18th Mar2019

The Inner Workings of Slot Games: What Is the Driving Force Behind Their Design?

by James Smith


You’ve felt it. You’ve experienced it. The thrill of playing an online slot game. As you lose some and win some, it’s like a wild rollercoaster ride that can take you sky-high or slam you down like a pile of rocks.

The best online slot games know how to tap into the player’s mind

Knowing how the human psyche operates is the cornerstone behind the most successful and popular online slot games. It’s almost as if they know how to press all the right buttons that take you on a journey; a thrill it’s hard to experience anywhere else. You see, each individual spin only has two possible outcomes. Either you win or you lose. Depending on your initial bet, both of these can go to the extremes. But no matter the end result, the common denominator is the same – you will feel a surge of emotions, whether the good or the bad. And that equals excitement.

It’s about instant gratification

Expanding on the psychological aspect of slot games, it’s no secret that they have a wild appeal to those who seek instant gratification. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, instant gratification is best illustrated with an example:

  • Instant gratification: eating, sex, games, gambling… anything that makes your heart beat or fills you with excitement, but doesn’t really make you grow or offer any rewards in the long run.
  • Delayed gratification: education, career, investing… basically the kind of things that might seem tiresome or boring at first, but once you get the hang of them, they really start to pay off (the rewards, however, don’t come overnight).

Of course, life’s a whole lot more multi-dimensional than that. Everybody likes to indulge in some harmless fun every once in a while. Otherwise, what’s the point of it all, right? In the same spirit, people who like to explore the riskier side of life are often keen on spinning the reels. Unfortunately, this includes those who have a chronic gambling problem, but unlike what the popular notion might have you believe, they represent only a small percentage of the gambling crowd (most of it is recreational).

A run-of-the-mill spin-the-reels just doesn’t cut it anymore

Although similar, online slot games differ from their brick & mortar counterparts in more ways than one. While the basic concept is similar, the online platform offers a much wider room for development and experimentation compared to what the analog restraints of traditional slot machines can ever hope to deliver. These features introduce the concept of decision-making and choosing between different options, thus rewarding the player for making skilled and well-researched decisions. After all, paving your way forward by using your knowledge and skill is rewarding, and the best developers know it. For example, some features allow you to willingly trigger certain events and boosts when you need them (yes, even after an evet that would otherwise result in a loss).

To get a better idea, let’s examine some of the slot features found and pinpoint the reasons as to why these tend to work so well:

  • Expanding wilds: an element that makes it much more likely to win big.
  • Free spins: there’s nothing like the feeling of having a whole lot to gain and nothing to lose – that’s where the free spins come in.
  • Scatter symbols: otherwise known as a gambler’s best friend, scatter symbols can pop up in any position and open up new combinations and possibilities that would otherwise not lie within your grasp (including an extra round of free spins).
  • Multiplier symbols: unlock these as you go and they will multiply your winnings by quite a bit. Depending on the game, this can be as little as X2, but some of them even let you unlock the X1000 multipliers.
  • RTP: while some players are in it for the storytelling elements, others are more interested in maximizing their overall winnings. Return to the player (or RTP for short) is a feature that caters to these players’ needs. Oh, and speaking of stories…

Online slot games have the ever-present element of storytelling

Just browse through the catalog of any online casino and you’ll find more thematically-inspired slot games than you can count. While some are focused around ancient cultures and empires (Aztecs, Romans, and so forth), others contain elements that cater to specific interest groups. For instance, hikers will enjoy the mountains and the jaw-dropping graphic elements, while tourists will not be able to resist the lure of a beach. Then, we have the slot games that are centered around certain movies or series. Batman, Iron Man 2 (pictured below) and South Park are three great examples. Players love to place themselves in the shoes of their favorite characters or superheroes and enter their world of adventures.


That being said, not all of them have managed to hit the mark… In 2018, expectations were quite high for the upcoming release of numerous big titles that have ultimately left people disappointed.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was one of them. The developers promised the biggest winnings to be 50,000 times the size of the initial bet, but as soon as one player managed to get to that point, the disappointment kicked in – they were only 360 times bigger (no, this is not a typo). Laser Fruit was another example. Again, even if one was to do what’s needed to achieve the maximum multiplier, it only turned out to be 800x, which is minuscule compared to other industry-grade titles.

5 inspirational facts about online slots

To conclude today’s article, here are some noteworthy facts about online slots to keep in mind:

  • They generate 85% of revenue for the online casino owners.
  • Progressive slot jackpot winnings are quite generous in size (almost as much as a winning lottery ticket).
  • Online slots have a RTP rate of 90%.
  • Unlike what’s possible to do with card games that utilize a 52-card deck, it’s hard to determine the odds of winning when it comes to online slots, making it that much more exciting to figure it all out.
  • The first examples surfaced in the 90s.


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