Slot machines have always been immensely popular. Walk into any casino and you’ll see just how much of the floor space is taken up by these machines. Their popularity has grown quickly; while other casino games have been around for centuries, the first slot machines were only invented at the very end of the 19th century.
The Liberty Bell machine was the first manual slot machine with an automatic payment mechanism, and its design was very similar to modern slots. With five reels full of symbols and winnings paid out for matching three or more, the machine was an instant hit across America, and soon the rest of the world.
As technology improved, slot machines moved away from manual operation, and in 1964 an electronic version was released, where the reels were operated mechanically rather than by pulling the arm and releasing a spring. This innovation heralded the beginning of a wave of modernisation that then saw slot machines computerised in 1976, with the spinning reels replaced by a digital version on a screen. Video slots became the norm, but it wasn’t until 1997 that the developers first introduced a bonus mode. Mini-games and bonus levels are now an integral part of every slot, so it seems absurd that it took manufacturers so long to include some.
It was also around this time that the first online slots began to appear. Online casinos took off in the mid-1990s, but the first games to make their way online were classic card games like poker and blackjack. It wasn’t long though before online slots surpassed these in terms of popularity, with many developers producing high-quality online slots, like NetEnt, whose online slots are a perennial favourite. There are many NetEnt casino sites where you can play NetEnt online slots, some of the best designed online slots around.
Online slots have far more scope for creativity than other casino games: while there are variations of poker, roulette and blackjack, these amount to a few rule changes or the inclusion of side bets. However the only real rule of slot machines is match the symbols to win; how many, in what configuration, and what you win is all down to the game itself. The move to online slots has given developers the chance to unleash their creativity.
No longer encumbered by the physical limitations of the slot machine, game designers have been given free rein to come up with new and innovative slot designs. There are online slots with more than five reels, and those with less. Some have eschewed the traditional grid design for diamonds, pyramids, or completely freeform shapes.
The ability to theme slots has also been hugely advantageous from a design point of view. Different games have different symbols on the reels, rather than the traditional fruits or letters, which adds to the excitement of the game. For example, this Golden Shamrock slot from developer NetEnt features symbols which fit the theme of Ireland, from leprechauns to pots of gold, pints of beer and lucky four-leaf clovers. There are hundreds of exciting themes out there, with matching music, sound effects and background pictures, all of them highlighting the variety of online slot designs available to play.
Of course, there are some necessities that modern online slot designs have to feature, but these are mostly hidden in the background. The main one is having the spins run by a random number generator. This ensures that the games are fair, meaning that the outcome is always completely random, unlike mechanical slot machines, where the previous position of the reels will influence the next display.
The option to choose to play over multiple play lines is another well-loved feature, and enables players to vary the amount that they bet, but also their chances of winning on each spin. And of course, modern designs allow for a greater variety of bonus features. Some slots have bonus rounds consisting of completely separate games, like match-3 or target shooting, which will give the player a multiplier bonus based on how well they do. Other slots rely on wild and scatter symbols to give away free spins and add to the excitement of their games.
It might have taken online slots a while to gain a foothold in the online casino industry, but they have since become the most popular choice for online gamblers. The ease with which they can be played, combined with the endless possibilities for themed games, bonus levels and combinations of payouts, makes them perfectly suited to this environment. As technology continues to develop, online slot designs will become more advanced and more exciting, giving players even more choices about where to spend their money.