Bonus Games in Slots

Software developers are constantly looking to improve the experience of slot players, adding new and exciting bonus features to their creations. Bonus games resonate particularly well with reel spinners since they increase the level of interaction between the player and the machine.

Bonus features come in all sorts of formats and styles because each software studio approaches them uniquely. Some offer less interactivity and are based on pure luck while others involve a certain level of skill when determining how much the player wins.

With that in mind, the triggering of a bonus game itself is normally a matter of chance. In most cases, the correct symbols must land on the correct reel grids for the bonus feature to start. Some slots have bonus games you can retrigger or combine with other special features for the chance to win even larger cash prizes.

In this article, we take a closer look at how the most common bonus game formats work and explain how they affect volatility and average return percentages. You will also find examples of the best slots with bonus games in each format.

Commonly Available Bonus Games in Slots

Different software studios have a different approach toward slot bonus games. However, if a given feature resonates particularly well with players, game makers often choose to replicate it in new releases, giving it few tweaks only so that it fits the slot's theme.

The easiest way to figure out what type of bonus game a given slot offers is to open its paytable. You will find it in the main interface near the gaming control buttons. This will also inform you of the triggering conditions of the bonus game and the top prize you can potentially win.

Some of the most broadly available formats developers use include the “pick me” bonus, the wheel-based bonus, free spins, and random mystery games. We explain them in further detail below.

”Pick Me” Bonus Games
Wheel-Based Bonus Games
Slots with Mystery Bonuses
Free Spins Rounds

Slot Bonus Games with a Social Element in Landbased Casinos

Bonus games are not reserved for online players only. Some video slots in landbased casinos offer bonus features with an added social element to enhance the players' experience. Slot developers completely overturn the idea that slots offer a solitary experience where a single person plays against the machine.

Wheel of Fortune Super Spin by IGT
Monopoly Big Event by WMS Gaming

Players' Decisions and Theoretical Return Percentages in Bonus Games

Do Players' Decisions Matter in “Pick Me” Bonus Games?

Do Bonus Games Impact Theoretical Return Percentages?

Slot fans often wonder whether their decisions impact what prize they collect in “pick me” bonus games or whether the rewards are predetermined. The fact of the matter is players’ decisions do matter to a certain extent.

Let’s consider this example to better illustrate what we mean. Assume you need to choose from items of three different colors and are presented with a total of 15 colored grids. The color grids look like so:

Orange Pink Blue
Pink Blue Orange
Pink Pink Blue
Blue Orange Pink
Orange Blue Orange

Let’s suppose each pick can result in three possible outcomes – you get a cash prize, a round of free spins or terminate the feature with an “End of Bonus Game” grid.

You do not know what is hidden under each colored grid. The prizes have already been determined by the hypothetical game’s Random Number Generator. However, if you could see what lies under each colored grid, the results would look similar to the ones below.

End of Bonus Game 150 coins 20 coins
20 coins 15 coins 10 coins
5 coins End of Bonus Game 5 coins
End of Bonus Game End of Bonus Game End of Bonus Game
75 coins 100 coins 10 Free Spins

If you select one of the five “End of Bonus Game” grids, you immediately terminate the feature without winning a dime. Provided that you choose the free spins grid, you initiate a free round where you can potentially earn payouts at no cost.

You win the top prize of 150 credits if you pick the pink grid from the middle column. If you are lucky enough to select all credit grids before you click on the “End of Bonus Game” grid, you collect a total of 400 credits. The exact amount you get depends on what coin denomination you have activated the feature with.

There is no predetermined prize a given player is supposed to win. The slot’s software does not choose a prize for you, say of 100 coins, and then change the contents of the grid you pick so that it awards you this particular payout.

It is pointless to try and remember what hides under each grid and use this knowledge on subsequent occasions when you retrigger the bonus game. The Random Number Generator would jumble up the outcomes in a different sequence and the pattern is impossible to predict.

The bottom line is your decisions do make a difference because you might end up empty-handed on the very first pick. With that in mind, “Pick me” games create the illusion the player has some control over the gameplay but this clearly is not the case.

It is impossible to devise an accurate strategy that would enable you to recognize the items that contain monetary prizes or other special features. You cannot see the contents of the grids beforehand, so your results are inevitably based on random selection.

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Bonus Games and Volatility

1Bonus Games in the early 1990s

Video slots first gained popularity in the United States in the early 1990s. The most sought after bonus features at the time were the “pick me” bonus games. American slot vendors like IGT and WMS Gaming took advantage of this feature’s surge in popularity, incorporating mainly “pick me” bonuses into their products.

Despite this, the focus of some manufacturers like Aristocrat remained on producing slots with the free spins bonus feature. At the time, most reels spinners preferred to play nickel slots because of their low volatility. Nickel games had a high hit frequency in the sense they paid often but yielded smaller cash prizes.

2Low-denomination slots

The turn of the 21st century saw the rise of the slots with the one-cent denomination. Also known as penny slots, these games quickly became player favorites. The main trouble developers were facing was how to design low-denomination slots that could still reward spinners with prizes worth playing for.

With five-cent slots, the player could still win a decent prize even when betting fewer coins per active payline. Suppose you play a simple nickel game with a “pick me” bonus where you have a selection of five items.

If you are lucky enough to select the items containing the highest cash prizes and win 400 credits, for example, you will earn $20. This sum will suffice for you to buy lunch at some places. However, if you play the same slot with the same bonus feature on a penny machine, a 400-credit prize will amount to $4 only. This significantly lower prize can hardly fetch a decent meal.

3Free spins

Slot manufactures decided to incorporate free spins into the gameplay to allow slot buffs to score better prizes with a smaller stake. This bonus feature increases volatility, bringing larger wins to games with low-denomination coins. Potential large payouts during free spins are counterbalanced by the possibility of bonus rounds that result in no wins.