Launching a slot that would actually stick and earn a place in the hall of fame was challenging enough in the past when the competition was not nearly as fierce as today. Nowadays, when slots are slowly entering the realms of virtual reality fantasy games, creating a so-called iconic slot has almost become borderline impossible. We are talking about a serious market and demographics analysis, impeccable design, unique features and, more than anything else, that elusive X-factor which can neither be defined nor artificially generated.
What exactly is the element that makes a slot iconic and equally appealing to different types of agents, regardless of their age group, affinities and gameplay style? The answer is probably hidden somewhere in the game’s DNA and to find it, we must dismantle two of the most iconic slots of the new generation, both launched by NetEnt: Starburst and Gonzo’s Quest.
When it was first launched in 2012, Starburst was just another Gem slot with a decent return to the player percentage (over 96%) and well-executed graphics. The slot’s unprecedented and immediate success is a result of many factors, but the key to its popularity may be much more obvious than you anticipate. Let’s see if we could lead you to it, instead of just throwing it in your face.
At the time of the Starburst release, the combination of traditional symbols and modern futuristic design was still in its early stages and slots like this were sparse and certainly well below the level achieved by NetEnt. By introducing the conventional theme and placing it within a frame of the latest trends, the developer combined the best of both worlds and cleverly hit not one, but two target demographics: traditionalists and the new age players.
Starburst employs both ways win system and it does not only apply it to the Scatter combinations; this may not be a major innovation, yet a lot of developers only validate combinations formed from left to right.
The symbols are quite a unique mixture of colorful gems and the traditional Bars and 7s – again, symbols that are familiar, but not frequently combined. In most cases, Bars and 7s will be found in combination with fruits.
Now let’s look at the big guns – bonuses. When cutting the game open, special features and bonus games are likely to be the first two things most of us will look for. Intriguingly enough, NetEnt designers did not really go out of their way when Starburst is concerned – Starburst Star Wilds which can substitute other symbols and trigger up to 3 Re-spins are pretty much all you get. No complex levels, multipliers, Free Spin sessions, picking games, meters, progressive jackpots, in-between spin fights etc – just good old Big and Mega Win potential.
Another great thing about Starburst is the hit frequency; you will definitely not be stuck in a limbo of dead spins, waiting for the symbols to align. Moderate winnings will come at decent intervals, getting you sufficiently engaged for what’s to come.
To answer that question – possibly the magic formula that was later applied in Starburst. NetEnt released Gonzo’s Quest in 2010 and the success was instant. Unlike Starburst, which takes the player in a completely opposite direction, Gonzo’s Quest is an adventure-style game with a background story and cinematic quality.
Compared to its successor, Gonzo’s Quest offers an adventure rather than the linear gameplay found in Starburst. With the background story about conquistador who is on the personal quest to find El Dorado after stealing the map, the slot sets the mood from the onset, even before one gets a glimpse of the reels and starts spinning.
In the mind of an average player, this type of opening is a prelude to complex games with a plethora of bonus features, but NetEnt seems to be set on proving that this is not imperative for a slot’s success. In other words, bonus features are extremely important but less is more. The developer does not go beyond Avalanche multipliers and Free Falls (equivalent to Free Spins), and, judging by the popularity, this is quite sufficient.
Now, a million dollar question – what is the connection between the two completely different slots, yet both equally popular and labeled as iconic?
Whether or not NetEnt just happened to stumble upon the secret ingredient which makes a slot iconic or the two slots are simply a product of sheer luck, looking at the games closely will help us establish a pattern. The first thing that jumps up is the visual aspect – Gonzo and Starburst remain fresh and beautiful years after they first saw the light of day, despite the technological and digital animation advancements.
Ather quality that both of these games share is the simplified gameplay that does not overwhelm the player. The focus is on the very essence of the game – the randomness of winning combinations, occasional free-play and multipliers. All the elements that might digress from the game’s natural form are eliminated.
By comparison, we can deduct the following common features, and possibly, the elements that actually construct an iconic slot:
Everything counts and even if the developer happens to tick all the items from the list, there’s no guaranty that the slot will become iconic. Fail to invest 100% of effort in executing even the slightest of details and you will almost inevitably produce an average and forgettable slot that could be replaced in a second.