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Publication numberUS20060258422 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 11/406,131
Publication dateNov 16, 2006
Filing dateApr 18, 2006
Priority dateApr 18, 2006
Publication number11406131, 406131, US 2006/0258422 A1, US 2006/258422 A1, US 20060258422 A1, US 20060258422A1, US 2006258422 A1, US 2006258422A1, US-A1-20060258422, US-A1-2006258422, US2006/0258422A1, US2006/258422A1, US20060258422 A1, US20060258422A1, US2006258422 A1, US2006258422A1
InventorsJay Walker, Daniel Tedesco, Russell Sammon, Jeffrey Hayashida
Original AssigneeWalker Jay S, Tedesco Daniel E, Sammon Russell P, Hayashida Jeffrey Y
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Methods and apparatus for free play mode operation of gaming devices
US 20060258422 A1
Abstract
The invention includes methods and apparatus for offering a free play mode of electronic game device operation to players. In an embodiment, the method includes determining whether to offer the player a choice to switch the electronic gaming device from a regular mode of operation to a free play mode of operation, wherein the free play mode of operation maintains a credit balance for the player. The method also includes presenting the offer to the player based on the determination, and receiving an election from the player to switch the electronic game device from the regular mode of operation to the free play mode of operation. In an advantageous embodiment, the method may also include providing an indication that the electronic game device is operating in the free play mode of operation. Such an indication may include at least one of the following: an audio message, a video message, written instructions, a message that the player is not eligible to win predetermined prizes, a message that the player can win only reduced prizes, a message that the player cannot win any prizes, a message that one or more prize has been modified, reduced or eliminated, a message that the odds of at least one outcome have been modified, and a message that at least one feature of the electronic game device has been enabled, disabled or altered.
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Claims(64)
1. A method, comprising:
determining whether to offer a player of an electronic game device a choice to switch the gaming device from a regular mode of operation to a free play mode of operation, wherein the free play mode of operation maintains a credit balance for the player;
presenting the offer to the player based on the determination; and
receiving an election from the player to switch the electronic game device from the regular mode of operation to the free play mode of operation.
2. The method of claim 1, which further comprises providing the free play mode of operation.
3. The method of claim 2, further comprising providing an indication that the electronic game device is operating in the free play mode of operation.
4. The method of claim 3, wherein the indication comprises at least one of an audio message, a video message, written instructions, a message that the player is not eligible to win predetermined prizes, a message that the player can win only reduced prizes, a message that the player cannot win any prizes, a message that at least one prize has been modified, reduced or eliminated, a message that the odds of at least one outcome have been modified, and a message that at least one feature of the electronic game device has been enabled, disabled or altered.
5. The method of claim 3, which further comprises displaying the indication at least one of upon initiating free play mode operation, after each outcome during free play mode, and during the entire time that the electronic game device is operating in free play mode.
6. The method of claim 2, which further comprises:
monitoring the electronic game device for the occurrence of a termination condition; and
terminating the free play mode of operation when the termination condition occurs.
7. The method of claim 6, wherein the termination condition comprises at least one of:
exceeding a predetermined amount of time in free play mode,
exceeding a predetermined threshold value of winning outcomes,
a determination that demand for regular mode play of operation for the electronic game device is increasing, and
a time of day indication.
8. The method of claim 1, wherein determining further comprises monitoring the electronic game device for the occurrence of a trigger condition, and presenting the offer based on the trigger condition.
9. The method of claim 8, wherein the trigger condition comprises at least one of:
exceeding a threshold value of losing outcomes,
exceeding a predetermined amount of time,
exceeding a predetermined percentage decline in the credit balance, and
a request by an eligible player.
10. The method of claim 9, wherein the eligible player comprises at least one of a player using a player tracking card, a player who exceeds a predetermined credit balance, a player new to the electronic game device, a player who has been identified by a casino representative, a player who has at least a predetermined number of comp points, a player who has been playing the electronic game device for at least a predetermined duration, a player who has wagered at least a predetermined amount of money, and a player who has lost at least a predetermined amount of money.
11. The method of claim 8, wherein the trigger condition comprises a request by the player to utilize the free play mode of operation.
12. The method of claim 11, wherein the request further comprises at least one of pressing a button, using a touch screen display, using an input device, asking a casino representative to provide free play mode operation, inputting at least one of a player tracking card, a coupon, a wagering ticket, a slots ticket, a voucher, and payment.
13. The method of claim 1, which further comprises, during the regular mode of operation, permitting the credit balance to decline to zero.
14. The method of claim 1, which further comprises, during the free play mode of operation, maintaining the credit balance by at least one of preventing the credit balance from declining at all, preventing the credit balance from declining to zero, and preventing the credit balance from declining more than a predetermined amount.
15. The method of claim 1, which further comprises, when a winning outcome occurs during the free play mode of operation, permitting the credit balance to increase at least a predetermined amount.
16. The method of claim 1, which further comprises, when a winning outcome occurs during the free play mode of operation, providing at least one of no payout, a reduced payout, a jackpot payout, a prize, a restricted payment, and at least one complimentary award.
17. The method of claim 1, which further comprises storing free play mode data in a memory of at least one of a dedicated storage device, at least one electronic game device, at least one electronic game server, and a casino server.
18. The method of claim 17, which further comprises storing free play mode data in the memory at least one of after completion of a free play mode session, several times per day, once per day, on a predetermined periodic basis, at all times, and on command.
19. The method of claim 17, which further comprises periodically transmitting the free play mode data to a central database.
20. The method of claim 17, which further comprises providing access to at least a portion of the free play mode data in the memory to at least one of authorized casino personnel, a regulator, and a player.
21. The method of claim 17, in which storing further comprises storing the free play mode data in at least one of a tabular form, in an object-oriented format, in an XML format, and in a relational database format.
22. The method of claim 17, further comprising:
analyzing the free play mode data for a plurality of players;
determining at least one trend based on the analysis; and
modifying at least one trigger condition for use in determining future offers for free play mode.
23. The method of claim 1, further comprising:
generating free play mode data associated with the player;
analyzing the free play mode data; and
determining at least one modified offer for free play mode based on the analysis.
24. The method of claim 23, further comprising providing the modified offer for free play mode operation to the player when the player utilizes the electronic game device in the future.
25. A method, comprising:
receiving payment from a player desiring to play a wagering game in a regular mode of operation on an electronic game device;
establishing a credit balance for the player associated with the payment;
providing the regular mode of electronic game device operation;
providing a free play mode of operation if the player requests free play mode; and
displaying at least one indication that the electronic game device is operating in free play mode.
26. The method of claim 25, wherein the player request comprises at least one of pressing a button, pressing an appropriate portion of a touch screen display, using an input device, asking a casino representative to provide free play mode operation, and inputting at least one of a player tracking card, a coupon, a wagering ticket, a slots ticket, a voucher, and payment.
27. The method of claim 25, wherein the at least one indication comprises at least one of an audio message, a video message, written instructions, a message that the player is not eligible to win predetermined prizes, a message that the player can win only reduced prizes, a message that the player cannot win any prizes, a message that at least one prize has been modified, reduced or eliminated, a message that the odds of at least one outcome have been modified, and a message that at least one feature of the electronic game device has been enabled, disabled or altered.
28. The method of claim 25, which further comprises displaying the indication at least one of upon entering free play mode operation, after each outcome during free play mode, and during the entire time that the electronic game device is operating in free play mode.
29. The method of claim 25, further comprising offering the free play mode to the player if a trigger condition occurs.
30. The method of claim 29, wherein the trigger condition comprises at least one of:
exceeding a threshold value of losing outcomes,
exceeding a predetermined amount of time,
exceeding a predetermined percentage decline in the credit balance, and
a request by an eligible player.
31. The method of claim 30, wherein the eligible player comprises at least one of a player using a player tracking card, a player who exceeds a predetermined credit balance, a player new to the electronic game device, a player who has been identified by a casino representative, a player who has at least a predetermined number of comp points, a player who has been playing the electronic game device for at least a predetermined duration, a player who has wagered at least a predetermined amount of money, and a player who has lost at least a predetermined amount of money.
32. The method of claim 25, further comprising ending the free play mode of electronic game device operation when a termination condition occurs.
33. The method of claim 32, wherein the termination condition comprises at least one of:
exceeding a predetermined amount of time in free play mode,
exceeding a predetermined threshold value of winning outcomes,
a determination that demand for regular mode play of operation for the electronic game device is increasing, and
a time of day indication.
34. The method of claim 25, which further comprises, during the regular mode of operation, permitting the credit balance to decline to zero.
35. The method of claim 25, which further comprises, during the free play mode of operation, maintaining the credit balance by at least one of preventing the credit balance from declining at all, preventing the credit balance from declining to zero, and preventing the credit balance from declining more than a predetermined amount.
36. The method of claim 25, which further comprises, when a winning outcome occurs during the free play mode of operation, providing at least one of no payout, a reduced payout, a predetermined increase in the credit balance, a jackpot payout, a prize, a restricted payment, and at least one complimentary award.
37. A method, comprising:
receiving payment from a player desiring to play a wagering game on an electronic game device;
establishing a credit balance for the player associated with the payment;
providing a regular mode of electronic game device operation to the player;
determining an occurrence of at least one trigger condition; and
unlocking a free play mode of electronic game device operation based on the at least one trigger condition.
38. The method of claim 37, further comprising offering the player a choice to switch to the free play mode of operation from the regular mode of operation, and providing the free play mode of operation if the player accepts the offer.
39. The method of claim 37, further comprising providing the free play mode of operation at least one of automatically, and after the player provides an indication to utilize the free play mode of operation.
40. The method of claim 39, further comprising ending the free play mode of operation when a termination condition occurs.
41. The method of claim 40, wherein the termination condition comprises at least one of:
exceeding a predetermined amount of time in free play mode,
exceeding a predetermined threshold value of winning outcomes,
a determination that demand for regular mode play of operation for the electronic game device is increasing, and
a time of day indication.
42. The method of claim 37, which further comprises, during the regular mode of operation, permitting the credit balance to decline to zero.
43. The method of claim 37, which further comprises, during the free play mode of operation, maintaining the credit balance by at least one of preventing the credit balance from declining at all, preventing the credit balance from declining to zero, and preventing the credit balance from declining more than a predetermined amount.
44. The method of claim 37, which further comprises, when a winning outcome occurs during the free play mode of operation, providing at least one of no payout, a reduced payout, a predetermined increase in the credit balance, a jackpot payout, a prize, a restricted payment, and at least one complimentary award.
45. The method of claim 37, wherein the trigger condition comprises at least one of:
exceeding a threshold value of losing outcomes,
exceeding a predetermined amount of time,
exceeding a predetermined percentage decline in the credit balance, and
a request by an eligible player.
46. The method of claim 45, wherein the eligible player comprises at least one of a player using a player tracking card, a player who exceeds a predetermined credit balance, a player new to the electronic game device, a player who has been identified by a casino representative, a player who has at least a predetermined number of comp points, a player who has been playing the electronic game device for at least a predetermined duration, a player who has wagered at least a predetermined amount of money, and a player who has lost at least a predetermined amount of money.
47. The method of claim 37, wherein the trigger condition comprises a request by the player to utilize the free play mode of operation, and wherein the request comprises at least one of pressing a button, using a touch screen display, using an input device, asking a casino representative to provide free play mode operation, inputting at least one of a player tracking card, a coupon, a wagering ticket, a slots ticket, a voucher, and payment.
48. The method of claim 37, further comprising displaying an indication that the electronic game device is operating in free play mode.
49. The method of claim 48, wherein the indication comprises at least one of an audio message, a video message, written instructions, a message that the player is not eligible to win predetermined prizes, a message that the player can win only reduced prizes, a message that the player cannot win any prizes, a message that one or more prize has been modified, reduced or eliminated, a message that the odds of at least one outcome have been modified, and a message that at least one feature of the electronic game device has been enabled, disabled or altered.
50. The method of claim 48, which further comprises displaying the indication at least one of upon entering free play mode operation, after each outcome during free play mode, and during the entire time that the electronic game device is operating in free play mode.
51. An electronic game device, comprising:
a processor;
a memory coupled to the processor;
a payment system coupled to the processor and configured to accept payment from a player desiring to play a wagering game, and configured to establish a credit balance for the player;
at least one display device coupled to the processor configured to provide wagering game play and to display messages to the player; and
at least player one input device coupled to the processor;
wherein the memory stores a program and a database, and wherein the database includes data associated with a regular play mode of operation and a free play mode of operation, and
wherein the program includes instructions executable by the processor that are operable to:
provide the regular mode of operation to the player;
provide the free play mode of operation upon request; and
display at least one indication that the electronic game device is operating in free play mode.
52. The electronic game device of claim 51, wherein the processor is operative to monitor the electronic game device for the occurrence of a termination condition, and to terminate the free play mode of operation when the termination condition occurs.
53. The electronic game device of claim 51, wherein the processor is operative to monitor the electronic game device for the occurrence of a trigger condition, and to determine an offer for the free play mode of operation based on the trigger condition.
54. The electronic game device of claim 51, further comprising means for determining if the player perceives that the electronic game device is in a cold period coupled to the processor to provide input for the determination of a trigger condition.
55. The electronic game device of claim 55, wherein the means for determining includes means for determining if a number of non-winning outcomes generated by the electronic game device exceeds a predetermined threshold number of non-winning outcomes.
56. The electronic game device of claim 51, further comprising means for determining if the player is feeling frustrated, coupled to the processor to provide input for the determination of a trigger condition.
57. The electronic game device of claim 56, wherein the means for determining if the player is feeling frustrated comprises:
a play activator coupled to the processor; and
a sensor coupled to the play activator and the processor,
wherein the sensor is operable to generate a signal indicative of an amount of force that the player exerts on the play activator, and
wherein the processor is operable to receive the signal and determine if the amount of force exceeds a predefined threshold amount of force.
58. The electronic game device of claim 51, wherein the program further comprises instructions operable to determine a reduced awards amount associated with the free play mode of operation.
59. The electronic game device of claim 51, further comprising an input/output device coupled to the processor and operable to switch the electronic game device back to the regular mode of operation from the free play mode of operation when at least one of a request is received and a termination condition occurs.
60. The electronic game device of claim 51, further comprising at least one of a peripheral device, a smart card, a USB key device, a personal digital assistant, a handheld device, and a casino personnel device configured to access the memory and to obtain at least a portion of free play mode data.
61. A system for providing free play mode of operation for at least one electronic game device of a network, comprising:
a plurality of electronic game devices, at least one of the electronic game devices configured to provide a free play mode of electronic game device operation;
at least one server configured to communicate with the plurality of electronic game devices, and to receive free play mode data; and
at least one memory configured to obtain and to store the free play mode data, wherein the free play mode data includes data identifying the electronic game device, data identifying all other communicating devices associated with that electronic game device, data associated with at least one termination condition, and at least one of the time and date of each offer for free play mode operation and player data.
62. The system of claim 61, which further comprises a casino server having the at least one memory and configured to automatically analyze the free play mode data and to generate at least one of a report, and at least one instruction for taking at least one action, based on the analysis.
63. The system of claim 61, wherein the at least one instruction causes at least one of termination of the free play mode of operation, and communication with a casino representative.
64. The system of claim 61, further comprising at least one of a peripheral device, a smart card, a USB key device, a personal digital assistant, and a casino personnel device configured to access the at least one memory and to obtain at least a portion of the free play mode data.
Description
    FIELD OF THE INVENTION
  • [0001]
    The present invention relates to electronic game devices (GDs), such as slot machines, video poker machines and pachinko machines, which may be used by players to play wagering games. More specifically, the present invention relates to methods and apparatus for providing a free play mode of operation to players utilizing such GDs.
  • [0002]
    Advantages and features of the invention will become apparent upon reading the contents of this document, and the nature of the invention may be more clearly understood by reference to the following detailed description of the invention, the appended claims and to the drawings attached hereto.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • [0003]
    FIG. 1A is a plan view of an embodiment of an example of an Electronic Game Device (GD) of a type adapted for use with the present invention;
  • [0004]
    FIG. 1B is a simplified block diagram of an embodiment of a GD similar to that depicted in FIG. 1A;
  • [0005]
    FIG. 1C illustrates an example of a payout database that may be associated with a GD that is configured to provide a regular mode and a free play mode of operation according to an embodiment of the invention;
  • [0006]
    FIG. 2 is a block diagram of an embodiment of an Electronic Game Server (GS) in accordance with the invention, wherein the GS may be configured to communicate with a plurality of GDs;
  • [0007]
    FIG. 3 is a flowchart illustrating the operation of a GD in accordance with an embodiment of the invention;
  • [0008]
    FIG. 4 is a flowchart illustrating the operation of a GD in accordance with another embodiment of the invention; and
  • [0009]
    FIGS. 5A and 5B illustrate a tabular representation of an example of a free play mode active sessions database in accordance with an embodiment of the invention.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
  • [0010]
    Applicants have recognized that it would be advantageous for players to be able to utilize Electronic Game Devices (GDs) in a new “free play” or “no bet” mode, in contrast to a “regular mode” of GD operation wherein a player is required to place a bet (put a monetary amount at risk) of at least one credit in order to determine an outcome on the GD. In regular mode, a player's credit balance may decrease or decline due to the occurrence of losing outcomes. In contrast, the free play mode of operation permits a player to operate and generate outcomes on the GD without having to place bets (i.e. the player may play the GD for free). The free play mode of GD operation may be used, for example, when a player decides to use a GD on a casino floor corresponding to a particular wagering game that is new to that player, so the player can learn how to play. In addition, or alternately, a player may utilize free play mode when he believes that a particular GD is on a “cold streak”, and thus that player may activate the free play mode on the slot machine for a certain period of time to ride out the perceived “cold streak” instead of placing further bets. Such operation may influence the player to continue play on that GD, and to eventually return to regular mode play, rather than cash out and possibly leave the casino.
  • [0011]
    In various embodiments, modified rules apply when a GD is operating in the free play mode, as compared to the rules that apply during regular GD play. For example, during free play mode, the player may spin the reels of the slot machine and generate outcomes without placing any bets, thereby preventing his credit balance on that GD from declining because of losing outcomes. Since the player is not required to place bets on spins in free play mode, prizes on the GD may be reduced or eliminated. The player may continue to spin the reels of the slot machine in free play mode for as long as he likes, or until a termination condition occurs (e.g., the player may be restricted to a maximum of 50 spins in free play mode, and/or free play mode may only be permitted during off-peak times, which may either be determined dynamically based on actual usage of the available GDs, or may be based on a set of predetermined rules). During free play mode, the player's credit balance on the slot machine will be maintained at a value that is greater than or equal to the value present at the start of free play mode. In various embodiments, the GD switches back to a regular mode of operation at the end of free play mode, where the normal rules of slot machine play apply (i.e., the player is required to place a bet in order to spin the reels of the GD, credits are automatically deducted from, or added to, the credit balance for each spin, and thus the player can lose money as well as win jackpots). It should be understood that the terms “free play mode” and “no-bet mode” are synonymous when used herein.
  • [0012]
    For example, in some embodiments a player may initiate a gaming session on a GD that offers a five-reel slot machine by inserting a $20 bill into a payment device. After 10 minutes of gaming on that GD, the player may have 54 credits remaining. However, the player may perceive that the slot machine has entered, or is about to enter a “cold streak”. The player then decides to press a “Bet 0 Credits” button on the slot machine to switch his bet size to zero credits and to activate the “free-play” or “no-bet” mode of operation. When the player spins the reels of the slot machine in free play mode, there is no need to worry about losing outcomes because no bets are placed, so his credit balance will stay equal to 54 credits. However, in this embodiment, the player also doesn't receive any prizes for winning outcomes, with the lone exception of a $10,000 jackpot prize (i.e., if the reels line up with Bar-Bar-Bar on any payline, the player wins the $10,000 jackpot regardless of whether the GD is in the regular mode or the free play mode of operation). Continuing with this example, the player operates the GD in free play mode for about 6 minutes until three winning outcomes in a row occur, and now thinks that the machine has “warmed up” again. The player now wishes to exit the free play mode, so he presses a “Bet 1 Credit” button on the GD to increase his bet size and switch back to the regular mode of operation of the slot machine. At this point, the player's credit balance, which had been maintained at 54 credits since the start of free play mode, will again be allowed to vary according to the normal rules of slot machine play that apply in the regular mode of operation.
  • [0013]
    It should be understood that, although a slot machine type of GD was discussed in the example above, the present methods are also applicable to other GDs that offer different types of wagering games, including but not limited to, video poker machines, video blackjack machines, keno terminals, a pachinko machine, a GD offering a table-top game, a personal computer, a telephone or cell phone, a portable handheld gaming device (e.g., a personal digital assistant (PDA), a wireless intra-property handheld wagering device, a Nintendo® GameBoy®, and the like), a skill crane, a skee-ball machine, and/or hardware positioned adjacent to or in association with a table game (for example, blackjack or craps) that is configured to accept player identification and/or bet input. It is noted that applying the methods disclosed herein to interactive games, such as video poker or video blackjack, may be beneficial because free play mode permits players to learn or to practice how to play GDs that offer such wagering games. In addition, it is contemplated that free play mode on a GD may be provided as an additional feature (such as a bonus feature, or award) for players who meet certain criteria, and/or as a method of permitting certain classes of players to learn how to use, or to develop expertise in the use of, a particular type of GD.
  • [0014]
    It has been recognized that organizations, such as casinos, who have or are planning large-scale deployments of networked GDs may implement the idea of a single logical Electronic Game Server (GS) that transmits gaming computations and instructions by utilizing multiple physical Electronic Game Servers. In addition, a multi-layer architecture (such as Model-View-Controller) may be used that may result in more than one logical grouping of functions in the GS implementation. In these implementations, a single request for game play, either in a regular mode or a free play mode, from a GD of a plurality of GDs can be satisfied by a large number of possible combinations of physical devices. A “gaming request”, which is a solicitation by a GD for data that will be used to formulate at least a portion of a gaming outcome, may be made substantially simultaneously by a plurality of GDs in a thin client system. For example, a GD may make a gaming request for five cards, for three icons representing a combination for display for a three-reel slot machine, for the generation of random numbers, and/or for a mapping of random numbers to game parameters such as cards, dice, reel icons and the like. The requested functions may be handled by a GS or other device which may be a component of a gaming system (such as a gaming network that includes one or more casino or gaming servers and one or more GDs) and then provided to the GD. The treatment that is applied to a players' credit balance will depend upon the mode that the player is using (i.e. either regular mode operation or free play mode operation) on any particular GD.
  • [0015]
    A need therefore exists for methods and apparatus to permit players to initiate and utilize a free play mode of operation of GDs. Methods, apparatus and systems consistent with the present invention avoid the shortcomings of prior art systems by making it simple and easy for players to obtain free play mode operation of a GD. The methods, apparatus and systems also may include components configured to collect free play mode data, for example, and such data may be analyzed to determine whether changes should be made, for example, in the manner in which free play mode offers are made to certain players. In some embodiments, regulators and/or casino personnel, for example, may be able to access free play mode data for various purposes, such as checking to ensure that free play mode is being implemented in a manner that consistent and that is fair to all players.
  • [0016]
    Before describing the details associated with the free play mode of operation of a GD, presented below are descriptions of illustrative apparatus and related components.
  • [0000]
    1. Electronic Gaming Device (GD) Components
  • [0017]
    FIG. 1A is a plan view of an embodiment 10 of an electronic gaming device (GD). In this example, the GD 10 comprises a three-reel slot machine that includes a display area 12 in which an outcome for a game of the slot machine is displayed to the player. The display area 12 may be, for example, a video display that displays simulations of reels. The display area 12 may be, in another example, a transparent window behind which is located mechanical reels. A payline 14 appears within the display area 12, and the payline is used to determine the outcome of a game. In particular, a particular set of symbols displayed along a payline of a reeled slot machine may be determinative of a winning or losing combination. As shown in FIG. 1A, two bells and an orange are displayed along the payline 14 and a message appears in display area 22 indicating that the player has won a super bonus of ten credits. In some GD embodiments, multiple paylines (not shown) may be provided that may be horizontal (such as payline 14), vertical, and/or diagonal.
  • [0018]
    Slot machine 10 further comprises a handle 16. A player may initiate the movement of the reels in display area 12 to generate a game outcome by pulling on the handle 16. Alternatively, a player may initiate the movement of the reels in display area 12 by actuating the “START” button 18. When a player enters the regular mode of operation of the GD, he may place a bet by using the “BET 3 COINS; MAX BET” button 13, or the “BET 2 COINS” button 15, or the “BET 1 COIN” button 17” before utilizing the handle 16 or START button 18 to initiate play (In some embodiments, the GD may include additional and/or alternate types of buttons, for example, an “INCREASE BET” button and/or a “DECREASE BET” button operable to either increase or reduce the size of the bet). The player can also initiate a free play mode of operation of the GD by pushing a “BET 0 COINS; FREE PLAY” button 19. Any or all of handle 16, START button 18, BET 3 COINS; MAX BET button 13, BET 2 COINS button 15, BET 1 COIN button 17, and the BET 0 COINS; FREE PLAY button 19 are exemplary embodiments of an input device of the GD.
  • [0019]
    In this exemplary implementation, the slot machine 10 also comprises a player tracking device 20 that includes a player tracking card reader and a display (e.g., an LED display) for outputting information related to the player identifier (e.g., player's name and number of comp points associated with that player's account). The player tracking device 20 may be configured to read, for example, a magnetic stripe found on the reverse side of a player gaming card provided by a casino, and to write information thereto. In another example, the player tracking device 20 may be configured to communicate with a smart card that may include storage means for storing player data and the like.
  • [0020]
    An additional component of slot machine 10 is another display area 22 that may be used to display information to a player. The display area 22 may be utilized, for example, to display text or graphics informing a player that he is in a free play mode of operation, to display a free play mode payout table that may show reduced payouts in comparison to payouts offered for regular mode play, to display a message to the player that he has qualified for a bonus, and/or to convey other information to the player. As shown in FIG. 1A, the player has entered free play mode, either by pressing the BET 0 COINS: FREE PLAY button 19 or otherwise (other methods for obtaining free play mode will be explained further below), so the display area 22 is showing a message: “FREE PLAY MODE—NO PRIZES AWARDED”. In some embodiments, the free play mode of operation may not award any prizes (as illustrated in FIG. 1A), may include a limited or reduced payout table, and/or may offer only a limited number of prizes or jackpots. Such embodiments will be explained in detail below.
  • [0021]
    A payment system 30 includes a bill acceptor and credit card reader 34, and a coin acceptor 36. Other payment systems, such as ticket or coupon acceptors, and/or a smart card reader, could also be utilized. In some embodiments, the player may use a ticket or coupon acceptor to request and/or to initiate free play mode. A player may also utilize the payment system 30 to provide a wager for playing a game, and/or to obtain credits for regular mode play in exchange for proof that the player has performed a value added activity. Examples of value added activities which may qualify the player to receive additional credits added to his credit balance on a GD, could include signing up for a magazine subscription, signing up for a new credit card, answering survey questions, and/or agreeing to attend a time-share seminar.
  • [0022]
    The slot machine 10 further comprises a credit meter balance 35 that reflects the amount of electronic credits currently available to a player. The player may use the electronic credits as wagers for games played on the gaming device. In some embodiments, a feature of the free play mode of GD operation may be that the electronic credits are prevented from decreasing, but may be permitted to increase by only certain predetermined amounts. In other embodiments, the electronic credits may not be permitted to decrease or increase, or may be permitted to increase only if certain jackpot conditions are met. The electronic credits may also be “cashed out” as coins, bills, tokens, a cashless gaming receipt, and/or value transferred to another financial account associated with the player.
  • [0023]
    The slot machine 10 includes yet another display area 40, which displays a regular mode payout schedule for the slot machine 10. The payout schedule displays payouts that correspond to various outcomes obtainable during the regular mode of operation of the slot machine 10. In one or more embodiments, if an outcome is displayed in display area 12 that, as indicated in display area 40, corresponds to a payout, the credit meter balance 35 may be increased by an amount of electronic credits corresponding to the payout. In some embodiments, a free play mode payout schedule (not shown) may also be displayed in the display area 40 or elsewhere, which indicates a reduced and/or a limited payout schedule for play during free play or no-bet mode of operation.
  • [0024]
    Finally, the slot machine 10 comprises a coin tray 50 into which payment to the player may be rendered by dispensing coins. Such coins may be dispensed based on, for example, a player's indication that the player would like to cash out his credit meter balance and/or a payout obtained by a player as a result of playing a game on the slot machine 10. The coin tray 50 is an exemplary embodiment of a benefit output device (described below with reference to FIG. 1B).
  • [0025]
    FIG. 1B is a block diagram 60 of an embodiment of a GD or player terminal which may be similar to that of FIG. 1A. The GD 60 may be implemented as a system controller, a dedicated hardware circuit, an appropriately programmed general-purpose computer, or any other equivalent electronic, mechanical or electromechanical device. The GD 60 may comprise a game of skill or a game of chance, for example, a reeled slot machine (whether mechanical or video), a video poker terminal, a video blackjack terminal, a video keno terminal, a video lottery terminal, a pachinko machine, or any apparatus that provides an electronic version of any tabletop game. In various embodiments, an GD may comprise, for example, a personal computer (e.g., which communicates with an online casino Web site), a telephone (e.g., to communicate with an automated sports book that provides gaming services), or a portable handheld gaming device (e.g., a personal digital assistant (PDA), Nintendo GameBoy™, or SONY brand PSP™). In some embodiments, a user device such as a PDA or cell phone may be used in place of, or in addition to, some or all of the GD 60 components depicted in FIG. 1B.
  • [0026]
    The GD 60 of FIG. 1B includes a processor 62, such as one or more Intel® Pentium® processors, or similar processors manufactured by other companies such as Advanced Micro Devices, Incorporated. The processor 62 is in communication with a memory 80 and a communication port 64 (e.g., for communicating with one or more other devices, such as with a peripheral device). The memory 80 may comprise an appropriate combination of magnetic, optical and/or semiconductor memory, and may include, for example, Random Access Memory (RAM), Read-Only Memory (ROM), a compact disc and/or a hard disk. The memory 80 may comprise or include any type of computer-readable medium. The processor 62 and the memory 80 may each be, for example: (i) located entirely within a single computer or other device; or (ii) connected to each other by a remote communication medium, such as a serial port cable, telephone line or radio frequency transceiver. In one embodiment, the GD 60 may comprise one or more devices that are connected to a remote server computer, such as a GS, which may be a casino server, for maintaining databases or data in another memory scheme.
  • [0027]
    The memory 80 stores a program 82 for controlling the processor 62. The processor 62 performs instructions of the program 82, and thereby operates in accordance with embodiments of the present invention, and particularly in accordance with the methods described in detail herein. For example, in some embodiments, the program 82 also includes instructions operable to determine a reduced awards amount associated with the free play mode of operation. The program 82, as well as any other program for controlling a processor described herein, may be stored in a compressed, uncompiled and/or encrypted format. The program 82 furthermore includes program elements that may be necessary, such as an operating system, a database management system and “device drivers” for allowing the processor 62 to interface with one or more computer peripheral devices. Appropriate program elements are known to those skilled in the art, and need not be described in detail herein.
  • [0028]
    According to an embodiment, the instructions of the program 82 may be read into a main memory from another computer-readable medium, such from a ROM to RAM. Execution of sequences of the instructions in program 82 may cause processor 62 to perform one or more process steps described herein. In alternate embodiments, hard-wired circuitry may be used in place of, or in combination with, software instructions for implementation of some or all of the processes of the present invention. Thus, embodiments described herein are not limited to any specific combination of hardware and software.
  • [0029]
    The memory 80 may also store one or more databases 84, or portions thereof. For example, the database 84 of memory 80 may be one or more of a probability database, a payout database, and/or a free play mode database. Thus, the memory 80 of the GD 60 may be configured to provide at least some of the data required for a player to play a game of chance, and the GD may then obtain any other required software, data, and/or instructions from one or more other devices.
  • [0030]
    The fields of a probability database may specify, for example: (i) a random number (or range of random numbers) that may be generated by a random number generator; and (ii) an outcome that indicates the one or more indicia comprising the outcome that corresponds to the random number of a particular record. A GD 60 may utilize a probability database to determine, for example, what outcome corresponds to a random number generated by a random number generator and to display the determined outcome. For example, the outcomes may comprise the three symbols to be displayed along the payline of a three-reel slot machine. Other arrangements of probability databases are possible. For example, the book “Winning At Slot Machines” by Jim Regan (Carol Publishing Group Edition, 19264) illustrates examples of payout and probability tables and how they may be derived. The entirety of this book is incorporated by reference herein for all purposes.
  • [0031]
    The fields of a payout database may specify, for example: (i) an outcome, which indicates the one or more indicia comprising a given outcome; and (ii) a payout that corresponds to each respective outcome. If GD 60 comprises an electronic version of a three-reel slot machine, for example, the outcomes may mirror those obtained on a three-reel slot machine so that, after determining the outcome for displaying on the GD display, the GD may access a payout database to determine whether that outcome is one of the outcomes stored as corresponding to a payout. If it is, the GD may provide the corresponding payout to the player via a benefit output device described herein. Other arrangements of payout databases are possible. For example, the book “Winning At Slot Machines” by Jim Regan (Carol Publishing Group Edition, 19264), previously incorporated by reference, illustrates many examples of payout and probability tables and how they may be derived. In some embodiments, an alternate free play mode or no-bet mode payout database may be used to specify, for example: (i) one or more outcomes that includes a definition of which indicia comprise any/each of the predetermined outcomes; and (ii) a reduced payout or prize award that corresponds to each respective outcome in free play mode (which will be explained in detail below with reference to FIG. 1C).
  • [0032]
    The processor 62 is also operable to communicate with a random number generator 66, which may be a component of the GD 60 in some configurations or of an GS in some embodiments. The random number generator 66 (as well as any other random number generator described herein), in accordance with at least one embodiment, may generate data representing random or pseudo-random values (referred to as “random numbers” herein). The random number generator may generate a random number every predetermined unit of time (e.g., every second) or in response to an initiation of a game on the gaming device. The generated random numbers may be used as they are generated and/or stored for future use.
  • [0033]
    A random number generator, as used herein, may be embodied as a processor separate from but working in cooperation with processor 62. Alternatively, a random number generator may be embodied as an algorithm, program component, or software stored in the memory of a GD or on another device, such as on an GS, and used to generate a random number. Alternately, a GD owner or operator may obtain sets of random numbers that have been generated by another entity using known methods.
  • [0034]
    The processor 62 is also operable to communicate with a benefit output device 68, which may be a component of GD 60. The benefit output device 68 may comprise one or more devices for outputting a benefit to a player of the gaming device 60. For example, in one embodiment the GD 60 may provide coins and/or tokens and/or chips as a benefit. The GD 60 may also or alternately provide a receipt or other document on which there is printed an indication of a benefit, such as a cashless gaming receipt that has printed thereon a monetary value redeemable for cash. In such an embodiment the benefit output device 68 may comprise a printing and document dispensing mechanism, to provide, for example, a ticket, coupon, or a cashless gaming voucher having a monetary value. In yet another example, the GD 60 may provide electronic credits as a benefit that may be subsequently converted to coins and/or tokens. In yet another example, the GD 60 may credit a monetary amount to a financial account associated with a player, such as a credit card account, a debit account, a charge account, a checking account, and/or a casino account. In such an embodiment, the benefit output device 68 may include a credit meter balance and/or a processor that manages the amount of electronic credits that is indicated on a display of a credit meter balance. In such an embodiment the benefit output device 68 may comprise a device for communicating with a server on which the financial account is maintained. In some embodiments, the benefit output device 68 may output a coupon or voucher that may be used to obtain a product or service.
  • [0035]
    Note that, in one or more embodiments, the GD 60 may include more than one benefit output device 68 even though only one benefit output device is illustrated in FIG. 1B. For example, GD 60 may include both a hopper and hopper controller combination and a credit meter balance (See FIG. 1A). Such a GD may be operable to provide more than one type of benefit to a player.
  • [0036]
    The processor 62 is also operable to communicate with a display device 70, which may be a component of GD 60. The display device 70 may comprise, for example, one or more display screens or areas for outputting information related to game play on the gaming device, such as a cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor, liquid crystal display (LCD) screen, or light emitting diode (LED) screen. In addition, the GD 60 may include more than one display device 70, for example, an LCD display for displaying electronic reels and a viewing window behind which are located mechanical reels so that the player can view rotation of the mechanical reels during game play. The display device 70 may also be operable to display one or more messages to a player, for example, an indication and/or a warning that the player is operating the GD in free play mode so that a reduced payout schedule is in effect.
  • [0037]
    The processor 62 may also be in communication with one or more other devices besides the display device 70, for outputting information (e.g., to a player or another device). Such other one or more output devices may also be components of GD 60. Such other one or more output devices may include, for example, an audio speaker (e.g., to output a message to a player, in addition to or in lieu of such a message being output via a display device 70), an infra-red transmitter, a radio transmitter, an electric motor, a printer, a coupon or product dispenser, an infra-red port (e.g., for communicating with a second gaming device or a portable device of a player), a Braille computer monitor, and/or a coin or bill dispenser. Examples of common GD output devices include a cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor on a video poker machine, a bell on a gaming device (e.g., rings when a player wins), an LED display of a player's credit balance, and an LCD display of a personal digital assistant (PDA) for displaying keno numbers.
  • [0038]
    The processor 62 is also in communication with an input device 72, which is a device that is capable of receiving an input (e.g., from a player or another device) and which may be a component of GD 60. An input device may communicate with or be part of another device (e.g. a server, another GD, etc.). Some examples of input devices include: a bar-code scanner, a magnetic stripe reader, a computer keyboard or keypad, a computer mouse, a button (e.g., mechanical, electromechanical, or “soft”, as in a portion of a touch-screen), a switch (e.g. a two position toggle switch that may be used to switch between a regular mode and free play mode), a handle, a keypad, a touch-screen, a microphone and associated voice recognition unit (which may include voice recognition software), an infrared sensor, a voice recognition module, a biometric input device (i.e. a fingerprint or retinal scanner), a coin or bill acceptor, a sonic ranger, a computer port, a video camera, a motion detector, a digital camera, a network card, a universal serial bus (USB) port, a GPS receiver, a radio frequency identification (RFID) receiver, an RF receiver, a thermometer, a pressure sensor, an infrared port (e.g., for receiving communications from with a second gaming device or a another device such as a smart card or PDA of a player), a weight or pressure sensor (such as a weight scale), a motion sensor, and a global positioning system card, chip or sensor. Common GD input devices include a button or touch screen on an electronic video poker machine, a lever or handle connected to the GD, a magnetic stripe reader to read a player tracking card inserted into an GD, a touch screen for input of player selections during game play, and a coin and bill acceptor (see e.g., FIG. 1A). Input device 72 may comprise any of the above-described input devices or any combination thereof (i.e., input device 72 may comprise more than one input device).
  • [0039]
    The input device 72 may include an apparatus for determining if a player perceives that the GD is in a “cold period” and that provides an indication to the processor 62 which may be interpreted as a trigger condition for offering free play mode to a player. Such an apparatus may include a counter that monitors, tracks and/or counts the number of non-winning outcomes generated by the GD and then outputs a signal when the number of non-winning outcomes exceeds a predetermined threshold number. In some embodiments, an apparatus is provided that is operable to determine if the player is feeling frustrated, and configured to provide an output signal to the processor as an input for determining a trigger condition that may be used to offer free play mode to a player. For example, the device may include a play activator coupled to the processor, and a sensor coupled to the play activator and the processor, wherein the sensor is operable to generate a signal indicative of an amount of force that the player exerts on the play activator, and wherein the processor is operable to receive the signal and determine if the amount of force exceeds a predefined threshold amount of force. In some embodiments, the input device 72 is operable to switch the GD back to the regular mode of operation from the free play mode of operation when a request is received from a player, and/or when a termination condition (described in detail below) occurs. In some embodiments, the input device 72 may be configured to communicate with a peripheral device, a smart card, a USB key device, a personal digital assistant, a handheld device, and a casino personnel device, and may be configured to permit access to the database 84 to obtain at least a portion of free play mode data.
  • [0040]
    In some embodiments, an GD 60 may comprise components capable of facilitating both input and output functions (i.e., input/output devices). For example, a touch-sensitive display screen is an input/output device (e.g., the device outputs graphics and receives selections from players). In another example, a processor may communicate with a “ticket-in/ticket-out” device configured to dispense and receive cash-out tickets. Such a device may also assist in (e.g., provide data so as to facilitate) various accounting functions (e.g., ticket validation and redemption).
  • [0041]
    Of course, as would be understood by one of ordinary skill in the art, a GD 60 may comprise various combinations of any or all of the component devices described herein. For example, in one or more embodiments, the GD may include more than one display device, one or more other output devices, several input devices, and so on (e.g., two display screens, two audio speakers, a headset, a ticket-in/ticket-out device and several buttons).
  • [0042]
    The processor 62 is also in communication with a payment system 76, which may be a component of the GD 60. The payment system 76 is a device capable of accepting payment from a player (e.g., a bet or initiation of a balance) and/or providing payment to a player (e.g., a payout). Payment is not limited to currency, but may also include other types of consideration, including products, services, and alternate currencies. Payment system 76 may be considered to be an example of an input device 72 in some embodiments.
  • [0043]
    Exemplary methods of accepting payment by the payment system 76 include (i) receiving hard currency (i.e., coins or bills), and accordingly the payment system 76 may comprise a coin or bill acceptor; (ii) receiving an alternate currency (e.g., a paper cashless gaming voucher, a coupon, a non-negotiable token), and accordingly the payment system 76 may comprise a bar code reader or other sensing means; (iii) receiving a payment identifier (e.g., a credit card number, a debit card number, a player tracking card number or other account identifier) and debiting the account identified by the payment identifier; and (iv) determining that a player has performed a value-added activity.
  • [0044]
    Processor 62 may also be in communication with a player tracking device 78, which may be a component of GD 60. Player tracking device 78 may, in some embodiments, be considered an example of an input device 72. Player tracking device 78 may, in one or more embodiments, comprise a reader device operable to read information from and/or write information to a card such as a smart card and/or a player tracking card, such that (i) players may be identified, and (ii) various data associated with players may then be determined. For example, previous wagering, coin-in and/or cash-out behaviors previously engaged in by the player, and the number of promotional credits available to that player may be determined based on information associated with the player identifier.
  • [0045]
    In one embodiment, the player tracking device 78 may comprise (i) a card reader (e.g., a port into which player tracking cards may be inserted), (ii) various input devices (e.g., a keypad, a touch-screen), (iii) various output devices (e.g., a small, full-color display screen), and/or (iv) combinations thereof (e.g., a touch-sensitive display screen that accommodates both input and output functions). Various commercially available devices may be suitable for such an application, such as the NextGen™ interactive player tracking panel manufactured by IGT or the iVIEW display screen manufactured by Bally® Gaming and Systems.
  • [0046]
    As known in the art, “smart cards” may incorporate (i) a memory, and (ii) means for accessing such a memory. For example, in an embodiment, the memory may store data related to aspects of the present invention. Data may be written to the smart card during game play in both regular and free play modes, and various data may be updated on a continuous, or periodic, or event-triggered basis. Accordingly, in one or more embodiments one or more devices operable to carry out various processes of the present invention may have associated therewith a smart card reader device, such that data may be read from the smart card pursuant to the execution of such processes.
  • [0047]
    In one embodiment, GD 60 may be operable to facilitate downloadable games such that games available for play on GD 60 may be stored on a server device and downloaded to the GD 60. In one embodiment, software components of the GD 60 may be remotely modified and/or updated by another device. For example, payout or probability tables for both the regular mode and free play mode of GD operation stored in the memory of the GD 60 may be altered, modified or updated remotely, hot fixes may be applied to software stored by the GD 60 and/or new versions of software may be downloaded to the GD 60. Similarly, the GD 60 may be programmed to retrieve any or all such updates from another device, as appropriate. Any of the above (e.g., downloading of a game, updating of software, modification of a regular mode or free play mode payout or probability table) may occur, for example, based upon an occurrence of an event (e.g., a scheduled event, or a trigger event), an indication being received from casino personnel or other personnel (e.g., a regulator), and/or upon a request from a player. In an embodiment, GD 60 may be a thin client device that is controlled by one or more other devices.
  • [0048]
    In one or more embodiments, aspects of the present invention, such as initiating free play mode of GD operation or terminating such free play mode and returning to a regular mode of GD operation, may be practiced by replacing and/or augmenting one or more components (e.g., hardware and/or software components) of an existing GD. Thus, in one or more embodiments, the invention may be applied as a retrofit or upgrade to existing GDs currently available for play within various casinos.
  • [0049]
    In a specific example, a gaming device may comprise various electronic components mounted to one or more printed circuit boards (PCBs). Such components may include various hardware described herein, such as a communications port and various controllers of peripheral devices (e.g., a display controller), as well as a memory for storing programming instructions (software) and a processor for carrying out such instructions. One form of memory commonly found in GDs is electronically erasable programmable read-only memory or erasable programmable read-only memory (EEPROM or EPROM). Thus, in one or more embodiments, an EEPROM storing software with instructions for carrying out aspects of the present invention (as well as instructions for carrying out other functions traditionally performed by the GD) may replace an EEPROM previously installed in a GD, such that the gaming device may be configured to operate in accordance with various processes described herein.
  • [0050]
    For example, a “Free Play Module” may be made available for purchase to various casino operators. The free play module, which may comprise various hardware and software (e.g., an EEPROM storing software instructions), may be installed in and/or retrofit to an existing device such as a GD (e.g., a video-reel slot machine, a video poker machine, etc.). In some embodiments, when the free play module is installed (and/or retrofitted), all requests for free play mode of operation from a player are honored and a free play mode payout table is used in place of the regular mode payout table. In addition, players of the GD may elect (i) to play a game offered by the GD in regular mode but to be offered the opportunity to switch to a free play mode of operation if one or more trigger events occur, or (ii) to play a game in free play mode whenever the player requests it, but that does not provide the player with any prize awards or payouts when a winning outcome is displayed in free play mode. In an embodiment, the player may be charged a nominal fee for choosing to play a GD in free play mode.
  • [0051]
    In one example, a touch-sensitive display screen may be configured to output a prompt asking a player if she wishes to select a free play mode of GD operation. Such a prompt may be output in accordance with various trigger conditions (e.g., coins, bills or tickets are inserted; a credit balance decreases a predetermined percentage or amount from an initial credit balance, a player presses a “NO-BET PLAY” button; a motion, weight, infrared or other sensor detects the presence of a player or certain predetermined actions thereof; etc.). Accordingly, a player may activate free play mode (e.g., by pressing an appropriately labeled icon of a touch-sensitive display screen), and upon receiving the player's selection, the GD may be configured to operate in free play mode.
  • [0052]
    In still further embodiments, rather than configure existing GDs to execute embodiments described herein by installing or connecting new hardware and/or software, software may be downloaded into an existing memory of one or more GDs. U.S. Pat. No. 6,805,634 to Wells et al. teaches methods for downloading data to gaming devices in such a manner. The entirety of U.S. Pat. No. 6,805,634 is incorporated by reference herein for all purposes. Thus, in some embodiments, an existing GD may be reprogrammed to accommodate new functionality of the present invention without the need, or by minimizing the need, to remove and replace hardware within the GD.
  • [0053]
    FIG. 1C shows a table 100 that represents an example of a payout database, which may be stored in a memory of a GD, such as the memory 80 of the GD 60 of FIG. 1B. In some embodiments, the payout table 100 may be stored in the memory of another device, for example, a GS or casino server.
  • [0054]
    Referring to FIG. 1C, the table 100 includes a column 102 that lists various outcomes that may be produced by, for example, the GD 10 of FIG. 1A. Also included in table 100 is a column 104, which lists the value of the payout for the respective outcomes, if any, which may occur during a free play mode of GD operation. Column 106 lists the respective payout values for the outcomes which result from play in the regular mode of GD operation. In some embodiments, some payouts made during the free play mode may be conditional. For example, a coupon may be dispensed to the player in free play mode that entitles the player to 50 spins in regular mode if the player signs up for a magazine subscription. Further details and examples of such conditional awards are explained in detail in another section of this specification below.
  • [0055]
    Referring to the entries in row R100-1, the slot machine may be arranged to always pay the top jackpot, whether in free play mode or regular play mode. As shown in the entries for rows R100-2 and R100-3, in free play mode payout column 104, reduced prizes of $10 and $6 may be paid for the “BELL-BELL-BELL” and “3BAR-3BAR-3BAR” winning combinations, respectively. These free play mode payouts are ten percent of the regular mode payout values. As shown in row R100-4, if the player achieves a winning combination of “BAR-BAR-BAR” during free play mode, the GD will dispense a coupon that may entitle the player to a nominal prize, for example, a souvenir worth $2.00 in the casino gift shop. In some alternate embodiments, in free play mode, all winning entries except for “SEVEN-SEVEN-SEVEN” may payout nothing. In such embodiments, as will be explained below, the GD may display a message to the player indicating the regular mode payout amount that he would have won, if he had been operating the GD in the regular mode.
  • [0056]
    As shown in row R100-5, the “BAR-CHERRY-SEVEN” outcome is a losing outcome in both free play mode and in regular play mode. It should be understood that such a non-winning outcome may represent only one of a large number of non-winning outcomes that may be listed in the table 100. It should also be noted that there may be many additional winning outcomes besides those that are specifically shown in FIG. 1C.
  • [0000]
    2. Electronic Game Server (GS) Components
  • [0057]
    FIG. 2 illustrates an example of a system 200 that includes an embodiment of an Electronic Game Server (GS) 250 configured to communicate, through a Load Balance Device 206 and communications network 208, with a plurality of GDs 210. A second GS 270 is also shown in communication with the plurality of GDs 210 through the Load Balance Device 206 and communications network 208. It should be understood, however, that only one GS or more than two GS's could be used, and thus that the network configuration depicted in FIG. 2 is provided for illustrative purposes only. In addition, although FIG. 2 indicates that there may be any number of GDs (GD-1, GD-2 to GD-N), in any particular system configuration including the embodiment shown having two GS's, there will exist a threshold maximum number of GDs 210 that could be handled to ensure that the system functions efficiently.
  • [0058]
    The GS 250 includes a processor 252, such as one or more Intel® Pentium® processors. The processor 252 is in communication with a communication port 254 for communicating with one or more other devices, such as the Load Balance Device 206, and a memory 256. The memory 256 may comprise an appropriate combination of magnetic, optical and/or semiconductor memory, and may include, for example, Random Access Memory (RAM), Read-Only Memory (ROM), a compact disc and/or a hard disk. The processor 252 and the memory 256 may each be, for example: (i) located entirely within a single computer or other device; or (ii) connected to each other by a remote communication medium, such as an Ethernet cable, telephone line or radio frequency transceiver. In one embodiment, the GS 250 may comprise one or more devices that are connected to a separate, remote server computer or computers for maintaining databases.
  • [0059]
    The memory 256 stores a program 258 for controlling the processor 252. The processor 252 performs instructions of the program 258, and thereby operates in accordance with at least some embodiments of the present invention, and particularly in accordance with the methods described in detail herein. The program 258 may be stored in a compressed, uncompiled and/or encrypted format. The program 258 furthermore includes program elements that may be necessary, such as an operating system, a database management system and “device drivers” for allowing the processor 252 to interface with computer peripheral devices. Appropriate program elements are known to those skilled in the art, and need not be described in detail herein. The program 258 may include computer program code that allows the GS 250 to employ the communication port 254 to communicate with one or more GDs 210.
  • [0060]
    According to an embodiment, the instructions of the program 258 may be read into a main memory from another computer-readable medium, such as from a ROM to a RAM. Execution of sequences of the instructions in program 258 causes processor 252 to perform the process steps described herein. In alternate embodiments, hard-wired circuitry may be used in place of, or in combination with, software instructions for implementation of the processes of the present invention. Thus, embodiments of the present invention are not limited to any specific combination of hardware and software. For example, in an embodiment, a peripheral device may be provided for storing audit data that can only be accessed by authorized personnel, such as by a regulator and/or by a designated casino employee.
  • [0061]
    In an embodiment, the GS 250 functions to provide one or more parameters for downloadable games playable on one or more GDs 210. Accordingly, as shown in FIG. 2, the memory 256 may also store: (i) a player database 260, (ii) a gaming device database 262 that stores information related to one or more gaming devices with which the controller 250 is operable to communicate, (iii) a game database 264 that stores information regarding one or more games playable on and/or downloadable to one or more gaming devices, (iv) a free play mode database that stores free play parameters that may, for example, govern free game play mode operation on one or more of the GDs in the network; (v) a scheduling and/or configuration database 266 useful for determining which games are to be made available on which gaming devices, and/or (vi) an audit database 268. The player database 260 may include, for example, data corresponding to a player identifier, player preferences, an indication of wagers placed or number of games played by a player, an indication of duration of play by a player at the gaming device, and the like. The free play mode database may include, for example, a reduced payout schedule and rules governing the outcomes for various games the player may play in free game mode, which will be discussed in more detail below. The audit database 268 may include, for example, data concerning the identity of each GD in the system, identifying indicia of all other communicating hardware, a log of game outcome requests and responses, and a log of all winning outcomes and payouts. Some of the information stored in the various databases may also be stored in a memory associated with or physically located at the GD. It should be understood that the memory 256 might also store additional databases.
  • [0062]
    Similarly, in one embodiment the GS 250 may be operable to configure one or more GDs 210 remotely, update software stored on a GD and/or to download software or software components to an GD. For example, GS 250 may be operable to apply a hot fix to software stored on a GD 210, modify a payout and/or probability table stored on a GD for both regular mode operation and free play mode operation, and/or transmit a new version of software and/or a software component to a GD. GS 250 may be programmed to perform any or all of the above functions based on, for example, an occurrence of an event (e.g., a scheduled event), receiving an indication from a qualified casino employee and/or other person (e.g., a regulator) and/or receiving a request from a player.
  • [0063]
    Although the databases 260 through 268 are described as being stored in a memory of GS 250, in other embodiments some or all of these databases may be partially or wholly stored, in lieu of or in addition to being stored in a memory of controller 250, in a memory of one or more other devices. Such one or more other devices may comprise, for example, one or more peripheral devices, one or more GDs, a slot server (if different from the GS 250), another electronic gaming server (such as GS 270) or different type of application server, another device, or a combination thereof. Further, some or all of the data described as being stored in the memory 256 may be partially or wholly stored (in addition to or in lieu of being stored in the memory 256) in a memory of one or more other devices. Such one or more other devices may comprise, for example, one or more peripheral devices, one or more gaming devices, a slot server (if different from GS 250), another type of electronic gaming server or application server, another device, or a combination thereof.
  • [0064]
    For example, in an embodiment a particular GS such as GS 250 may be designated an “Audit Server” and function to obtain and store GD gaming requests (i.e. to generate outcomes for a particular type of gaming device, to enter free play mode, etc.), responses, outcomes and/or other data that concern a GD 210, or a group of GDs, or an entire system of GDs. In an embodiment, the Audit Server may be operable to obtain and store various data of a group of GDs, for example, that are all in one physical location, such as a gaming floor of a casino, or in a lounge area of a hotel or restaurant, or in an airport lounge. In some embodiments, one or more GS's may function to obtain and store audit data of GDs in disparate locations that may be owned by different entities. It is also contemplated that one or more servers may function to automatically analyze a portion or portions of the audit data, which may include free play mode data, concerning any particular GD or group of GDs (as described in more detail below). In addition, one or more of the GS's of a system may be a secure computer that can only be accessed by a regulator, or authorized casino personnel, or other authorized person. Accordingly, to access any of the databases of a secure GS, input of security codes, such as one or more passwords, may be required. It is also contemplated that additional security measures would be implemented, such as firewall programs to prevent unauthorized persons from viewing and/or modifying the data gathered therein. In some embodiments, a GS may be a Web Server.
  • [0065]
    Thus, in some embodiments, a system 200 for providing free play mode of operation may include a plurality of electronic game devices 210, wherein at least one of the GDs is configured to provide a free play mode of electronic game device operation. Such a network system may also include at least one server, such as the GS 250, configured to communicate with the plurality of GDs 210, and to receive free play mode data. The GS 250 may be configured to obtain and to store the free play mode data in a free play mode database 265, wherein the free play mode data may include data identifying the GD that is operating or that has operated in a free play mode, data identifying all other communicating devices associated with that GD, data associated with at least one termination condition, data corresponding to the time and date of each offer for free play mode operation, player identification data, and/or any other types of data associated with free play mode operation. In some embodiments, a GS includes at least one memory and is configured to automatically analyze the free play mode data and to generate output, which may be a report and/or one or more instructions for taking at least one action, based on the analysis. Such instructions may cause termination of the free play mode of operation on a particular GD, and/or may cause a message to be transmitted to a casino representative, for example.
  • [0000]
    3. Free Play Mode Operation
  • [0066]
    FIG. 3 is a flowchart 300 illustrating an embodiment of the operation of a GD that offers free play mode operation to players. The GD may be part of a gaming system, such as the network system 200 shown in FIG. 2, or may be a stand-alone GD. Thus, as discussed above, the GD may be one of a plurality of GDs that may be in communication with other GDs, GS's, and/or other devices, which may be configured in a thin-client architecture. A player initiates game play at a particular GD by making a payment and obtaining a credit balance.
  • [0067]
    Referring again to FIG. 3, in step 302, a GD receives payment (or some form of consideration) and establishes a credit balance for the player. The GD may include a payment system (for example, the payment system 30 of FIG. 1A) in order to accept the payments from players. The player can then use the credit balance to place bets and initiate wagering game play. The GD may be, for example, a video poker machine. In step 304, the GD operates in regular mode, requiring the player to make a bet before he is permitted to push a button to request five cards to be dealt, which dealing task may be handled by some other device (for example, the GD is a video five card stud gaming machine and cannot itself generate the information). A request parameter is five-card stud, which entails requesting five random numbers, and the request may be handled, for example, by a GS. The five random numbers are then mapped to cards, and this function may be handled by an GS that is different from, or the same as, the GS that generated the random numbers. The results are transmitted back to the requesting GD, which then uses the information to display the cards on a video screen to the player. Some or all of the data concerning this operation may be stored as transaction data in a database.
  • [0068]
    Next, the player may request 306 to enter free play mode. But if the player has not requested free play mode, then in step 308 it is determined 308 if the player has made a request to cash out. If so, then the player is given a payout 310 if he has a positive credit balance and the process ends. However, if the player did not request a payout, then the GD continues to operate in regular mode 304.
  • [0069]
    Player Indications for Free Play Mode
  • [0070]
    Returning to step 306, the GD may output a prompt to a player asking him whether he would like to enter free play mode. For example, the GD displays a message to the player, “Would you like to enter free-play mode?”. Such an indication may be in response to an indication by a player. The player may provide this indication using an input device, with or without a prompt from the GD. For example, a player may request free play mode (in response to a prompt, or in some embodiments whenever the player desires) by pressing a button on a GD that is labeled “Activate Free Play Mode”, or a player may operate a touch screen on a GD to select “Start No-Bet Play”, or a player may toggle a switch on a GD, where one switch option is “Regular Mode” and the other switch option is “Free Play Mode”, or a player may press the “Bet Zero Coins” button that may be located next to a “Bet One Coin” button and a “Bet Two Coins Button” on a GD. In some embodiments, in order to request free play mode, the player may be required to press a “Decrease Bet Size” button on a slot machine and hold it down for 5 seconds, or may be required to press the “Decrease Bet Size” button on a GD multiple times to progressively decrease the bet size to zero (e.g. from 3 credits to 2 credits to 1 credit to 0 credits). In some embodiments, the prompt may be output to a player by using an interactive voice recognition unit (IVRU) that requires the player to audibly respond by speaking the words “Yes, please activate No Bet Mode” or the like. In some embodiments, the player may insert a card or coupon into a reader device that entitles the player to a predetermined duration of free game play (for example, a coupon may be issued to a player that entitles the holder to “30 minutes of free play mode play on any IGT® machine”).
  • [0071]
    In summary, an indication by a player that he would like to enter the free play mode may include one or more of the following: an indication that the player would like to determine at least one outcome without placing a bet; an indication that the player would like to prevent his credit balance from declining; an indication that the player would like to place the gaming machine in free play mode; an indication that the player would like to place the gaming machine in “no bet” mode; and an indication that the player would like to set his bet value to zero.
  • [0072]
    In some embodiments, rather than outputting a prompt directly to a player, an indication that a player qualifies for free play mode may be transmitted via a communication network to a casino representative. The casino representative may the present the offer for free play mode to the player and provide an indication that the player would like to operate the GD in free play mode. For example, a casino hostess may carry a wireless PDA that provides her with information regarding which players qualify for free play mode and allows her to activate free play mode on GDs. Such an embodiment may be helpful for players who are unfamiliar with free play mode, since a casino representative may be able to explain its operation to them and answer any questions they may have.
  • [0073]
    In some embodiments, if a player has already provided an indication that he would like to enter free play mode, the GD may issue an output message that requires verification from the player to ensure that the player did not make the indication in error, and to ensure that the player understands the meaning of entering free play mode (e.g., a prompt may be issued that warns: “Are you sure that you want to enter free play mode? Note that you won't win prizes in free play mode (except for the jackpot prize). Please push the “No Bet Play” button again to confirm.”) Such a prompt may include text, images, sounds, hyperlinks, animations, and video clips. The prompt may also or alternately include a description or explanation of free play mode. Such a description may include details about how free play mode works. For example, the GD may display a list of the rules of free play mode: “In free play mode, you can play for free (bet size=0) to ride out cold streaks on a GD. However, prizes are reduced in free play mode. A Lemon-Lemon-Lemon outcome in regular mode pays out 5 coins. However, in free play mode, a Lemon-Lemon-Lemon outcome doesn't provide any payout . . . ”. In some embodiments, the rules governing the free play mode of operation may be accessed by the player via a link provided in the prompt (similar to a hyperlink on the World Wide Web).
  • [0074]
    In some embodiments, the GD may output a prompt to initiate free play mode in response to a trigger condition (which will be explained in detail below with regard to FIG. 4). For example, a trigger condition may be defined as a losing streak of 20 consecutive outcomes, and when such an event occurs then the GD may output a prompt for free play mode operation. In some embodiments, the GD may not output a prompt, and instead may simply make free play mode available to a player (and the free play mode operation may become available whenever an event, series of events, and/or a trigger condition occurs). For example, a player may be operating the GD in regular mode, without the option of switching to free play mode (i.e., free play mode is disabled, or the player is locked out of free play mode). In response to a particular series of events (for example, 25 consecutive losing outcomes), the option to enter free play mode may be enabled or unlocked. However, no prompt may be output to the player. Instead, a subtle indication may be implemented (for example, a free play mode button next to the display on the GD illuminates to indicate that it is active and if pressed would initiate free play mode operation on the GD). In some implementations, the free play mode feature may remain unlocked and available until the player chooses to utilize it, or become deactivated again when an event or events occur (e.g., if the credit balance increases above some threshold amount the free play mode may be deactivated, and/or if the credit balance falls below some predetermined amount free play mode may be activated again. In some embodiments, some other termination condition may occur to deactivate free play mode, which will be discussed below).
  • [0075]
    Game play in free play mode may be similar in some respects to game play in regular mode. For example, the player may spin reels, select cards, and view outcomes on the GD in a manner similar to that of existing GDs that only operate in regular mode. However, as will be explained in detail below, while in free play mode certain restrictions may apply regarding prizes for winning outcomes, and the GD is forced to maintain the credit balance on the GD and cannot deduct credits from a player account or credit balance.
  • [0076]
    Maintaining a Player's Credit Balance
  • [0077]
    As mentioned above, the GD may maintain a credit balance while in free play mode. Maintaining a credit balance may include keeping the credit balance at a constant value. For example, a player may enter free play mode with a credit balance of 54 credits, and no matter what outcomes are achieved by the player in free play mode (i.e., wins or losses), the player's credit balance will remain equal to 54 credits. In some embodiments, maintaining a credit balance may include preventing the credit balance from decreasing. In such embodiments, the player may win prizes that increase his credit balance, but the player's credit balance will never decrease. For example, a player may enter free play mode with a credit balance of 54 credits. While in free play mode, he may then win a prize of 3 credits, increasing his credit balance to 57 credits. The play may then proceed to obtain a series of losing outcomes. However, since the player is in free play mode, his credit balance will remain at 57 credits, despite the losing outcomes.
  • [0078]
    In some embodiments, maintaining a credit balance may include preventing the credit balance from falling below a threshold value. For example, while in free play mode, a GD may prevent a player's credit balance from falling below 50 credits. The threshold value may be determined based on the value of the credit balance at the time the player enters free play mode. For example, a player may enter free play mode with a credit balance of 54 credits. While the player's credit balance may increase to 60 credits because of a prize and then fall back down to 57 credits because of a loss, it will never be allowed to fall below 54 credits (the threshold value). In some embodiments, the threshold value may be determined based on an offset from the player's credit balance at the time the player enters free play mode. For example, a player may be prevented from losing more than 10 credits while in free play mode. Therefore, if a player enters free play mode with a credit balance of 54 credits, the threshold value may be set to 44 credits. While the player's credit balance may increase or decrease relative to its initial value of 54 credits, it will never be allowed to fall below the threshold value of 44 credits. In some embodiments, the threshold value may be determined based on a standard threshold value. For example, a GD in free play mode may prevent a player's credit balance from falling below standard values of 50 credits, 100 credits, or 150 credits. Therefore, if a player enters free play mode with a credit balance of 54 credits, the threshold value may be set to 50 credits. Similarly, if a player enters free play mode with a credit balance of 123 credits, the threshold value may be set to 100 credits. In some embodiments, the threshold value may be determined based on a threshold value specified by the player. For example, upon entering free play mode, a player may be prompted to specify a threshold value above which his credit balance should be maintained. For example, a player with a credit balance of 54 credits at the start of free play mode may specify a threshold value of 50 credits. In some embodiments, the threshold value may be determined based on an indication from a casino representative or another computer system. For example, a casino representative may use a PDA to indicate to a GD that a player's credit balance should be maintained at a value greater than or equal to 50 credits.
  • [0079]
    In some embodiments, maintaining a credit balance may include providing a refund of credits. This refund may be provided at the time a loss occurs or at some other convenient time. For example, a player may have 54 credits on a GD. In response to a loss on the GD, the player's credit balance may be reduced to 53 credits. In order to maintain the player's credit balance, the GD may then refund 1 credit to the player, bringing the player's credit balance back to 54 credits. In a second example, a refund may be added to a player's credit balance when the player exits free play mode and returns to regular mode on a GD. For example, a player may enter free play mode on a GD with a balance of 54 credits and then proceed to lose 35 credits (bringing his balance to 19 credits remaining) before exiting free play mode. Upon exiting free play mode, the player may receive a refund of 35 credits, bringing his total back to 54 credits. In some embodiments, a player may be permitted to have a negative credit balance on a GD when operating the GD in free play mode.
  • [0080]
    In some embodiments, maintaining a credit balance may include preventing a credit balance from decreasing at a rate greater than a threshold rate. For example, while in free play mode, a GD may prevent a player's credit balance from decreasing by more than 2 credits per minute. The threshold rate may be determined based on a standard value, or based on an indication by the player, an indication of a casino representative, a command from a device in communication with the GD, or instructions from another computer system. In some embodiments, a player's credit balance may be permitted to decrease at a threshold rate during free play mode. In some embodiments, maintaining a credit balance may also include methods of limiting a player's winnings. For example, maintaining a credit balance may include preventing the credit balance for increasing, preventing the credit balance from rising above a threshold value, deducting one or more credits from the credit balance at predetermined times and/or rates, and preventing a credit balance from increasing at a rate greater than a threshold rate. It is contemplated that players will probably be more interested in preventing losses during free play mode rather than in limiting their winnings. Consequently, limiting winnings in free play mode may provide an effective means of reducing costs for a casino.
  • [0081]
    Various indications may be output to a player as part of the process of maintaining a credit balance on a GD. Indications that may be provided could include displaying a threshold value (e.g., the minimum maintained value of the credit balance, and the threshold value may be displayed on a LED display next to a player's credit balance on a GD), displaying an indication when the GD prevents the credit balance from falling below a threshold value (For example, a message “Don't worry, you didn't lose any money, you're in free play mode” may be output each time the player obtains a losing outcome when in free play mode), and the like. Such indications may be output on any of the various devices described herein (which may include sensory, audio, and visual, display devices).
  • [0082]
    Free Play Mode Awards/Prizes
  • [0083]
    In some embodiments, the GD may use a different pay table in the free play mode than that used in the regular mode. For example, a GD may use a “pay table A” in the regular mode of operation and a “pay table B” in free play mode. In addition, the odds of obtaining an outcome in free play mode may be the same as the odds of obtaining the outcome in regular mode (for example, the odds of a Lemon-Lemon-Cherry outcome on a slot machine may be 1/360 in both the free play mode and in the regular mode of operation). Such an embodiment may be more appealing to players who are already familiar with the odds of an outcome in regular mode, or to player who use free play mode to ride out cold streaks on a GD. In some embodiments, the odds of obtaining a particular outcome in free play mode may be different from the odds of obtaining the outcome in regular play mode. For example, the odds of winning a jackpot prize in free play mode may be reduced to prevent a casino from losing money.
  • [0084]
    The value of a prize provided for obtaining an outcome in free play mode may be zero (for example, a straight flush outcome on a video poker machine operating in free play mode may not provide any prize to a player, whereas the outcome would have paid out 50 coins in regular play mode). In one embodiment, all prizes may be reduced to zero in free play mode. Reducing prize values of one or more outcomes may be preferred by a casino that wants to reduce the expected cost of offering free play mode to players. Players will likely be willing to accept limited prizes in free play mode because they don't have to place any bets to operate the GD in free play mode. In some embodiments, the value of a prize for an outcome in free play mode may be: less than the value of a prize provided for obtaining the outcome in regular play mode, or the same as the value of a prize provided for obtaining the outcome in regular play mode, or greater than the value of a prize provided for obtaining the outcome in regular play mode.
  • [0085]
    The type of prize provided to a player in free play mode may be different from the type of prize provide to a player in regular mode. Prizes in free play mode may be products, services, alternate currencies, coupons, and other forms of consideration. Examples include: coupons for dinners (same value to player, different value to casino), a coupon or voucher for a further free play mode game play for use on a later date, a wagering ticket or slots ticket that may be output by the GD that entitles the player to further free play mode operation (which may specify use of the same GD or another GD, and which may be specify use during that gaming session or at a later date), a prize provided at a different GD (for example, in order for a player to obtain a prize of $20 that he won on a video poker GD, the player may have to visit a slot machine GD located elsewhere in the casino), a GD dispensing a cash award, such as a $20 prize, to the player (such an embodiment may be valuable to casinos that wish to direct players to certain GDs, for example, as part of a promotion, or because certain GDs are more profitable than others), and a prize provided at a remote location (for example, a player who wins a prize on a GD may be directed to obtain his prize by taking a cashless gaming voucher to a store associated with the casino, and to present the cashless gaming voucher to a clerk at the store and the clerk may provide the prize to the player). Providing a prize at a remote location may be valuable to casinos that wish to direct players to visit certain stores in the hopes that players will make purchases at the stores. In addition, a prize awarded during free play mode may have the same face value as the same prize when awarded in regular mode, but may come with additional conditions for redemption. For example, the GD could display an outcome that in regular mode would yield a $200 payout, but if the player is playing in free play mode, would only allow the player to receive the $200 payout if the player performs some “task”, for example, gambling a certain amount of money before the end of the month, or test driving a Mercedes car at a local dealership. Such conditional awards or conditional prizes may be useful for casinos to recoup and/or offset some or all of the costs associated with permitting players to win cash amounts or other prizes in free play mode, because the required tasks (such as to drive a Mercedes car) could be advertisements that are paid for by third parties desiring to present players with such tasks or advertisements to entice the players to consider and/or purchase their products or services.
  • [0086]
    A prize won by a player in free play mode may be delayed. In some embodiments, a player may obtain a winning outcome on a GD in free play mode, but the prize may not be provided until some later point in time. For example, a player may obtain a Cherry-Cherry-Cherry outcome that pays $50 when operating a GD in free play mode. However, the $50 prize may not be provided to the player immediately. Instead, the player may need to wait 20 minutes before the slot machine dispenses the $50 prize (the player may be required to continue gaming during this waiting period). Such an embodiment may be valuable as a method of encouraging players operating the GD in free play mode to continue operating the GD in regular mode after free play mode terminates. In some embodiments, the prize may be provided to a player in response to a trigger condition (e.g., an expiration of a waiting period, an event at the GD, etc).
  • [0087]
    Speed of Play in Free Play Mode
  • [0088]
    The speed of play in free play mode may be different than the speed of play in regular mode. Altering the speed of play of a GD may include altering: a duration of a phase of a game (for example, the reels on a slot machine may spin for a longer or shorter period of time in free play mode. In a second example, cards in video poker may be dealt faster or slower), a delay between rounds of play (for example, it may take 5 seconds to shuffle the deck between hands of video poker in free play mode, but it may only take 1 second to shuffle the desk between hands of video poker in regular mode), and timing of payouts (for example, in free play mode a payout may be provided at the rate of 5 coins per second, whereas in regular mode, payouts may be provided at the rate of 3 coins per second). Increasing the speed of play on a GD may be helpful to casinos that wish to make players play faster in free play mode (e.g. so they can resume playing in regular mode sooner). For example, a casino may offer players a maximum of 20 spins on a slot machine in free play mode. In order to encourage players to get through free play mode as quickly as possibly the casino may increase the speed of play during free play mode. Alternately, decreasing the speed of play on a GD may be helpful to casinos that wish to make free play mode less appealing to a player than the regular mode of operation, thereby encouraging players to pay to operate the GD in regular mode. For example, a casino may increase the time between spins on a slot machine GD in free play mode to be 10 seconds, which may in turn cause some players to get bored or impatient when operating the slot machine GD in free play mode.
  • [0089]
    Modified/Restricted GD Features in Free Play Mode
  • [0090]
    Features of a GD may be enabled, disabled, or modified when operated in the free play mode. For example, a bonus round feature on a GD may be modified when the GD is in free play mode. In an example, a GD that has 5 different bonus games in regular play mode may only allow one of these bonus games to be accessed when the GD is operated in free play mode. In a second example, a bonus feature on GD may be disabled in free play mode. In a third example, a bonus round feature may be modified to show only an end result of the bonus round, perhaps without allowing for time-consuming activities such as player selection of one masked award versus another, and would not include any elaborate graphical presentations, and the like. Sounds and graphics features (e.g., skins) typically displayed by the GD in the regular mode may be enabled, disabled or modified in free play mode. For example, a GD that features a soundtrack with Dolby™ stereo surround sound in regular mode may mute this soundtrack during free play mode. In a second example, GD graphics may be dulled down or no longer animated in free play mode. Meta-games on a GD may be enabled, disabled, or modified in free play mode. For example, a slot machine GD may include a scavenger hunt game in which a player collects symbols that appear on reels, and the player may need to collect all the pieces in a puzzle to win a prize. Such games are described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,364,765, which is assigned to the assignee of the present application and which is incorporated in its entirety herein. In some embodiments, the player may be able to collect only certain puzzle pieces in free play mode, but may be required to operate a GD in regular mode (possibly on a different GD) in order to attempt to collect the rest of the puzzle pieces and win the prize.
  • [0091]
    The player may also be informed of any restrictions that may apply to the free play mode. For example, players may only be permitted to operate the GD in free play mode for a limited period of time (e.g., max 10 minutes), and/or once per hour, and/or so long as there are other GDs in the immediate vicinity remain unoccupied. Warnings may also be displayed regarding the free play mode. For example, some players may mistakenly think that the pay table in effect for free play mode is identical to the pay table that governs regular play mode, when this is not actually the case. To avoid confusion, the GD may display a prompt including a highly visible alert “WARNING: Prize values are reduced or eliminated in free play mode!” and the like messages. In addition, the GD may display the payout tables that will be used when the GD operates in free play mode. In some embodiments, the GD may display the pay tables for free play mode and for regular mode side-by-side on a video monitor. The rules of free play mode may be displayed to the player, and may include an outline of the differences between regular mode on the GD and free play mode. Various output devices may display such prompts and/or messages. For example, a message may be displayed in a pop-up dialog box on a video screen of the GD, an audio speaker associated with the GD may play a sound clip that may be generated from a recording or by using a text-to-speech converter, and/or an animated character (e.g., similar to the Microsoft® Office Assistant) may appear onscreen and present a prompt to a player (e.g., “It looks like you're on a losing streak. Would you like to enter free play mode?”)
  • [0092]
    If the player did request free play mode in step 306, then in some embodiments, free play mode of operation is provided 312, and a free play mode indication 314 is displayed, which informs the player of the fact that the GD is operating in free play mode. If the player does not request a payout in step 316, and does not request a switch back to regular mode operation in step 318, then the process branches back to step 312 and the player continues to operate the GD in free play mode. It should be noted that, in some embodiments, an indication that the GD is operating in free play mode 314 is provided before every spin to the player. But if the player requests a payout in step 316, then free play mode is terminated 320 and a payout occurs if he has a positive credit balance remaining. If the player does not request a payout, he may request to switch back to regular play mode in step 318. In this case, free play mode is terminated 322, and the GD is returned to regular mode 304 and the process continues as explained above.
  • [0093]
    Indicating Free Play Mode Operation
  • [0094]
    While a player is operating a GD in free play mode, the GD may display one or more indications to the player. Such indications may include an indication relating to free play mode, an indication that the GD is in free play mode, an indication that player is not eligible to win one or more prizes, an indication that one or more prizes on the GD have been modified, reduced, or eliminated, an indication that the odds of one or more outcomes have been modified, and/or an indication that one or more features on the GD have been enabled, disabled, or altered. It may be advantageous to display an indication relating to free play mode on the GD because players may then be less likely enter free play mode accidentally, players may be less likely to forget that a GD is currently in free play mode, players may be less likely to become confused as to why a GD is behaving in a certain way during free play mode, players may be less likely to complain about not receiving prizes during free play mode on a GD, players may be more likely to switch a game out of free play mode and into regular mode, and/or casinos may avoid customer service issues with players who are confused or mistaken regarding the functionality of a GD in free play mode.
  • [0095]
    An indication of free play mode may include a description or explanation of free play mode. An indication of free play mode may include text, images, sounds, hyperlinks, animations, and video clips. An indication relating to free play mode may be output to a player using an output device. For example, the words “FREE PLAY MODE—NO PRIZES AWARDED” may be displayed in large type across the center of a video screen on the GD, a “Ø” or “X” symbol may be projected onto the prize table of a GD that is being operated in free play mode, indicating to players that the GD does not payout prizes when in free play mode. An LED near the credit meter on a GD may be lit, indicating that the GD is in free play mode, but it should be noted that some players may not notice such a subtle display of free play mode, which may in turn result in some players being confused or upset when they achieve a winning outcome that pays a reduced prize in free play mode. In another example, the color of a credit meter on the GD may change from green to red and a symbol of a padlock may be displayed next to the credit meter. This padlock may symbolize that the player's credit balance has been “locked” and is not longer being wagered. Another indication that the GD is in free play mode may be that a GD that normally displays full-color graphics in regular mode may display graphics only in black-and-white (“grayscale”) when in free play mode. In addition, a small colored icon may be displayed in the corner of the video screen, indicating that the GD is in free play mode.
  • [0096]
    In some embodiments, an audio speaker on a GD may play a recording reciting the phrase “This GD is in free play mode. Prize values are reduced.” and the recording may be played on a periodic basis or each time a player initiates a round of the game in free play mode. In some embodiments, a GD may play different music or sound effects in regular mode and free play mode. For example, additional sounds may be output during free play mode, or sounds specific to free play mode may be substituted for the sounds of regular play mode.
  • [0097]
    In another example, an indication of free play mode may be provided by “moving” or “transferring” a credit balance from a first credit balance meter to a second credit balance meter. For example, the GD may have two LED displays for displaying a player's credit balance. In regular mode, credits may be deducted from the first meter (by wagering or by payouts) or added to the first meter (by winning outcomes). When a player enters free play mode, the credits displayed in the first meter may be “transferred” to the second meter so that the first meter then reads “0” during free play mode. During free play mode, the second meter is “locked”, meaning that it always displays the same number of credits. Upon the termination of free play mode, the credits may be “transferred” back from the second meter to the first meter so that the player may resume to wagering.
  • [0098]
    Other indications that the GD is in free play mode may also be utilized. For example, video that is output by a GD may be modified to indicate that the GD is in free play mode. Examples of changes to video include: changes in coloration, contrast, tint or brightness; changes in speed (e.g., video may be displayed faster or slower than usual); and/or flashing or pulsing. Additional examples include that the symbols or icons displayed on the reels of a slot machine (e.g., a video slot machine) may be modified, a logo on the back of cards on a video poker or video blackjack machine may be modified (for example, a card deck with the logo “Hot Black Jack” may be modified to read “Free Play Blackjack” during free play mode), and/or an animated character that is displayed during a bonus game may wear a different costume (e.g., a T-shirt that says “Free Play Mode”) or act in a different manner during free play mode.
  • [0099]
    An indication that the GD is operating in the free play mode may be output at various times during play. For example, an indication may be output continuously during free play. In some embodiments, a GD may display the message “No Bet Play” across the top of a video screen while a player operates a GD in free play mode. In some embodiments, an indication may be output periodically during free play. For example, a GD may output an indication of free play mode every 2 minutes while in free play mode. In some embodiments, an indication may be output in response to a trigger condition. For example, a GD may output an indication of free play mode at the start of each round of free play, and an indication of free play mode may be output in response to a particular outcome (e.g., an outcome that would have resulted in a prize in regular mode but does not award a prize in free play mode). If a player obtains an outcome that would have resulted in a prize in regular mode, but does not award a prize in free play mode, the GD may display a message: “You are currently operating the GD in free play mode. In free play mode, this outcome does not win a prize. However you would have won a prize in regular mode.” This message may be accompanied by a prompt for the player to exit free play mode into regular mode. In another example, if a player obtains an outcome that would have resulted in a loss in the regular mode of operation, the GD may display a message, “You are currently operating the GD in free play mode. Therefore, you do not incur any loss based on this outcome.”
  • [0100]
    In addition to displaying an indication of free play mode to a player who is operating a GD, the GD may transmit an indication of free play mode to one or more other parties. For example, an indication that a player is operating a GD in free play mode may be displayed to other players operating other GDs. For example, friends of a player who are listed on the player's “buddy list” on the GD may receive an instant message indicating that the player is operating the GD in free play mode. Other entities or third parties who may receive an indication that a particular player is operating the GD in free play mode may include casino management personnel (for example, a casino manager may be able to pull up a list of all GDs that are currently being operated in free play mode), regulators, judicial officers, problem gambling counselors (for example, a problem gambling counselor may receive a text message on his cell phone anytime a player on his watch list is operating a GD in free play mode), and/or casino employees (for example, a casino representative may carry a wireless PDA that displays information about the current status of different players in the casino, and the PDA may display an indication to the casino representative that a player is operating a GD in free play mode. In a second example, a casino representative may receive a signal that a player is playing in free play mode, and may open a “chat” session through the GD network with the player to provide instructions, answer questions, and the like). Such operation may enable casino representatives to determine which players are trying to learn new games on which GDs, and may help teach such players so that they start (profitably) using GDs in regular mode (wherein they will place bets and gamble) as soon as possible.
  • [0101]
    Regular Mode Operation After Free Play Mode
  • [0102]
    Referring again to FIG. 3, if the player requests to return to regular mode play in step 318, then the free play mode of operation is terminated and the GD is switched to the regular mode of operation in step 304 and the process continues as discussed above. The player's credit balance, which may have been maintained during free play mode, will become available again to the player so that he may place bets during gaming. Of course, regular mode on the GD does not maintain a player's credit balance, so the player may lose credits if losing outcomes are generated in regular mode. Thus, returning to regular mode puts the player's credit balance at risk. In this embodiment, the player can continue operating the GD device in free play mode for as long as he wishes, but in some embodiments free play mode is automatically terminated when a termination condition occurs (which termination conditions are discussed in detail below).
  • [0103]
    In order to facilitate the transition from free play mode to regular play mode, the GD may provide automatic funding services to a player. That is, upon the termination of free play mode, the GD may automatically replenish a player's credit balance by withdrawing funds from a second financial account. For example, a player's debit account number may be linked to his player tracking card, or a player may provide his debit account number at the start of free play mode on a GD. At the end of free play mode, the player may have 26 credits remaining on the GD. Based on this information, the GD may automatically withdraw $20 from the player's debit card account and add the corresponding number of credits (e.g., 80 credits on a quarter slot machine) to the player's credit balance on the GD. The amount of money withdrawn from a player's financial account and added to the player's credit balance may be determined based on an indication by the player (e.g., a selection at the start of free play mode), or based upon a standard value (e.g., $20 for all players).
  • [0104]
    Casino management may be concerned that players will operate a GD in free play mode and then cash out of the GD at the end of free play mode. To alleviate this concern, there may be a requirement that a player continue gaming in regular mode on a GD for some period of time after free play mode is terminated. For example, at the start of free play mode, a player may make a promise or agreement to continue playing in regular play mode after free play mode is terminated.
  • [0105]
    The required duration of a player's gaming in regular mode after terminating free play mode may be denominated in various units. For example, the required duration of regular play mode operation of the GD may be based on units of time, units of outcomes, credit units, or be based on other conditions or events. For example, the player may be required to continue gaming in regular mode for 10 minutes after terminating free play mode. In another example, the player may be required to continue gaming in regular mode for 20 outcomes after terminating free play mode. In a third example, the player may be required to bet at least 20 credits in regular mode before cashing out. In a fourth example, the player may be required to continue gaming in regular mode until he wins a prize of at least 10 credits.
  • [0106]
    After termination of free play mode, the required duration of a player's gaming in regular mode may be determined based on various factors. Such factors may include a value set at the start of free play mode (for example, a the start of free play mode, the player may agree to play in regular mode for at least 20 outcomes after terminating free play mode), the duration of free play mode (for example, the player may agree to play in regular mode for at least as many outcomes, or double the amount of outcomes, as he generates for free in free play mode), based on the outcomes achieved during free play mode (for example, the player may agree to bet at least as many credits in regular mode as he would have lost because of losing outcomes in free play mode), and/or based on the value of prizes awarded during free play mode.
  • [0107]
    Auto-Play Mode with Free Play Mode
  • [0108]
    An auto-play mode may be paired with free play mode, thereby enabling players to ride out “cold streaks” on a GD with minimal effort. Such an auto-play mode may, for example, may automatically generate 20 outcomes on the GD very quickly without requiring the player to pull a handle or push a button or buttons. Various descriptions and embodiments for automatic play of GDs are described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,012,983 entitled “Automatic Play Gaming Device” and in U.S. Published Application No. 2003-0114217-A1 entitled “Method and Apparatus for Automatically Operating a Game Machine”, which are both assigned to the assignee of the present application, and which are incorporated in their entirety herein.
  • [0109]
    In an embodiment, a player operating a GD may provide a single indication that he would like to enter free play mode. Based on the indication, the GD may simultaneously enter free play mode and auto-play mode. In this combination mode, the GD may automatically and quickly generate outcomes at no cost to the player. For example, the GD may automatically generate 25 outcomes very quickly in a combined free play mode and auto-play mode, thereby enabling a player to quickly ride out cold streaks on the GD and to return to playing the GD in the regular mode of operation sooner than if the player generated the 25 outcomes himself. In some embodiments, the player may be permitted to choose how many (the number of) outcomes that the GD should generate in the combination mode of free play mode and auto-play mode, and the number may be required to be within a predetermined range of outcomes. In some embodiments, the GD switches back or reverts to the regular mode of operation after termination of the combination of free play mode and auto-play mode operation.
  • [0110]
    If auto-play mode is paired or combined with free play mode, a termination condition for auto-play mode may be the same as or different than a termination condition for free play mode (termination conditions are described in detail with regard to FIG. 4). In one embodiment, a player may simultaneously initiate a combination of free play mode and auto-play mode in which the GD will automatically generate outcomes at no cost to the player until a termination condition is reached. Such outcomes may be generated quickly (e.g., 2 outcomes per second or even faster). For example, the GD might automatically generate free outcomes until the player achieves 3 outcomes that would have been winning outcomes in regular mode. Then the auto-play mode and free play mode combination operation may terminate so the player may continue gaming in regular mode.
  • [0111]
    In some embodiments, auto-play mode may be paused in response to a condition or event. Conditions or events for pausing auto-play mode may be similar to the termination conditions. For example, auto-play mode may pause each time a player receives a winning outcome. Pausing auto-play mode may include delaying for a period of time before resuming auto-play mode (for example, a GD in free play mode and auto-play mode may automatically pause for 10 seconds after a player achieves a winning outcome) and prompting a player to provide an indication before resuming auto-play mode (for example, each time a player receives an outcome in free play mode that would have been a winning outcome in regular mode, the player may be queried as to whether he would like to terminate free-play mode and resume regular mode).
  • [0112]
    In some embodiments, a player may receive a service as long as a particular feature is enabled. For example, a player may receive free telephone service or free cell phone service as long as the player operates a GD in an auto-play mode when in free play mode on the GD (which may also depend upon the credit balance on the GD). In some embodiments, the player may be eligible to receive the service as long as he operates an input device on the GD (e.g., a player may be informed that he will receive a certificate or voucher, which the GD may be configured to print out for the player, for a service such as free dry cleaning and clothing pick up and clean clothing delivery to his hotel if the player presses the ‘spin’ button on a slot machine GD a predetermined number of times per minute, for a predetermined duration, and/or the player uses a touch screen to select a card on a video poker machine at a predetermined rate).
  • [0113]
    Player Accounts
  • [0114]
    As a convenience to players, the GD may store consideration input by the player in a player account. For example, a player may insert a $20 bill into a bill acceptor of the GD. Accordingly, the GD may add $20 to the balance of a player account stored securely on the GD, and may be displayed to the player during operation of the GD as a credit balance. The credit balance may indicate for example, a number such as “150 units” which may or may not equal the same amount in dollars (for example, 100 units may indicate an amount equal to twenty dollars in U.S. currency, wherein 5 units equals 1 dollar). A player account may be, for example, a financial account, a bank account, a store account, a credit account, or a debit account.
  • [0115]
    A balance of a player account may be stored in a memory, for example, the GD may store a balance of a player account in non-volatile memory such as an EPROM (electronically programmable read-only memory). Alternatively, or in addition, a balance of a player account may be stored on separate computer system. For example, in a server-based gaming environment, a central computer or GS may store a balance of a player account. In some embodiments, multiple players may be permitted to access the balance of credits in a player account. For example, a husband and wife may share a player account in such a manner than bets by either the husband or the wife are deducted from the player account and prizes won by the husband or the wife are contributed to the player account.
  • [0116]
    In some embodiments, a player account may be denominated in various units. For example, a player account could be denominated in units of a national currency (e.g., dollars, pesos, RMB, won, Yen, Euros). A player account may also be denominated in alternate currencies, such as credits or tokens, or comp points. Each credit may have a designated cash value, for example, on a “quarter” slot machine, one credit may be worth “$0.25”, whereas on a “nickel” slot machine, one credit may be worth “$0.05”. Credit values of that are fractions of a coin (e.g., $0.005, a half-cent) are also possible. In some embodiments, the term “credit balance” may be used to refer to the balance of credits in an account. In one embodiment, a credit balance may be an integer value greater than or equal to zero (e.g., 0 credits, 15 credits, 376 credits). Casinos may provide comp points to players as part of a customer loyalty program. Players in turn may use these comp points to purchase or receive discounts on hotel rooms, restaurant meals, show tickets, and the like. It may be possible in some embodiments for players to use their comp points to place bets on GDs. In some embodiments, a player account may store units of a restricted currency. For example, a player account may store credits that are only useful for gambling and thus have no other cash value. In such embodiments, a player may win cash prizes based on gambling of such tokens.
  • [0117]
    The balance of a player account (e.g., $20, or 80 credits) may be stored in the memory of the GD or other computer system. For example, a GD may have secure area in a memory that stores the balance of a player account. In another example, a GD may communicate with a computer server such as a GS that stores the balance of a player account. Preferably, such communication will be encrypted, authenticated, or otherwise protected to prevent unauthorized access to any of the player accounts. For example, the computer server could be an GS operated by a casino, or an account server operated by a bank, credit card company, or other financial institution.
  • [0118]
    In some embodiments, the balance of a player account may be displayed by a GD on an associated output device. For example, the GD may have an LED display that shows the number of credits remaining in a player account. In some embodiments, the balance of a player account may be transmitted wirelessly to a player's cell phone. The cell phone may then display the balance using an LCD display. Such an embodiment may be preferred by players who would like to prevent other players in a casino from viewing their player account balance.
  • [0119]
    Alternatively, or in addition to displaying the balance of a player account, a GD may output other metrics of a player account. For example, the GD may display a difference between the balance of the player account and another value. For example, a GD may display a message, “You have 236 credits in your account, 36 credits more than you had at the beginning of your session”, or “You have 118 credits in your account, 82 credits less than the threshold value for getting a balance bonus.” Other examples of a metrics that could be displayed include a duration of time or number of spins that the balance of the account has been above a threshold value, a value of the balance denominated in a different currency (i.e. the GD may display a message, “You have 236 credits in your account, the equivalent of $59.00 on this quarter slot machine”), and a chart showing how the value of a player's credit balance has varied over time (e.g., as the player cashes in to add more money to his credit balance).
  • [0120]
    The player may have the option of pressing a “cash out” button on the GD to receive money or a gaming ticket equal to the value of the credit balance. Alternatively, pressing the “cash out” button on the GD may cause a benefit (e.g., a product, service, or alternate currency) to be provided to the player based on the value of the balance but not necessary equal in value to the balance. For example, a player may be given the option of receiving a free dinner buffet (cash value $25) in exchange for $20 of credits stored in the GD.
  • [0121]
    Another Embodiment of Free Play Mode Operation
  • [0122]
    FIG. 4 is a flowchart 400 illustrating another embodiment of a process for offering the free play mode of operation on a GD, wherein the GD may be part of a gaming system (such as the system 200 described above). In step 402, the GD receives payment (or some form of consideration) from the player and establishes a credit balance. The player can then use the credit balance to place bets and initiate wagering game play. In step 404, the GD begins operating in the regular mode, which requires the player to make a bet before he is permitted to play the wagering game and generate outcomes. (As discussed above, the GD may generate all the wagering game parameters and present the outcomes to the player, or some or all of such operations may be handled by another device that is in communication with the GD. In addition, some or all of the data concerning wagering game operation may be stored as transaction data in a database.) Also in step 404, the wagering game play on the GD is monitored for the occurrence of one or more trigger conditions. The GD may be configured to monitor itself (i.e. the GD may include sensors and a processor programmed to sense and respond to certain events) for the occurrence of one or more trigger conditions. In addition or alternately, one or other devices (such as an GS or another GD) may monitor the GD for the occurrence of trigger conditions, which may include one or more of certain predetermined events or GD metrics or wagering game metrics, as explained below.
  • [0123]
    Trigger Conditions
  • [0124]
    A trigger condition may be an event or some other occurrence at a GD, which may or may not occur during regular mode of operation, and the trigger condition may be based on one or more factors. For example, one or more of the following factors may affect the occurrence of a trigger condition: events that occur at the GD, metrics of game play, factors relating to a credit balance on the GD, game play on other GDs, conditions relating to the player, one or more indications provided by the player, and/or indications provided by other parties (e.g., a casino representative, a friend of a player, a regulator, and the like). Some specific examples of events at the GD that may affect a trigger condition include: money is inserted into the GD by a player (e.g., using the GD's payment system); particular types of outcomes are generated by the GD (e.g. 50 losing outcomes in a row may be a losing streak that triggers free play mode); certain predetermined types or amounts of payouts that are provided by the GD (e.g., 10 coin payout, a $100 jackpot); one or more intra-game events occur (e.g., a player is dealt a card in video poker, a player discards a card in video poker, a player gains access to a bonus round on a slot machine); money is removed from the GD by a player (e.g., a player presses the ‘cash out’ button); a bonus is provided to a player (e.g., a player may earn a 10 coin bonus for inserting a $20 bill into the GD); a player identifies himself (e.g., a player may insert a player tracking card into the GD); and/or a feature is activated or deactivated. Such events or factors may trip a trigger condition that may in turn cause the GD to offer free play mode to the player (which he may chose not to accept), or that may automatically cause the GD to operate in free play mode to force the player into free play mode. In some embodiments, the GD may display a menu or menus that the player may use to select a feature or to indicate his preferences.
  • [0125]
    In some embodiments, information may be output to a player by an output device associated with the GD (e.g., a message may be displayed to a player on a video screen alerting him that he only has 10 coins left), and also offer the player the opportunity to play in free play mode. In some embodiments, one or more indications from one or more sensors may affect or cause a trigger condition. For example, the GD may have a weight sensor that determines when a player is standing in front of the GD, and a trigger condition may occur after the player has stood in front of the GD for a predetermined amount of time (for example, 5 seconds), which in turn may cause a message to be displayed on a screen of the GD offering free play mode to the player. In a second example, the GD may have a microphone that may be used to determine when a player is speaking (e.g., with a friend).
  • [0126]
    In addition to events themselves, information about events may be factors that affect or cause a trigger condition. For example, the following information about events may affect or cause a trigger condition: when the event occurred (e.g., what date, what time of day, ordering of events), how often an event occurred (e.g., 14 times, an average of 32.6 times per hour), how much money was added and/or removed and/or involved in the event (e.g., how much money did a player insert into a GD? How large was a payout provided to a player?), results of the event (e.g., what was a player's credit balance after he won a jackpot? What is the state of a program on a GD after the GD's software is upgraded?), what caused an event to occur (e.g., why did a player win a jackpot of 100 coins?), and/or other information describing the event (e.g., what authentication code was provided, what activation code was provided).
  • [0127]
    Some metrics of game play may also affect or cause a trigger condition. For example, the following metrics may affect a trigger condition: duration of play (e.g., how many minutes a player has operated a GD, how many games a player has played, how much money a player has bet), a rate of play (e.g., average number of games per minute, amount of currency per minute, changes in a player's rate of play), how long a condition has been true (e.g., How long has the player maintained a rate of play of more than 7 games per minute? For how many games has the player's credit balance been above 40 coins? What percentage of games are played with a particular feature enabled?), an amount of play (e.g., as measured by session win or session theoretical win, number of prizes won), the amount wagered (e.g., if a player wagers more than a threshold amount of coins in a period of time, a prompt may be triggered).
  • [0128]
    In some embodiments, factors relating to a credit balance on the GD may affect or cause a trigger condition. For example, a trigger condition may be caused by a current credit balance on the GD (e.g., is the current credit balance above a threshold value?), a change in the credit balance (e.g., has the credit balance fallen by more than $40 during the last 30 minutes?), a current credit balance on a plurality of GDs (e.g., in an embodiment in which a player may operate a plurality of GDs simultaneously), metrics of a credit balance (e.g., average value of credit balance, average rate of change of credit balance). In some embodiments, factors relating to game play on other GDs may affect or cause a trigger condition. For example, a trigger condition may be caused by a determination that other GDs are occupied or unoccupied (for example, a trigger condition may be that one or more similar GDs within a predetermined area are unoccupied), by relative game play on other GDs (e.g., a prompt may be output if a player has lost 10 games in a row while at the same time a second player on a nearby GD has won multiple prizes).
  • [0129]
    In some embodiments, conditions relating to the player may affect a trigger condition. For example, a trigger condition may be determined based on the identity of the player (e.g., status of the player as a preferred member of casino club), by the gaming history of the player (e.g., comp points earned by the player greater than a threshold value, amount of money wagered over a period of time), and/or by the preferences of the player (e.g., the player has indicated a preference that he be alerted when free play mode becomes available). In some embodiments, the identity of the player could be determined “passively”, that is by using a device such as an imaging system to identify the player. For example, a video camera may be operable to capture facial expressions of a player and transmit them to a system that compares the captured images to images stored in a player ID database to automatically identify players, without the need for the player to swipe his player ID card in a card reader.
  • [0130]
    In some embodiments, a player may indicate that he would like to enter free play mode (e.g., using an input device on the GD), and/or the player may indicate one or more conditions upon which he would like to be prompted to enter free play mode, and such indications may be considered to be trigger conditions. For example, at the start of a gaming session, a player may indicate that he would like to be prompted to enter free play mode anytime he goes on a losing streak of 20 games or more. In another example, a player may indicate that he would like to be prompted to enter free play mode anytime his credit balance falls below 30 credits. Other parties (i.e., parties other than the player) may also indicate a desire for free play mode. For example, a friend, relative or spouse of a player may provide an indication relating to free-play mode. For example, a wife may indicate that her husband should be prompted to enter free mode after he incurs a losing streak of 20 outcomes, and she may provide such an indication if she is worried that her husband is losing money at an alarming rate, or because she knows that her husband is upset with his most recent outcomes. In addition, a casino representative (e.g., a waitress, a casino host, a blackjack dealer, a pit boss) may use a computer terminal or other device (e.g., a personal computer, a cash register, a PDA) to indicate information relating to a player that may cause a prompt for free play mode to be displayed at the GD for the player. For example, a casino host may notice that a player seems to be depressed or angry about his current losing streak and may then use a wireless PDA to transmit an indication of this observation to the GD or to a central computer such as a GS or casino server. Based on this indication, a prompt for free play mode may be output to the player at that GD.
  • [0131]
    In some embodiments, a regulator, judicial officer, problem gambling counselor, or the like may use a computer terminal or other device to indicate that one or more players should only be permitted to play a GD only in free play mode. For example, players who have voluntarily placed themselves on a jurisdiction's “self exclusion list” may only be permitted by such third parties to play wagering games on a GD in free play mode. In some embodiments, certain players may only be permitted to play in free play mode after playing in regular mode to a specified degree (e.g. for a certain period of time, for a certain total coin-in per period of time, etc.). Forcing players to play games in free play mode temporarily (e.g., for an hour, or until a trigger condition occurs) may provide such players with a “cooling off” period, enabling such players to reflect on their betting strategies and to avoid making poor decisions in the future.
  • [0132]
    In some embodiments, a trigger condition may comprise any one of a plurality of behaviors or behavioral patterns indicative of “problem gambling”, which may be detected by one or more peripheral devices, such as sensors, that may be associated with the GD. A list of such behaviors or behavior patterns may be stored, for example, in a database of the GD or of another device that is in communication with the GD. When such a trigger condition occurs, in some embodiments the GD automatically enters free play mode, thus forcing the player, who has been identified as a problem gambler, to continue in the free play mode (which player may be required to continue in the free play mode for at least a minimum number of game outcomes).
  • [0133]
    In one embodiment, a peripheral device may be operable to access a database to output messages and/or signals at the GD. For example, a peripheral device may transmit a signal to another device, the signal indicating that a player currently playing a GD has been identified as potentially qualifying as a problem gambler. In another example, a peripheral device may be directed by another device (or by its own processor) to output a message to a player of a GD associated with the peripheral device (e.g., a message targeted at curbing the problem gambler's gambling behavior). In some embodiments, a peripheral device may also be operable to access a database (e.g., a problem gambler database) to write information to the database. For example, the peripheral device may be operable to cause an indication of an input from a player to a GD to be stored in a record of the problem database that is associated with the player. For example, the peripheral device may cause an indication of the player's aggression towards the gaming device (e.g., hitting or yelling at the gaming device) to be stored, and/or an indication of the player's attempt to initiate a game play prior to a resolution of a previously initiated game play to be stored. As described in more detail below, in some embodiments one or more of these behaviors may be an indication that a player qualifies as a problem gambler.
  • [0134]
    In one or more embodiments, a peripheral device server may also monitor player gambling history over time, by associating gambling behavior with player identifiers, such as player tracking card numbers or player photos. For example, in an embodiment a player's gambling patterns are monitored to determine if any changes have occurred (e.g., has the player changed the time of day or week that the player typically gambles), and a peripheral device server stores an indication of each time that a player gambles. Further, information about the player obtained or accessed by the peripheral device server may be analyzed, for example, to identify those players who may qualify as problem gamblers. For example, if a player has typically only gambled during evenings and on the weekends but suddenly and consistently starts to gamble during weekdays, such a change in gambling behavior may be determined to be an indication that the player may qualify as a problem gambler. Based upon desired objectives, the peripheral device server may direct the appropriate peripheral device to issue messages to specific players, and to direct the GD to operate in a free play mode. For example, a message notifying the player that the GD is now in free play mode for at least a predetermined amount of time (or predetermined amount of game outcomes) may also include a link and/or a telephone number to a gamblers anonymous hotline.
  • [0135]
    In some embodiments, a peripheral device may comprise one or more sensors associated with a GD. For example, a peripheral device may comprise one or more of (i) a microphone for detecting sounds emitted by a player of a GD; (ii) a weight sensor for detecting a player sitting in a chair associated with a GD; (iii) a tilt sensor for detecting a player tilting or moving a GD (e.g., if a player attempts to shake a GD); (iv) a camera for capturing images of a player and/or GD; (v) an infrared thermometer which may be used, for example, to detect excitement, agitation or anxiety of a player; and/or (vi) one or more pressure sensors for detecting whether a player has hit a GD. Such sensors may be utilized, for example, in embodiments in which a player is displaying aggressive behavior towards a GD or other aberrational behavior that could be interpreted as an indication that the player may qualify as a problem gambler, and/or as a factor in determining whether the player qualifies as a problem gambler. When any of such events are detected, a trigger condition may cause the GD to automatically operate in the free play mode.
  • [0136]
    It should be understood that the functions described herein as being performed by a peripheral device server and/or a peripheral device may, in one or more embodiments, be performed by a controller or processor (in lieu of or in conjunction with being performed by a peripheral device server and/or a peripheral device). Such a controller or processor may be a component of a GD or other device of a wagering game system, for example, and may be configured to communicate with one or more other GDs and/or servers.
  • [0137]
    Irrespective of the form in which such a list is stored, the following is an example list of events or actions on the part of the player, the occurrence or detection of one or more of which may cause a GD to transmit such an indication: a player actuates or attempts to actuate an input device of the gaming device (e.g., a reel starting mechanism) during an inactive state of the input device (e.g., the player has attempted to spin the reels when the reels have not yet stopped spinning from a previously initiated game play); the player has selected or attempted to select a feature or option not available to the player (e.g., the player has attempted to select a wager amount not available to the player due to an insufficient credit meter balance or a payline or number of paylines not available to the player due to an insufficient credit meter balance); the player has engaged in certain wagering behavior, as explained below; the player has engaged in certain coin-in behavior, as described below; and the player has engaged a certain video poker strategy, as described below.
  • [0138]
    For example, a pattern of wagering that may be of concern may include one or more of the following: a player wins a jackpot and immediately keeps playing as fast as possible to wager with the win, without pausing at all to savor the big win or consider whether to cash out (i.e., no pause between a big win and the next game play initiation); on a high maximum wager gaming device, the player puts in 40 quarters (enough for one game play) and bets it all on one game play, then repeats the action for the next game play; a player persistently bets too high a proportion of coin in: for example, the player puts in $20, bets $6 on a first game play, bets $6 on a second game play; bets $6 on a third game play, bets $2 on the last game play, then puts in another $20 and repeats the betting pattern; the player places progressively larger bets after a series of losses (i.e., after an unlucky streak) which may be interpreted as a sign of desperation because the player is “chasing” the losses. In another example, if a player places large wagers on bets that are exceptionally improbable to pay out, such behavior may indicate a problem gambler. Accordingly, betting strategy in conjunction with wager size and player skill may be tracked by a peripheral server to determine if the player is making exceptionally poor strategy choices, which may be analyzed to determine if the player fits the profile of a problem gambler.
  • [0139]
    In another example, a pattern of cashing out that may be of concern could include one or more of the following: a player puts in $20, loses the entire $20, puts in another $20, loses the entire $20, moves to another gaming device and repeats the pattern; and/or the above player additionally moves from one gaming device to another between putting in the additional $20 of each cycle of the pattern. In another example, a strategy pattern that may be of concern is if, in a video poker game, a player continuously applies a “desperation strategy” (e.g., of only going for the Royal Flush, no matter what cards are dealt). For example, a player may consistently throw away a high expected value hand (e.g., three of a kind) in order to attempt to get a Royal Flush. In another example, a strategy of obtaining funds that may be of concern is if a player obtains a high line of credit from the casino (e.g., $500) and immediately loses it all in five minutes.
  • [0140]
    Many other patterns of behavior may be monitored and recognized among players. For example, consistently attempting to actuate the reel starting mechanism prior to the reels stopping spinning from a previously initiated game play, as described above, may be a pattern of behavior that is recognized as a sign of a problem gambler.
  • [0141]
    It should be noted that, in accordance with some embodiments and as described herein, a player repeatedly or persistently performing one of the above actions or engaging in one of the above patterns of behavior may be a trigger condition for entering the free play mode and/or for transmitting an indication that the player may qualify as a problem gambler, while the player performing one or more of the above actions or engaging in one of the above behaviors on an isolated or occasional basis may not. A player may be considered to have performed an action or engaged in a behavior repeatedly or persistently, for example, if the player performs the action or engages in the behavior a predetermined minimum number of times (or a predetermined minimum number of consecutive times) within a predetermined unit of time. For example, if a player once or occasionally attempts to select a payline or number of paylines unavailable to the player due to an insufficient credit balance and/or attempts to start the spinning of the reels before the reels have stopped spinning may not cause any signal or indication to be transmitted. However, if a player persistently and/or continuously attempts to start the reels again before the reels stop spinning from a previously initiated game play (e.g., the player is constantly tapping or pressing the reel start button of a slot machine), this behavior may cause a signal or indication that the player may qualify as a problem gambler to be transmitted to another device.
  • [0142]
    Other behavioral indicators may indicate potential problem gambling. For example, excessively long gaming sessions wherein a person refuses to eat or go to the bathroom may indicate that player has a gambling problem. Repeated visits to casino at odd hours may indicate that a player could be skipping work or other responsibilities in order to play. If a player is ever denied from making a withdrawal from an account (e.g., because he has no money), this should be a red flag, and could cause a trigger condition to occur at the GD. Certain player movements on the casino floor, which may be picked up by cameras, may track certain patterns of movement (e.g., pacing in front of ATM machine, sitting alone in a corner of the gaming floor, sitting alone for long periods at the bar in a lounge area), and may be indicative of a potential problem gambler. Cameras within a casino may also be used to capture video of a player's face and process this video to determine emotions that are indicative of problem gaming (e.g., lack of sleep, inappropriate exuberance or inappropriate sadness). These emotions may be compared to gaming information (e.g., player betting patterns) to further identify problem gamblers.
  • [0143]
    In embodiments wherein a player is identified as a problem gambler and then forced to continue play in free play mode (i.e. the GD automatically switches from a regular mode to a free play mode), approval from a third party may be required before that player can again operate the GD in regular mode. For example, an instruction or written approval or other type of approval may be required from the player's spouse, a casino representative, a judicial officer, a regulator, or other person before the player can again place a bet to operate the GD in regular mode.
  • [0144]
    Of course, in some embodiments a device besides the GD may analyze, process or compare a player's actions, emotional outbursts, or patterns of behavior to determine whether the player may qualify as a problem gambler and/or whether a trigger condition has been met. In such embodiments, the GD may simply transmit an indication of each player action or each qualifying player action to the other device (or the other device may otherwise determine each such player action or qualifying player action) in order to perform the analysis, processing or comparison.
  • [0145]
    According to one embodiment, a trigger condition may be a Boolean expression. The Boolean expression may reference one or more variables (i.e., factors) and may include Boolean modifiers and conjunctions (e.g. AND, OR, XOR, NOT, NAND), comparators (e.g., >, <, =, >=, <=, !=), mathematical operations (e.g. +, −, *, /, mean, standard deviation, logarithm, derivative, integral), and constants (e.g. $10, 20 coins, 300 credits, 0.02, 15%, pi, TRUE, yellow, “raining”). The Boolean expressions can be used in a process, for example, with a GD to affect or to cause a trigger condition. For example, the following Boolean expressions may be used alone or in combination: (session_win>$100) AND (losing_streak>10 spins), (time_of_day>6 pm) AND (empty_game_machines>30) AND (most_recent_outcome=loss), (free_play_button_pressed=TRUE).
  • [0146]
    In some embodiments, if a trigger condition occurs, then free play mode is unlocked on that GD so that the player can choose to utilize free play mode at any time during a gaming session thereafter. For example, if a player on a GD incurs 50 losing outcomes in a row, or his credit balance falls below a predetermined threshold level, an indication may appear on a GD display that the player may initiate the free play mode of operation whenever the player chooses to do so by pressing a button (or by providing some other indication as described above). In some embodiments, if a trigger condition occurs, the GD automatically enters the free play mode of operation. For example, once the player incurs 50 losing outcomes in a row, the GD automatically enters free play mode for 20 outcomes. In such an “automatic” free play mode embodiment, the player may be eligible to receive credit for all jackpot and/or winning outcomes while conserving his remaining credit balance (i.e. the player's credit balance may increase for winning outcomes, but he is not penalized for any losing outcomes and thus his credit balance does not decrease). Such an automatic mode of free play operation may also be offered to VIP players or other selected players as a “bonus session”. In addition, such an automatic free play mode may be offered to a player in exchange for a promise (or a payment) from the player to purchase a product or service.
  • [0147]
    Referring again to FIG. 4, in step 406, it is determined whether a trigger condition occurred. If a trigger condition did not occur, a determination is made in step 408 whether the player has indicated a desire to cashout by, for example, pressing a cashout button on the GD. If so, game play is terminated in step 410. But if the player has not indicated a desire to cashout, then the process branches back to step 404 and the GD is operated in regular mode.
  • [0148]
    If it is determined that a trigger condition occurred in step 406, then in this embodiment, free play mode is offered 412 to the player (In some embodiments, as explained below, free play mode is automatically initiated when at least one trigger condition occurs). In step 414, if it is determined that the player did not accept the offer to initiate free play mode, then in step 408 it is determined whether the player has cashed out by, for example, pressing a cashout button on the GD. If so, game play is terminated in step 410, but if not then the process branches back to step 404 and the GD is operated in regular mode.
  • [0149]
    However, referring again to step 414, if the player accepts the offer then in step 416 the free play mode of operation is provided. Next, it is determined in step 418 whether the player has indicated a desire to cash out, and if so, then the game play is ended and the player is given a payout 410 if the GD indicates that there is a positive credit balance, and the process ends. But if the player did not cashout, then it is determined in step 420 if a termination condition occurred. If a termination condition occurred, then in step 422 free play mode is ended, and the process branches back to step 404 wherein the GD is switched back to the regular mode of operation. If a termination condition did not occur in step 420, then the process branches back to step 416 and free play mode operation continues.
  • [0150]
    In some embodiments, upon termination of free play mode, the GD may resume normal operation in regular mode as discussed above, so that a player must place a bet in order to obtain an outcome on the GD and may permit the player's credit balance to decrease. The GD may also cease to offer the option of free play mode to that player. That is, a player may no longer have the option of activating free play mode on the GD. Removing the option of free play mode may include deactivating a free play mode button on the GD and/or hiding a free play mode menu item. In some embodiments, the option for free play mode operation may be removed without a player ever having exercised the option. That is, the option of free play mode may be enabled and then disabled without the player ever entering free play mode.
  • [0151]
    Termination Conditions
  • [0152]
    A termination condition may be based on one or more factors, and some examples that may affect the occurrence of a termination condition include: certain indications by a player, the expiration of a maximum duration of free play mode, the outcomes on the GD, and/or the demand for GDs, for example, on a casino floor. Some examples of indications by a player that comprise a termination condition that may cause the GD to terminate free play mode may include: a player operates an input device on the GD (e.g. a switch, a button, a touch screen) to indicate that he would like to switch from the free play mode to the regular play mode; the player selects a bet size on the GD that is greater than or equal to 1 credit (for example, a player may use up/down buttons on the GD to select his bet size); a player inserts money into the GD using a payment system on the GD; a player may respond to a prompt by indicating that he would like to terminate free play mode.
  • [0153]
    In some embodiments, the player may specify a termination condition. For example, at the initiation of free play mode, a player may specify that free play mode should terminate after 50 spins, or after the player presses the “Cash Out” button on the GD, or after the player provides an indication using some other type of input device. The GD may output a verification message (e.g., “Are you sure?”) in response to such an indication by a player to terminate the free play mode. If the player indicates “yes”, then the GD switches back to regular mode and the player may continue to gamble by placing bets, for example, or may depress the Cash Out button to end play.
  • [0154]
    In some embodiments, free play mode may terminate based on the expiration of a maximum duration of free play mode. This duration may be expressed in various units, including, but not limited to: a period of time (e.g., 10 minutes). For example, at the start of free play mode, a player may be informed that he may only operate the GD in free play mode for 10 minutes, and at the end of the 10 minute duration the free play mode is terminated. The duration may also be expressed in other manners, such as a number of outcomes (e.g., the player may be prevented from operating a GD in free play mode for more than 20 outcomes), a number of outcomes of a certain type (e.g., 5 wins), an amount of money or credits won (e.g., free play mode on a GD may terminate if a player wins a prize of more than 10 credits). In some embodiments, the GD may display a remaining duration of free play mode using an output device. For example, a GD may include a clock that shows that amount of time remaining in free play mode.
  • [0155]
    Some embodiments include generating a termination condition based on the outcomes generated on the GD. Examples of such factors relating to outcomes include: a winning outcome (for example, free play mode may continue until a player achieves a winning outcome or an outcome than provides a prize greater than a threshold value). In another embodiment, a GD may provide a “You Can't Lose” bonus feature in which a player is guaranteed a winning outcome sometime in the next 10 outcomes. If the player doesn't win during the next 10 outcomes, then the GD then enters free play mode, and the player is then permitted to continue to operate the GD free play mode (possibly using the same pay table as regular mode) until he gets a winning outcome. In some embodiments, an termination condition may occur after a series of winning outcomes (for example, free play mode may be terminated if a player achieves 3 winning outcomes in a row), after a sum of prizes that would have been won (for example, for each outcome achieved by a player in free play mode, the GD may determine what prize the player would have won had he been operating the GD in regular mode and then may display this value to the player using an output device. In addition, the GD may track the total value of prizes that a player would have won in regular mode, and if this total value exceeds a threshold, the player may be forced to exit free play mode), after components of one or more outcomes (for example, a video poker machine operating in free play mode may add a joker to the deck of cards, and if the joker is dealt to a player 3 times, then the GD may terminate free play mode) and after a determination that there is an increased demand for GDs for regular mode play. The last feature may help to prevent a player from occupying a GD in free play mode when other players would be interested in operating the GD in regular mode. For example, a GD may exit free play mode if more than 90% of the other Gds in its immediate vicinity are currently occupied. A GD may also exit free play mode based on anticipated demand (for example, a casino may forecast that there will be a spike in demand for GDs at 8 pm on Saturday evening when a performance of a show ends and customers exit the show. Based on this information, a player who is operating a GD in free play mode may be forced to switch back to regular mode by 8 pm).
  • [0156]
    The GD, in some embodiments, may use an output device to prompt a player to exit the free play mode. For example, the GD may display a message in a popup dialog box “Would you like to exit free play mode now?” and the player may then respond to this prompt by providing an indication using an input device. The GD may also prompt a player to exit free play mode based on a trigger condition (such as those described above) or based on a termination condition (such as those discussed above). For example, a player may be prompted to exit free play mode if he wins a prize of more than 10 credits, or if the player receives 3 consecutive winning outcomes.
  • [0157]
    In some embodiments, the GD may output an indication of termination of free play mode. An output device may display this indication, for example, a touch screen on the GD may display a message in bold type “Free Play Mode has ended. To continue operating this GD, please select your bet size.” The indication of termination may also include one or more of the following: a warning that free play mode has been or will be terminated; an indication of how the GD will operate in the future (for example, the indication of termination may include a message, “In 20 seconds, this GD will resume operation in regular play mode”); a description, explanation, or reminder of the difference between regular mode and free play mode; statistics or other information pertaining to outcomes generated during free play mode; a prompt for the player to acknowledge that free play mode is being terminated; and a prompt for the player to select a bet size or cash out from the GD.
  • [0000]
    4. Free Play Mode Active Sessions Database
  • [0158]
    FIGS. 5A and 5B depict a tabular representation 500 of an example embodiment of a free play mode active sessions database (which may be, for example, stored in a memory of a GS, or a casino server, or a memory of another device). Tabular representation 500 is referred to herein as a free play mode active sessions database 500.
  • [0159]
    The free play mode active sessions database 500 includes a number of example records or entries, including records R500-1 through R500-4, each of which may define a free play mode session that is currently active (e.g., is in the process of being executed by a player or has been scheduled to be executed). Those skilled in the art will understand that the free play mode active sessions database 500 may include any number of entries. The free play mode active sessions database 500 may be the same as, or may be utilized in addition to, the free play mode database 265 shown in FIG. 2.
  • [0160]
    The free play mode active sessions database 500 also defines fields for each of the entries or records. In this example embodiment, the fields specify: (i) a player identifier 502, which may be, for example, a unique alphanumeric identifier assigned to a player and stored on a magnetic stripe on a player tracking card that is readable by a GD; (ii) a free play mode identifier 505 that uniquely identifies the offers and/or accepted offers to execute free play mode, and which may be associated with one or more trigger conditions; (iii) a GD identifier 510 that may identify each GD or type of GD (for example, a bonus round-only gaming device of the “Double-Sapphire” game type) on which the free play mode session is to be executed (which, in some embodiments, may include a plurality of GDs or types of GDs, or any GDs in a portion of a casino gaming room, for example); (iv) a game play type identifier 515 that identifies the type of game for which the outcomes of the session are to be determined; (v) a regular mode wager per game play 520 (such as twenty-five cents per reel spin); (vi) a free play mode wager per game play 522 (which is typically zero, but may be a micro-bet, or percentage of a credit balance, or some other amount as describe herein); (vii) one or more active free play payout combinations 525 (e.g. the player can receive an increase in his credit balance if an outcome of “BAR-BAR-BAR” or a “ROYAL FLUSH” is achieved during free play mode operation); (viii) a number of free play mode game plays remaining 530 (for example, as shown in row R500-4, a player is entitled to fifty-seven (57) more free play mode spins on the GD that provides a 3-payline reel spin); (ix) a time remaining 535 that may store an indication (which may be an estimate) of how much time remains before the free play mode session is terminated, and/or that defines a time limit (in some embodiments, the time remaining to execute a round of free play mode is not applicable (N/A)); and (x) a record of prizes obtained in free play mode 540 by the player.
  • [0161]
    The free play mode active sessions database 500 may be utilized, for example, to track information concerning the players and their free play mode experiences. For example, information concerning how often a player utilizes free play mode, what type of machines are utilized to obtain free play mode, and the amount of credits or prizes won during free play mode may be obtained and analyzed. For example, a GD or GS may use such a database to track an indication of results of free play mode sessions that are part of one or more regular mode gaming sessions, or that are used in combination sessions (auto-play mode and free play mode operation). Once a free play mode session has been completed, the GD may then communicate the indication to a GS, such as a casino server, and/or may provide such data to another device so that one or more other databases can be updated with the latest information.
  • [0162]
    The free play mode active sessions database 500 may reside in a dedicated storage device, or in a memory of a GD, or in a memory of a GS, such as a casino server. In addition, data concerning free play mode operation may be updated after completion of a free play mode session, and/or several times per day, and/or once per day, and/or on a predetermined periodic basis, and/or as data is being generated at all times, and/or on command. In some embodiments, the free play mode data may be periodically transmitted to a central database. In some embodiments, authorized casino personnel, and/or a regulator, and/or players may be provided with access to at least a portion of the free play mode data. The free play mode data may be stored in at least one of a tabular form, in an object-oriented format, in an XML format, and in a relational database format. In addition, in some embodiments the free play mode data may be analyzed, for example, to determine at least one trend that seems to have formed for a plurality of players. Other types of analysis could also be performed, and based on the results various features or conditions of free play mode could be changed, modified, or deleted. For example, based on the analysis of free play mode data in the active sessions database 500, at least one trigger condition may be modified, and/or at least one termination condition may be modified. In addition, in some embodiments, the analysis of the free play mode data associated with a particular player may result in determining at least one modified offer for free play mode for use with that player in the future. Such a modified offer for free play mode may be presented to the player at a later date, such as the next time that player utilizes a particular type of GD in a casino gaming room.
  • [0000]
    5. Additional Descriptions of Some Embodiments Effectively Free Play Mode
  • [0163]
    Embodiments may be practiced that are similar in effect to free play mode. In some embodiments, a player may be allowed to greatly reduce his bet size (for example, the player is allowed to place a “micro-bet”). For example, in a micro-bet mode of GD operation, a player may be allowed to select a bet size of $0.0001 (i.e., one hundredth of a cent) or less. Thus, in this case of micro-bet mode, a player would be able to play 100 outcomes on the GD for only a penny. Similarly, a player may be permitted to bet fractions of a credit, regardless of the true money value of a credit. Drastically reducing a player's bet size in this manner may accomplish an effect similar to the free play mode of GD operation described above. The player is able to enjoy the thrill of gaming on a GD without losing large amounts of money, and he may be able to ride out “cold streaks” on a GD for minimal or a reduced cost.
  • [0164]
    Prize values and odds of outcomes in micro-bet mode may the same as or different from the values in the regular mode of GD operation. In one notable example, prize values for micro-bet mode may be decreased in proportion to the size of the micro-bet, while the odds of each outcome may remain the same. For example, in regular mode, a bet of 1 credit may win a player a prize of 30 credits for a certain outcome. In micro-bet mode, however, a bet of 0.01 credits may win a player a prize of 0.3 credits. This proportionally reduced payout may be particularly easy for players to understand, and may also be easy for the GD to provide. In some embodiments, to avoid confusion with fractional prize values, micro-bets may be marketed to players as a package of outcomes. For example, a player who perceives that a GD has turned “cold” may purchase a package of 100 outcomes for $0.50 (i.e., a bet size of half a cent). The player may then proceed to play each of these outcomes (i.e., operate the GD in micro-bet mode). Credits won by the player may be accumulated and then rounded up or down to the nearest whole credit value at the end of the 100-outcome micro-bet session. For example, during the course of a session in micro-bet mode, a player may win 3.7 credits. This value may then be rounded up to 4 credits when the player continues gaming in regular mode.
  • [0165]
    In some embodiments of micro-bet mode, there may be no minimum bet size required by the GD. For example, the GD may have two bet size selection buttons “Increase Bet Size” and “Decrease Bet Size”. The player may then press the “Decrease Bet Size” button as many times as he wants to select a smaller and smaller bet size. For example, pressing the “Decrease Bet Size” button once may select a bet size of 1 credit, pressing the button again may decrease the bet size to 0.5 credits, again to 0.1 credits, again to 0.05 credits, and so on. Such a GD may be configured to have no maximum bet size and/or no minimum bet size, and thus may be customizable by a player to suit his desires. Such customizable GDs may be appealing to players who have a set budget or betting strategy (i.e. these players can set a low bet size), or may be appealing to players who desire a personalized gaming experience.
  • [0166]
    Free play mode may also be implemented by allowing a player to select a bet size that is computed as a fraction of his credit balance on the GD. For example, at the start of a gaming session, the player may indicate that he would like to bet 1% of his total credits on each outcome. That is, if the player had 200 credits in the GD, he would bet 2 credits on the next outcome. Similarly, if the player had 50 credits in the GD, he would bet 0.5 credits on the next outcome. Permitting such gaming operation without restriction, however, would allow a player to operate a GD for as long as he likes without his credit balance ever going all the way to zero.
  • [0167]
    In some embodiments, free play mode GD operation may be accomplished by allowing a player to operate the GD in regular mode, and then providing a refund to the player for losing outcomes at the end of his session. For example, a player who believes that a GD has gone cold may indicate that he would like to put the GD into a refund mode. During refund mode, the player operates the GD normally by placing bets, but upon the termination of refund mode, the player will receive a refund for any credits lost during the session. For example, a player may initiate refund mode with a credit balance of 54 credits on a GD. During the course of operating the GD in refund mode, the player's credit balance may be reduced to 32 credits. However, since the player was operating the GD in refund mode during this time, the 22 credits that the player lost may be refunded to him, making the session (from the point of entry into refund mode until termination) free to the player.
  • [0168]
    If a player wins money while operating a GD in refund mode, various options are possible. In an embodiment, after termination of refund mode, the player may be permitted to keep the money that he won. It is noted that a refund mode of this sort is similar to providing a gambling loss insurance policy to a player. After creating a checkpoint of his current credit balance at the start of entering refund mode, the player may continue to obtain outcomes and possibly lose money. Upon the termination of refund mode, the player may make a claim on his gambling loss insurance policy and receive a refund for the money that he lost. In another embodiment, the player may be forced to revert back to his credit balance as it existed at the start of refund mode (in a manner similar to a financial future). For example, a player may enter refund mode with a credit balance of 54 credits and then proceed to increase his credit balance to 78 credits. However, since the GD was in refund mode when the player won these credits, his credit balance may revert to 54 credits at the end of refund mode. In another embodiment, any credits won by the player during refund mode may be provided to the player through an alternate payout mechanism that is less costly to the casino (e.g., as gaming tokens, a buffet coupon, or a ticket to a show).
  • [0169]
    Providing a refund mode of GD operation may be beneficial because casinos and other GD operators may find that refund mode is relatively easy to implement, since it may not require any modifications to GDs. For example, to enter refund mode, a player may be required to talk to a casino employee, who may make a note of the player's balance on the GD. When the player terminates refund mode, the casino employee may then provide an appropriate refund to the player. Alternatively, tracking of refunds may be implemented by making use of a casino's player tracking system and GD logs, and thus could be automated. The refund mode may be particularly useful to introduce players to new types of GDs, since players will get to see the true operation of the GD, including any fluctuations of their credit balance during play, but the players will not have to pay for losses incurred while learning how to play.
  • [0170]
    Push Outcomes
  • [0171]
    In some embodiments, free play mode GD operation may also be accomplished by altering the pay table for a GD so that it includes a large number of “push” outcomes in which the player wins back the value of his bet and thereby does not incur a win or a loss. By paying out the value of a player's bet after most spins, the GD accomplishes the same objective as that of free play mode, which is to maintain the player's credit balance while enabling the player to generate outcomes on the GD. For example, a GD in regular mode might have a total of 256 outcomes, of which 192 are losing outcomes (in which the player loses his bet), 16 are push outcomes (in which the player wins a prize equal to the value of his bet), and 48 are winning outcomes (in which the player wins a prize greater than the value of his bet). Continuing with this example, the GD might use a different pay table in free play mode in which the 256 outcomes pay out as follows: 2 are losing outcomes, 238 are push outcomes, and 16 are winning outcomes. The odds of obtaining each outcome may be the same in free play mode as in regular play mode, or they may be modified. In other examples, the GD in free play mode might not have any losing outcomes (e.g., 240 push outcomes and 16 winning outcomes), or the GD might have all push outcomes (no winning outcomes or losing outcomes).
  • [0172]
    Pay for Free Play Mode
  • [0173]
    In some embodiments, a player is required to provide some sort of compensation to enter free play mode. For example, a player may pay 5 credits to enter free play mode on a GD. Compensation from players may come in the form of money, credits, comp points, or agreements by the player to perform an action or actions (e.g., sign up for a credit card, test drive a car, etc). In some embodiments, a friend or a family member of the player may be permitted to provide the compensation for free play mode. Requiring payment of some amount in order to enter free play mode may discourage excessive use of free play mode on GDs by some players so that casino revenues will not be adversely affected.
  • [0174]
    Requiring players to pay to enter free play mode is similar to selling a package of outcomes to a player, where the number of outcomes in the package is determined based on the termination condition of free play mode. In addition, requiring payment form players for a package of free-play outcomes in similar to packaging micro-bet outcomes, as described above.
  • [0175]
    Free Play Mode Statistics
  • [0176]
    Statistics pertaining to outcomes generated during free play mode may be output to a player during free play mode or after the termination of free play mode. For example, while in free play mode, the GD may display a total amount of money that a player would have won had the player been operating the GD in regular mode as opposed to free play mode. Displaying such information may be helpful to motivate players to switch from free play mode to regular mode. In other examples, a prompt for the player to exit free play mode may include information about how many more winning outcomes the player would have had in regular mode as opposed to free play mode, and/or as mentioned earlier, some players may use free play mode to ride out a “cold streak” on a GD, so that upon the termination of free play mode, the GD may display a chart showing how much money the player saved by using free play mode rather than by playing the GD in regular play mode (thus, how well the player rode out the “cold streak”). Providing such statistics to a player may convince the player that free play mode was helpful, and may generate player loyalty to GDs that include free play mode.
  • [0177]
    Applicants have recognized that it would be advantageous to operate a GD in a manner that provides a choice to players to play a GD in a regular mode of operation, or in a free play mode of operation, and have developed methods, apparatus and systems to facilitate such operation. Further, as noted above, free play mode data may be analyzed to determine trends or to obtain further or other information that may be valuable, for example, to determine the optimal use of the GDs deployed by a casino.
  • [0000]
    6. Rules of Interpretation
  • [0178]
    Numerous embodiments have been described, and are presented for illustrative purposes only. The described embodiments are not intended to be limiting in any sense. The invention is widely applicable to numerous embodiments, as is readily apparent from the disclosure herein. These embodiments are described in sufficient detail to enable those skilled in the art to practice the invention, and it is to be understood that other embodiments may be utilized and that structural, logical, software, electrical and other changes may be made without departing from the scope of the present invention. Accordingly, those skilled in the art will recognize that the present invention may be practiced with various modifications and alterations. Although particular features of the present invention may be described with reference to one or more particular embodiments or figures that form a part of the present disclosure, and in which are shown, by way of illustration, specific embodiments of the invention, it should be understood that such features are not limited to usage in the one or more particular embodiments or figures with reference to which they are described. The present disclosure is thus neither a literal description of all embodiments of the invention nor a listing of features of the invention that must be present in all embodiments.
  • [0179]
    The terms “an embodiment”, “embodiment”, “embodiments”, “the embodiment”, “the embodiments”, “an embodiment”, “some embodiments”, “an example embodiment”, “at least one embodiment”, “one or more embodiments” and “one embodiment” mean “one or more (but not necessarily all) embodiments of the present invention(s)” unless expressly specified otherwise. The terms “including”, “comprising” and variations thereof mean “including but not limited to”, unless expressly specified otherwise.
  • [0180]
    The term “consisting of” and variations thereof mean “including and limited to”, unless expressly specified otherwise.
  • [0181]
    The enumerated listing of items does not imply that any or all of the items are mutually exclusive. The enumerated listing of items does not imply that any or all of the items are collectively exhaustive of anything, unless expressly specified otherwise. The enumerated listing of items does not imply that the items are ordered in any manner according to the order in which they are enumerated.
  • [0182]
    The term “comprising at least one of” followed by a listing of items does not imply that a component or subcomponent from each item in the list is required. Rather, it means that one or more of the items listed may comprise the item specified. For example, if it is said “wherein A comprises at least one of: a, b and c” it is meant that (i) A may comprise a, (ii) A may comprise b, (iii) A may comprise c, (iv) A may comprise a and b, (v) A may comprise a and c, (vi) A may comprise b and c, or (vii) A may comprise a, b and c.
  • [0183]
    The terms “a”, “an” and “the” mean “one or more”, unless expressly specified otherwise.
  • [0184]
    The term “based on” means “based at least on”, unless expressly specified otherwise.
  • [0185]
    The methods described herein (regardless of whether they are referred to as methods, processes, algorithms, calculations, and the like) inherently include one or more steps. Therefore, all references to a “step” or “steps” of such a method have antecedent basis in the mere recitation of the term ‘method’ or a like term. Accordingly, any reference in a claim to a ‘step’ or ‘steps’ of a method is deemed to have sufficient antecedent basis.
  • [0186]
    Headings of sections provided in this document and the title are for convenience only, and are not to be taken as limiting the disclosure in any way.
  • [0187]
    Devices that are in communication with each other need not be in continuous communication with each other, unless expressly specified otherwise. In addition, devices that are in communication with each other may communicate directly or indirectly through one or more intermediaries.
  • [0188]
    A description of an embodiment with several components in communication with each other does not imply that all such components are required, or that each of the disclosed components must communicate with every other component. On the contrary a variety of optional components are described to illustrate the wide variety of possible embodiments of the present invention.
  • [0189]
    Further, although process steps, method steps, algorithms or the like may be described in a sequential order, such processes, methods and algorithms may be configured to work in alternate orders. In other words, any sequence or order of steps that may be described in this document does not, in and of itself, indicate a requirement that the steps be performed in that order. The steps of processes described herein may be performed in any order practical. Further, some steps may be performed simultaneously despite being described or implied as occurring non-simultaneously (e.g., because one step is described after the other step). Moreover, the illustration of a process by its depiction in a drawing does not imply that the illustrated process is exclusive of other variations and modifications thereto, does not imply that the illustrated process or any of its steps are necessary to the invention, and does not imply that the illustrated process is preferred.
  • [0190]
    It will be readily apparent that the various methods and algorithms described herein may be implemented by, e.g., appropriately programmed general purpose computers and computing devices. Typically a processor (e.g., a microprocessor or controller device) will receive instructions from a memory or like storage device, and execute those instructions, thereby performing a process defined by those instructions. Further, programs that implement such methods and algorithms may be stored and transmitted using a variety of known media.
  • [0191]
    When a single device or article is described herein, it will be readily apparent that more than one device/article (whether or not they cooperate) may be used in place of a single device/article. Similarly, where more than one device or article is described herein (whether or not they cooperate), it will be readily apparent that a single device/article may be used in place of the more than one device or article.
  • [0192]
    The functionality and/or the features of a device may be alternatively embodied by one or more other devices which are not explicitly described as having such functionality/features. Thus, other embodiments of the present invention need not include the device itself.
  • [0193]
    The term “computer-readable medium” as used herein refers to any medium that participates in providing data (e.g., instructions) that may be read by a computer, a processor or a like device. Such a medium may take many forms, including but not limited to, non-volatile media, volatile media, and transmission media. Non-volatile media include, for example, optical or magnetic disks and other persistent memory. Volatile media may include dynamic random access memory (DRAM), which typically constitutes the main memory. Transmission media may include coaxial cables, copper wire and fiber optics, including the wires or other pathways that comprise a system bus coupled to the processor. Transmission media may include or convey acoustic waves, light waves and electromagnetic emissions, such as those generated during radio frequency (RF) and infrared (IR) data communications. Common forms of computer-readable media include, for example, a floppy disk, a flexible disk, hard disk, magnetic tape, any other magnetic medium, a CD-ROM, DVD, any other optical medium, punch cards, paper tape, any other physical medium with patterns of holes, a RAM, a PROM, an EPROM, a FLASH-EEPROM, any other memory chip or cartridge, a carrier wave as described hereinafter, or any other medium from which a computer can read.
  • [0194]
    Various forms of computer readable media may be involved in carrying sequences of instructions to a processor. For example, sequences of instruction (i) may be delivered from RAM to a processor, (ii) may be carried over a wireless transmission medium, and/or (iii) may be formatted according to numerous formats, standards or protocols, such as Transmission Control Protocol, Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, TDMA, CDMA, and 3G.
  • [0195]
    Where databases are described, it will be understood by one of ordinary skill in the art that (i) alternative database structures to those described may be readily employed, and (ii) other memory structures besides databases may be readily employed. Any schematic illustrations and accompanying descriptions of any sample databases presented herein are illustrative arrangements for stored representations of information. Any number of other arrangements may be employed besides those suggested by the tables shown. Similarly, any illustrated entries of the databases represent exemplary information only; those skilled in the art will understand that the number and content of the entries can be different from those illustrated herein. Further, despite any depiction of the databases as tables, other formats (including relational databases, object-based models and/or distributed databases) could be used to store and manipulate the data types described herein. Likewise, object methods or behaviors of a database can be used to implement the processes of the present invention. In addition, the databases may, in a known manner, be stored locally or remotely from a device that accesses data in such a database.
  • [0196]
    It should also be understood that, to the extent that any term recited in the claims is referred to elsewhere in this document in a manner consistent with a single meaning, that is done for the sake of clarity only, and it is not intended that any such term be so restricted, by implication or otherwise, to that single meaning. Finally, unless a claim element is defined by reciting the word “means” and a function without reciting any structure, it is not intended that the scope of any claim element be interpreted based on the application of 35 U.S.C. §112, sixth paragraph.
  • [0197]
    Although the present invention has been described with respect to preferred embodiments thereof, those skilled in the art will note that various substitutions and modifications may be made to those embodiments described herein without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention.
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Classifications
U.S. Classification463/7
International ClassificationA63F9/24
Cooperative ClassificationG07F17/32
European ClassificationG07F17/32
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
Apr 18, 2006ASAssignment
Owner name: WALKER DIGITAL, LLC, CONNECTICUT
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNORS:WALKER, JAY S.;TEDESCO, DANIEL E.;SAMMON, RUSSELL P.;ANDOTHERS;REEL/FRAME:017797/0230
Effective date: 20060418
Nov 4, 2009ASAssignment
Owner name: IGT, NEVADA
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNOR:WALKER DIGITAL, LLC;REEL/FRAME:023456/0940
Effective date: 20090810
Owner name: IGT,NEVADA
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNOR:WALKER DIGITAL, LLC;REEL/FRAME:023456/0940
Effective date: 20090810