It’s a long, long time since Charles Fey invented the first ever slot machine back in 1895 in California. Gaming design has come a long way since then and there are some elements of his uniquely designed Liberty Bell machine that live on even now, as we shall see.

In the highly competitive environment in which online casinos and real world games operate slots may be the most important of all their games. That’s because for many they are the most visually arresting and engaging of their games when you visit a site or resort city such as Las Vegas. These machines are sophisticated enough to be able to be carefully tailored to appeal to a particular type of player.

That’s why so many have links to popular films, like the Marvel Comics franchise, or tie in to seasonal or sporting events like Christmas or the World Cup.

How Play to Win Game Design Has Evolved

This is also a world in which we demand more and more from our entertainment. So the trend in slot gaming design in recent years has become to treat them more as video games than traditional play and win games.

So many games now feature different levels of play to attain, bonus rounds and other special elements that help to keep the player engaged with more than a few surprises waiting for them along the way.

The designs of Las Vegas Nevada

The hotel designs and architecture of Las Vegas Nevada embody the spirit of an adult themed resort

Naturally gambling is a big money industry that has been the driving force behind the growth and expansion of major cities. Places and cities in the world such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Destinations such as these have a thriving resort industry that goes beyond the thrills of playing games.

Yes people go to cities such as Las Vegas to play. However they also go to relax and to soak up the sun and ambiance. The city of Las Vegas for instance could easily be described as Disneyland for adults.

In a recent article on DesignBump we looked at the unique architecture of Las Vegas hotels. How they have been designed and have evolved to serve the needs of players and tourists over the decades. There are not many hotels in the world where guests are encouraged to actually visit other hotels for the duration of their stay. Yet this is what happens here. Here is another great resource to study the resort architecture that drives the gaming industry in Las Vegas.

A Revolution in Digital Media and Technology

Of course, the video and sound technology available to game design developers today have both played a major role in making these advances possible. As have the financial resources that creative designers and coders are now given to create them.

Who Was Charles Fey?

Charles Fey Inventor

Charles Fey was a San Francisco mechanic best known for inventing the slot machine.

In brief Charles Fey was the man, who invented the very first slot machine in its most primitive guise. Fey was born on February 2, 1862, in a small village called Vohringen. This village is in Bavaria in Germany.

Charles or August (his birth name) was actually the youngest child in a poor but rather large family. In addition to Charles there were 15 children, hence a lot of hungry mouths to feed. Charles had his first experience working with design tools and mechanical devices at the tender age of 14.

He gained these engineering opportunities while helping his older brother Edmund at the Farm Tool Factory in Munich. It was not possible for the young Charles to stay at home in Germany because of his strict father and the unattractive possibility of serving in the German army.

The Liberty Bell

So at the age of 15, Charles Fey left home for France and then London. When he was around 23 he then made a beeline for San Francisco in California. It was here where he settled and started to work at the California Electric Work Company. During this time he started work on his Liberty Bell. A marvellous machine that stoked the flames of the huge gaming industry that was yet to come. Of course Charles would have little idea just how much of an impact his invention would have until perhaps his later years.

Certainly it is true that if Charles Fey could see how his early designs have evolved in the years since his death he would be truly astounded. In fact we are pretty certain that Charles Fey would be blown away if he ever played today’s modern online slots.

Many systems now are computer controlled and can offer all the benefits of advances in digital media, graphics and processing power to the gamer. Much like a movie that aims to wow audiences with special effects. Games attempt to instil the same experiences of awe and constantly evolve to meet that need and expectation.

Founding Gaming Design Principles

Having said this, research has shown that however advanced the gaming design technology. There are certain principles that lie behind successful slot design that have hardly changed at all since Charles Fey’s day. Even though those early machine designs such as the Liberty Bell may appear primitive by todays technology standards. Certain core design principles remain intact from that era.

The Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell : It is fair to say that they do not make them quite like this anymore

For example an academic called Natasha Dow Schüll from MIT has identified that the smooth flow of playing the game is a relaxing and pleasant experience for players. That for this to continue it’s better to enjoy frequent, low winnings rather than occasional large ones.

If jackpots and bonus rounds occur too often these can hinder the smooth flow of the play. This is certainly an observation that today’s designers have taken on board when designing the next generation of machines.

The Mechanics of Gaming Design

How games have evolved : gaming design

One particular area in which slots design has hardly changed at all over the years is in the mechanics of the way the reels rotate and stop.

Other research has found that players find this movement reassuring that the action really is random. So, although the games are played on video and could simply present a new set of symbols on screen for each play. This could undermine confidence in the game.

When interviewed in 2013, Brett Jackson of leading slots designer Bally Industries, also observed that.

Slots satisfy a very fundamental human desire to see patterns of similar symbols fall into place.

Which is another very good reason to continue replicating the old mechanical rolling reel designs. They maybe systems that were introduced in the very first machines devised by Charles Fey so long ago. Yet there is very little wrong with their basic design concepts.

Final Thought

It would seem like the next great leap forward in slot gaming design will hinge round virtual reality. A relatively new form of media, virtual reality is set to go from strength to strength. Now that the initial breakthrough has been made. Nevertheless it does not matter how immersive the experiences, we can rest assured that the games we’ll be playing in the future will still look undeniably like slots for many years to come.