How Three Bag/Pot Games May Restore Some Balance

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Brian Christopher in front of Big Fu Cash Bats with big bags

When working up my recap of the various games at G2E, one thing I noticed about my own selections is that at a number of booths I favored a quickly growing trend of three bag/pot games. 

While my initial thinking was the format would get tiring, the amount of flexibility within them has been bigger than I expected, and the creativity within the structure enough so that it hasn’t gotten stale so far.

Players seem to agree – in the ReelMetrics core report for September, three pot games took 8 of their top 10 spots – a strong reinforcement that players aren’t tiring of this format so far.

I think another aspect of these formats is something that may help with a problem that has been happening on the slot floor – I think they help restore some balance to the problem of increasing volatility on slots.

The format itself offers volatility in that you have to get all three pots/bags/whatevers to trigger at once for the biggest paying bonuses, and then those bonuses still have to deliver. But the fact that one bag/pot, or two, can trigger a bonus seems to help with the problem that bonus frequency was trending lower.

For instance, a few years ago IGT began issuing games like Scarab and Golden Egypt where the free spin bonuses seemed incredibly hard to achieve, but offered predictably strong payouts when they did trigger. For players who enjoyed a good bonus or feature, this was a turn off. I was recently stunned to get a bonus recently on Scarab – it had been years since I’d had one.

Manufacturers are definitely responding to player preference for bigger bonus potential, but how do you offer that and still make a game playable?

This is where the three bag/pot/etc. format, in my view, has increasingly become a workhorse. We know when only one bag/pot goes off, the bonus is often not going to be particularly large, but the fact that one can go off can increase the bonus frequency enough to keep a game from getting too boring. And on occasion, when a game is designed well, a single bag/pot could deliver too.

I recently played minimum bet on Mystery of the Lamp and got a jackpot bonus. I then proceeded to win the Maxi on an 80 cent bet – the Maxi paid $100 even at that bet level. With the other prizes I broke $120, or 150x my bet, and that was a single lamp in this case. Getting the triple, where other upgrades and such were happening, likely would’ve taken that up a lot higher.

Players have quickly come to learn it’s when the triple goes off that the real potential is (or should be) unlocked. Manufacturers need to be careful not to make the top one so volatile that it underperforms – that could turn a player off to a game permanently. But so far I have not seen too many instances where this ultimately proves to be the case.

I think that’s why, after initially feeling some fatigue last year that this format was becoming a regular thing, I’m coming around to respecting the nature of it. 

While I don’t want all my slots to have these multi-layer bonuses that are hard to achieve as a group, I certainly don’t mind playing them, and as long as the creativity finds different ways to introduce the upgrades to a bonus or jackpot pick, they can be fun to play.

But I also encourage the manufacturers to look for other ways to balance this out. I was never a big fan of the Cash Falls games, with the bonuses feeling remarkably hard to get (I’ve only had the free spins once on a Cash Falls game, and it was the first time I ever played it). 

But the Ultimate Fire Link Cash Falls version adds in another feature, the Fire Link feature, that livens up the proceedings and makes the game more fun as a whole. Again, the change seems to be having more going on more frequently – I’ve had a few Fire Link bonuses in my limited time playing it.

But the critical thing manufacturers will need to keep in mind is not to make the bonuses so hard to get on these three pot games, only to get a nominal bonus. I’ve had multiple runs on the newer Goldfish games, for instance, where playing with more than 100x my bet size going into the machine, bonuses were remarkably hard to get. 

Of course I’ve had runs on these same games where the bonuses flow, but when you play for more than 15 minutes and can’t get more than a 10x line hit, it’s going to make a game feel very hungry. I know more than one player who have put these on there “don’t play” list because of the massive swings in volatility between positive and negative momentum.

I read a lot of posts on slot forums about how players think casinos are turning down the payouts because it’s becoming too hard to win. What I don’t think a lot of players realize is that the payouts are roughly the same – it’s just the games are getting harder. Players may respond to the new games well, but the industry has to be careful not to make it so hard that players start to walk away.

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