Last month we studied Configuration “A,” one of our fictitious video slot games. This game had a high hit frequency—87 percent. In order to achieve a configuration where the player wins almost nine out of every 10 games, the wins have to be small on average. This resulted in only 12 percent of the games resulting in a meaningful win. A meaningful win in this exercise was defined as a game where the player received at least their wager in return. The wager amount was based upon each line being played. For our 20-line game, a win of less than 20 credits was considered insignificant. Such a win resulted in a net loss where the player ended up having fewer credits than they had at the start of the game.
Line games, due to their nature, may have a large number of insignificant wins. When played as a single line game, the payout structure changes. Most multi-line games are configured as single-line multipliers as opposed to a buy-a-pay configuration. That means that a single credit wager is eligible for every possible award. As a result, each win will be at least the amount of the wager. While this avoids the problem of having frequent wins where the player essentially loses money, it reduces the overall game hit frequency to an extremely low value.
The very nature of a line game is to allow more chances for a win given varying combinations of symbols used to determine the win. The chance of winning is increased, but the amount of the base win is not. If three symbols awards five credits, playing more lines does not increase this winning amount. It simply gives you more opportunity to win the five credits. It’s just a different type of game to give your players with its own pros and cons. On the one hand, the player has more opportunity to win due to multiple paylines. On the other hand, the player may win less than their wager when they do win.
A multi-line game is designed and engineered with this in mind. The consideration is how the pays are distributed through the paytable and how these match your customer base. Attempting to change the overall game design can have curious results.
There is a 3-reel stepper slot game designed for nine paylines frequently seen in nickel configuration. The bonus game includes free games—from five to 25 games with the ability to retrigger. One casino has installed these as a single payline quarter-denomination with a maximum wager of five credits. As the game was designed for a 9-line configuration, you may wonder how it works with a single-line installation. The lower-line setting allows for an increase in denomination. Covering all lines costs 25 cents, whereas the nickel 9-line game costs 45 cents. However, the game doesn’t play as well as the designers intended. During the free-game bonus round, the player will often win nothing. This game was installed offering roughly 10 percent of the lines it was designed for. It follows that the hit frequency is going to be low and that bonus games disappointing. I can only assume that the operator intended to provide a higher-denomination version of the game yet make it affordable for the average player. Not surprisingly, this bank of games is frequently seen without players. Taking a game and configuring it in a way that it isn’t designed can be as bad as installing the wrong game in the first place.
Let’s move on to our second game configuration and see how it looks. It has the exact same paytable, bonus round and symbols. All that is changed is the distribution of the pays in order to create more large wins and fewer smaller wins. Doing this necessitates a lower overall hit frequency. If we pay out larger amounts, we have to do this less frequently. This game sees an overall hit frequency of 1.7 percent per line and 35 percent for the game. The previous configuration paid 5.5 percent for one line and 87 percent for the game. The question is, what impact will this have on the player? How will they feel playing this game? If they have played the previous game, will this one be disappointing? Or will this one seem more exciting and “luckier”?
The jackpot symbol “A” has been reduced for single-symbol and two-symbol payouts. The award amount is unchanged, but the number of hits has been reduced. Dual-symbols hit approximately half of the time, where single-symbol hits occur less than 10 percent of the time. Since the single-symbol amount is only five credits, we need a significant number of them in order to make up a larger award. Much of this amount has come from this pay.
The second-highest paying symbol, “B,” has had the payout amount reduced. The top award moves down to 10,000 credits from 12,500 credits. It also sees only 19 hits, down from 32. This gives us 32,500 credits to pay out elsewhere. The four-symbol pays have been reduced from 5,000 credits to 1,000 but increased in frequency from 512 hits to 4,039. Triple-B is just slightly less frequent but pays 250 credits instead of 500. In this area, the payouts have been increased in frequency but decreased in amount. This is one method of creating more significant wins. A win of 1,000 credits is pretty good. It’s not as good as 5,000, but given the fact it occurs almost eight times more often, it’s significant. Originally this win occurred every 32,768 games. Now it happens every 4,153 games.
One significant change happens in the bonus game. While it now occurs roughly half as frequently—every 270 games—it pays five times as much on average. It has moved from an insignificant win to a significant win. In the case of the bonus game, this has tremendous impact. We haven’t identified any of the individual payouts possible from the game, or the theme or entertainment value it provides. But in the end, what provides the most satisfaction for the player? A lengthy bonus game with excellent graphics, movie-quality sound and great player interaction soon loses its shine when the player comes out of the game winning less money than they spent on the single game that triggered it.
Where Are We Now?
In order to change the payout structure, there were two choices. The paytable awards could be reduced or the hit frequency lowered. A combination of both was used in this game. However, some awards were increased in the interest of player satisfaction. That is, after all, one of the key elements of a successful game. As some larger awards were increased, this necessitated a significant reduction in smaller awards. In the end, the player will win something in less than half the time they did when playing the original configuration.
The game used for both configurations is not perfect and certainly far from complete. Working with the complete PAR sheet would take too much space and too much time. It simply highlighted some key points and was designed to give an overview of how hit frequency and payouts are related.
The question is: Will the player be happy winning much less frequently, but winning more when they do win?
There is no absolute answer to this question. The answer is gray and varying. For many players, there will be a resounding “yes.” They want to have something large on the win meter. They don’t mind playing longer in order to get there, either. For others, the game is a complete failure. They don’t want to go a long time between winning. Their reward is the act of winning itself. Most players fit somewhere in between.
Using our formula to identify significant and insignificant hits gives us an interesting insight into our new game. Although the player wins less frequently, more than 70 percent of the wins are significant, compared to just over 10 percent in the last game. This is an important factor. As the player spends time on the device, their wins become true wins—their credits at the end of the game are more than at the beginning of the game. They are likely to feel that they are making progress, rather than just spending time spinning the reels. Configuration “B” is all about quality of win rather than quantity.
Just like almost every question you can ask about the games on the floor, this one is not easily answered. It depends upon your customers, their likes and dislikes and even their mood at any particular time. Your demographics, weather conditions, lighting and just about every other variable you can consider has an impact.
This series was designed to give you thought about one aspect of game math. Hit frequency, I believe, is one of the more important attributes of a game’s play. It can lead to tremendous player satisfaction or tremendous player dissatisfaction.
Just as there are thousands of games on the market, there are also thousands of math models. There is no right answer, but an informed decision about the way the game plays and pays takes you a long way in making your customers happy.