Evolution of Slot Machines: From Physical to Digital


Few game formats are as long lived, nor have undergone quite so much evolution and development, as the slot machine. Taking in over a century of history, this popular game has eagerly embraced each new technology to come along.


The first slot machines are credited to have been developed by German expatriate and American immigrant, Charles Fey, in the latter years of the 19th century.

These simplistic machines – known as fruit machines – lacked many of the (literal) bells and whistles of future devices, but set the basic gameplay template of reels, paylines and randomised payouts that all future slots would ascribe to.

Electro-Mechanical Era

The next great age of the slot machine, and the one they would come to be most closely associated with in the public imagination, was the Electro-Mechanical era. These incorporated electricity, and basic circuit boards. This automated many aspects of the machine, and made them lighter, faster, more efficient, and programmable.

These are the machines that came to dominate the Las Vegas strip during the golden age of the 1960s.

Video Slot Era

Following hot on the heels of the impressive innovations of the Electro-mechanical Era, we get the first video slots.

These machines eschewed mechanical reels and dials in favour of television screens that incorporated novel visuals, early 3D graphics and a host of new bonus rounds and features. From this point forward, the convergence between slot machines and early video games truly began to gather steam.

Early Online Slots

The earliest online slots games began to appear alongside the world wide web in the early 1990s. While, by today’s standards, these titles were relatively crude and simplistic, they nonetheless represent a crucial turning point in the history of fruit machines.

Over the previous nine decades, slot machines had been getting smaller, faster, more flexible and affordable – but even the most accessible physical slot machine of the 90s was expensive, and difficult to install and maintain.

Online slots, on the other hand, required nothing more than a computer with a stable internet connection in order to play. It also meant that, for the very first time, these games could be played remotely by people located anywhere in the world. This is a significant departure from the experience of having to travel to a physical brick-and-mortar location to play.

As time went on, these online slots only grew more sophisticated, capitalising on better computing power and faster internet speeds. Finally, with the arrival of the smartphone in the mid-2000s, their modern form would begin to come to light.

Modern Era

As digital slots have continued to develop, the freedom afforded to developers who are no longer bound by the physical and mechanical restrictions of physical machines have led to a renaissance in creativity in the sector.

At their most complex, digital slots are indistinguishable from full blown video games, with bonus levels, unique multipliers and outstanding visuals that have won them fans and advocates from beyond the purview of the iGaming sector.

Modern digital slots have also come to offer unprecedented accessibility, with on-demand access and mobile-ready optimizations meaning they can be played on and the go and whenever players feel like it.

Another key driver in the success of online slots has been their eager adoption of competitive sign-up bonuses and promotions. These offers, such as those provided by reputable directories like casinobonusca, furnish users with hundreds of bespoke deals for use with slots titles on a huge array of gaming providers.

All these factors have come together to make online slots the most popular game played online the world over.

The Future

It can be difficult to predict where online slots will go from here – with the one certainly being that the sky’s the limit. Perhaps the most obvious new frontier for slot gaming will be to move into the metaverse.

This transition could perhaps signal a return of slots titles that more closely resemble their physical counterparts – albeit now faithfully rendered in virtual casinos that players can move around within.

Artificial intelligence will also likely play a role before long, with the possibility of new slots games to be spontaneously generated at a moment’s notice, further abstracting this long lived game-type and liberating it from the restrictions of clunking gears and mechanical levers.

Tech Digest Correspondent

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