John Grochowski

John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski

There are a lot of ingredients that go into the success of a slot machine. A great theme to entice players to try the game is a start, and attractive graphics, animation and sound help, too.

Ask game manufacturers, and they’ll tell you about the importance of having the right math model. A game where you don’t win often enough to feel that a jackpot or a bonus event is right around the corner is a game you’re not going to play for very long.

Licensed themes grab a lot of the spotlight. When you look around the casinos, the likes of Wheel of Fortune, the Wizard of Oz, Michael Jackson and Willie Wonka can be found.

But it doesn’t take a bright, shiny, expensive licensed theme for a game to succeed. What machine manufacturers call “core games,” with themes developed in-house or in the public domain, are the workhorse games on slot floors. Sometimes such core games capture the public’s imagination and become lasting player favorites.

Take two Egyptian-themed games: Cleopatra and Sphinx. Both are in the International Game Technology realm today, although Sphinx took a roundabout way to get there. The original Sphinx and several successor games were developed by the European slotmaker Atronic, which merged into Spielo International and then GTECH before GTECH merged with IGT.

What are the attractions? Let’s look at Cleopatra first.

Cleopatra wasn’t a big pioneering breakthrough game. It’s a five-line video slot with a free spin bonus. That format has worked for hundreds of video slots, although Cleopatra has been one of the most enduring, perhaps because it has a special place in online slot history. It was the most-played game when online slots were first legalized in the United States.

Cleopatra was introduced in live casinos as a five-video reel, a 20-payline game with an Egyptian theme. Reel symbols included scarabs, the Eye of Horus and, of course, Cleopatra.

Two Sphinx symbols bring a scatter pay — you win even if the symbols aren’t on consecutive reels. Three or more Sphinxes take you to a free-spin bonus.

In Sphinx, slot players have been happily exploring the mysteries of ancient Egypt since 1998. Sphinx was one of the first video slots with a two-tiered bonus round, kicking the fun up a notch from the first second-screen bonuses.

In the Sphinx bonus event, the second screen takes players into the Pharaoh’s tomb where they must choose their path. The right choice leads to the inner sanctum, where more selections bring bigger bonuses.

Players loved it from the start, leading to sequels including Sphinx II, Sphinx Magic and Sphinx 3D.

Sphinx II is basically the same game with the same mysterious, two-level bonus, but adds two-way wagering — increase your bet, and you can line up winning combinations from right to left, as well as the traditional left to right.

Atronic built further on that with Sphinx Magic, adding another bonus round for a progressive jackpot.

Just before the merger with IGT, GTECH rolled out Sphinx 3D, which features some amazing three-dimensional video. And now, adding a dimension of touch, there’s Sphinx 4D, which I wrote about a few weeks ago from Global Gaming Expo.

The Egyptian themes of Cleopatra and Sphinx didn’t have to be licensed, and they’ve resonated with players for most of two decades. The theme is important, but far more important is what the game designer does with the theme, its bonuses and game math.

Look for John Grochowski on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

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