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Bonus Events Equal Entertainment

21 August 2014

By John Grochowski
Video slots are all about entertainment, and much of the entertainment value comes in bonus events. Whether we’re talking about a spin of a prize wheel, a second-screen pick’em event or bankroll-building free spins, the bonuses are the moments players eagerly anticipate.

But most of the time, we’re watching the video reels spin. There can be some big hits, but by and large these are not winning times. By and large, video slot players lose money on the reel-spinning portions of the games, and make money during the bonus events.

So what can slotmakers do to keep us interested and in our seats during those losing times? Mostly, it’s in the math of the games. Are payouts frequent enough to keep you going? Is there enough chance of a big win to keep you interested? Do the bonuses happen often enough to give you hope, yet not so often that bonus payouts have to be too small to be worth chasing?

Of late, the reel symbols themselves have joined the tools designers use to keep you interested. Not that long ago, you could mark the reels off into a grid. On a video slot game with five reels, each three symbols deep, there were 15 spaces. Today, split symbols give five-reel games 10-of-a-kind possibilities, and extra-large symbols take up whole blocks of spaces at once.

Take the Mega Symbols line from WMS Gaming, There are six reels, with the first and last being three symbols deep, and the other four each four symbols deep. When a Mega Symbol hits, it fills all four middle reels. One example is the music-themed Baby Dolls, featuring a three-woman band. In one test, the blonde singer Mega Symbol came up, and a single image of her face filled 16 spots. Mega Symbols games pay both left to right and right to left, so if you have the Mega Symbol, a matching symbol either on the first or last reel will bring a big winner.

WMS also uses extra-large symbols in Beetlejuice, with sights and sounds based on the film. The oversized playing field is six symbols across and 10 deep. Some of the film character symbols are huge, taking up two spaces across, with most also being four symbols deep. Beetlejuice himself is six symbols deep With a 2-by-6 Beetlejuice taking up 60 percent of an oversized two-reel set, the look is striking. It also means that winning combinations that include the oversized symbols will give you payoffs on multiple paylines at once. There are both free spin and pick’em bonuses, but the large symbols help keep you interested between bonus events.

IGT has a whole line of games called “Split Symbols,” a gameplay mechanic developed by independent game designer High 5 Games. The main character symbols on Split Symbols games come in two varieties. Some have only image of the character, but some have two within the same space, and those double symbols count twice.

Payoffs start at three in a row, so a single symbol on the first reel next to a single symbol on the second brings no payback, but turn either of those into a split symbol and there’s something added to the credit meter.

Take the Split Symbols game Brasilia, with three female characters and one male. The highest payer is a purple-clad young woman with a gold, bejeweled headband. Let’s say you bet one credit on each of the 30 paylines. If you have one of her on each of the first two reels, you get nothing. But if you see picture once on one symbol and twice on the second, then you have three in a row and get eight credits per winning payline. If both have the split symbols, your four-symbol pay rises to 10 per winning line, and it maxes out at 300 credits per winning line if you have five split symbols to make a row of 10 of Miss Purple.

An added feature is that wild symbols count as splits when forming winning combinations with character symbols. So a single image of Miss Purple on the first reel next to a wild symbol is a three-in-a-row winner. However, there are no splits on lower-paying symbols. On Brasilia, those include A, K, Q, and three pieces of jewelry – a butterfly, a gold parrot perched on a fiery jewel, and a snake wrapped around a purple gem. For them, a symbol next to a wild is just two in a row, which is not a winner. The low-payers also have no 10 of a kind possibilities.

Mega Symbols and Split Symbols both are designed to increase possibilities of large payoffs on the reel-spinning portions of the game. That adds both volatility and intrigue to the games, something to keep you and me engaged while we wait for the next bonus event.

Look for John Grochowski at, on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at


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John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago, with podcasts at Look for John Grochowski on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

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