The problem with most slot machine video games is a failure to capture the thrill of winning big in the middle of a crowded casino. Launching soon on Facebook, Zynga Elite Slots communicates that feeling by placing you in a room with up to 149 fellow gamblers and challenging the group to take down a raid boss.
In an interview earlier this week, design director Josh Gause walked me through a basic round of the game, explaining how his team transformed a basic game of chance into a community adventure.
A player begins by selecting a pet to represent them in the game. Gause choose Puss in Boots, one of the 24 pets available when the game launches. Upon entering a room the pet appears in long and skinny window atop a standard slot machine, the iconography on the reels determined by which of the six themes the player is adventuring through -- Enchanted Forest, High Noon, Pet Park, House of Fangs, Treasure of Anubis or Aurora Dreams.
As the player spins, the pet progresses along the adventure strip, collecting experience points and gems. Experience points are used to level up pets, unlocking special powers specific to the character. Gems are used to purchase in-game items. Spinning also slowly fills a progress bar that marches steadily towards a confrontation with the stage's boss.
The Enchanted Forest boss, the witch Griselda, is a daunting foe, but the player isn't alone in this fight. He or she is in a room filled with up to 150 spinning simultaneously, each adding their progress to the meter. There's a chat room on the screen where these players can socialize as their relentless pet mob zeroes in on the big fight. Score a big payout and the whole room will know it, a portion of your winnings sprinkled across their screen. In response they can drop "props", launching their Facebook picture onto the screens of every player in the room. Gause referred to it as "social fireworks."
The full power of the room's community spirit comes into play once the meter is filled and the boss fight begins. Occupants have a limited amount of time to spin and win as much as possible in order to vanquish their great enemy. Should they lose, the meter resets. Should they win, they'll get a chance at scoring some epic loot, incredibly rare items and rewards. That's always nice, but in this case their acquisition will be broadcast to the entire room.
"That's what gets people talking," said Gause.
With a daily stipend of 1,000 coins bolstered by an item collecting mechanic that exchanges sets of rare kibble for an increased allowance, the frugal player can spin all day long. With most of the game's more powerful and interesting items available through play I imagine the addiction factor to be quite high.
The name Zynga Elite Slots doesn't do the game justice, but it serves a purpose -- folks that don't want to concern themselves with the fantasy and social elements of the game are welcome to just pop in and spin some slots. Players looking for something a bit deeper are in for what looks like a damn good time.