Big Game Hunters: Eyes on the prizeBy Lewis - 23 November 2020
There’s a world out there in which people pass their time watching others play games. It’s rather a big industry and its not just within the realm of videogames. G3 looks both inside and out at the growing slots Bonus Hunting phenomenon.
“Bonus Hunts” in which players edit gambling sessions down to reveal bonus features are becoming increasingly popular. These videos regularly receive tens of thousands of views each week on YouTube and form part of a growing community where players also discuss their experiences via Twitter and increasingly busy official forums. Here players often also post pictures of their best wins online as well. This means that new games are reviewed almost instantly by players who in turn have an increasing awareness of bonuses and what they are like to play.
The personalities of “Bonus Hunters” vary as does the way they present the games. Brash more outgoing streamers appeal to a younger audience and often stream high stake videos while other streamers provide a more laid back approach offering honest opinions and insights into how these games are played.
One of the most popular bonus hunters is “The Bandit” whose Bandit Slot Video Channel has 66,700 followers. The channel sometimes provides much higher stake videos as the “the bandit” hunts for the bonuses on classic online slots and checks out newer games for the first time while his website BackinaMo.com offers prize draws and discussions on other gambling related topics.
Meanwhile the Stop and Step Channel has 67 thousand subscribers with the host posting a live bonus hunt on Sunday from home which is then edited and shown on Monday. The Stop and Step channel also provides edited online bonus hunt sessions and bonus hunts which are often filmed in high street bookmakers. Other channels such as Ryan’s Slots, Craig’s Slots as well as Jimbo Slots although less popular post regular post bonus hunts as well and have a loyal following.
Bonus hunts can come in a number of different formats. Some are streamed live on twitch and then edited and later shown on YouTube. Edited videos sometimes reveal bonus features as they come in or the streamer will save all of the bonuses for the end of the video once the initial deposit has been spent while “sub specials” marking a landmark in the number of subscribers will often show higher stake bonus hunts.
A crucial aspect of this growing phenomenon is that bonus hunts make playing slots online more sociable as they bring players together to discuss their favourite games as well as their recent wins and losses. In addition streamers often play head to head online in slot “bonus hunt battles” adding another social element to online slot titles. Streaming also allows the bonus hunter to engage with viewers via chats meaning that they can sometimes even accept player requests for certain bonus features.
The popularity of slot streaming means that gaming studios have reached a significant milestone. Online slots have now been enhanced to such a degree that they are fun not just to play but fun to watch as well. This is proven by the fact that videos posted by bonus hunters receive thousands of views within hours of being posted.
In order to achieve this developers have used innovative but proven maths and game play models including player choice when it comes to gambling for a higher value bonus. Popular themes and trademarks are also used.
Bonus Hunt videos provide further evidence that bonuses and the innovation behind them is absolutely key to player engagement. New types of bonuses offering original features and exciting game play characteristics are now showcased to thousands of players in growing communities every week. This in turn means that online slots are now so engaging that spectators are able to share in the excitement as well without even playing.
So just how important are bonus features? What games are really pushing the envelope when it comes to innovation and design when it comes to bonuses? How are bonuses and themes incorporated together to capture the imagination of players? How are manufacturers making sure that their products stand out from the crowd?
Jo Purvis – Director of Marketing and Relationships, Blueprint Gaming
Could you describe the bonus features of some of your most popular titles or most recent games? How does the bonus feature fit in with the theme of the game and how does it appeal to players?
Our bonus features are carefully considered around how they fit a game’s theme and complement the overall gameplay. There are a ‘standard set’ of features which are a game designer’s staple diet, such as Free Spins, but the ways in which they are implemented are endless.
Our aim at Blueprint Gaming is to take the standard ‘go to’ features within slots and take them to the next level, adding extra aspects around the traditional concept which gives players far more interaction and entertainment. Our pre-feature selectors are particularly popular and have been implemented across a number of bonus features. Adding a selector for free spins versus volatility before entering the Free Spins or choosing a number of guaranteed Megaways before starting the bonus adds a level of engagement for the player, giving them further control of the game they wish to play.
Our latest bonus concept, Lightning Spins, is an example of how a generic feature, one which bridges games and themes, can become a sought-after tool for players and operators. Similar to our Jackpot King progressive system, which has gained a player following for the way it bolts on to any game and offers life changing prize opportunities, Lightning Spins can randomly add another layer of excitement from any spin and stake. The feature builds anticipation which players love, as well as the unexpected nature that really appeals to them.
Goonies, Rick and Morty Megaways and Sausage Party are all linked to Film/TV. How do you fit in the theme of an IP themed slot such as these into the bonuses themselves?
The film/ TV brands normally suggest bonus features which fit with the theme. Our designers work tirelessly to understand the IP by speaking with the brand owners and watching the content in question. This helps identify core elements of the IP which will resonate with players, as well as meet the expectations of a loyal fanbase.
Of course, characters are an easy win to incorporate into a feature bonus. Using the main or secondary cast members in a Free Spins bonus along with their recognised traits makes for a fun round, such as Vindicators Free Spins in our release, Rick and Morty Megaways.
Most IPs will have a famous scene or iconic location which is instantly recognisable to the franchise’s fanbase and the wider audience, these unique moments can be embraced for inspiration and features within the game can be built around them, such as the Fratelli’s hideout feature in The Goonies, or the Great Beyond feature in Sausage Party, both equally identifiable and synonymous to the films.
What’s the process behind the development cycle when it comes to developing a bonus feature?
Bonus features tend to receive as much attention from game designers as the main base slot itself. To many players they are the Holy Grail, as the place they need to reach in order to secure big prizes.
In most cases, the opportunity to obtain a healthy win amount is contained within the bonus, which is why they are not as accessible as some players would like. That carefully developed hit rate for entry to a feature builds anticipation and creates the excitement around a slot which players enjoy and talk about.
How do you work with streamers to promote your games? How important are streamers when it comes to promoting new bonus features?
This is a fairly recent addition to our marketing strategy and has become more prevalent as streamers continue to gain followers and develop a more professional approach to presenting themselves.
Exclusive game launches through streamers are proven to have a positive effect on the initial performance, but it’s only the short period after a stream in which they can affect plays. It’s important to stress that only strong games will hold a player’s attention for the long term.
Obviously, an exclusive game launch with an influencer can also have the opposite effect should they stream a bad gaming experience. A session that sees very limited bonus action can turn players off straight away, so it’s a calculated risk on the developer’s behalf.
Steamers now play an important role in pushing a new concept or bonus game in a more instructional sense. They can educate potential new players, allowing them to jump straight into a game already knowing how a feature or particular bonus element works.
Online slots have now been enhanced to such a degree that they are fun not just to play but fun to watch as well. Do you think that slots and bonus hunts are becoming increasingly popular amongst people who simply just enjoy watching people play?
The slots industry has evolved significantly over recent years. Affiliates and streamers are now hugely influential, drawing together substantial teams and gaining respect from operators and developers alike. It’s no coincidence that affiliate trade shows are now linked with major industry events throughout the year.
Slot games have to offer more than the simple ‘spin and win’ model. To stand out in a saturated market, suppliers must provide a product which fully immerses players; offering a journey which appeals to all. As console and PC gaming has shown over the years, products are more successful if they follow a film package format, incorporating storylines and characters the player can relate to. Building a relationship which keeps fans coming back for more is what we aim to achieve here at Blueprint.
What role has Blueprint played in the way bonus features have evolved over the years?
Being one of the first online suppliers to offer a multi-banded gaming experience and incorporating a variety of features into games, Blueprint has really pushed the boundaries of what makes a game. Utilising different varieties of bonus features, we’ve orchestrated them all in a way which has broken down barriers. Feature-rich games which traditionally were not popular in many parts of Europe are now gaining popularity through the exposure of our slots in various markets.
Transitioning traditional retail bonus favourites on which our design team cut their teeth, into the online gaming environment, has not only brought familiarity into online slots for many users, but introduced innovative bonus features to a new generation of players.
Stian Enger Pettersen – CEO, Casino Unit, EveryMatrix
Why do you think people enjoy watching bonus hunt videos online?
I believe the answer is multi-faceted.
First off, Bonus Hunts originate from live streaming, a type of entertainment that has exploded alongside with more people gaining access to more bandwidth over the past decade or so. Twitch, the biggest streaming platform is a billion-dollar business. While computer and console games dominate the streaming space, there are also channels targeting people playing casino games. People enjoy watching and listening to other people playing games.
Secondly, while you can test almost all RNG casino games in a ‘demo mode’ yourself without spending any real money, watching actual stakes being placed and actual wins being cashed in offers something different. It is not your money being bet and won, but you will still sweat it with the person pushing the spin button. You root for them, and you get excited when they hit big.
Furthermore, the edited Bonus Hunt format offers fast-paced action with frequent and large pays. It is not live and raw like live streaming, but a production of highlights. You don’t need to watch the spins leading up to the bonus feature, but instead enjoy those features that you look forward to when playing slots yourself. Watching back-to-back paydays, what’s not to like?
Do streamers play an important role in how games are showcased and are perceived by players?
Absolutely. First off, the best streamers are professional. Listening to them alone is entertaining, and good commentary can be fun even if the streamers are not familiar with a game. However, when they do know a game well, they tend to point out, as an example, where they really want that next sticky wild to appear. This can familiarise the viewers with the game mechanics.
To avoid any confusion, you will not win more money by fully understanding a game’s mechanics, but you will undoubtedly have more fun playing it. And then it is the no-brainer – if you watch someone win big on a game, you want to give that very game a shot as well.
How do bonuses help engage players?
While a base game in a slot can be fun and offer big wins, I think it is fair to say that the majority of players that play games with a bonus feature is awaiting those scatters to appear more than anything else. And I don’t think this is purely about the potential win, though that is of course important. A bonus feature offers a build-up that a single win in the base game doesn’t. It lasts longer, and if done right there are different or more elements in the game mechanics, audio and visual presentation that elevate the experience.
Are there any new bonus features which are particularly striking and innovative? Could you tell us more about them? Could you describe the bonus features?
The most visually striking examples would probably be the bonus features that completely stand out from the base game. Completely different minigame(s) wrapped inside the slot.
However, with a few exceptions of course, the winning formula for a blockbuster bonus feature has been free spins. That said, it is not enough to reward the player with x spins free of charge when they trigger the feature in the base game.
To be successful, the free spins bonus feature must offer something different, and something more. There are many success stories, and they differ. It is not always specific features that stand out as better than others, but the full package. The success factor of evergreen Book of Ra is a random symbol that expands in the bonus feature. A more recent release is Razor Shark, which has great multipliers in the bonus feature. Very different features, both work exceptionally well.
A good package needs good wrapping though. When the bonus feature is triggered, the look and feel plays a big part. Shifts in the soundtrack and presentation of a bonus feature and its wins make a difference.
The game must also offer the right balance between the RTP and bonus feature trigger frequency in the base game, and the RTP of the bonus game. The player must trigger it often enough to not run out of patience, and the feature itself must be rewarding enough to be worth waiting for.
What have been the most important developments in the design of bonus features of late? How have bonuses changed and evolved over the years?
If we go way back, land-based mechanical slots had no bonus features simply because the technology was not there. Bonus features came with the video slots, online and offline. The bonus features have evolved ever since, just like the base game mechanics have.
One direction video slots have evolved in is the bonus features that the player builds up towards by playing the base game, which is truly a powerful retention tool. If you are close to win something, you are more likely to continue playing, or return to the game later. However, this predictability also comes with some challenges for the casinos, as some players know how to take advantage of these features when playing with bonus money. The most common bonus features, however, are completely random and unpredictable, thus unexploitable.
It is hard to pick the most important feature of late, and oftentimes it is about the right mix and balance of known features. Avid casino players will be familiar with expanding wilds, multipliers, re-spins, extra spins and a host of other features that are available across the thousands of slots in the market, but the right mix and the right presentation of such features can still create a new bonus feature hit that keeps players coming back for more.
Personally, I have a weak spot for the bonus features that allow the player to select the type of feature that will apply (say sticky wilds vs. multipliers) and to select the volatility of the bonus feature. Do you want smaller frequent wins, or infrequent big wins, or something in between? It puts the player in control, which is great!
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Matej Sopóci – Product Manager, Synot Games
Could you describe the bonus features of some of your most popular titles or most recent online slots?
The most sought-after slot features are Free Spins with added twist and interaction bonuses such as pick and win. The mechanics on the pick and win mini games like we have in our game “Jack and the Mystery Monsters”, which pull the player into the games story and makes the game more immersive are a great hit. Not just the ambiance made from the graphics, sounds, playability but emphasising the story with new elements makes the game more appealing.
What goes into creating a bonus feature? Could you tell us more about how a bonus is developed? Are there any crucial elements to a bonus that must be present?
Although it might seem as a small matter there are many decisions to be made before a bonus of any type is born into a game. Usually it takes a couple of tries to adjust the correct feel of the overall atmosphere and this makes a great impact on the bonus games/rounds. First decision is on the story which comes in hand with the graphics, sound and a rehearsal bonus feature.
As most bonuses exist to keep the player interested its features are the most important part. They have to contain a reward or power up like multipliers, they should not be creating a sense of finishing the game, visually appealing graphics with corresponding sound cues.
Are there themes or types of bonuses that are particularly popular with players and streamers?
Most watched streams show the interest is there when you see a winning streak, but I would say that having a consistent bonus or other feature that makes the base game more appealing is always a good magnet for viewers. I would definitely mention cascading reels, collection bonus points, wheel of fortune and many more.
Are bonuses now designed with slot streamers in mind? Do you work with bonus hunt streamers to promote your games?
We have started to work with streamers to promote our games, but we don’t think they need to be a separate group that affects game development. For us all players, streaming or non-streaming should be taken in by the game and that is our goal. Enjoyment of the content that we provide is always the top decision maker.
Vladimir Malakchi – CBDO, Evoplay Entertainment
Could you describe the bonus features of some of your most popular titles or most recent online slots?
We’ve got everything under the sun! Our fantastic tech team has really put in the work since we were founded in 2017, and we’ve really been able to put the work in to offer our own twist on the classics.
Jelly Bloom, one of our latest slots, incorporates plenty of these, showcasing our own take of wilds turning into features, making each jelly symbol wild for every second drop. We’ve also turbo charged the Free Spin games with some high-octane multipliers – using the game’s jelly symbols.
Another recent hugely popular slot has been Rocket Stars, where players can benefit from the StarGates and SpaceGates that land on 5 or 6 reels of the game, or alternatively on the 3 centre reels, giving players the chance to reveal either regular symbols or Scatters.
What do you make of the bonus hunt trend and bonus hunt streamers? How do they help when it comes to player engagement? Do you work with streamers to help promote your games?
It’s all about the positive endorsement. Our games appeal to the new generation that most influencers come from, so it’s a perfect validation for us when they resonate with both audiences.
Streamers, like all influencers across the world of social, are effectively an additional marketing channel. So, assuming they like the game and the bonuses that come with it, then the time they spend playing your game to their audience (as well as enjoying the wins), gives players an incentive to play. Not only that, but actually seeing bonuses unlocked is an incentive in itself to try out the game – as you can see the bonuses turn into real money.
We’re already heavily involved with the streaming community, and I’m sure it will continue to be a strong focus for us for a long time to come. Trusted partners and friends of ours include Jooxlan, Casinos Twitch, Jonas Kyllonen (Mr Gamble), Slot Gamblers and Motamashe – and they’ve been a real asset in helping us present what we have to offer to players and how we do our best to bring something different.
What goes into creating a bonus feature?
To make the game itself more impressive and the winning moments more exciting, we connect the features to the storyline to make it relevant to gameplay. While we look to always create something different, we always use our tried and tested creativity process.
Step one – we define our target audience of players and their demands. In effect, we’re looking to divide players into two groups. The first, experienced players with a conservative approach to bonusing, and second, casual players and newcomers searching for more interesting in-game experience.
Based on the chosen audience, and what we perceive in relation to their demands, we then look to come up with the right type of feature. The first group, which is the more experienced player, and likely preferential to mechanics such as the wheel of fortune or free spins. To attract the second group of players, we apply gamification tools to provide a more creative solution for the gaming experience.
The next step is to write the game specification, splitting it into the technical part with the backend and scripts and visual features with the storyline description and requirements to design. Then, we put both parts together and test until it’s relevant to gameplay – after all, great things take time!
How do you know what is going to work in a bonus feature? Are there themes or types of bonuses that are particularly popular with players and streamers?
The most popular bonus features are undoubtedly those that are capable of impressing and making the game’s anticipation worth the wait. At least for us, we believe that each type of bonus feature can become entrenched as a player favourite – as long as it offers what they’re looking for. In effect, this is the challenge for game suppliers – to innovate effectively to capture your players’ interest.
From my experience, I believe the perfect recipe for a successful bonus needs a mix of both experience and obtained data of players’ preferences – with a healthy sprinkling of the courage to innovate. We’ve got some great out of the box mechanics with our products to ensure we have something for everybody.
When it comes to streamers, we need to remember that they’re players too, so what excites them should also excite players. While multipliers and free spins with multipliers, random events are popular among experienced players, including streamers, casual slot players prefer more gamified bonus features connected to gameplay and storyline to have more immersive playing experience.
Are bonuses now designed with slot streamers in mind?
Streamers are fast becoming an essential part of any slot’s launch campaign because they provide a walkthrough to the game’s players – as well as explaining new product features to a broader audience. This effectively profiles them as an ‘experienced player’, which means that we do need to design games to appeal to both veterans and newcomers, to ensure both the streamer and audience enjoys the game equally!
Entertainment comes with that, particularly when it comes to opening player’s eyes to new gaming experiences. Netflix’s “binge watching” can definitely be applied to visual products like ours, and just like Silicon Valley – we need to be thinking about session duration increases with the likes of animated elements, in-game video and other captivating features to the audience.
Get that right, and we’ve not only got a great looking game for the streamer to show, but also one that can keep players coming back to enjoy the experience again and again.
What are some of the most innovative bonus game play features that you offer?
Two particular favourites of mine right now would be from our slot Rocket Stars, which is the first of our games to be built with our accumulation system, which combines the collection of Scatter symbols to the player’s progress while building the game’s rocket to travel to space.
The second is Maze: Desire or Power, which is proving hugely popular even a year after its launch. The game has no reels, but instead transports players through a labyrinth-style maze crammed with symbol drops; which guides players to the Free Spins bonus game.
Mr. Gamble – Twitch TV Streamer
The Mr. Gamble stream started in 2015 and in addition to the Twitch TV channel, the Mr- Gamble.com website is a review site for online casinos across international gaming jurisdictions, reviewing everything from LV Bet, Betfred, Videoslots and Unibet. Attracting subscribers with regular giveaways and analysis not only of the bonus opportunities, but the quality of online offers and methods of payment.
How did you get into slot streaming? Could you tell us more about your background?
I’ve always loved gaming. Especially online and social gaming where RPG’s and shooters really come to life. When I turned 18, I got into poker and casino games. Since I was working with Mr- Gamble which is featuring and comparing online casinos (https://mr-gamble.com/), we thought about trying to set up a slot focused Twitch channel. I’ve always loved to socialise with people and I react with a full heart when I play, so we thought people might enjoy their time watching our stream.
How do you engage with your followers? How many people watch your videos. How many subscribers do you have?
I am very active with my followers and I think the secret to our success lies in being active with the chat. I read peoples messages and interact with them. I have genuine discussions with my followers and I like to know how they are and how they feel. This has lead to us having a very close and warm community, where people really want to share their daily thoughts, whilst together enjoying the online casino games on the stream. I also regularly organise giveaways and different promotions to give something back to the followers who use their time to watch my stream. Sometimes I feel we just forget about the games since we are having such a blast together. Often the chat and the community really feel like my family.
What kind of games do you prefer playing?
When I play on the stream I enjoy mostly slots with some special twist. A few providers who really stick out are Play’N’Go, Evoplay Entertainment and Red Tiger. They have some massively cool slots. From Play’N’Go I really like Reactoonz and their new game Gold Volcano. Evoplay Entertainment has super nice graphics, and I like to play Raccoon Tales, Surf Zone and Nuke World. On Red Tiger, Dragon’s Fire and Dragon’s Fire Megaways are my favourites.
Sometimes I play live games also, such as Monopoly live or Crazy time. The classic casino games such as Blackjack or Roulette I like to play in a land based casino off stream while enjoying a beer with my friends.
Do you have a kind of online persona?
I do not, really. I’m just the same in real life as I am in the stream. Obviously online when I stream I try to give my full energy and really dedicate myself to the chat and the game, but other than that I’m just the same guy on the stream as I am when you meet me a normal day. It would be very heavy to pretend to be something that you are not in online streaming!
Why do you think people enjoy watching you play? Is slot streaming a new trend? Do you think the games are now more fun to play and watch because bonuses are more exciting? What are some of your favourite bonuses?
I think people just love the excitement of winning or losing money. Things always get interesting once money is involved, so I think the same applies for casino streaming. Many people also prefer to watch while playing their own games, thus maximising their own excitement meter. The game bonuses always get more viewers, since free spins have such a payout potential.
My favourite bonuses are in Gonzo’s Quest, Reactoonz, Dog HouseMegaways and last but not least, Surf Zone!