This invention relates to gaming apparatus, and is concerned with a group of gaming machines linked together so that, while certain events may generate prizes awarded at the machine in question, a rare event will generate an opportunity to win an exceptional prize signalled at a common unit to which the machines are linked.
A version of this is described in my U.S. Pat. No. 6,068,553, and the aim of this invention is to offer certain refinements, improvements and additional features to that.
In U.S. Pat. No. 6,068,553, the prize from the display is completely beyond the players' control. If a particular zone of the display lights up after a special win, a definite specified prize will be awarded.
The aim of this invention is to allow the players to have some influence, or apparent influence, on the value and/or distribution of prize(s) the display delivers during the prize selection process on the display. This should increase the interest and satisfaction in playing the apparatus.
According to the present invention there is provided gaming apparatus comprising a group of individually playable gaming machines, a common control unit, a link between each machine and said unit, and a display responsive to said unit indicating a plurality of prizes distinct from any prize available for any said machine alone, the machines being playable in self-contained and participation modes, the self-contained mode being with each machine being played independently for its own prize, and the participation mode allowing players of machines selected for participation (qualified players) to participate together in the selection of prizes from the display.
Participation may be initiated on a random basis, those qualifying being selected arbitrarily, and the activation of the participation controls following no particular event. However it will generally be preferred to have participation initiated by any one machine delivering a particular qualifying win. Furthermore participation may only be permitted to those machines that have been played within a pre-determined period prior to the particular qualifying win of said one machine or whose last play has been with a maximum stake or with a side wager.
It will generally be required that for participation players of other machines have to achieve a qualifying win on their machines within a given period following the particular qualifying win on said one machine. Any player achieving a further qualifying win on his machine within said given period may receive a bonus such as the banking of a further qualification to be used subsequent to the competition or the increase of any prize won during the competition or the facility to cancel an adverse selection from the display.
In one preferred form the prizes are indicated on a static display and are sequentially highlighted in the participation mode, the final prize highlighted being awarded. Generally participation controls on their machines will enable qualified players to attempt to arrest the highlighting at a desired prize, although the prize control unit may be capable of imparting imperceptible delay to the control signals to ensure a prize within the capacity of the apparatus to deliver.
A likely alternative is for the prizes to be shown on a wheel of fortune which is rotated in the participation mode, the prize indicated when the wheel stops being awarded. Again participation controls on their machines will usually enable qualified players to attempt to arrest the wheel with a desired prize indicated.
A further possibility is for the prizes to be shown on reels which are rotated in the participation mode, the prizes indicated on a win line when the reels stop being awarded. And yet again participation controls on their machines will generally enable qualified players to attempt to stop the reels with desired prizes indicated, although with several reels stoppable separately a player has more chance to exercise some skill.
The prize distribution may be equal amongst the qualified players, irrespective of what individual players have won from the display. But preferably the prize distribution will be weighted, and this may be according to the order in which qualified players have contributed most to the total prize.
Alternatively the prize distribution to the qualified players could be random or it could be determined by having the participation in stages, the lowest contributor in the first stage being eliminated and so on until the highest contributor at the final stage wins. That could be modified so that the total prize has weighted distribution according to the reverse order of elimination, the player not being eliminated receiving the greatest share.
Another possibility is for the prize distribution to be determined by qualified players again playing their respective machines, the prizes being determined by the relative results on the machines.
Obviously, a competition must be limited: players cannot be allowed to carry on winning prizes indefinitely. However, there is an attraction in having, instead of or in addition to a set limit by time or number of permissible control operations, an indefinite sequence of chances to win or add to a prize, which is bound to be terminated sooner but more hopefully later.
Therefore the display may include prize signs and at least one deciding win sign, prizes accumulating while prize signs are selected, but each selection of a deciding win sign terminating the associated machine's participation, the player of that machine winning the prize(s) he has accumulated from the display.
Alternatively the display may include prize signs and at least one deciding win sign, participation entailing cyclic operation of participation controls on their machines by the qualified players which cause prizes to accumulate while prize signs are selected, until one participation control causes the deciding win sign to be selected, whereupon the player of the associated machine wins the accumulated prizes.
Another possibility is for the display to include prize signs and at least one disqualification sign, participation entailing cyclic operation of participation controls on their machines by the qualified players which causes prizes to accumulate while prize signs are selected, but which results in the elimination of any player whose participation control selects a disqualification sign, this continuing until a final disqualification leaves one player still qualified who wins the total prizes accumulated.
Where appropriate, to keep players continuously occupied the display may be adapted to be duplicated for each qualified player beyond the first one so that the players can operate participation controls on their machines simultaneously.
For a better understanding of the invention some embodiments will now be described, by way of example, with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which:
FIG. 1 is a schematic diagram of gaming apparatus,
FIG. 2 illustrates one form of display usable with such apparatus,
FIG. 3 illustrates another form of display,
FIG. 4 illustrates a third form of display,
FIG. 5 shows an indicator panel associated with any of those displays.
The apparatus has four gaming machines 1 (there may be more or less) linked to a display 2 through a control unit 3. For some embodiments a remote computer or random number generator 4 has an input to each machine 1 to determine which of those machines may participate in trying to gain prizes shown on the display.
The gaming machines 1 are grouped so that the players can see the displays. The gaming machines may typically be those known as slot machines or fruit machines, with three or four reels that spin and stop with symbols showing in a line across respective windows. The reels may be electronically simulated rather than being actual mechanical reels. Certain combinations may result in prizes being awarded, but in some embodiments at least one particular combination will be classed as a special win and gain the player access to the display 2 through the control unit 3. Alternatively, access to the display may be gained by the computer 4 randomly, or at least apparently randomly, generating an access signal, which is recognised and acted upon only when at least one of the machines is played. So whatever combination happens to be turned up by that one machine can be regarded as a special win at that time.
Each machine 1 will also have at least one control button 5 which the player uses when he does have access to the display 2. This may be a separate button not used when the gaming machine is being played in the ordinary fashion, or it could be one of the control buttons, such as a “Hold” button, that has a dual function and which can be operated to hold a reel when the machine is being played on its own (the self-contained mode) or to influence the display when the player has achieved a special win (the participation mode). With more than one control button more complex play can be introduced, demanding decision-making and strategy on the part of the player.
But generally, the nature of the gaming machines 1 is not critical, although all those in a group should be similar to give players an equal chance of special wins.
The display 2 may also take any of several different forms. Three examples are shown in FIGS. 2, 3 and 4, the display of FIG. 2 being a panel 2 a with a matrix mostly of monetary prizes but with a few zones marked ELIMINATED. These zones are individually illuminated in rapid sequence (not necessarily in order along rows or columns) and the aim of the player with an active control button 5 is to stop the illumination at a desired zone. If his timing is right, the amount in that zone is set aside to contribute to the eventual total prize. The randomness may be more apparent than real and the control unit 3 may be programmed to make the display give the impression of skill.
Keeping the button 5 pressed down will not work: it has to be released after every activation before it can secure any further contributions. Subject to early elimination, each player may be given a set time, or a certain number of button operations, and then the next machine is used and so on through the players, each having just one button press at a time. Alternatively, a plasma screen capable of splitting the original display into two, three or more duplicate displays could provide for simultaneous operation.
One zone may make more than one contribution during a competition, or it could be arranged that once it has contributed it is no longer available. Of course that means that the later players will have less available targets. If ELIMINATED is selected, that terminates that player's participation, although prizes gained up to that point will not be lost.
The display of FIG. 3 is a wheel of fortune 2 b which spins past a fixed arrow 6, the aim of the player with an active control button being to stop the wheel with the arrow opposite a sector with a prize indicated rather than the BANKRUPT legend. If BANKRUPT is selected, prizes gained up to that point will be lost, either entirely, or at least to the player concerned, when they will go into a pool to be distributed to other players. To give the players some protection they could each have an ESCAPE button to terminate their turn on the display early. Having won substantial prizes, they might want to get out before being made bankrupt at the last spin of the wheel, for example.
The display of FIG. 4 is similar to that of a slot or fruit machine, the bands of the reels 2 c having a sequence of prizes with the occasional BANKRUPT legend. In competition mode these reels spin and the player with the active control button 5 may either have just one opportunity to stop the reels (which they will preferably do in sequence as is conventional with fruit machines) or he may have to press the control button three times to stop the reels in sequence, say right to left. Again, the aim would be to stop each reel with a prize showing rather than BANKRUPT.
The activation of these displays may be automatic once the competition mode is entered, and each player operates his button only to stop the movement. Alternatively, it may be required of the player to start the movement by pressing his button once and then stopping it by a second press, or by operating two different buttons, one for START, the other for STOP. A third alternative is for the player just to start the movement by pressing his button, the stopping of the movement being governed in an at least apparently random manner by the control unit.
Where ELIMINATED or BANKRUPT appear on the display there could instead be a legend such as PAY or WIN, for variations to be described below.
In addition to the display of FIG. 2, 3 or 4, there will also be an indicator panel 7 for the participation mode, such as that shown in FIG. 5. This shows which player has qualified and has an active control button, what he has won, whether he has been eliminated or made bankrupt, and the total of prizes achieved. There is also a clock 8 which can have more than one function, as described below.
There are various triggers that can be employed to start a participation session as mentioned above. It may simply be a randomly generated signal so that all those machines linked to the display, or randomly selected ones, or only those which have been active within a recent period, are available to participate.
An added restriction on entry to the participation could be that not only must the machine have been played within a recent period, say five seconds, but that the maximum stake must have been wagered. So only active and relatively ‘high rolling’ players will be admitted. An alternative to this is to demand a side bet or separate wager for qualification.
Yet another way of deciding who can participate is to use an initial qualification of one machine as a starting point. For example, as soon as the player of that machine achieves a particular win that qualifies him to participate in use of the display, that is signalled visually and/or audibly to the other players who then have a set period, say five minutes, in which to achieve a similar particular win and thus qualify as well. This will encourage fast and furious play as the others attempt to join the first player in the participation. One function of the clock 8 is to show how much time is left of this qualifying period.
Meanwhile the first player has five minutes on his hands, and he could simply stand by his machine waiting for the participation mode to start. Although very unlikely, he could even walk away from it and surrender the opportunity for a substantial prize to someone else. But to keep him playing it can be arranged that, should he come up with another qualifying win before the participation mode starts, that second qualification can be “banked” and used to initiate another participation mode after the first one has been completed. Or where elimination or bankruptcy is a possibility, the second qualification could enable that directive to be cancelled (should it appear during the participation mode) and allow the player to carry on trying to increase his winnings. Alternatively, such a second qualifying win could be made to augment any winnings from the display, for example it could cause any win by the player concerned to be doubled, or even trebled if a third qualifying win was achieved within the five minutes.
This also applies to other players qualifying within the set period, which they may do early on, leaving them time to play more in the self-contained mode.
With a single display, each machine must be played in turn, and the currently available one may be identified by, for example, a tower light on that machine illuminating. It will also be identified on the indicator panel 7 of FIG. 5 by the light behind PLAYER 1, 2, 3 or 4, flashing, for example.
- EXAMPLE 1
Once each player has completed his turn, it must be determined how the total prize is distributed on the display, and now the wheel of fortune embodiment of FIG. 3 will be used to explain various alternatives.
- EXAMPLE 2
In a “winner takes all” competition, without any time limit, each player in turn spins the wheel, and any prize indicated is credited to him. If he is unlucky and the wheel stops at BANKRUPT, he is out, but the prizes he has won stay in the pool. This continues until all but one player has gone bankrupt, and that player “scoops the pool”.
- EXAMPLE 3
BANKRUPT is replaced by PAY, and the first player whose wheel spin results in PAY being selected is awarded the total prize, eliminating all the other players at a stroke.
- EXAMPLE 4
Again with PAY rather than BANKRUPT, each player wins what he has accumulated up to the point of PAY being selected. He then drops out and the next player continues until he hits PAY and so on.
- EXAMPLE 5
Yet again with PAY rather than BANKRUPT, once everyone has finished in the competition mode, the total is equally divided between all the qualified players. Each player will try to maximise the total for the common good, and the competition is between the player and the display.
- EXAMPLE 6
As Example 4 but with BANKRUPT and a limit of time or number of wheel spins for each player. Any player who does hit BANKRUPT before his turn ends has his prizes forfeit and has to retire. He may then either have no prize at all or he may still share in the collective prize accumulated by others when they have completed their turns.
- EXAMPLE 7
As Example 4 or 5 but the total is divided unequally, in a weighted manner. With PAY on the wheel, for example, the player who lasted the longest is awarded a major share (which might well not be equal to what he had himself accumulated), the player who was the previous one to be stopped would receive a lower share, and so on, with perhaps the first player to be stopped receiving nothing. A typical distribution in percentages might be 60:30:10 for the top three players.
- EXAMPLE 8
Similar to Example 6 but the prizes are paid in random proportions from the total to the qualified players. The tower lights of the machines could be made to flash in sequence until eventually one remains lit, indicating that the player on that machine wins the total prize or the highest percentage. In the latter case, further flashing sequences determine who gets second and third prizes. Another possibility is a rotating wheel or drum whose position when stopped after a spin determines which participating machine has won.
- EXAMPLE 9
There is an elimination process. After a first round of the participation mode the player who has contributed least is eliminated. Then there is a second round and another elimination, and so on until one player (who has not necessarily been the highest contributor in the early rounds) is left and takes the prize.
- EXAMPLE 10
As Example 8, but instead of one player taking the whole prize, there is a weighted distribution between the leading players.
The machines themselves are used again once the total prize has been ascertained. Each player plays his machine once in the normal way but without a stake. With similar slot or fruit machines, for example, the player with the best combination of symbols according to the normal pay schedule would win. If no player has a winning contribution a second or even a third spin might be allowed, or the total prize might be forfeit.
As mentioned above, one function of the clock 8 is to show how much of a qualifying period remains. It is set going once one player qualifies and conveniently will count downwards from five minutes, say, to zero. It may be augmented by flashing lights and/or sounds, particularly at the start of the count down period, to attract players to any unattended machines and to stimulate those who are playing other machines to keep going and attempt to qualify.
In the participation mode, the clock 8 may have another function. The display 2 may be made available only for a limited period so that there is no chance of indefinite accumulation of prizes. To be fair to all qualified players, each should be individually timed and so instead of each player having one go in turn it will be preferred that each player monopolises the display until either he is timed out or is prematurely stopped by ELIMINATE, BANKRUPT or PAY being selected. If a player is so stopped, it could be arranged that the unused remainder of his period is shared between the other qualified players, resulting in those to follow having longer periods and those preceding being allowed a brief return to the display.
For example with four players and with a normal maximum of 20 seconds, if the first player uses that to the full and the second player hits BANKRUPT after 11 seconds, the third and fourth players will be allowed 23 seconds each on the display and the first player can return to it for another three seconds. But if that first player had also hit BANKRUPT at, say 17 seconds the third and fourth players would be able to share 9+3 extra seconds and so their set periods would be 26 seconds each.
But with a limitation on time it is possible to do without the ELIMINATION, BANKRUPT or PAY zones and therefore ensure that the total does not become excessive.
Instead of indicating minutes and seconds in the competition mode, the clock 8 could instead be a counter of permissible button operations for each player. For example, ten button operations may be allowed and the clock will just count down from ten to zero as each player works through his turn.
In FIGS. 2, 3 and 4 each display has, apart from the monetary prizes, only ELIMINATED, BANKRUPT or PAY. It would be possible to have a mixture on a single display, so that a player has a chance either of being paid or of going bankrupt, for example.