Gaming Slots and electronic gaming

Rise of the machines (part C)

Written by The Tiger

This article first appeared in the May/Jun 2013 issue of World Gaming magazine.

In recent issues of WGM we have delved into the history of slot machines, their evolution over time and their growth in the Asian gaming market. In part C we take a look specifically at Macau and the machines that have had the greatest influence on Macau’s surging slot market.

Slots and electronic gaming remain the only gaming medium outside baccarat that continues to increase its market share in Macau. Common sense says baccarat must reach a saturation point at some stage and it is slots that has the most potential for long-term growth. Of course, baccarat is so popular in Asia that it seems machines could never achieve the same market share they enjoy in the US or Australia. Remember those countries have the advantage of a rich and vibrant slot machine gaming history. In part C of our “Rise of the Machines” feature, let’s take a look at what has worked in Asia and why.

What makes a great slot?

This is a question that has challenged the minds of the big slot manufacturers since the very first genuine slot machine was invented in San Francisco in 1895. No doubt during the upcoming G2E Asia we will see the world’s manufacturers exhibiting what they believe makes a great machine, although it is not an easy riddle to solve. Like a new café or restaurant, the product must be first class, yet even unbridled success in one location doesn’t guarantee success in another.

Slot machines are personal. A quality, modern day slot must stand out from the crowd with attractive graphics and an exciting free game feature (commonly referred to as simply a “feature”). Back in WGM issue #7 (Nov/Dec 2010) we wrote a story on Aristocrat’s “Golden Pyramids”. This game took western casinos and slot machine venues by storm and to this day remains one of the most significant slot machines in history. This particular machine had an Ancient Egyptian theme complete with a Cleopatra image as both the highest paying symbol and a substitute. But it was the free games feature – triggered by three “Golden Pyramids” appearing randomly on the screen – that was its greatest asset with all wins during the free games multiplied by three.

This worked well in the West, as the Ancient Egyptian theme was both attractive and mysterious to the average slot machine player. The feature was superb and the game play perfect but it was something about the complete package that proved irresistible to players.

By the time slot machines started competing seriously in the Asian marketplace, Asia needed its own version of “Golden Pyramids” that would capture the hearts and minds of the Asian gambler.

The rise of the Dragon

What better way to seize the hearts of Asian (especially Chinese) slot players than to use a theme based around dragons? “5 Dragons” was a game created by Aristocrat and it didn’t take long to create a storm.

The “5 Dragons” machine uses images extremely familiar to Chinese people. The dragon, after all, is probably China’s most iconic cultural symbol. Like “Golden Pyramids”, it was the feature in “5 Dragons” that captured the hearts and minds of players. In this case, when players trigger the feature they are given a choice of five different free game options – the five dragons. Each option is represented by a different coloured dragon and allows the player to make a choice as to which feature option they prefer.

What are the 5 Dragons?
Dragons play a big role in Chinese culture, but some of the more obscure mythological systems refer specifically to “5 Dragons”. In the early 12th Century, Emperor Huizong of Song canonized five colored dragons as kings. These are the five that appear in “5 Dragons”:

  • The Azure Dragon [Qinglong] spirits, most compassionate kings
  • The Vermillion Dragon [Zhulong] spirits, kings that bestow blessings on lakes
  • The Yellow Dragon [Huanglong] spirits, kings that favorably hear all petitions
  • The White Dragon [Bailong] spirits, virtuous and pure kings
  • The Black Dragon [Xuanlong] spirits, kings dwelling in the depths of the mystic waters

The five different options each have their own number of games and multiplier mix, so the fewer free games a player chooses to accept the higher the multiplier. In other words, players decide if they want to go for the big win or accumulate smaller wins but with more bites of the cherry. “5 Dragons” proved to be a huge success in the Asian marketplace and as a result Aristocrat developed a series of new slots based around the original concept – “50 Dragons”, “Choy Sun Doa”, “Fortune King”, “Lucky 88” and “5 KOI”.

Fa Fa Fa

While “5 Dragons” provided a breakthrough when it came to the Asian market, it was the introduction of “Fa Fa Fa” that really changed the landscape and set these popular machines apart.

Basically translated, Fa Fa Fa means “fortune, fortune, fortune” and provided an opportunity to win just that through a linked jackpot not only between machines but in some cases between sister casinos across Macau. The Fa Fa Fa jackpot used only Aristocrat machines and specifically those that followed the progression of the original “5 Dragons”. This jackpot gave the opportunity for any player to win a life changing amount of money should luck be on their side. As Aristocrat described it:

“Make happy those who are near, and those who are far will come”. FA FA FA™ is based on the God of Fortune and was designed around providing a prosperous gaming experience to the player based on a character that represents good fortune. From this concept Aristocrat created a jackpot game combining large prizes delivered to the player by the prosperous FA FA FA character to provide wealth and prosperity.

All of the major casinos in Macau feature Fa Fa Fa with more than 800 Fa Fa Fa machines already installed. All nine of the BIG9 casinos (City of Dreams, Galaxy Macau, Grand Lisboa, MGM, Sands Cotai Central, Sands Macau, StarWorld, Venetian and Wynn) have Fa Fa Fa on their floors.

Denominations vary from 10c up to HK$10 depending on the venue although according to Aristocrat it is “most popular at the 20c denomination but can be seen in 10c, 20c, HK$1, HK$2, HK$5 and even as high as HK$10 denominations”.

The major casino operators consider Fa Fa Fa a valuable addition to their range of slots. Mr Gabe Hunterton, Deputy Chief Operating Officer of Galaxy Macau, said of Fa Fa Fa: “Our guests like these games because they’re exciting and they generate big wins. This year alone we’ve paid out more than HK$38 million in progressive jackpots on the Fa Fa Fa link. Games like ‘Choy Sun Doa’, ‘5 Dragons’ and ’50 Dragons’ are very popular with our guests, so they’re very important to our business.”

“5 Dragons” and its Fa Fa Fa jackpot are among the hottest machines in Macau so it comes as no surprise that other companies have since recognized this success and created competing products, such as SHFL entertaınment’s “Duō Fú Duō Cái” progressive jackpot, which has already earnt itself the English nickname of “Fu Babies”. To learn more about Fu Babies, see our article on page 54.

No doubt others will try to emulate the success of Fa Fa Fa. As usual when it comes to slots, new machines, jackpots and manufacturers will experience their success stories and failures but one thing is for certain – the popularity of slots in Macau isn’t going to die any time soon.

More of Rise of the Machines to come
In upcoming issues of WGM, our “Rise of the Machines” series will continue as we explore:

  • Features to expect from slots of the future
  • The rise of hybrids and stadium style games
  • E-table games
  • Slot myths busted