There’s no question that the technology behind slot games has come a long way in the past few decades
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How Slots Symbols Have Evolved

November 27, 2023

Charles August Fey was the American pioneer who is widely accredited with having invented the world’s first slot machine, all the way back in 1894. However, it was not until he built his Liberty Bell machine in 1899 that the slots craze really took off, first in the US and then around the world.

Fey’s earliest machines featured symbols that were largely inspired by playing cards, but the very first reel symbol that modern slots players would recognise was the bell itself, which gave the Liberty Bell machine its name. If three golden bells all lined up, then the player would receive the jackpot. Slots symbols have not looked back since, with those very first jackpot triggering bells igniting a casino game revolution. The bells themselves are still being used in online slots today.

Early Symbol Variations

Soon after the Liberty Bell started making waves on the San Francisco gaming scene, slot machine had to start diversifying their product ranges. Part of this was due to new legislation that limited the use of slot machines.

Developers of the time repurposed their machines as candy dispensers, with a jackpot more likely to land a player a lolly pop or a stick of candy rather than coins. This had a profound effect on the symbols that appeared on slot reels, as playing cards and other symbols of the same ilk were replaced by cartoon style images of fruits. Many of these still endure to this day, such as red cherries, watermelon slices, and peaches.

Another item that these slot derivatives of the early 1900s liked to reward their players with were packets of chewing gum. These were usually released when bar symbols lined up on the reels, bars that were intended to resemble stacked packs of chewing gum. Such symbols have also stood the test of time, with plenty of modern slot games featuring various bar symbols on their reels.

Since the turn of the digital revolution, games designers have been free to create huge amounts of new symbols

Slots Go Digital and Symbols Go Wild

The next big turning point for slot machines was the 1970s and the introduction of video slots in casino resorts in places like Las Vegas. While they did not immediately capture the imagination of players, they did bring about the possibility of digitally designed and enhanced reel symbols.

This led to symbols being able to flicker and move while on the reel, as well as being rendered in 3D and in whacky or changeable colours.

More Features Means More Symbols

As well as making both offline and online slots more visually appealing, the other gaming sea change that digitisation brought about was the ability to create new bonus features as well as linking games across online platforms via networked jackpot pools.

With these enhancements to the gaming experience came the need for new symbols such as those that depict Wilds, Scatters and Multipliers.

Themed Games Need Personalised Symbols

Another phenomenon that now exists in casinos of all varieties is the themed slot, with everything from famous rock bands to TV shows lending their brand to a slot provider. This means that many slot symbols are now unique to a particular game where reel symbols depict the faces of band members or recognisable elements from a gameshow.