The science of designing modern slot machines

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The thing I love about design is how it requires delicate balance between art and science. After graduating from University, I spent several years working in a online gaming company in Central London. Looking back it was surely an educational experience, I learnt a variety of interesting skills such as card throwing, magic tricks, how to play Texas Hold’em poker, and even snowboarding! There were plenty of work related lessons too I will openly admit I learnt 5 times as much in my first month there than 3 years at Uni.

Over the years I slowly picked up subtle difference in how you approach different products, for example for online bingo games you want to drum up excitement for the community, you want the players to cheer each other on with terms like WTG (Way to Go), while casino games focuses more on big prizes, specially in numerical form “Win $30,000 grand prize”, the most interesting to me is perhaps online poker promos, where you challenge the players to take part in tournaments against each other, designs would be much more macho in style but in a cool calm manner “Are you brave enough for the x poker tournament?”, the idea is to get the audience to think they can win (where as in bingo you aim for more emotional triggers).

Even after all those years of experimenting with game interface designs I was only scratching the service, I’ll leave it to the experts to explain in more detail what it takes to design modern slots games.

Enter Brett Jackson

Designing slot machines is a job that would definitely challenge any seasoned program designer. In fact, according to veteran game slot developer Brett Jackson, “designing slot machines is an extremely unique kind of field.” They have come a long way from their box-type predecessors and there are a lot of factors being considered now in their production. At a glance, slot machines can be seen as machines made up of stunning bright lights, enticing sounds, and great game play interactivity. Since most casinos get more than two thirds of their total earnings from slot machines, their designs continue to evolve and adapt based on the psychology of people toward them. Whichever comes out as the most popular one is based entirely on its overall manifestation.


Here are a few tips from the industry’s top dogs on how slots are created in the 21st century:

Creating a catchy theme

To design a good slot machine, a designer must take time to research and conceptualize a theme. For instance, in South-east Asia, many casino-goers are superstitious as they touch the slots before playing in belief that doing so will channel their good luck to the machines. It’s kind of like blessing the machine to bring them good fortune. As such, tapping on themes that revolve around luck can be a good idea. Today, a lot of slot machines feature symbols of luck in their reels including a red dragon, a golden fish, or a peach – all of which are lucky representations for the Chinese. Over the years, such machines have proved to be very appealing to casino players.

Using wordplay on titles

A catchy title is a big factor for players to remember particular slots. Since there are thousands of slots available in casinos today, it only makes sense to create one that stands out from the rest. The “Count Yo Money” at  which features Count Dracula will be more memorable compared to a machine merely bearing the name “Money.” A funny title would be quite unforgettable for slot players. “Bar King Mad,” which is a wordplay from the casino lingo “bar” plus the English word barking, and “Cash and Mouse,” a name derived from the mythos of cat and mouse, are also great examples of slot titles.

Designing a definitive game play

Slots at The Bellagio and MGM Grand are no longer just confined to the traditional boring game of one-line payouts. Slots are now designed to offer huge amounts of entertainment by incorporating bonus reels, multi-line payouts, free spins, and attractive jackpot bonuses. In addition, choosing which music and sound fits the theme plays a vital role in slot machines. To attract gamers, a machine must include a wide array of upbeat sounds and an uplifting congratulatory tune whenever the jackpot is won. All of these aids in the slot machine’s game play popularity.

Remember, the key to designing a successful slot machine is all about appealing to people’s desires and feelings. Once they make a certain connection to it, whether it be through a stunning theme, memorable name, or engaging game play, gamers are sure to keep coming back for it.

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Hong Kong based Digital Creative & Web Designer who loves to tinker with technology. Happily accept I'm a geek but hate to sit still all day.

Follow me on Twitter @ChiWaiLi

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