Have you ever noticed that certain games seem to constantly drop you two bonus symbols but you struggle to get the third? That may be entirely by design.
Today’s Slot Vocabulary looks at the term Unbalanced Reels. The concept is somewhat similar to the idea of Weighted Reels, but instead of using weighting to make some outcomes more likely than others, Unbalanced Reels puts less or more of a certain symbol on one reel vs. another to make an outcome less or more likely.
Imagine a scenario where you have 3 Red 7s on reel one, 3 Red 7s on reel two, and 1 Red 7 on reel three. The unbalanced third reel will make it less likely to line up Red 7s for a win, but show two Red 7s more frequently on the first two reels to show an almost win.
In the example at right, you have an IGT game where the 1B and 5B symbols have less chances of landing on reel 3 than reel 2 or reel 1, as an example, which will create more near misses than if they were equally balanced. In the case of the 1B symbol, it’s more likely to land on reel 1 than reel 2 as well.
While this is an example with three physical reels, it can get more complex when you have virtual video reels and five reels to work with. Many newer games have stacked symbols that pay stronger with five of a kinds, and when you omit some symbols in reel two or four it can look like a lot more just missed big wins.
As such, Unbalanced Reels work hand in hand with Near-Miss opportunities to drive player engagement and excitement, because they feel like they were awfully close to a big win.
From a slot designer perspective, the ability to balance the symbols a certain way can help a game better achieve the payback target they are aiming for, while allowing for some additional exciting moments such as suspense spins.
As with other slot design traits, it is helpful to know what tricks of the trade exist, just so you do not get caught in their trap and be fooled by them.