What lies ahead for mobile slots?
There’s no getting away from the fact that mobile gaming represents the present and future of online slot machines. As recently as 2018, the number of bets placed worldwide using smartphones had grown from 6% in 2012 to 70%, accounting for bets worth more than £350 million world-wide. The upshot of this is that many developers are creating new slots with ‘mobile first’ at the centre of their thinking, with future developments likely to involve technological innovations such as VR and wearable tech.
The current situation, in which slots are ready and available to play literally any place and at any time, is the current end point of an evolution which can be traced back as far as 1894 and the invention of the first ever land based slot machine, but the key dates are probably a little bit more recent than that.
The First Video Slot
The rise of mobile slots has been driven, more than anything, by the increasing power and adaptability of the technology being used. The idea of animated symbols forming the basis of any online slots is now so common place that it’s hard to imagine anything different. The switch from mechanical reels featuring physical representations of the symbols in question actually only took place in 1979, with the creation of the world’s first video slot machine. This happened when Fortune Coin developed a machine making use of a 19 inch Sony TV set to display the symbols, and based the first ever model in the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel. This was a land-based slot of course, and was far from the sleek and sophisticated phenomenon players now enjoy on the full range of mobile devices. It was, however, the first step in that direction, introducing the concept of both electronic visuals and the kind of random number generator which underpins the fairness of all modern online slots.
Mobile Phone Games
It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when the idea of playing a game on a mobile phone was seen as an exciting innovation. This time was 1997, when Nokia launched the 6610 which enabled users to play the primitive video game Snake. This proved to be so popular that it was soon installed on every Nokia phone and other phone companies began to follow suit. The key difference between these early mobile games and later incarnations was that players were only able to play those games which came installed on their phones, rather than being able to download other games.
Internet Enabled Phones
By 1999 he most advanced mobile phones were starting to be able to connect to the internet and download content. The first games made available for purchase were sold in Japan, but the 2G network which most of the developed markets were using at the time wasn’t really up to the task of downloading anything more complex than the simplest games, and so the roll-out of 3G began, in part at least, as a reaction to this failing. By the early years of the 21st century, most mobile phones came with Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), which allowed users to connect to a very basic version of the internet and download games other than those which came pre-installed.
The next major technological step in the journey toward modern online mobile slots was the creation of mobile phones which could run the programming language known as Java. This means that developers could create games with better graphics, brighter colours and faster game-play. All of this was feeding back into the development of online slots in general and, more importantly for the purposes of this particular article, allowed developers to create what is generally regarded as the first mobile online slot machine, Pub Fruity.
In 2004 Vodafone and developer IOMO released a suite of mobile games based on a night in the pub. As well as pool and darts the games featured an online slot known as Pub Fruity. This was a traditional looking slot machine which used the flexibility of the technology available to boost the game play with additional mini-games and the likes of a nudge feature. Before long, Pub Fruity became incredibly popular – it came top in the 2004 Orange UK Mobile Games List and was chosen as one of the top 10 mobile games by the Guardian in February 2005. The key difference between Pub Fruity and the online slots which millions of people enjoy playing on mobile devices today was that, in its initial form, Pub Fruity was just a game, with no actual money being wagered. Developers did their best to build incentives into their games – such as winning tokens to take part in other games – but the next stage in the evolution of modern online slots was undoubtedly the ability to bet on the games with actual money.
mFortune’s Fruit Machine
The more advanced gameplay made possible through the use of Java was doubtless a major selling point during the early days of online slots, but the major breakthrough came with the launch of mFortune Casino, one of the first ever real money mobile casinos in the UK, which emerged in 2007. It started with just 11 free games, and could be played on over 200 handsets, and both graphics and gameplay were relatively primitive. For the first time, however, it meant that players could reach into their pocket and play a genuine online slot at any time, from any location with access to the internet.
By 2008 online casinos had been a fixture of the gambling market for the best part of a decade. The emergence of iPhones, the App store and the Android market (now Google Play) mean that online casino developers could market their games directly to consumers. Now players were able to download a huge range of highly advanced slots direct from casino websites and onto a powerful smartphone. The development of HTML5 altered the way in which online slots were programmed. They no longer had to be written especially for mobile devices, meaning that developers could offer exactly the same slots for online play as they offered on every other platform.
The future of mobile slots is as wide and exciting as the imagination of the developers and the thirst for innovation shown by players. Developments which we can expect include:
VR Slots which add features of game ply to the immediate environment surrounding the player – think Pokemon Go but with spinning reels and cascading coins.
Wearable Slots – slots you can play on a smart watch, saving you the trouble of even having to take your phone out of your pocket.