From Dunover – Slotmeister:
A Review of Slots and Slotting 2020
Yes, nobody wants to remember too much about 2020, the year Covid locked us down and sent people home from work – twice. To rub salt in the wounds, in the UK the moment the lockdown in March started we had over two straight months of sunshine, a drought and May became the sunniest month on record here! Fine if you had a garden but torment otherwise. So how did this all affect slot releases? Not much at all, given they are developed on simulators and computers and this can be done remotely or in offices where the relevant precautions have been effected.
- Wheel of Fortune Megaways BTG
- Divine Fortune Megaways Netent
- Starclusters BTG
- Reactoonz 2 Play’n Go
- Fruit Shop Megaways Netent
- Shamrock Holmes Megaways All41/Microgaming
- Disco Fever Blueprint
- Reel King Megaways Inspired Gaming
There was a slight reduction in releases but most developers continued their output targets, such as Play’n Go who pledge to release at least two games a month and did so without hindrance. They made Energoonz 2, which didn’t seem to impress players like the first version but with few exceptions the rest of 2020 were the standard ‘win up to 5000x bet!’ releases and yes, I still haven’t see anyone get near that on any of them.
The niche developers such as Push Gaming and Nolimit City have continued to concentrate on few but very high-volatility releases, the strategy seeming to be publicity via YT channels and streamers when these huge hits are caught on video and then encourage more players to try them. This was indeed the case when one lucky player hit this incredible win on Razor Shark.
Not to be outdone, Nolimit City released San Quentin xWays with claimed potential of 150,000x bet and not without a tad of controversy. A 243-way game with an expanding reels mechanic in the bonus plus floating wilds which can reach 512x multiplier, it’s a very gritty theme around the infamous prison and a riot in the free games. Even grittier is the bonus-buy stake which for the 4-scatter trigger is 400x bet and an eye-watering 2000x bet for the 5-scatter premium feature. This is a huge digression from the ‘responsible gambling’ ethos which has quite rightly gripped most decent gaming jurisdictions now; whether you think boasting a huge top prize which it would be near-impossible to reach without paying 2000x bet to play for is down to you…
If we move on to the traditional bigger developers such as IGT, Microgaming and Playtech, little has changed from last year. These developers from the outset had a different strategy from the smaller ones you find in multi-platform casinos. IGT mainly appeared at big bookmaker casinos with their own Wagerworks brands under Alderney licenses, although unlike the other two they have always had significant presence in land-based cabinet games so maybe don’t devote too much effort to online productions. Microgaming had their Viper Client which you downloaded and was revolutionary back then, their whole catalogue of slots, smooth running and with tournaments and screenshots all stored (via a huge chunk of memory!) on your PC. Things have moved on now and these almost seem anachronistic now – metaphorically speaking, when you go into a bar you want to see a whole range of beers, wines and spirits not just one company’s and us slot players are no different. This is a classic example, probably the biggest and best Viper Casino, 32Red, have integrated new developers:
Moving on to the latter of the above big three, Playtech’s original strategy was to get their platform onto the big betting sites such as Betfred and Paddy Power. With high player volume, good revenue was guaranteed and licenses could be brought for themes such as the Marvel slots. These have now been rebranded as ‘Age of the Gods’ now due to licensing issues when Disney (anti-gambling) took over the trademark. Nevertheless, this was reflective of the status of Playtech at the time.
In the last couple of years their games have been pretty mundane and drab and have fallen well behind the younger developers. Now you will find the bookmaker sites still have their Playtech casino menu, but will also have a ‘Vegas’ or ‘Games’ tab with all the other developers on. Let me guess on which most customers click: when was the last time you played one of their slots? Their answer has obviously been to acquire more imaginative developers (Playtech acquires Quickspin)
I am surprised as to the extent of the complacency demonstrated by these companies. In order to re-establish their products they really need to get a grip on what players expect nowadays and sacrifice a little profit by making their slots available at the multi-platform sites. Alas, their strategy seems to be using smaller in-house studios to churn out sub-medicore on their platforms. Name me, for example, one memorable go-to Just For The Win slot, who seem to be providing a large proportion of content via Microgaming?
You could well be wondering why Netentertainment haven’t been mentioned here yet. This brand was a few years ago arguably the most innovative and stylish of all slot developers. Numerous different mechanics for their games, themes and good quality player-friendly interfaces. They were (and still are) the mainstay of most multi-platform online casinos. For me, a clue something was seriously amiss appeared a couple of years back. Their homepage, where you should be able to see prominent coverage of new games and demo versions as with 95% of developer sites, became an affiliate site! Yes, I found it unbelievable too! So instead of being able to sample the product, you are redirected to join a casino to try the slot and hopefully earn Netent commission. For a company recently worth over 1.8bn Euros, this makes a very loud and negative statement. Now they are involved in a messy takeover by online table games and live casino provider Evolution Gaming. Funnily enough, at the start of December 2020 redundancies were announced at Netent in Malta and their live casino and table products were abruptly pulled -’nuff said.
It is inevitable Megaways will be mentioned here. The Big Time Gaming mechanic that began way back with Dragon Born and then Queen of Riches really hit the big time (yeah, I know) in December 2016 with the arrival of Bonanza which I am sure you have either played or at least read about many a time. When I brought this game to the attention of the Casinomeister membership back in the day little did I know it would become the most gargantuan thread on the forum, as of now about 850 pages and nearing 17,000 posts. I equate the slot in literary terms to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code novel. To the literary purists it was considered drivel but to the public it became the highest-selling page turner of all time. Bonanza looks and sounds dreadful yet we all keep playing it, waiting for that elusive big win spin after spin, despite the knowledge that there’s only been one recorded win on YT of over 10000x bet, one over 5000x and a photo exists somewhere in the screenshots thread here of a 4400x base game hit. It’s the ultimate example of masochism for all of us who ponder the reasons as to why someone would return to an abusive partner.
There are now over 110 Megaways-branded slots and most of the developers using the license have their own version of Bonanza, albeit with mystery symbols added as with Diamond Mine, Blueprint Gaming’s first Megaways slot. We saw Netent’s Gonzo’s Quest Megaways (albeit created for them by Red Tiger)
which has produced big wins and proven quite popular, just as well for this failing developer which seems to survive nowadays on Dead or Alive 1&2 and Starburst. The developer with most versions is indeed Blueprint Gaming who to be fair have made some good games such as Genie Jackpots Megaways.
The other companies using the mechanic include Relax Gaming, Skywind, iSoftBet, Iron Dog/1×2 and Fantasma with a few decent editions amongst the chaff. The former of those has been notable for producing the beast that is Money Train 2 and ironically not using Megaways – the game can and has produced its win cap of 50000x bet many times with possibly the most exciting bonus round of 2020’s new games. Netent’s Dead or Alive 2 may have a one-million coin win cap (111,111x bet) but for me the most impressive win was in excess of 100000x on BTG’s Lil’ Devil – watch the video here then weep!
That brings us nicely on to BTG themselves. What do market innovators do when they’ve squeezed every ounce out of their golden egg, in this case Megaways? Yep, farm it out to others then try and create a new one to replace it. In this instance they have adopted the cluster-pays mechanic and titled it ‘Megaclusters’. So we were introduced to the new Starclusters slot which after my initial enthusiasm I thought rather dull, predictable and boring. Then came the successor, the more visually pleasant and exciting Cyberslot Megaclusters.
This has a far higher average feature pay but like Bonanza, lets you have it rarely. Thus far, Relax Gaming are the first to get licensed with a Megaclusters game but not doubt others will follow. Whether it matches the obvious success of Megaways is another matter. We’ll find out in 2021. Other than this, we’ve seen derivatives of Donuts such as Chocolates a branded theme, Survivor Megaways which is actually a better slot than the player take-up suggests.
Undoubtedly, the year that brought us Covid 19 has seen many changes to gambling. Quite rightly, affiliates were told in no uncertain terms not to market using Covid references for people staying at home and thus susceptible to gambling through boredom. That said, if anyone was intending to they shouldn’t be permitted any affiliate accounts in the first place. Covid aside, the two main issues facing slot players are growing in importance and very serious in and of themselves.
For a while we have seen scam affiliates promoting to and targeting problem gamblers who have excluded from legitimate licensed gambling via GAMSTOP (UK) or the equivalent in other countries. Naturally, they search Google for casinos outside the laws in their jurisdiction. Surprise surprise, unscrupulous affiliates are only too happy to hoover up this profitable traffic and new scam casinos spring up weekly with their selection of pirated slots and stupid unfair terms to trap the desperate or gullible slot player. They even disguise transactions (as well as adding hidden fees and exchange tariffs) as ‘legitimate’ transactions to Chinese carpet traders and other random non-existent products so your bank won’t query it in many cases. Here is just ONE thread demonstrating this issue out of hundreds we have at Casinomeister: Should I chargeback at Red Lion Casino
The UKGC as expected is in denial over the extent of this issue that they have largely created themselves by establishing GAMSTOP without the requirement for payment processors and card companies to ONLY accept transactions to online casinos with checked UK license numbers. (UKGC Downplays Risk of Players moving to Offshore Operators)
I can’t see this changing in 2021 alas.
The player at properly-licensed sites faces a relatively new and unwelcome challenge too. The beer is being watered down, sometime without you knowledge viz-a-viz many casinos now offer lower slot RTP’s than the developer’s standard 96% or so. IGT always did this but only within a small range, Play’n Go were seen to offer RTP versions of slot games considerably lower than the ‘factory’ TRTP of just over 96%, sometimes as low as 88%. Many players were caught out as casinos never informed them that their product had changed, thus giving them a choice in using it or not. Videoslots Casino failed to inform players quickly until one of them noticed, most did the right thing and told players such as LVBet here: LVBet RTP Changes
While surprisingly one of the casinos who should’ve known better missold their games for quite a while. This is quite shocking and would be heavily punished in other areas of commerce but as slot players, it seems we just keep soaking up the punches without retaliation: GVC Coral and Gala casino showing the wrong RTP to players
Just to emphasise the importance of the matter above, a reduction from 96 to 94% is a 50% increase in house edge. A reduction from 96 to 92% would on average result in just over half the net amount of spins from a given bankroll and stake, over time, for the unsuspecting player. That’s the reality now. Slot players really need to check game files at any casinos they join or existing ones they are members of.
It’s regretful that so much of this summary has been negative and indeed full of foreboding but 2020 is what it was. A tough year with many online casino closures and many of those remaining watering down their slots products to remain profitable. As with 2019, high-win potential and volatile slots have grabbed the main headlines on social media so these games almost become a self-fulfilling prophecy as other rush to emulate the maths on their games. So more people play them. And rightly or wrongly, the big traditional developers ignore this at their peril.
Have a safe and prosperous 2021.
Best Slots Historical Awards
This category morphed from Best Software, to Best Games, to Best Software Supplier, to the Best Gaming Experience, to Best iGaming Experience, to the Best and Worst Slots – yeah – we need to be resilient with the changing and dynamic online gaming landscape.
Best and Worst Slot Games 2019 – Dead or Alive 2 (Best)
Best iGaming Software Experience 2018 – Blueprint
Best iGaming Software Experience 2017 – Big Time Gaming
Best iGaming Software Experience 2016 – Play N Go
Best iGaming Experience 2015 – NetEnt
Best Gaming Experience 2014 – WMS
Best Gaming Experience 2013 – WMS
Best Gaming Experience 2012 – NetEnt
Best Games Award 2011 – Leander Games
Best Software Supplier Award 2011 – NetEnt
Best Games Award 2010 – 3Dice
Best Software Award 2010 – Microgaming
Best Software Award 2009 – Wagerworks
Best Software Award 2008 – Cryptologic
Best Software Award 2007 – Wagerworks
Best Software Award 2006 – Microgaming
Best Software Award 2005 – Microgaming