SG Digital’s Brett Jackson: The art of adapting land-based games for online

Image source: Scientific Games

Scientific Games’ Asian-themed slot machine title, 5 Treasures, has been a fan-favorite with players across multiple land-based venues in the US for several years. Recently, the company decided to adapt the popular game for the online market, and that move has paid dividends with the digital version enjoying a hugely successful launch. 

Although what seems a simple process on the surface, transitioning a land-based title to online requires a more thorough process than you may think. Brett Jackson, Creative Director at SG Digital, tells SBC Americas why the digital release of 5 Treasures has proved just as popular as its retail counterpart, and reveals the methodology in tweaking the original title to fit the igaming market.     

How do you ensure that a popular retail game theme/mechanic works in the online environment?

It’s always an adaptation. We look to understand the essence of what makes an existing title like 5 Treasures so popular, and identify the key areas that shouldn’t be altered. The fundamental challenge is bringing the same presentation to the online market, as electronic gaming machines (EGMs) can hold up to 2GB of storage, which means there’s more scope to deliver higher quality animations and audio on a local level. With online, you have to consider these games are downloaded wirelessly onto a desktop or mobile device, or even through mobile data. If it takes too long to download the game, you run the risk of players instantly switching to another title without ever spinning the reels. 

We have to ensure we offer the same visual and audio experience that players are accustomed to in the land-based environment, while also being mindful of making the user experience as slick as possible. To achieve this, we make the game assets much smaller in file size but without compromising on quality. That brings a lot of difficult decisions on how far we can go in compressing files to keep the essence of the gameplay. 

There’s also the added challenge of offering such a game to multiple jurisdictions where regulation can differ. The math has to be compliant with each jurisdiction. We’re at an advantage as we typically run these online versions at a significantly higher RTP, such as 96% whereas with an EGM it would be at 88%. From a design perspective, that brings another challenge of finding where to put that extra RTP within the game. It’s a balancing act of choosing to include it within the base game and features without changing the essence of the original hit. 

Thankfully, it’s a process that we’ve got plenty of experience in and we do a very good job of adapting land-based titles for online. 5 Treasures is the latest example of this and there will be many more to follow in the coming months and years. 

How does the online version of 5 Treasures differ to the slot machine format?

We’ve simplified the betting scheme and increased the return to player (RTP), which now stands at 96.37%. There have also been small, intrinsic changes to the design and some of the transitions have been altered. Crucially, the math model and overall user experience is essentially the same.  

One of the key features that makes 5 Treasures so successful is its straightforward math model and that’s been relatively untouched. This ensures that we can offer a truly immersive experience that is as close to the land-based version as possible. 

For those unfamiliar with 5 Treasures, what are the key aspects of the gameplay?

As with its predecessor 88 Fortunes, the Fu Bat Wilds substitute for all symbols, including the bonus which is not so common within slots. This means free games can be triggered by a combination of bonus symbols and wilds, which is highly attractive to players as there are more ways to trigger the bonus. 

When in view, these Fu Bats will also deliver coins to the pot that sits above the reels. When the pot’s lid closes, players will be awarded with one of the four in-game fixed jackpots. Players are presented with 12 coins, which each reveal a Fu Baby. Once three coins have been revealed with the same Fu Baby, one of the Jackpots will be awarded.

Can you give us an insight into the performance of 5 Treasures so far and which markets it’s performing well in? 

With 5 Treasures, we had a clear mind that the game could work for online and knew how best to adapt it for online. Our approach has been vindicated following a strong game launch in the US, as well as in the UK and Europe. Asian-themed games aren’t traditionally as strong performers in Europe, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming response to the game from players in those territories. Even more so by the fact that the land-based machine title isn’t available everywhere in Europe. 

In North America there was pent-up demand for the digital version of 5 Treasures and so we felt confident it would be popular, however the performance has far exceeded all our expectations. Within the first week, 5 Treasures became our best ever igaming launch in New Jersey, and it’s also maintained strong engagement levels in the weeks beyond. It’s on track to break records set by previous games. In the US, we see a high correlation between land-based and online players, and so there was an immediate recognition of the digital version when it first launched. 

The land-based market is saturated with Asian-themed games, is this the case with online too? How do you look to differentiate your own content against the competition?

Asian-themed games are incredibly prevalent within the land-based market. In fact, they are broken down into sub-categories based on mathematics and other factors. In the US online market though, we haven’t quite reached that stage yet and we’re able to differentiate these types of games based on mechanics and presentation styles. 

Does SG have plans to evolve the 5 Treasures brand any further for the online market? Such as introducing new features and mechanics to the gameplay? 

In the land-based environment, there have been a number of iterations of 5 Treasures already. One of the areas we’re looking more closely here at Scientific Games is game families. We’ve established that the game works for online, and we’ll slowly build out different features within the game but keep the essence of what makes it so appealing. That could mean adding progressive jackpots, a wheel functionality, as well as other features that have worked for the EGM version. 

We’re always looking to introduce new and innovative mechanics to our games, which makes the gameplay even more exciting. There are a few mechanics that we’re working on at the moment which could prove to be common within several game families, so watch this space.