What keeps us glued to the screen when we play our favourite slots games online or in a land-based casino? Is it the sounds, the spins or the stops?
We all know that it’s the stops. We love the sound effects and the spinning reels are mesmerising but it’s where those reels stop that makes all the difference.
And how those symbols line up.
The symbols on a slot machine or slots game are how we know whether or not we’ve won. But have you ever wondered where the symbols come from or why those particular symbols are used? CasinoPlay.com sent our global games crew into the World Wide Web to discover just where and why we see these particular icons on our screens and machines.
Slots symbols are the pictures and icons you see on the reels of the slots games and machines you play. These vary greatly depending on the theme of the game and can be quite simple or very detailed. Some modern slots games even have animated symbols to add magic to your game.
There is no real meaning to slots symbols, rather they are there to create a pattern or represent a combination that will show a winning spin. And to add interest and intrigue to the games, of course.
The very first version of the slot machine was a five-drum machine based on poker and invented by Sittman and Pitt in New York in 1891.
The drums featured a 50-card deck with the ten of spades and the jack of hearts removed to make it more difficult to hit a Royal Flush. All the other cards were represented and the object of the game was to try and get the reels to stop on a winning poker hand (pair, trips, straight, flush, etc).
Modern slots still use the card values such as the 10, jack, queen, king, and ace, most frequently to represent the lowest value symbols on a themed game.
Charles Fey simplified the Sittman and Pitt machine to feature only three reels and brought in a number of new symbols. While he kept three of the suits (hearts, spades and diamonds), he also added a horseshoe, a bell and, over time, a seven.
The horseshoe and the seven represented luck – a horseshoe being a symbol of luck and seven being a well-known good fortune number in various cultures. The bell represented the Liberty Bell and American freedom and led to the popular nickname for Fey’s slot machines – the Liberty Bell.
With the passing of various anti-gambling laws, slots players had to find a way to play their favourite game without breaking the law. By giving ‘prizes’ away (which could sometimes be converted into cash) gamblers could still play in a semi-legal manner.
These prizes were most often sticks of fruit flavoured gum and to get a particular flavour you would need to line up three symbols of that flavour. These flavours were symbolised by a picture of cherries, oranges, lemons and plums and led to the nickname ‘fruit machines’.
One company, the Bell-Fruit Company, used their logo as a ‘jackpot’ symbol. This logo was a stick of gum that eventually became the BAR symbol we all know.
These early machines were all bulky physical units with symbols printed directly onto the reels which limited how many different symbols or themes could be produced.
Technology and the digitisation of slot machines into slots games allowed developers to expand their offering exponentially.
Our modern slots games, especially in the international online casino and online slots games world, offer thousands of different themes and styles and diverse options to satisfy the interests of millions of gamblers.
But the principle still remains the same: match the symbols to a specific combination or pattern and you win.
With technology leading the changes in the slots world, and slots games becoming ever more immersive and entertaining, themes became a huge selling point.
While you can still find the classic fruit symbols and BARs, developers are focusing on providing a full immersive experience for online slots players with a host of themes and bonuses.
Popular themes include history (Vikings Unleashed), archaeology adventures (Book of Ra and Gonzo’s Quest), ancient gods (Hall of Gods), movies (Planet of the Apes), music (Guns n’ Roses), fantasy (White Rabbit) and much, much more.
These themed online slots games still have the 9, 10, jack, queen, king, ace symbols but also add custom graphics that reflect the theme such as the Guns n’ Roses band members or the characters from Alice in Wonderland.
With the ability to use programming to quickly change the symbols on these digital games, slots providers can even theme special slots games for particular seasons or events like Halloween. So, your favourite Flaming 7s slot could become a spooky Halloween-themed Flaming 7s for a short while.
With the tech innovations came the ability to invent new ways to win and new symbols to represent these ways. Scatter symbols, wilds, multipliers and more give modern online slots players even more chances to hit a winning and spin.
Modern slots symbols include:
The ten, jack, queen, king and ace still feature as standard symbols on most slots games, even if they have been given a cool new digital look and makeover.
Some online slots games even give you a retro throwback with BARs and fruits.
These symbols are often the higher value symbols and reflect the theme of the slot. For example, the mummy or pharaoh or scarab or Book of spells in an Egyptian-themed slot.
Wild symbols are symbols that can represent any other symbol to give you a winning spin. These are usually labelled as ‘Wild’ or will have a particular look tied to the theme.
For example, an Egyptian-themed game could have a scarab beetle with the word ‘Wild’. When this symbol comes up it acts as a joker to represent any other symbol that would give you a winning combo.
Scatter symbols are rare symbols on the reels that trigger a bonus feature like free spins. What makes them different from standard symbols is that they can appear anywhere on screen to trigger the bonus – which is why they’re called scatters (scattered across the screen). You usually need to get at least three scatters on screen to unlock the bonus.
Bonus symbols are very similar to scatters and work in much the same way. The difference is that bonus symbols tend to open up bonus or mini-games within the slots games.
These bonus games can be very lucrative and often involve games of skill like pattern matching or games of chance like spin and win.
The pay table will usually tell you exactly which symbols are bonus symbols.
Multipliers are symbols that increase your winnings. They are usually seen as a number with a multiplication sign (2x, 5x, 10x, etc) and they increase the size of your payout on a winning line by the indicated amount. For example, if you hit a $50 payout and a 10x multiplier, you will get $500.
Stacked symbols are symbols that take up a larger space on the reel to give you a better chance of hitting a payline.
Sticky symbols are relatively new bonus features in online slots. These symbols, if you happen to get one, will remain on the reel for several spins while the other symbols change. Like the stacked symbols, they give you a better chance of hitting a payline.
Sticky symbols can also be wilds or scatters.
Thankfully the online slots game software reads and interprets all the symbols and possible paylines and combos for you. In general, the basics remain the same as they were right from the beginning. The symbols represent the theme. The symbols need to line up in patterns or combinations in order to trigger a win or a bonus feature.
Simple but elegant and effective.
And all the symbols, their values, and any bonus features they trigger can be found on the slot pay table. On physical slot machines in land-based casinos the pay table is usually prominent just above the screen. On online slots games, the pay table can be found by clicking on the info (or ‘I’) button or could be a part of the little hamburger you find (the three lines indicating more options).