23 March, 2023

Big Question: How can slots innovate from here?

Simon Hammon, CEO of Relax Gaming, Erkki Nikunen, Partner & CBDO at Air Dice, Victoria Vashukevich, Head of Account Management at 3 Oaks Gaming and Stuart McCarthy, Head of Product and Programs at Yggdrasil discuss potential slot innovations.

How can slots innovate from here?

Simon Hammon, CEO, Relax Gaming

This is a question I get asked quite often, and it’s always an interesting one to answer due to the ever-shifting landscape!

Slot development changes rapidly year-on-year and there are hundreds of suppliers out there launching an incredible number of games each month. Though it may sound cliché, innovation is the key to surviving the content deluge. To engage and excite, you need to stand out.

Truthfully, the only chance our industry has for survival is for every party to support innovation. This starts with suppliers. Creating something that is truly different with a high engagement rate is not only important but vital. To get started, injecting life and soul into productions is the basic and most fundamental way our industry can move forward. The second obstacle to overcome lies in capturing players’ attention. To do this you need to cover every step of the journey. First, when players are browsing casino lobbies through visuals, then via marketing, the player understands why the game is so great. The simple reality is that we’ve only got one or two days in the shop window before the next slew of skins and cloned games are released. So, we need to make our mark as quickly and effectively as possible.

Of course, it’s important to balance innovation with familiarity – reinventing the wheel every month can push players in the wrong direction. That’s why suppliers need to think smarter. In short, by prioritising quality over quantity. IGaming is more than a numbers game, and a volume of reskins isn’t going to cut it in the long run. This counts for players, suppliers and operators.

Casinos play a crucial role in this cycle as well. Supporting unique content through quality marketing and positioning is imperative to tipping the scales in the right direction. Operators must promote unique content for the good of their brands and the industry at large.

To achieve what they want, they need to invest time and energy into selecting the right titles to market. Key to that is positioning the most innovative games in a way that gets the players’ eyes on them. This helps to foster further creativity and results in a healthier, more sustainable industry landscape.

By and large, the current climate sees quantity supersede quality and this is what needs to change. Too many times we’re seeing a rapid transition towards a pool of familiarity and stagnation. This is ultimately the beast we must all contend with to shift the algorithm back into equilibrium.

Here at Relax Gaming, we’re fortunate to have come out with a handful of games that have seen significant success. In my opinion, we’ve been able to achieve this because our games stand out from the crowd for all the right reasons. We dared to be different, and the production quality was high. Of course, we also made the most of strong marketing and positioning. As a result, we were fortunate to have operator buy-in from day one as they trusted in our process.

I don’t believe the landscape is sustainable for suppliers right now unless they dare to push their own boundaries. I am genuinely concerned about the future of those that are churning out the same old content; it’s inevitable that suppliers are going to run themselves into the ground unless they start thinking outside the box. At the end of the day, you need to get that all-important operator buy-in sooner rather than later.

How can slots innovate from here?

Erkki Nikunen, Partner & CBDO at Air Dice

In today’s attention economy – where companies are fiercely competing for consumer attention and the cash that follows – operators and suppliers need to provide a compelling entertainment experience to encourage players to their brands and games.  Players today are expecting more active and engaging types of entertainment than are offered by traditional slots. If studios want their slots to be successful, they need to offer players elements of interaction if they are to secure and hold their attention.

Today’s mobile and video games thrive on being high-engagement entertainment where the player has a degree of agency when they play. Be it storylines, graphics or game mechanics: it’s all used to give players the higher level of engagement they expect. Traditional slots often don’t meet these expectations; aside from setting the price and pressing spin, there’s not much more to offer. Developers seeking slot success today need to learn from these other sectors to increase the decision-making and agency that bettors have while they play.

Bringing strategy to slots

Integrating more strategy-influenced and choice-based options into slot games allows operators to offer titles that meet these higher engagement expectations. By offering players opportunities to become more involved in the game – not just hitting spin – you allow them to have greater influence over the outcome of each game round.

It really comes down to giving the player choice as this makes them feel like they have greater input into and control of the game. With the ability to shift reels and, at times, choose between winning combos to keep the run going, players can build a strategy, feel ownership over their choices and enjoy a much more engaging experience. Operators aren’t just competing with one another for attention and sign-ups, they’re competing with every other form of online entertainment – be it mobile and video games, streaming services, social media and more. By injecting strategy into slots, studios can help operators better compete for that attention with an innovative new way to play.

Drawing in with dice games

Responding to the changing tastes and engagement expectations of new players, operators have resorted to stocking their lobbies with non-traditional content like Crash, Minesweeper and Dice games. The latter is particularly effective, with the more involved game experience exactly what players are seeking.

With Dice games, players are way more involved and have to use their knowledge of the game and skill to help line up the numbers and symbols. With practice, time and experience, the player can feel and see their skills and ability in the game improving. In turn, if the player feels highly capable and empowered by their choices, it’s likely that they’ll play for longer.

Thanks to this increased proficiency, players feel a degree of accomplishment that helps build positive brand affinity and greater loyalty to the game title they’ve invested time in getting good at. Brand affinity and loyalty are particularly valuable currencies in today’s competitive market, and it helps build for the future.

Catering for future audiences

Levelled-up, more engaging games that give players choice beyond setting the price and hitting play is going to be the future of slots. This type of content will also help operators tap into the lucrative Millennial and Gen Z audiences while providing existing players with new gambling experiences.

Drawing in new players and building a dedicated player base is already a challenge, and you can only market existing slots in so many ways. If your slots are more innovative and offer players a richer playing experience where they can make impactful choices, you have a pure product advantage that you can then enhance through effective marketing. This authentic, meaningful engagement is what the next generation of slots needs to deliver – it gives players more interactive, choice-based play. And for operators, it allows them to build for the long term much more effectively: reaching newer Millennial and Gen Z audiences that can replenish and further expand their customer base.

As older audiences who love more traditional slots play age – playing less and for shorter periods – investing in these future generations will keep operators healthy, allowing them to continue innovating and serving their customers with the games they love.

Today’s mobile and video games thrive on being high-engagement entertainment where the player has a degree of agency when they play. Be it storylines, graphics or game mechanics: it’s all used to give players the higher level of engagement they expect.

Erkki Nikunen

How can slots innovate from here?

Victoria Vashukevich, Head of Account Management at 3 Oaks Gaming

Truly groundbreaking concepts are few and far between in the industry. The advent of online gaming broadened the scope for developers to become more flexible and introduce more in-depth games than previously seen, while Big Time Gaming and its Megaways mechanic really pushed the boundaries as to how paylines can evolve from being fixed. The reality is that there is limited big-scale innovation within the slots space. While it is unlikely that we will see a revolutionary product that will take the slots world by storm anytime soon, subtle yet vitally important upgrades to the overall gameplay will continue to dominate a developer’s mindset. This approach has proven valuable in taking the slot sector forward in recent times and attracting new audiences.  

A noticeable example of this is the success of games with the Hold and Win mechanic in the online space. Year-on-year, this genre of games is among the best performers on the market. Why? Because a large audience of players are already familiar with the concept, but game distributors are constantly exploring new ways to take the core concept in new directions and maintain its freshness. For instance, we have introduced more valuable sub mechanics like win multipliers  into some of the Bonus Games powered by Hold and Win functionality. With more variations to follow, the popularity of these games is unlikely to decrease anytime soon.

Scatter and Cluster Pays games have already shown themselves to be a hugely interesting alternative to other slots that showcase other mechanics. I am also confident that there will be a state-of-the-art update to the Scatter Pays offering, though I doubt this will change too much from what is an already-thriving feature. There is also a rapid climb within the skill games genre, as well as with crash games, which continue to grow in popularity.

Where we are likely to see innovation is the way in which players consume their favourite games. Mobile engagement continues to rise, with players seemingly less keen to experience slots content on a desktop computer. It is now time that game providers need to think a lot more deeply about how their games look and feel on mobile devices.

I like to think that gone are the days where loading slots on devices takes an inordinate amount of time and the gameplay is intermittent. There is scope to further improve the overall standard of mobile play and take into consideration how devices are evolving themselves. 

Another key consideration is the hype surrounding the metaverse and the use of cryptocurrencies. Metaverse has the potential to be the next big thing, a fully immersive and virtual gambling experience for players. Live casinos have seen popularity increase steadily over time and these are slowly gaining traction. However, I can’t see this overtaking slots for a period of time, although there is no denying that the impact of metaverse in iGaming can be ignored.

There is uncertainty surrounding crypto, particularly given recent market crashes; but as we have seen across the industry, these types of payment solutions are on the rise. I fully expect that to continue across Asia and perhaps certain regions in Europe for the foreseeable future, and it will be interesting to see if it expands globally. Finally, promotional tools are really adding strength to this corner of the sector and elevating the player experience. Player retention and acquisition is absolutely vital and there is a noticeable increase in activity encompassing this offering.

Looking further into the future, will we  need to have a phone to play our favourite slots? The advent of a completely state-of-the-art invention such as digital lenses and glasses could be an everyday way of living but I expect that to be a long way off still. Whatever happens, I believe focusing on the key elements of current slots, such as the continued upgrade of features and bonuses, is the way forward.

How can slots innovate from here?

Stuart McCarthy, Head of Product and Programs at Yggdrasil

As the repertoire of slots keeps on increasing across the industry, so do methods of innovation and modernisation. Slots have come along way since their inception and their popularity has skyrocketed, therefore the overarching necessity to create something bigger and better is always at an all-time high. With exponential advances in technology, there is great potential for slots to evolve and innovate in new and exciting ways.

Innovation has always been core to our culture since our inception 10 years ago and will continue to be the central tenant.

Stuart McCarthy

Innovating slots can come in many different ways, such as mechanics, virtual reality experiences, as well as elements of live action aspects. Incremental steps and in some cases, giant leaps forward, can be noted in many cases as the industry evolves.

Different game mechanics which are used in slots are a means to build familiarity, repeat play in players as well as to create exciting gameplay. Most slots keep relying on the same basic game mechanics that have been used since the inception of slots in casinos, which involve a player spinning the reels and waiting to match symbols on a winning payline. However, there are many other ways to create exciting gameplay. Behind this is always the drive to deliver consistent high levels of entertainment where players inherently feel the win potential of a game.

Innovation is all about seeing the potential of the new and successfully delivering, which results in new potential that can be unlocked. As an industry we are already seeing how innovation is evolving the player experience through the blending of live dealer and RNG gameplay experiences, or through more collaborative enterprises. This allows players to compete against each other or work together to achieve a common goal. At the same time, we are seeing the influence of slot play through gamification of traditional betting experiences. 

Innovation has always been core to our culture since our inception 10 years ago and will continue to be the central tenant of our thinking into the future. Advances in technology, such as VR and AI or the availability of AAA 3D game engines, offer new opportunities to be embraced, creating more engaging and mind-blowing gaming experiences.