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Updated by Dale Shelabarger
Casino game developers don’t really have time to rest on their laurels, especially when it comes to the creation of online slots. It is, after all, a fiercely competitive business. To satisfy a more demanding, more sophisticated customer base, the big software houses are continually unveiling new mechanics and improved game engines. So what kind of trends are we likely to see in 2021? Well, with a few exceptions, ‘more of the same’ appears to be the answer. Here’s a run-down.
Given the major advancements in slot game development, it’s reasonable to assume that the lines will continue to get blurred between console and online slot games. This is already in evidence with games such as Play n’ Go’s Vikings Rune Craft which is in effect a full-blown RPG game. In addition, many of the bonus rounds now bolted onto slot games wouldn’t look out of place on a PS4 or Xbox One. So the inclusion of gamification and more engaging storylines seems to be very likely.
There was a lot of talk at the SBC Summit earlier this year about how developers are now targeting social gamers. ‘Shareable’ is one of the by-words here – although games on social media platforms don’t feature real money rewards, they do allow players to demonstrate their in-game progress by sharing rewards and trophies with their friends. Expect this kind of functionality to be included in next generation slots in the coming years, where participants are able to share their milestones on social media platforms.
‘Collaboration’ is another buzzword that’s being bandied about at the minute. According to insiders at that SBC Summit mentioned above, concerted efforts are also being made to develop games that include their own self-contained environments for live chat and ‘sharing’.
Big Time Gaming’s ground-breaking mechanic took the industry by storm upon its release in 2016. Although the novelty has worn off for some punters, this hasn’t certainly hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of developers like NetEnt. As mentioned in a previous article, the Swedish developers have been quite busy in the Megaways department in the latter half of 2020, releasing shape-shifting updates of their classic titles, Twin Spin, Gonzo’s Quest and Divine Fortune. All of them have gone down extremely well with players. So you can expect to see developers milking this particular cash-cow until the pips squeak (mixed metaphor, apologies).
Apparently, millennials aren’t all that keen on traditional reel spinning, preferring instead to try their luck with traditional online casino games such as poker and to a lesser degree, blackjack. This is largely down to the fact that younger players are more used to playing console games. As a result, game creators have been threatening to introduce skill-based play for quite some time now. But despite titles such as Centipede (IGT) and Space Invaders (Scientific Games), the concept has never really captured the imagination of new wave gamblers. Don’t expect this to change in 2021.
The Hold and Re-Spin mechanic already appears in plenty of slots and will continue to proliferate in 2021. It comes into play when a bonus symbol lands on the reels. The player is then rewarded with a free re-spin while the initial bonus symbol stays in position. Thus, the chances of winning some money are increased…ever so slightly. This feature is very popular with players, not to mention developers including Microgaming, NetEnt and Pragmatic Play.
Nitro Reels is a new mechanic from Elk Studios which is played out over a six reel, four-row grid. Like Megaways, it includes thousands of pay-lines and a rather large max bet win. Put simply, ‘Nitro Reels’ refers to the way in which identical symbols become stacked. At least two are fixed in place during play and are re-spun when they contribute to a win. The feature appears in the recently launched Nitropolis game with an assortment of additional titles in the pipeline for next year.
Megaquads is another Big Time Gaming invention that you’ll be seeing a lot of in 2021 and beyond. This new engine comprises a set of four reels in a 4 x 4 configuration. Each one offers 256 ways to win which means you’ve got 1024 ways to win per round. The first Megaquads game, Slot Vegas was launched in September 2020 and received very positive reviews. Although still very early days, it’s a pretty good bet that we’ll be seeing more variants in the not too distant future.