The evolution of the slot machine

January 31, 2017 3:01 AM
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It was over 120 years ago in San Francisco that the machine that was to spawn a global phenomenon was first invented. Named the “Liberty Bell” after the famous cracked bell that is an important symbol of American independence the first ever slot was designed by an engineer called Charles Fey. The handsome jackpot for getting the three bells on the winning line was just 50c – admittedly a more appealing prize in the late 19th century than it would be today.

Fast forward around a hundred years and you will see the introduction of the very first online version of the slot. Although the technology had changed out of all recognition from Fey’s day it was still recognisably the same kind of machine.

For example there were three reels with just one payline and the only controls to use were the ones to select your stake and to set the reels in motion. Many online gaming sites still feature these simple games but have put them in a category called ‘classic’. Players looking for a simple alternative to today’s all-singing, all-dancing game versions often give them a spin.

But as the technology developed and became more sophisticated, so did the slots. So the games you can find now on UK bingo and slots sites bear as much similarity to the old-style machines as a Model T-Ford does to a state-of-the-art-hybrid car from today.

For example most online slots quickly developed into having as many as five reels as well as multiple paylines which had the very obvious appeal of giving player many more ways to win.

Add to this the inclusion of extra features like wilds and scatters, free spins and bonus games and it’s easy to see just how complex today’s slots have become.

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Hand in hand with this has been the increase in the development budgets for the games which often involve full teams of people all adding a particular skill into the mix. So it’s not unusual to have storylines creating a narrative structure for the game, graphic designers making sure it looks great and even scriptwriters adding incidental dialogue to the action. Then there are the tech wizards involved in turning everything into playable reality.

In terms of the themes of modern slots these can range from classics, such as following board games like Monopoly or Cluedo, to tying in with major sports events. For example the 2016 Olympics saw numerous athletics-based slots being introduced. Film franchises are also very common starting points for themes, ranging from Marvel Comics superheroes to other big box office hits.

The coming of age of virtual reality means that many see this as the logical next step in the evolution of the slot. So we can look forward to games where we’re not just playing but we’re also part of a whole world. Naturally, the player will be at the heart of all of these games making it an even more personalised experience – and a million miles from the single handle pull of Fey’s Liberty Bell.

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