The start of 2017 has brought with it a fresh new look at casino gambling, with developers and operators everywhere theorising on what will be the next big thing in gambling. Some – like NetEnt – are putting their faith in virtual reality, while others – like with Microgaming’s Castle Builder 2 – are expanding the reach of social games. One aspect of gaming which is less often explored is skill based games, but with the announcements that both Konami and Scientific Games have developed skill-based, real money slot machines, it seems that even that avenue is now being explored.
Just last year, Konami brought a Frogger themed slot machine to the market for the first time and this year they debuted their first foray into skill based gaming with the reveal of Frogger: Get Hoppin’. It's a game which takes the basic elements that underpinned the slot machine and adds to that the ability to win skill based prizes on the back of playing the classic arcade game Frogger.
You’re timed to play the Frogger game, where you hop across a road and water way, avoiding cars, lorries and alligators. The further you manage to make it, the higher your winning potential. At the end of the Frogger round, you’re invited to take a spin on a wheel of fortune, which will reveal what kind of bonus you’ll receive. This is more arcade game than it is slot, but with the gambling elements retained, it’s sure to keep any slot player happy.
This is Scientific Game’s first venture into skill based gaming, and they’ve chosen to do so in style by recreating Atari’s classic Space Invaders game in casino format. This 5 reels, 60 lines game, resembles most of the other slots you’ll find in a casino, and in standard gameplay plays like a normal slot. That all changes, however, when you land scatters and are entered into the bonus round of the slot.
When you get to the bonus round, you have the option of choosing luck or skill. If you choose luck, you simply get awarded extra spins and the game continues to function like a regular slot game. If, however, you choose skill, you get to play a version of Atari’s classic Space Invaders game, updated for the modern day with improved coloured graphics.
It makes a lot of sense that with your first attempt at creating a skill based game you’d want to give players the option to play with skill or luck, seeing as many players will still be on the lookout for a standard slot. It’ll be interesting to see what Scientific does with it further attempts at skill based games.
You’ll have noticed by now that both Konami’s and Scientific’s creations are based on classic arcade games, updated and infused with real money elements. You might think that it’s a little lazy to simply take the basic game concept from elsewhere and create a new game based on that, but there’s a lot of logical sense to it, when you dig into the manufacturing process, the marketing and what they’re hoping to discover.
Firstly, it costs a lot less time in terms of money, time and resources to base your new game on an existing format, and much easier to conceptualise something based around an already made game, but this isn’t the main concern. Another reason is that when it comes to enticing people to try something new, it’s often best to sugar coat the pill with a little of the familiar – so by putting their new skill based concept into a familiar packaging, they make marketing their games a whole lot easier.
More than anything, both Konami and Scientific are out to discover whether the skill based format of gambling will have any traction in the market place and to get decent data on this, they need to be sure they haven’t just created a flop game. By using existing games they know to be popular with players already – much like NetEnt’s choice to use Gonzo’s Quest as the basis for its first virtual reality outing later this year – the developers are able to cancel out the quality of the base game as a factor in the success of the enterprise. If no one plays these skill based games, they’ll know it’s far more likely because they’re skill based than they’ve simply developed an unpopular theme.
These aren’t the first skill based slot machines to hit the market, but they definitely come at a time when the move away from the traditional modes of playing is really being felt. The main problem for the status quo is that younger players – including the millions of millennials who will be able to gamble in the next few years – don’t engage with typical and traditional gambling modes.
There’s currently a struggle to work out what will replace slots and casino games as the dominant gambling force of the future. Will it be social gaming that invites players to join friends and strangers from around the world to engage in games? Will it be virtual reality which transports players to other dimensions? Or will it be skill based games which challenge players’ abilities? Most likely, it’ll be a combination of all of these and other factors we don’t even know are coming yet!