Once upon a time, slots were just slots. You spun the reels, you matched symbols, and if you were lucky, you’d take home a big prize. Rinse and repeat: coins go in, prizes come out, and that’s all a slot machine was. These days, most spins still end that way. After all, this was the action that made slot machines what they are to this day. Matching symbols on three or five reels is a lot of fun, and nobody wants to change a formula that works.
That said, the basic slot machine gameplay can get a little boring after a while, and bored players don’t usually result in repeat customers. With that in mind, casino software companies have come up with a number of different ways to provide players with more varied gameplay and incentives to keep playing exciting.
Most of these special features can be referred to as bonus rounds – special periods during a game when non-standard gameplay features are activated. These periods are often more interactive, usually prove to be very lucrative, and always provide a fun break from standard slot machine gameplay.
There are a number of different types of bonus rounds that can be triggered while playing a slot machine. We’ve broken them down into a few different categories below, but it’s certainly not an exhaustive list, as companies are constantly producing newer and more innovative bonus rounds to attract new players.
Bonus Spin Games
One of the earliest innovations in slot machine design was the addition of the free spin feature. When players hit a certain combination of symbols, they may not trigger an instant win; instead, those symbols will allow the player to watch as the machine spins the reels free of charge, usually for a fixed number of spins.
The big appeal here is that you can win prizes during these spins, but they aren’t costing you a penny – meaning that you can sit back and just rake in the profits. In addition, many games offer multipliers to wins during these bonus spins, allowing players to win at even faster rates than normally possible. Other games feature additional wild symbols or other player advantages to increase your odds of winning.
Some bonus spin games take things a step further. For instance, in the Betsoft 3D game Mamma Mia, the free spins take place on an entirely different set of reels than the regular game, complete with new (higher) payouts for the most valuable symbols.
“Pick Me” Slot Games
Another very simple game offered by a number of different slots is the “pick me” game, in which players have to choose from a selection of on-screen symbols to reveal instant prizes. These games don’t have much flash to them in most cases, but they do often reveal large prizes without requiring you to do much work.
Most of these games are triggered by hitting three or more of a specified symbol on an active payline. Once you hit these symbols, the game will ask you to pick one or more of them. Often, you’ll get to continue picking symbols until you choose one that has a special word underneath (collect, or something similar) that signifies the end of the game.
Again, not all of these games have to necessarily be quite so bland as that description might sound. For instance, in the Slotfather, landing a certain gangster next to a tommy gun symbol will make him fire bullets at the screen. You can then pick the bullet hole of your choice, revealing how many credits you’ve won. It’s a simple game, but one that does a great job of fitting into the game’s theme.
Bonus Wild Symbols
Some games offer you the chance to multiply your winnings by turning extra spaces – or sometimes an entire reel – into wild symbols that can drastically increase your chances to win.
One popular way of doing this in Betsoft 3D games is by turning the entire center reel into a wild reel, making it very hard not to score at least some wins on the reels. For instance, in the Gladiator slot machine, hitting the Hero symbol on the third reel triggers a marble slab that will cover the third reel entirely; the hero then comes out and smashes the slab, revealing an entire wild reel. This reel sometimes carries over for an additional spin as well, making these bonuses even more lucrative.
Second Screen Bonus Rounds
The most exciting bonus rounds available usually happen on a second screen – in other words, away from the main action of the slot machine. Once you hit the appropriate symbols on the reels, you’ll be instantly transported to another background, where you’ll play out a game that typically always awards at least a small prize, and offers you the opportunity to complete a task to win a much larger reward.
One great example of this sort of bonus round comes from Barbary Coast. By matching up three Blackbeard symbols, you’ll be able to take the game’s main character into a fight with Captain Blackbeard, choosing what moves he’ll use to attempt to defeat his advesary. You’ll earn credits just for getting into the fight, with a huge bonus being awarded should you win.