While feature-rich slots with innovative mechanics will always catch the attention, a large percentage of online players worldwide are seeking a simpler experience with a lower barrier to understanding. Talk Gambling spoke to Gareth Scott, Chief Commercial Officer at Gaming Realms, and Chris Kullman, Creative Director, Americas at Light & Wonder iGaming, to find out more about the timeless appeal of retro-style slots.
In which markets are retro-style slots particularly popular and what are the reasons behind this?
Gareth Scott: We’re fairly new to the retro gaming space, however we expect the genre to be more successful in regulated markets where licensed IP has been adopted positively by end-users.
The core Slingo demographic is 35+ and this is likely to evoke nostalgia and familiarity for players who enjoyed elements of retro titles when they were originally released.
Retro-style games have proven popular in the US, where the iGaming industry is built on the foundation of land-based slot machines popularised in Las Vegas. Retro titles pay homage to this legacy and continue to be fan favourites. Additionally, retro content is often easy to play and rarely has complex features, which makes it appealing to newer players in burgeoning iGaming markets.
Chris Kullman: If reference to a ‘retro’ style slot means a more mechanical type of gameplay like a stepper, or table product, the North American Market pushes the style of games to ‘high-limit’ types of players – high maximum bets on stepper style slots, and no table limit or really high table limits to players particularly interested in table products.
Players who spend this type of money on a game want to know how outcomes are achieved, and steppers in particular can have extremely simple and volatile outcomes. Table games can feel predictable, and every process in the game can be impacted by a player’s choice, giving the player a greater sense of control over the outcome.
Is it important to marry top-end design elements, slick animation, sound effects and a complex soundtrack – within even a very simple slot?
Chris Kullman: I don’t particularly think so. If you were to walk through a casino floor, these types of games have little to no fanfare as part of the designs. If a stepper has a bonus feature, it likely has music and sound effects, however the base game is reserved for the more attentive player.
A volatile experience with a lot of peaks and valleys in wins and losses might not play too well if a player is also hearing a song they don’t particularly like.
Gareth Scott: Slingo by definition is more complex than slot games, so the product team have the goal of remaining true to a Slingo experience, while incorporating design elements from the retro IP.
For example, in the recently released Tetris Slingo, we partnered with the IP owner to deliver a slot reimagining of the popular console classic from the 90s. We have managed to combine mechanics from both Slingo and Tetris with the iconic aesthetic and sound design that the original game is synonymous with to fully capture the timeless hit.
Capturing the nostalgia of the era of the retro game requires significant R&D investment to avoid feeling contrived or lacklustre to players. The team have the huge undertaking of ensuring the game is still a Slingo at heart while incorporating as much of the IP to augment the experience.
How powerful are traditional symbols and what are the dangers involved in moving away from these when designing a retro-themed game?
Gareth Scott: A number of players are familiar and comfortable with ‘traditional symbols’. However, players have voted on this already and there are plenty of examples of popular games that don’t use classic icons. Slingo is a great example of how players now enjoy a wide range of differing content.
Traditional symbols for some providers can aid in creating the nostalgic feeling of a retro-themed title with bar, sevens and fruit symbols being synonymous with AWP machines of the past. However, within our own portfolio of Slingo games, we rarely include symbols and instead create our titles with numbers in place of icons.
Because we don’t rely on these elements to denote a retro style, we instead create a nostalgic aesthetic through design elements such as the theme, music, features etc. Although it requires more ingenuity to create the classic feel of retro titles without these symbols, it allows us to capture the experience of a retro-themed title more accurately.
Chris Kullman: Bars and 7s, fruits and suits – they’re iconic in this style of slot machine. It’s the same sense you wouldn’t all of a sudden change a deck of cards from traditional pips to something the player has never seen. High-limit style players will play one game for a decade, so if you want to introduce new games and math models, it’s probably best to stick to what you know works as far as presentation.
For how long will traditional land-based mechanics continue to exert influence over the design of slots in the future?
Chris Kullman: There’s still a really strong market for those high-value players. They may only make up a small percentage of the overall player base, but those same players are likely the ones that return in the long-term to continue driving revenues for operators.
There is plenty of room for these players, just as there is for those who prefer a more casual gaming experience, within the product mix of any online casino.
Gareth Scott: Our industry was founded on land-based mechanics, and even the most innovative iGaming features of today have their roots in the land-based sector.
Anecdotally, we have found success with numerous titles created in collaboration with slots originally intended for the land-based industry, such as Slingo Lucky Larry’s Lobstermania demonstrating that its influence is still a draw for players. In fact, when you consider retro gaming – Lucky Larry’s Lobstermania was released into the land-based market in 2002 which is now over 20 years ago.
Trying to innovate and evolve within a vacuum of iGaming can at times limit creativity. Drawing inspiration from the land-based sector is key to pushing our own industry forward and this collaborative effort will continue for the foreseeable future.
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