Since I’ve launched this site, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to speak with a number of slot designers and their general thoughts about the industry. It tends to stand out in contrast to what some of the less trusting players think slot designers are like.
Usually, when voicing hot takes about how slots are designed to take advantage of players, they spread their anger liberally over casinos and the game company, then on down to slot designers, claiming games are rigged in some way or other.
In today’s piece I want to share some overall thoughts, including a few new ones that surfaced in my recent interview with Juan Mariscal, Director of Game Design for Everi, who designed games like Lightning Zap and Crush.
My take on slot designers is that they’re more on the players’ side than one might think, and for pretty good reason.
They Love Slots Too
Multiple slot designers are quite fond of slot machines and are fans themselves. They create games they themselves would love to play, and look for unique new ways to work with games.
Mariscal said, “We want to create a great gambling experience for players and believe there’s room in the industry to give them something different. To achieve this, we are focused on fostering a culture of originality in our game studios which we believe enables us to design games with a solid math ride, intuitive gameplay, and innovative game mechanics. These are critical pieces to providing players an engaging entertainment experience.”
Both Mariscal and another slot designer I spoke to a couple of years ago noted how many designers like to play slots too (where allowed, as some regulatory bodies do not allow slot designers to play in their jurisdictions). But they take advantage of the opportunity to play them themselves, see what others are doing, and see how their own games fare in the real world.
Trust is Paramount
Mariscal, during our chat, heard me mention trust and noted that word is really important. “Trust – that’s key. Players are going to approach it skeptically. A game that’s easily understood lowers the barrier to the player’s ease of trusting the game. We evaluate how exciting the game is and ensure it doesn’t feel rigged in anyway.”
Another designer quipped, “You know the games can’t be rigged and are fair when we are allowed to play them ourselves.” No backdoors, no special tricks, that gives them an advantage because they know something the players don’t.
They Like to Push the Envelope on Payouts
We shared Mariscal’s goal of finding ways to increase the payout percentage through games like Lightning Zap and Crush, by breaking the mold and offering a faster-paced game as a way to balance that out.
Another veteran game designer told me he would push the edge of what a payback percentage option would provide. If a casino was looking for a 90% game, they’d take an 89.6% game as much as a 90.4% one due to rounding (his point being they weren’t horribly specific around this more often than not), so he’d favor putting an option out closer to the 90.4% to give the players a bit more.
Certainly market forces will impact which options are needed to be available; slot payouts used to be higher before certain buyers demanded that lower payout options be available. But that doesn’t mean slot designers aren’t eager to give players as much return as they can within the parameters they’re provided.
Even on specific game rules, designers like to push the envelope. Mariscal and his efforts with the Crush series is one example.
“One restriction we found with persistent games is that every win outcome should be possible in every state of the game,” Mariscal said. “At its heart, it’s protecting the player, by not taking anything away from them.”
They Dislike When Casinos Tinker with Games Too
Sometimes, games can be configured in ways that are less desirable or good for players, such as fixing the progressives to a static number instead of letting the progressives increment upwards, giving players the full value of said progressives. When such changes are implemented it can be done to subtly raise the house’s overall hold on a game, but it goes against the original game design intent.
One slot designer I spoke to said that they work to try to avoid those scenarios happening on newer games where possible, having learned from what steps are taken on older ones. It’s a bit of a cat and mouse scenario in some ways, but because decisions are intentional more often than not on game design, such as whether/why to include progressives, such changes can not only impact the hold, but the attractiveness of the game on the casino floor.
One thing that I’ve taken away from these conversations from these designers is they take great care to make a game feel balanced, fair and fun – and most importantly, are sensitive to concerns about games feeling rigged. They go out of their way to make sure the game doesn’t give the wrong impression, as they know it’s already a negative expectation game – over time a casino is going to win on a game. So they aim to make the experience as fun and exciting as possible.
Thank you once again to Juan Mariscal of Everi for sharing his perspective in a recent interview!