The annual Global Gaming Expo trade show can be seen as a gauge of coming trends in the industry, and this year’s show was no exception. Emerging mobile technologies, flashy new merchandising, high-definition graphics and the ubiquitous “hold-and-spin” play mechanic dominated G2E 2019, but among the most intriguing new offerings were games completely different than traditional slot machines.
Some of those games dispense with spinning reels altogether. Among those styles this year were two games based on what has been a staple of amusement arcades in the nation that could be the next big market for integrated resorts—Japan.
The Japanese peg-board arcade game of pachinko has been the subject of bonus rounds in slot machines before, but the offerings at the trade show this year use pachinko—in which balls are dropped through a pegboard to trigger various awards—as the base game.
One of the pachinko-style games comes, naturally, from a manufacturer based in Japan. Aruze has launched a game called PachinSlot, with the first of three games in the inaugural series, Jackpot Circus, using a pinball-like game display on the monitor that has balls touching various credit-award pegs as it appears to fall through the game board.
It’s actually a hybrid of pachinko and pinball, by design.
“So many of our game designers live in Japan, so they are extremely familiar with pachislot and pachinko games,” Laura Sims, Aruze’s manager of product management and sales promotion, told GGB News.
“And those games do extremely well there. But they definitely understand that those don’t translate exactly the same to the U.S. They did think about the fact that pinball games are really common in the U.S.; people are very familiar with them. They wanted to go with a bit of a combination of a pachinko and pinball, creating something a little bit new. They felt like that would help players understand more quickly exactly what was going on.”
The game, presented on Aruze’s Muso Curve-43 cabinet, does have a slot-like element in a video bonus wheel at the top of the 43-inch portrait-style display. However, the pachinko base game provides a thoroughly convincing experience of launching a ball down through a pinball-style pegboard, earning credits each time it touches a coin symbol or award peg. One possible touch-point is “Wheel Chance,” which spins the bonus wheel—one slice of the wheel awards the value of all coins on the pegboard.
It is a video display, but it looks as if gravity comes into play. The player has the option of launching multiple balls at once, resulting in a cacophony of bonus awards not unlike points racking up on a pinball game.
Each result is actually determined by a random number generator. According to Sims, each time the player launches one ball, the RNG picks the path the video ball will follow on its way down the screen, including the awards accumulating as the ball appears to touch various awards.
Sims said the game’s designers actually flirted with using a “physics engine” to create a true random path for the ball. “They tried a physics engine, and the way that they had it working, they felt it actually looked unnatural,” she said. “There are many, many, many different animation patterns, and it randomly selects one based on the results of the RNG.”
Predetermined or not, the result is played out in high-definition graphics that give the impression of a result that relies on physics—and in fact, an enhancement of such results, as in the feature that permits launching several balls through the pegboard display at once.
The first of three inaugural games in the PachinSlot series is available in the market now, with the other two following in the first quarter of 2020. According to Sims, early feedback from the inaugural Jackpot Circus game will be used to improve all the releases in the series.
The other pachinko slot game launched at G2E has a more fluid rollout schedule, if only because it is a game that is so far in uncharted waters: The base-game play results on Scientific Games’ Gold Fish Frenzy depend solely on physics.
Each play is essentially identical to a physical arcade pachinko game. The player’s sole control is of the release of a rubber ball from a moving mechanical track above the pachinko board—which comprises several rows of fishbowls, each bearing a credit award, or if no goldfish is in the bowl, a zero. The top row will be the one containing the zeros, and the big-money awards are in the bottom row. Each play—and the pricing is still being worked out—gives the player the launch of one ball.
From there, gravity takes over.
“I tell people Sir Isaac Newton invented this game,” said Jeff Nauman, senior principal game designer at Scientific Games, in an interview with GGB News. “It is pure gravity. There is so much natural anticipation with the ball bouncing around, and then it doesn’t bounce the same way twice—which is the beauty of it.”
The new pachinko game is right in the wheelhouse for Nauman, who created award-winning arcade games for Scientific Games legacy companies Williams Midway and Bally Midway before turning to slot design for WMS Gaming.
“I came from the arcade world,” he said. “I came from doing redemption-type games, and I know what you can do to manipulate things if you want to. The beauty of what we have here is you can’t get a more trustworthy result. You release it, you see where the values are, and it either lands there or not. You’re not going to have the same trust factor for the player (as an RNG-based game).”
For Gold Fish Frenzy, Nauman’s team partnered with arcade redemption-style and video-game producer Team Play. “They had a game called Fish Bowl Frenzy in the Dave and Buster’s locations that has just been killing it for the last four years,” Nauman said. “I looked at this game, and it had what our industry has been clamoring for: We need skill-based gaming.”
Nauman, though, says a core element of skill-based gaming is the ability of the player to strive toward mastering the skill element, and this game—redeveloped with Scientific Games’ popular Gold Fish brand—has it. “With this, anybody will feel that they have control and can master it, because it’s not that hard. And the beauty about this is we can’t do any sleight-of-hand players are worried about. Everything is in front of them. Everything is real. The ball drops. It’s a rubber ball that drops off a peg. It’s the most trustworthy game you could ever play in a casino.”
According to Nauman, 85 percent of launches will result in the ball falling in one of the bowls. The zero-value bowls are added to enhance the overall math of the program, he said. There is a random number generator, but its function is to change the values of the fishbowls, which will change based on the bet with every play. “We use the RNG to randomly draw so you can win a little or a lot on that particular release of the ball,” Nauman said.
Since this is in the realm of slot machines, naturally there’s a bonus—in this case a “Multi-Ball Bonus.” It’s sort of a free-game bonus for pachinko.
But unlike the Aruze game, this one can’t launch several balls through the board at once. “The reason we have to launch one at a time is because this is real physics,” Nauman said. “If I dropped multiple balls at once, they could actually get wedged between pegs. And there’s no way I can prevent that, because like I said, it’s real physics.”
Gold Fish Frenzy was a hit at G2E, but according to Nauman, it’s very much still a work in progress. “We are still working with how we’re going to set this up as far as the cost of play to the player,” he said. “This is such a new thing, we want to get everything right. When you have something so far out of the norm, you have no idea how the player actually is going to react until it’s in the casino.”
While the skill involved is in determining the time to release a ball, Nauman says enough research into the physics of the game has been done that the company can give operators a reliable estimate of RTP. As for pricing, initial estimates range from a minimum wager of $2 to $5, with one launch of the ball per play.
Meanwhile, Nauman’s team continues to tweak the game, including modifications that will speed up overall play, he said. He estimates the game will be ready for final testing by the end of January, with a goal of release to casinos by next summer.
“Gold Fish one is not going to be the only one we will do,” Nauman said. “We have more coming up after that, and we’ll have more of a slot-feel bonus game in these next versions.”
But for now, he says, the company will be striving for success… through science.