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David Newstead

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Slot themes - gimmick or necessary?

10 Dec 2010

By David Newstead
Even a quick look at any casino lobby – online or offline – and you'll know that they are awash with slot machines. Interestingly, though the mechanics are roughly the same, they all carry a different theme, with appropriately stylish graphics and atmospheric sounds. But do these themes really make a difference?

Technically, no – you could decorate a slot machine with any array of differing symbols and the machine would function just fine, producing the same number of wins to losses. In fact, Microgaming's MySlot is the perfect example of this, where players can customise a basic slot machine to any theme, including snapshots from the family photo album. It has no bearing on the generosity of the machine, but just gives the basic 5 reel and 10 payline video slot that extra spark of fun.

It's easy to argue then that themes are just gimmicks, designed to attract the user to the reels by sleek designs and great sounds while are all tied together by a single premise. However, ask most slot players and you normally find the artwork or even genre of the slot has little appeal to them, but rather the attraction lies in the engine running behind the slot and their experiences generated by it. Whether it be the free spins, the bonus game, both or just solid wins on the regular reels, some players will go back and back again to the same slot machine. The theme becomes the mortar that bonds the player to the machine and the engine, rather than the theme being central to its success. Ask why someone plays Microgaming's Thunderstruck and the common answer is because of the game's free spins, with the occasional "oh, and the theme is nice too", almost as a passing thought. But the player instantly knows the game and a positive response is given. Therefore, themes simply help identify a slot from the others, and if they catch on, become known by the theme and name.

Theme success in turn naturally leads to emulation, with imitators hoping to piggy back off the originals' accomplishments. The Cleopatra slot machine from Wager Works is a good example. This game quickly established itself as one of the most popular slots in the world, both offline and online. Within a few years all game manufactures were spawning ancient Egypt style machines, replicating Cleopatra as much as possible. As such we see standard themes throughout casinos, including medieval banquets, rich oil tycoon, with a fair sprinkling of Romans and ancient Greeks chucked in for good measure. Players are drawn to these as it might be that loved slot, similar to it or the vibe simply gives them that winning feel.

There are times when the theme is everything, with it being the only reason to play the game over any other. Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, Spiderman and Tomb Raider have all been turned into slot machines for no other reason than the brand is a draw. Do they have a lasting appeal? Probably not, but they will continue to bring people to the reels until such time as they shift across to the slots that produce the most positive, winning experiences and to the Thunderstrucks, Devil's Delight and Gonzo's Quest and so on.

Yes, themes are gimmicky, but they are there to identify and differentiate themselves and to build an experience that can be remembered.

If you need a little more advice on which slots to play then there is a world of help at hand online, including my own website, where my team and I have played them all and have hosted reviews, demos and more so you can find the perfect slot for you.
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