In this latest entry in our ongoing series on gambling technology, we take a look at the evolution of online casino games.
The Internet boom that began in the mid 1990s affected every area of human activity. In the last twenty years, the casino industry has changed out of all recognition, and a time-travelling casino goer from the 1980s would find the modern casino gaming world bewildering!
The early years
The first casino games to make the transition online were popular table games such as roulette and blackjack. But over time, more slots games began to appear on casino sites and, just as happened in land-based casinos, slots games started to overtake table games in popularity, growing to represent the bulk of online casinos’ portfolios.
Early online casino games were pretty basic. Online slots were simple representations of land-based games, usually featuring just one payline and three reels. A good example of the kind of slots online casino gamers were playing in the 1990s is Lucky 7.
Technology was moving fast and a dedicated casino gaming development industry was beginning to bud. Microgaming, founded in 1994, ran one of the very first online casinos, but soon found it was more profitable to focus on producing games and licensing these to other casinos.
Since then, they have gone on to create over 800 casino games and have become a giant of online gaming, responsible for such classic titles as Mega Moolah, Game of Thrones and Thunderstruck. They were also one of the founding members of eCOGRA, the organization that introduced new standards of responsibility and security to the online gambling industry.
Where Microgaming led, others followed, pushing the emerging software technology to new heights. One of the most significant was BetSoft. Founded in 1999, this company was one of the first to produce 3D titles that relied on innovative animations and perspective to create a 3D effect for players, and its Slots3 series remains a landmark development. BetSoft’s innovations inspired other companies to experiment with new takes on the slots game, including ever-more ingenious bonus features and cascading symbols rather than reels.
Another trend in the first decade of the new millennium was the growth of slots game tie-ins, with games themed around popular TV shows and movies. The most prominent exponent of this trend was Playtech, another of the online casino gaming industry’s giants. Playtech has pursued a policy of aggressive expansion and acquisition, but what really helped to establish them was a series of high-profile slots themed around popular movies. In particular, their deal with Marvel allowed them to produce super hero-themed games including Iron Man, Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk, which became extremely popular.
As technology developed and new graphical possibilities opened up, slots game developers began to concentrate on providing an immersive experience. One of Playtech’s rivals, Net Entertainment was at the forefront of these developments, earning a reputation for producing games that were particularly beautiful to look at. Starburst, released in 2012, featured relatively simple game play, but has become regarded as a classic for its combination of stunning graphics and energetic soundtrack.
By the time of Starburst’s launch, the explosion in mobile internet use was also beginning to change the online casino game industry. Within a few years, mobile internet use went from being a novelty to the mainstream and by 2016, Deloitte were reporting that more than half of the adults in the UK were using a smartphone, tablet, or other mobile device.
The rapid development of mobile technology offered an opportunity for software developers. Many games producers in the early 2010s merely looked for ways to make existing online games playable on mobile devices, but companies like Play N Go and Yggdrasil began to create games that were specifically designed with mobile compatibility in mind.
Yggdrasil is a particularly interesting case. Founded in Sweden in 2013, they were among the first game developers to use HTML5 code and other new technologies that made it possible for them to incorporate particle animations and other smoother animation techniques, and seamless transition between animation styles. As a result of their innovation, the software in Yggdrasil games works on a wide range of devices no matter what their operating system.
Gambling portals to help you find your way
When the casinos used to sent you CD-ROMs to have their casino installed, you can now find a portal in seconds. On such a portal you will find information about the best online casinos, reviews, forums and so on. It is a great source to find your way, as when the online casinos evolved, the number did as well. Nowadays there are 1000+ online casino sites to play from, where are you going to start? A good example of a portal for South Africa is www.onlinecasino-southafrica.co.za
How have table games evolved?
While the restrictions of the format in games such as roulette and blackjack give developers less room for innovation, table games have also developed in parallel with the revolution in online slots. Table games have become increasingly realistic and the availability of faster internet connections has made it possible to develop live dealer versions of popular casino classics, in which users can interact with real dealers as well as other players; an innovation that has proven to be extremely popular with table games fans all over the world.
Big jackpot games
Another significant development for online slots gamers has been the rapid development of jackpot slots. The very first game in this genre was Cash Splash by Microgaming, which was released in 1998 and provided a modest payout, but the jackpot size offered by this genre of game increased steadily until the development of progressive jackpots such as Mega Moolah and Mega Fortune, which offered the possibility of potentially unlimited payouts. Some of the wins associated with these progressive jackpot games have run into tens of millions of dollars and as they continue to grow in popularity, the jackpots are only likely to increase.
Online casino banking
As game technology has developed, other aspects of online gaming have also evolved. For example, when it comes to banking, it is no longer necessary to add your credit card details to play online casino games. Most casino sites offer a bewildering array of payment options, and some are even encouraging users to make deposits and withdrawals in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, which dramatically speeds up the process of claiming your winnings.
The online gaming landscape has changed out of all recognition from the pioneer days of the 1990s. Now there is an incredible array of online casino games, offering every kind of jackpot size, theme or gameplay innovation you can imagine. As the market continues to grow, and development companies continue to invest time and money in pushing back the boundaries of online gaming technology, the future of online casino gaming promises a great deal.