This application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/654,153 filed Feb. 18, 2005, which is incorporated by reference in its entirety herein.
- FIELD OF THE INVENTION
A portion of the disclosure of this patent document contains or may contain material that is subject to copyright protection. The copyright owner has no objection to photocopy reproduction of the patent document or the patent disclosure exactly as appearing in the Patent and Trademark Office patent file or records, but otherwise all copyright rights whatsoever are reserved. 37 CFR 1.71(d).
- BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The invention relates to gambling devices generally and in particular to a new method for playing a slot machine.
Gambling devices, such as slot machines, allow players to wager something of value in the hopes of winning something of greater value. Originally slot machines were mechanical devices employing 3 physical reels with various symbols painted or affixed to them. Upon inserting a coin and pulling a spring-loaded handle, the reels were set in motion and players were paid or not depending upon where the reels stopped and which symbols were displayed across the display portion of the machine.
Slot machines have evolved greatly since the original gaming devices discussed above. Most slot machines in use today are electronic computers, and the symbols are displayed in video form. Players often prefer video display slot machines over the traditional slot machines using mechanical reels. The video platform also offers more flexibility in development for manufacturers. The common term today for a gambling machine is a gaming device, which is used herein to include gambling devices such as slot machines, video poker, and other gambling games whether reel, video or otherwise.
Newer video slots typically display 5 reels side-by-side that spin on a common axis instead of the traditional 3 (or more) mechanical reels. These newer video slots usually show 3 stopping positions of each reel yielding a visible matrix of 3 rows by 5 columns. Sometimes the number of reels and reel positions displayed vary.
Players typically wager on 1 or more paylines that run in different paths through the reel positions displayed. Unlike newer models of gaming devices, early slots paid only for matching symbols straight across the center (a single payline). Traditionally the path of each payline takes 1 adjacent position of each reel, so on a 5-reel game the payline is usually 5 positions in length. However, today these payline paths may number in the hundreds, they may take any path, and they may not always span adjacent reels nor even be on contiguous reel positions. Players may wager on multiple paylines and may even wager multiple credits per payline. Reel symbols occurring in various combinations on the paylines are compared to a schedule of winning events commonly called a paytable to determine a win or loss. Often there are wild symbols that substitute for other symbols, and symbol combinations that trigger a bonus or feature game. Scatter pays are also common where certain symbol(s) pay anywhere in the visible display, and they don't have to be on any payline. Wins are usually rewarded with monetary awards from a coin hopper provided in the machine or tickets redeemable for cash.
Second screen features (or more) are common. A “second-screen” bonus game is usually separate and distinct from the normal reel display, and a player might select a car in a car race or scratch from a selection of video lottery tickets to earn credits, free games or anything of value. Some games even offer third screens or more, enhancing player interest and intrigue.
Some games let creative players play consecutive games without manual intervention. Sometimes players wedge a toothpick or folded matchbook cover in such a manner as to keep the play button depressed. Provided they have sufficient credits, consecutive games play off by themselves. Although these players have basically fashioned an autoplay device, each game is still a single, discrete event that requires a separate wager. However, in newer gaming devices a “game” might be comprised of multiple slot machines spins of a traditional nature plus other interactions and events.
In general, the more interactive a gaming device is, the greater its entertainment value, and the more entertaining a game is, the more players will play it. Accordingly, more play normally translates to greater profits for gaming device operators.
Other types of gaming devices offer side bets. For example, as disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 6,283,474 to de Keller, players play blackjack, but may wager separately who gets closest to a “21” point score. Similarly, in U.S. Pat. No. 6,019,374 to Breeding, a gaming device is provided which offers a side bet to participate in a super jackpot game.
Side bets have also been around for a very long time. Aristocrat, a major slot machine manufacturer headquartered in Australia, makes games that offer side bets embedded within a video slot machine. Their newer Cashman series offers bonus features that can only be won when a side bet is made. This side bet is only offered when the player has first bet the maximum number of lines offered on the machine. For example, after a player bets the maximum 20 paylines they are offered the chance to make a side bet that costs the equivalent of betting another 5 paylines. Thus, these games entice the player to raise their bet. Since casinos and operators normally retain a percentage of the bet, this side bet usually results in greater revenues and profits. While this is a somewhat creative means to offer a side bet, it is still just an additional bet. Side bets are separate wagers on separate events.
Some gaming devices offer multiple bets. Triple play poker as described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,823,873 to Moody allows a player's held cards to be played as multiple poker hands with each draw performed independently, usually resulting in 3 different outcomes. Each additional hand requires an additional wager that can become expensive, since it costs 3 times as much to play.
Regardless of the type or form of gaming device—whether reel slot, video game, some other type or combination—the basic method of wagering has remained largely the same for years. The player inserts coins or otherwise obtains credits on a machine, commits a wager, plays the game and then is paid or not depending on the outcome.
Slot machines today play in many different denominations. Credits on one machine might be worth 1 cent (or less), while others are worth $100. Some machines today even allow you to select the denomination within the machine and to change it between games. One recent advance in slot machine technology has been the introduction of a credit meter. With a credit meter, a player could insert more coins than were needed to play a single game, and thus have a pool of funds to draw upon. Ten nickels inserted would yield ten credits, for example. Then, the player could play one game that required ten nickel credits, ten games that required one nickel credit each, or anything in between. The use of a credit meter also allowed winnings to be accumulated on the machine, instead of always being paid out in coins each time the player won. A player could rack up credits and then choose to cash out at their leisure by the use of a special button on the machine for this purpose.
In the 1980s and 1990s, slot machine manufacturers began adding currency acceptors to their machines. Players could obtain machine credits by simply inserting paper currency. In recent years, manufacturers have even added devices that could dispense currency instead of, or in addition to, coins. (These are known as note hoppers and operate similar to bank cash machines or ATMs). Many new machines pay players in paper tickets or scripts that may be redeemed elsewhere or reinserted into similar machines that read and accept such paper. These are often called ticket-printer machines. Some machines may even accept credit cards or other cards that have value.
As a promotion, casinos sometime configure certain slot machines for tournament play. Slot tournaments are player versus player competitions administered by casino staff. Players gain entry through a variety of means, such as achieving VIP status in the casino's players club, paying an entry fee or simply for signing up. In these tournaments, players do not wager anything directly or at all, but person(s) with the highest credit scores receive something of value from the casino. Since there is no wager, the slot machines are set to a free play mode where the goal is to get more credits than the other players. Players are not paid directly for credits earned. Tournaments are marketing programs that rely on gaming devices for implementation.
Time on a particular device is a huge factor in the gaming industry today. Time on device is important not only for direct profits to gaming device operators, but also indirectly. The more time spent in one gambling property means more profit opportunities for the casino. Restaurants, shows, gift shops, hotel rooms, etc., all give the casino the chance for more profits. In general, the more time a player spends in a gaming establishment, the greater the likelihood they will return and spend even more. Operators strive to keep you in their establishment, which generally means more profits, and typically provide numerous incentives such as free or inexpensive food and drinks specifically for this purpose.
Marketing studies have revealed that players do not mind losing so much, as long as they can have a good time playing. Most casino gamblers don't really expect to win, but they do expect to play for a reasonable amount of time. This is consistent with newer trends in gaming where gambling for the typical patron is more of an entertainment experience. With the proliferation of casinos in America in recent years, casino gambling has become mainstream entertainment. Perhaps the most important part of that entertainment value is “time on device”, or how long you get to play for your money. Thus, time on device is critical to a positive gambling experience.
Accordingly, recent attempts have been made to ensure greater time on device for players. Perhaps the most common method today on slot machines is to offer more winners of lesser amounts. To this end slot makers design games with a greater mathematical win frequency and a reduced paytable. Especially in newer video slots hit frequencies reach 50% or more. In practice, this means you might bet 10 coins per line on 9 paylines (90 coins total) only to win 20 coins. Even though this is clearly a net loss for the player, the 20 is still advertised as a win. This trickling back of credits to the player takes their money more slowly, recognizes them as winners (even if they're losing) and extends their playtime for a given amount of money to bet.
One problem with high hit frequencies is that player returns become meaningless.
While time on device is generally lengthened, betting 90 to win 20 eventually becomes tedious and boring. Players soon realize that in these types of gaming products, they are not really winning, even if the machine displays “winner”, but rather—they have simply lost less. The reduced payable means the allure of big winners is diminished. The tradeoff of more common winners is smaller winners.
Other enticements also keep players playing longer. Bonus features or second-screen events that award free plays or credits are a common player objective. Progressive awards, where certain outcomes pay an amount that increases with credits played until won, also give players something special to play for. Random payouts and mystery jackpots (typically paid anywhere on a bank of networked gaming machines) are also popular.
Some less common gaming devices employ a hold and respin feature. In these games the reels are spun once, then desirable symbols are held similar to draw poker and the rest are spun again in order to make more favorable combinations. Still other esoteric and non-traditional concepts let players buy a predetermined amount of time and play without even being present as in U.S. Pat. No. 6,077,163 to Walker.
Different jurisdictions impose different regulations onto casino operators and gaming machine manufacturers. For example, riverboat casino legislation in Mississippi has resulted in casinos being built in the mud that don't even float. These riverboats never move. In other markets, however, riverboat casinos are required to cruise some distance periodically to qualify under the regulations.
Similarly, different states place different requirements onto gaming devices. One common rule requires a skill component. Thus in some markets video draw poker games are the standard. Skill is needed to make the best choice as to cards retained and cards replaced on the “draw.”
Some states don't allow traditional slot machines, but only bingo or lottery games that resemble slot machines. These games, often called “Class II” games, usually require another button press or two to set the reels spinning. Commencing with the bet, a bingo card is selected. The next button push selects a series of bingo balls, and a win or loss outcome is determined in accordance with the rules of bingo. The next press sets slot machine reels spinning and the result is that dictated by the bingo game. Thus clever manufacturers have fashioned a bingo game simulating a slot machine that is legal in some markets.
Still other markets require “central determination.” Unlike traditional slot machines that stand alone independent of each other, centrally determined gaming devices are networked to a central server. This server dishes random numbers or gaming device outcomes to each device on the network. Thus a central accounting point may be maintained in a government office that controls each device statewide. While imposed by regulation, this also helps with accounting controls, general security and the verification process over large jackpot payouts. These are sometimes called video lottery games. Many other variations exist on gaming devices and the systems that work with them.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
As indicated lower denomination games have become very popular recently. In the early 1990s games were generally nickel, quarter and dollar denomination. Today one-cent games are among the most popular. Since the denomination has fallen, so have average bets. Thus, manufacturers and gaming device operators are striving for ways to keep the bets high to maintain profitability. To these ends, some gaming device makers incorporate elaborate second- and third-screen bonuses with multiple bonus features embedded within their video slots. But, irrespective of the wagering method, new games that are too complicated are generally less successful, since most players prefer new games that are easy to learn and play. So, it is a balancing act to keep games interesting and engaging, but simple. Likewise, keeping the bets high enough to return traditional or better profits while offering lower denominations is also a major objective of game designers.
FIG. 1 is a sample button panel on a gaming device with the preferred embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 2 is sample gaming device display for use with the preferred embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 3 is a flowchart of the steps involved in the preferred embodiment of the present invention.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
FIG. 4 is a sample gaming device as may be used to practice the preferred embodiment of the present invention.
Accordingly it is one aspect of the present invention to provide a new and novel game that provides incentive to increase the wager, that is simple to learn and fun to play and that qualifies as a skill game suitable for play in the most gaming markets.
The present invention accomplishes these goals. In the preferred embodiment an incentive to increase the wager exists by offering more game play alternatives when more credits are bet per line. A symbol substitution option requires decision making to build the best winning combinations, thus there is greater interaction and a skill component. Finally the preferred embodiment is easy to learn, and the greater player involvement makes it more fun and intrinsically rewarding to play.
A typical embodiment of the present invention plays as follows. (Please refer to the flowchart in FIG. 3
- 1. Enable (or activate) the slot machine by inserting cash or equivalents to obtain machine credits.
- 2. Make wagering selections and initiate a game by pressing appropriate buttons on the machine.
- 3. Evaluate the game outcome. Were any replaceable symbols achieved and was the bonus enabled?
A. If no to either, any wins are posted to the credit meter.
- DETAILED DESCRIPTION
B. If yes to both, exchange replaceable symbols with available substitute symbols to find the best result. Press the collect or stand button to finalize, which posts any wins or consolation prizes to the credit meter.
- 4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until credits are exhausted or until patron decides to terminate play. Press a cashout button to collect any remaining credits in the form of cash or equivalents.
A preferred embodiment is the game referred to as Digging for Dollars (“DF$”). DF$ is a video slot machine game where the player may select certain symbols at their discretion in certain cases. A new way of wagering is involved, which dictates the number and type of symbols that are available to choose from. Skill is involved in selecting which symbols to place where. Since the pool of substitute symbols is made larger with greater wagers, there is motivation to bet more.
This embodiment plays like this. DF$ is a 20-payline game offering a side bet, and the side bet costs the equivalent of an additional 5 paylines. So, the first bet decision is whether to play from 1 to 20 lines at 1 credit each, or to bet the maximum 25 credits and cover all paylines plus enable the bonus. This bet is accomplished by way of an upper button panel on a traditional gaming device or video slot machine having 5 buttons. The buttons effect the wager and are titled as follows: Bet 1 Line; Bet 5 Lines; Bet 10 Lines; Bet 20 Lines; Bet 20 Lines+Bonus. Enabling the possibility of a bonus event, or qualifying, requires the max bet of 25 credits.
The lower button panel offers the number of credits per line to bet, which are multiplied by the selected number of paylines to determine the total bet as is traditional in the art. However, in DF$ these lower buttons also offer additional symbol/s to choose from when the bonus is enabled and activated. (The bonus may be considered enabled when the side bet is made. The bonus may be considered activated when any replaceable symbol/s appear.) So, this is an incentive to raise the wager. These lower buttons would be titled as: Play 1 Credit per Line+4 Symbols; Play 3 Credits per Line+5 Symbols; Play 5 Credits per Line+6 Symbols; Play 10 Credits Per Line+7 Symbols; Play 20 Credits per Line+8 Symbols+Scatter. Note in this embodiment the game has 10 symbols 1 of which a wild that is not available for replacement no matter what. So, the maximum number to select from in the bonus feature is 9 symbols—8 normal symbols plus a scatter pay symbol. (Refer to FIG. 1 for these sample buttons on a gaming device.)
DF$ plays like a standard 5 reel video slot showing 3 positions of each reel for a total of 15 symbols displayed in screen center. With the bonus enabled by way of a minimum 25 credit bet on the upper bet row and after the reels are spun once, 1 or more symbols may occur that the player can replace. These replaceable symbols are highlighted, animated or otherwise marked to indicate when this is possible. In this embodiment, replaceable symbols do not occur every base game spin, but occur randomly as a function of the underlying base game mathematics (on average every 30 games). This bonus feature is referred to as “Select & Collect.” (Refer to FIG. 2 for a sample screen shot of this embodiment.)
Available symbols (a function of the lower bet row selection) are displayed above the reels. By using a touchscreen the player may drag available symbol/s above to replace designated symbol/s below. Normally once a symbol is used, it cannot be used again in a current game. That is, if 9 symbols are available for choosing from and 1 is a Queen, and that Queen is used to replace a Jack symbol, that Queen is no longer available for re-use during the current bonus event. While a symbol may be “put back” and then re-placed into another replaceable position, they can normally be used only once per game each.
Once a player has replaced any symbol or symbols, a nominal win meter is updated to show what effect the substitution has made on the player's win. This is effectively a help function that assists the player in making the best choice/s. When the player is satisfied they have made the right replacement/s, they then press an onscreen collect or stand button to make their selection/s final and have their win credits posted to be used or cashed out as they see fit. Note in this embodiment it may be that no winners are possible, in which case a consolation prize is given. (Please refer to the flowchart in FIG. 3 for a description of the play method.)
So, this embodiment meets the three primary objectives. (1) It is easy to learn and play. (2) It uses a unique betting method that provides an incentive to increase wagers. (3) It involves a skill component.
There are many options, variations and derivatives employing the method of the present invention. For example, the incentive symbols offered in conjunction with the credit per line bets on the lower button row may be any symbol, number of symbols or symbol combinations. They may or may not increase in rank as the bet is increased. Replacements, or draws, might permit multiple uses of the same symbol in substitutions. The player may or may not be permitted to try various combinations before finalizing substitution/s. Replacements might only be offered with the maximum number of credits per line bet. The buttons themselves may not number 5, but any number. In fact, there may be no physical buttons at all, but the selections may be made by virtual buttons on the display and chosen by way of touchscreen or keypad. The accompanying credit per line bets may be any real number including fractions or decimals. Credit per line bets do not necessarily have to yield a fixed multiple of payline bets if, for example, half of any credit per line bet is attributed as a payline multiplier and half is attributed to a bonus bet. There may be a third row of buttons used to make player selections or more. The number and/or type of symbols granted for a given wager may not be fixed and may vary.
Another alternative is to grant any number or type of symbols to use in substitutions without any side bet at all, simply being an integral part of the base game.
As far as game play itself, there may be many ways to trigger the bonus event. Symbols may occur normally and be randomly highlighted for replacement, or there may be an additional means or method by which these replaceable symbols are found, identified and used. The Select & Collect frequency may vary substantially from the average 1 in 30 and may or may not be random. Greater bonus frequency may be purchased separately as in another side bet. Players may or may not be allowed to test various single or multiple substitutions before finalizing. The help function whereby players can see the effect of substitutions on winnings before they finalize may be disabled, eliminated or included only with an additional wager. The skill level required to make optimal decisions may be increased, minimized, or deleted entirely. Other utilities, means or methods may be employed to grant more or less player assistance with decision making. There may or may not be a consolation prize or prizes.
Anything of value may be granted under the paytable/s. There may be multiple paytables that correspond to different game stages, or they may vary randomly or by other events. Greater paytables may be purchased separately as in a side bet. Multipliers may be used, where paytable awards are multiplied by any number determined by any means. Paytable awards may or may not be monetary values and may be free games or other things of value. Certain occurrences may be negative, that is, some game outcomes may take credits away, reduce other awards or be similarly undesirable.
This invention might be offered in combination with other traditional gaming device incentives or features including, but not limited to, progressives or other side bets. It might be offered for tournament play, or as a Class II bingo or lottery-type game. There may be nested replacements if, for example, during one bonus another bonus is triggered and one or more of these bonuses enable or activate the Select & Collect feature. Similarly, any number of free games may be triggered which may or may not allow the feature. This invention might also be coupled with more non-traditional gaming device means, such as session-play games whereby other events dictate how many traditional slot machine spins are included in a game.
Available replacement symbols might be earned or accrued over multiple games. Players might choose which symbols to post to an available symbol “pool”, or said pool may be added to and subtracted from automatically (that is, without direct player input). Similarly, a shared pool may be administered and implemented over a network, and symbol contributions and substitutions may be accomplished over a linked set of multiple gaming devices. Symbols contributed to a networked pool and symbols used as substitutions may be done at the individual gaming device level or vice versa. Said contributions and uses over the network may or may not involve player choice, or they may or may not require additional wagers to participate.
The present invention may be used on other gaming devices besides slot machines as in draw poker. For example, 1 or more extra cards may be dealt to a substitution pool and the player may select from known or unknown cards in said pool to be used in any fashion when the feature is active. These pool cards may be determined in any fashion. For example, pool cards may be found randomly or taken from discards.
As shown, there are numerous variations on the theme that fall within the scope of the present invention. This invention may be employed with any combination of options including, but not limited to, bonuses, feature games, side bets, wagering or play methods. Thus, these and all embodiments described should be viewed as illustrative, rather than limiting.