John Grochowski, Gaming Guru

Every slot manufacturer has its own way of going about game design. They’re influenced by each other, of course, and are quick to adapt successful innovations, but they want to put their own stamp on the games, too.

Take community-style slot machines, with shared bonus events. Their roots trace to A.C. Coin’s Road Rally in 1996, and the games solidified their niche a decade later with WMS Gaming’s Monopoly Big Event and International Game Technology’s Wheel of Fortune Super Spin.

Today, nearly every slotmaker has community-style games in their product lines. Followers are a small subset of the overall slot market, but they’re a loyal bunch who relish the table-like experience of cheering each other on for shared wins, or competing for their slice of the winnings.

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The two gamemakers most invested in the community experience are WMS and IGT, and they take different approaches. WMS has games where players win together and games where they cooperate to build bonuses, but it also designs competitive games. Reel ’Em In: Compete to Win was a hit with players with its fishing contest on the giant plasma display above the bank of machines. The biggest bonus went to the player who caught fish worth the most points.

IGT, on the other hand, doesn’t go in for competitive bonuses. It’s a philosophy that was once explained to me by IGT director of product management Ryan Griffin.

“You’ll see that we absolutely at IGT do not believe in competing communal experiences,” he said. “We’re about a more cooperative, communal, friendly environment where it’s me and you vs. the house. ‘I don’t want to compete against you. I don’t want to fight against you. I get enough of that in real life. How about you and I join up and take down the house.’ That’s the mentality we strive for.”

That still leaves plenty of room for inventiveness. IGT’s Hot Roll Community game is a cooperative take on the earlier Hot Roll video slot. In the bonus event, players touch the dice on screen, drag them and let fly into the top screen, collecting credits until they roll a 7 — “seven out,” in craps lingo. In the community version, players take turns rolling the dice, and when one sevens out, the others keep rolling. Even if you’ve rolled a 7, you keep collecting bonuses until all your partners in bonusland are out. In the most literal sense, that’s the crapslike camaraderie among slot players that game designers are aiming for.

WMS, on the other hand, uses both win-together and competitive elements in the Game of Life, based on the classic Hasbro board game. There are four community events, including Speed Spins. That’s a quick spin bonus in which all eligible players move together along the game board. Within that trip on the board, there are individual choices that mirror the board game. In picking a career, you might choose to be an athlete or a lawyer. Then in the big event, if the lawyer is called, those who picked lawyer win more than anyone else. That gives the game the element of competition.

What it all means is more player choices, and that’s a good thing. Whether you want to high-five your neighbor on a shared bonus well collected, of get a rush from competitive wins, the options are there.

Gambling author and columnist John Grochowski’s weekly newspaper column began at the Chicago Sun-Times and is now syndicated nationally. He also regularly makes TV and radio appearances about gambling. His column appears weekly.

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