinos of Las Vegas and beyond, there should still be a place for the classic slot machine. The simplicity of seeing three bells or bars land on a line to win a prize is part of the charm. That’s the way slot machines are depicted in the movies, and, for many, it remains the best way to play.