From 1891 to the present, the types of slot machines that made history
The history of online slots is the story of technological innovation being used to deliver an ever more appealing player experience and a constantly shifting interpretation of exactly what a slot machine can be. From the earliest days of the mechanical ‘one armed bandits’, the first of which was launched as long ago as 1891, to the modern era of multi-million pound pay-outs, cutting edge visuals and truly immersive gameplay.
From cherries and bells, through fairy tale characters and all the way on to real life celebrities, the themes used by slot machines have changed hugely, but even more impressive is the shift from having to travel to a building to feed individual coins into a slot, to being able to carry access to literally thousands of different online slots on a smart device in your pocket.
At various stages in this journey, certain slots have been more influential in history than others, and this is a list of just a few of them. The competitive nature of the industry means it can sometimes be hard to pin down a definite ‘first’ for a certain type of slot, but we can guarantee that those listed were, at the very least, amongst the first to make a particular leap forward.
The video slot
Remember those mechanical one armed bandits mentioned earlier? Physical spinning reels of symbols were the beginning and end of slot machine mechanics until 1976, when Las Vegas based company Fortune Coin developed the . The display was based around a 19 inch Sony TV set, and the first ever video slot was based in the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel. On novelty value alone it proved to be hugely popular and, after the first bugs and glitches were ironed out, it was approved by the Nevada State Gaming Commission and spread like wildfire though the casinos of Las Vegas.
The progressive slot
The progressive slot – a single machine linked to many others and sharing a large jackpot – was created as a reaction to the simple fact that the casino based slot machines took up a lot of room without being able to offer the kind of big jackpots that would appeal to gamblers. The answer was created in 1986, and it was called Megabucks. Rather than being just one machine, megabucks was a network of linked machines which meant that, with more money being taken in, could be offered.
This kind of technology is even more suited to online slots, of course, so in 2000 when game developers launched their first ever online slot it was Cash Splash, a progressive slot which allowed huge jackpots to build by being available to a massive number of online players simultaneously. Now available as a classic 3 reel or more complex 5 reel slot, Cash Splash is still incredibly popular, something which can be explained by a jackpot in the tens of thousands of pounds paying out on a regular basis.
The branded slot
For a long time slot machines, even the online variety, made do with themes based around the traditional symbols or variations like playing cards. This changed in 2005 when Tomb Raider was unveiled as the first officially branded online slot. The game itself was a 5 reel, 15-payline slot, with the player able to choose which paylines to bet on. What truly set it apart, however, was the tie-in with an iconic video game character. The appeal that this held for gamblers was so clear that branded slots went on to become pretty much par for the course, from super heroes (like Marvel heroes) through rock groups to humble board games.
The avalanche reel
Despite the advent of and branded tie-ins, one aspect of slots stayed pretty much the same for quite a long period. This was the fact that, when you pushed the button to play, the reels with the symbols on them spun round before coming to rest. The launch of Gonzo’s Quest in 2011 changed this when it introduced the avalanche reel. Instead of spinning, the reels drop into place, and when a winning line is created it explodes, Tetris style, allowing for several winning lines to be created from a single turn.
The 3D slot
There’s an argument that simple spinning reels are pretty hypnotic in their own terms, but the technology of online slots means that much more is possible, and the launch of the Jack and the Beanstalk slot in 2013 showed just how much more. This game featured the kind of striking visuals more commonly found on video games themselves, and it heralded an era in which playing the latest slots became just as much about entertainment, storytelling and stunning graphics as it was about actually winning.
The TV game show slot
TV game shows offer the perfect template for a more adventurous slot machine. They already have a structure, game play, a graphic style and the notion of winning and losing hard-wired into their existence, so turning them into something you can play on your own is only logical. One of the first (if not the very first) examples was the Wheel of Fortune slot which was launched as a casino-based slot in 1996. The next time you settle down to play Deal or No Deal, Million Pound Drop or even Catch Phrase, you’ll know where it started.
The personalised slot
Personalisation is the holy grail of virtually all modern technology, from a fridge that knows when you’ve run out of milk, to a TV that suggests what you should watch. Slots were bound to reflect this trend at some point, and that happened with the launch of My Slot.
The virtual reality slot
The virtual reality casino – that you experience in immersive 3D via a headset – became a reality with the launch of the SlotsMillion casino in 2015. To date, the technology is fairly young, but examples such as Gonzo’s Quest VR and Sugar Rush VR show a possible future in which, as VR headsets become more widespread, actually feeling as if you’re a part of the slots you’re playing will become the norm.