As somebody with an avid interest in online casinos and particularly online slots, I’m frequently asked by friends and acquaintances if I’m still ‘playing the fruit machines’. I’ll usually answer the question directly, replacing ‘fruit machines’ with ‘slots’ in my answer; occasionally, however, I’ll make the foolish decision to point out that the games they have seen me playing are unrelated to the ones that they know as ‘fruit machines’. I’m not sure why I do this – to the person asking, it’s just small talk and semantics.
Personal anecdotes aside, the real question is why do people use the term ‘fruit machine’ when referring to any type of machine which offers the chance to win money? Furthermore, why do developers continue to create new games with a fruit-based theme today? These certainly aren’t just coincidences, so let’s investigate – it’s a story that dates back further than you may realize!
The first gambling machines were invented in the closing years of the 19th century by New York-based firm Sittman and Pitt. These games were truly prehistoric by modern standards – their reels contained playing cards and paid out according to outcomes that were based on poker. This first wave of machines did not have any kind of automatic payout mechanism built into them, instead relying on the bartender to verify the value of the poker hand displayed on their mechanical drums. Interestingly enough, Australians typically call their slots ‘poker machines’, or pokies for short – another label that is believed to have a history dating back to this time.
Keeping an eye on your patrons as they played these machines to make sure that they weren’t interfering with them in an unacceptable manner must have been a tough job! When you consider that some bars would have had a dozen or more machines, bartenders would no doubt have struggled to keep up with serving customers, verifying results, and paying out winnings. That’s where the fruits come in – the next generation of gambling machines replaced the five reels of cards with three reels of simple fruit-themed motifs, finally allowing for an automated payout mechanism.
With the payment problem resolved, slot machines began to be purchased in huge numbers by bars and casinos located all over the United States. Copycat machines were soon created by competing manufacturers, most of whom simply copied the fruit-themed symbols that were used on the games which were already proven to be big sellers. In areas where gambling machines were prohibited, some bars would substitute the usual cash prizes for fruit-flavored chewing gum or other food-based prizes in an attempt to circumvent anti-gambling laws.
When these machines – now almost ubiquitously known as fruit machines – made their way to the United Kingdom during the 1960’s, manufacturers were faced with a more serious problem: luck-based games were banned altogether. The solution to this was to add ‘hold’ and ‘nudge’ buttons to the machines, transforming the gameplay into a skill-based experience that caught on like wildfire in all corners of Great Britain.
Modern Fruit Slots
History certainly explains the origin of the term ‘fruit machine’, but it doesn’t entirely explain why today’s online casinos are still filled with fruit-themed games. For example, the 32Red fruit machine slot category is packed to bursting point with such games, so why is that? We certainly don’t have any issues dealing with the payouts with our modern technology and computers.
I believe that there are several answers to this question, starting with the fact that fruit-themed games tend to be amongst the simplest to play. Some players can be put off by the complexity of many modern slots, so using large, brightly-coloured symbols can be an excellent way of making your new game a little more approachable. Even though modern slots are entirely luck-based, there is still a belief amongst many players that they will win more if they stick with games that they understand and know how to play. Fruit-themed slots look a lot like the fruit machines that were massively popular in previous decades, making them the obvious choice for a large number of players.
There’s also the fact that fruit-based games have a universal appeal, in contrast to many other categories of slot. The developer No Limit City makes for a perfect example – their games all feature mature themes, but tend to be much more popular with male players. Then there are the licensed slots – as popular as they are with certain groups, it’s extremely unlikely that players who are not fans of the licensed property will play this type of machine. Fruit-based games transcend age and all other demographics – after all, who doesn’t like fruits?
Fruit-based slots have been popular for as long as gambling machines have been on the market. The fact that many of the most up-to-date games still use very similar symbols (and sometimes even features!) proves that their initial inventors were way ahead of their time in judging what would appeal to the gambling public. My guess is that we’ll continue to see more fruit-based slots being released long into the future.