The Player’s Guide to “Bonus Buy” Slots

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Dead or Alive 2 Bonus Buy Feature

The chore of spending 95% of your session waiting for the bonus round is finally over.

Let’s be honest, a huge percentage of the time we spend playing online slots, we are just waiting around for those scatters to drop and the free spins or bonus round to kick in. It’s just the nature of the beast; unfortunately, the biggest portion of a game’s RTP is usually tied up in the bonus round.

Games with sticky wilds are capable of awarding thousands of times your stake during free spins. Many games with progressive jackpots limit the availability of these to the bonus round. The simple fact is, the bonus round is what we are all looking forward to.

Especially in jurisdictions that have removed the “fast spin” option, it can be excruciatingly dull sitting around waiting for those scatters to drop. Game providers are not ignorant to this – I’m sure the idea of being able to purchase a bonus round was floated many times at “brainstorming” sessions inside the studios of the big slot developers.

The time has finally arrived where we can purchase a feature if that is what we want to do. This option is a great thing for the player – or most players, I should say. Read on to find out the history of bonus buy slots, the controversies this feature has already created, as well as the math behind the bonus-buy feature, and the pros and cons of using it.            

The History of the Bonus Buy Feature

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Big Time Gaming was the first developer brave enough to implement a bonus buy feature into their games. Thankfully, they didn’t try and draw up a patent on this one, and other developers were free to follow suit and add similar features into their games.

The first game that Big Time Gaming created featuring the ability to purchase a bonus round was White Rabbit Megaways, released in 2017. The option is also referred to as “Feature Buy” in some games, but they all work the same way. 

Big Time Gaming started by asking for 100x your current stake to purchase a feature. Is that fair? We’ll investigate this in more detail in the “Math Behind the Magic” section below. Since then, other developers such as Yggdrasil, Blueprint, NetEnt, Push Gaming, and Betsoft, to name a few, have jumped on the bandwagon.

These developers have chosen rates between 50x your stake and 120x your stake, so it seems the sky’s the limit as far as charges go. But why would this be? Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first, and then we’ll discuss the perfectly justifiable reason why bonus buy games might seem that little bit on the expensive side upon first glance.

Dark Times for Bonus Buy Slots

As we were discussing, the bonus buy option can often be expensive. If you are used to playing $1 spins, do you seriously want to bet $50, $100, $120 to play a bonus round that might return a few cents?

Some regulators picked up on this quickly, recognizing the potential these options have for tempting players into spending way more than they had first intended when they opened the slot machine.

One such regulatory authority is the U.K. Gambling Commission, which has banned players based in the U.K. from using this feature entirely. This change has required some developers to modify their games to ensure players cannot use these options. Where developers are unwilling to re-code the game to adhere to this regulatory hurdle, U.K. players have found themselves unable to access these games entirely.

The simple fact is, the bonus buy feature encourages players to place giant bets with no guarantee of getting a return. However, is this actually any different from betting $100 a hand at Blackjack? I see little difference. Sure, the odds are better at the blackjack table. However, you can still lose your $100 chip quickly – probably in roughly the same amount of time you would be using the bonus buy feature, depending on how many people are participating at the table. You might lose your $100 much faster if you are the only one playing against the dealer.

Let’s take a look at the specific conditions that have been used as the basis for banning the bonus buy feature:

“RTS requirement 3A: An explanation of the applicable rules must be easily available to the customer before they commit to gambling. The content, including artwork and text, must be accurate and sufficient to explain all applicable rules and how to participate. All reasonable steps must be taken to ensure that the content is understandable.”

N.B. This statement is taken directly from the UKGC licensing terms and has only been modified to correct grammatical errors. Don’t worry, UKGC, I’m sure you’ll get some better editors eventually!

I struggle to work out exactly how this term is relevant to allowing players to use a bonus buy feature. Slot makers do make the rules of the option clear, sometimes several times before the bet is made, and the price of the bonus buy feature is ALWAYS clearly defined and labelled. I see no reason why this requirement is relevant whatsoever. Secondly:

“‍RTS requirement 14A: Gambling products must not actively encourage customers to chase their losses, increase their stake or increase the amount they have decided to gamble or continue to gamble after they have indicated that they wish to stop.”

This requirement is a little more clear-cut. Bonus buy games DO encourage players to increase their stake – MAY encourage some, but not all, gamblers to chase their losses – and might potentially persuade some people to increase the amount they have decided to gamble.

So it comes down to this question: Who’s responsible for making this decision? Personally, I think the UKGC are overstepping their bounds and have much more important issues they should be dealing with than the areas they choose to pursue. Let’s quickly take a look at some of their other recent decisions:

  • Limiting the number of auto-spins you can play to 100
  • Forcing developers to remove the “Quick Spin” option from their games
  • Implementing a maximum bet of £2 on both slots and table games on offline gaming machines

Looking Towards the Future

Many believe that the online market is next In line to receive a dramatic change to the amounts and methods available to players who wish to place bets online. Such changes might affect vast numbers of players worldwide, and not just those located in Great Britain. There are two reasons why this may be the case:

Firstly, the UKGC generally insists that any casino operating under one of their licenses must treat all players equally, regardless of their physical location. In most ways, this is a very player-friendly rule – most UKGC regulations are fair, well-thought-out, and puts players before the casinos whenever a dispute arises. On the other hand, when the UKGC chooses to make decisions such as banning bonus buy features, it forces developers to modify their games to make them UKGC-compliant.

If a developer decides not to do this, the casinos have no choice but to ban their British customers from playing any game which contains a bonus buy feature. If the casino does not hold a secondary license under which they can offer these slots to players outside the UK, all games that provide a bonus buy feature must be removed from their site altogether.

Secondly, and perhaps far more importantly, the UKGC is one of the first government created regulatory bodies for online gambling. Because of this, it is being used as a template for other similar organizations around the globe. I do not believe that it should be up to the regulator to decide how much we can bet when we play online slots.

How many players were consulted before the decision to limit autoplay spins to a hundred was implemented? My guess is zero – nobody who actually plays these games would consider this a critical problem in desperate need of regulatory oversight. Unfortunately, banning bonus buy features may be just the start of regulators demonstrating that they have the right to determine how much we can bet and on what.

On a more positive note, creating the bonus buy feature was a landmark development within the world of online slots. Why is it such a bad thing to allow players to skip straight to their favorite part of a game? It is possible to spin many hundreds of times without hitting a single bonus round, potentially costing much more than the price of using the bonus buy option.

You can also argue that the availability of a bonus buy option allows players to budget more effectively. Many players will open a game and say they will play it until they hit a single feature. Instead of being forced to play an indeterminable number of spins before hitting that feature, these players can instead opt to pay a fixed rate.

The Math Behind the Magic – How Does it Work?

If you are entirely new to online slots, you probably should look at some other guides before reading this one. I say this because there will be several acronyms, features, and techniques mentioned in this section which you may be unfamiliar with. At the same time, please do not panic because I’ll be taking it easy on the highly technical and math-related side of things!

The objective of this section is to help you understand how slot developers calculate the price of their bonus buy features, and therefore whether these features are a sensible wager – a fair deal for the player.

The Basics: House Edge in the world of Online Slots

All casino games have a “house edge”, a built-in mathematical advantage that ensures the casino will make money on the game over an extended period of time. Under US rules, Blackjack has a house edge of roughly 0.5%, whilst in Roulette, the number is 5.4%.

For whatever reason, slots are advertised as having a specific RTP rather than a house edge, but these two things are simply the inverse of one another. For example, the RTP of Blackjack is around 99.5%, whereas Roulette offers an RTP of 94.6%.

The RTP of land-based Roulette and Blackjack tables is almost always identical to the games found at online casinos. The same is not generally true of slots – online slots are often more generous than their land-based counterparts. The absolute best online slots have RTPs of around 98%, and rarely fall below 94%. Land-based slots sometimes get as low as the high eighties!

How are these numbers calculated?

The RTP of a slot machine with no bonus round is easy to calculate. Create a spreadsheet with every possible permutation of symbols alongside their value, then add them together. Adding a bonus round into the mix complicates things dramatically. A large percentage of RTP is assigned to the base game, with the remainder assigned to the bonus round.

Suppose the bonus round is triggered by hitting three or more scatter symbols. In that case, you can work out the probability of a feature being triggered by counting the number of permutations that contain three or more scatters. Divide the total number of possible outcomes by the number that contain three or more scatters, and you have the probability of hitting a bonus round.

In many games, the result of these mathematical gymnastics is that players will hit the bonus once out of every 150 spins they make. A handful of those 150 spins result in a profit for the player, but the majority result in a loss. That is where the “magic” comes in: the developers can use this information to determine the rough cost of hitting bonus rounds via regular play.

As far as players are concerned, buying a bonus can make perfect sense if it costs less than the average price of spinning the reels the required number of times to hit a bonus round. The only issue is that using the bonus buy option introduces a much higher level of variance into the mix.

Using the Bonus Buy Feature to get a Higher RTP %

A considerable number of players love high variance slots, but bonus buy features take variance to the extreme. Many games do their best to balance this by ensuring players receive a higher RTP if they choose to go this route rather than just playing the “normal” way.

Some games will offer you a choice when you enter the bonus round. In this situation, each of the different options will usually have a different RTP. Some developers, such as Blueprint, make these numbers available to players. Here is an example from their game Vikings Unleashed: Megaways.

RTP (Bonus Buy Feature Only):96.75% – 5 Free Spins (Cost: 25x Stake)
96.89% – 8 Free Spins (Cost: 50x Stake)
96.90% – 10 Free Spins (Cost: 75x Stake) 96.91% – 12 Free Spins (Cost: 100x Stake)
Vikings Unleashed: Megaways Bonus Buy RTP

As you can see, the more you pay, the better the RTP you receive by diving straight into the bonus round. Even the lowest option, costing 25x your stake for five free spins, results in a lower RTP. Calculating these numbers involves a delicate balancing act between the probability of hitting the bonus round organically alongside the probability of that bonus resulting in a positive outcome.

Which Developers create Bonus Buy Slots?

As we mentioned earlier, Big Time Gaming was the first developer to offer a bonus buy feature in their games. Since then, many other developers have followed suit by adding a bonus feature to their new releases. Some providers have even gone as far as adding bonus buy to previous releases.

One notable example is NetEnt with their “Dead or Alive 2: Bonus Buy Edition”. The advantage of doing things this way is that casinos can easily block players who live in a jurisdiction that prohibits bonus buy features from playing this different version of the game with the banned feature included.

Some of the developers who now offer bonus buy features in many of their games include:

Betsoft, Blueprint Gaming, WMS (Williams), Yggdrasil, Push Gaming, Stakelogic, NextGen, Playtech, iSoftBet, Relax Gaming, Pragmatic Play, NetEnt, Quickspin, ELK Studios, NoLimit City

The list goes on and on – I have only included the biggest, most well-known developers in the above list. I believe this is a great thing for players – having the option to jump straight into the bonus, regardless of how much it costs, is a dream feature as far as most gamblers are concerned.

Sometimes developers will price the bonus buy feature as low as 50x your current stake. Better still, there are bonus features that have nothing to do with your current stake – they use a fixed figure instead. A bonus game could cost $20 or $50, for example.

Which are the best slots offering a Bonus Buy feature?

Who are we to say? Different people enjoy different slots! Sure, we have our favorites, but my preferences may not match yours. Here are a few to consider:

Dead or Alive 2 (Feature Buy Edition) by NetEnt

My personal favorite of the bunch, this game can pay out truly unbelievable amounts of money – up to 100,000x your stake! The bonus feature in Dead or Alive 2 costs just 66x your current stake too, which makes it seem like a colossal bargain!

I seriously have no idea how the math works with this game. Paying out just one of those capped 100,000x your stake hits must cost a fortune. But the truth is, it’s been so profitable for me that I’m just not going to worry about it.

Dark Vortex by Yggdrasil

The bonus buy feature is a godsend in this solid game from Yggdrasil – the base game is okay but gets tedious a little too quickly. That shortfall makes the bonus buy feature in Dark Vortex truly useful. It’s not a bad deal either at just 80x your stake.

Fat Santa by Push Gaming

In my experience, the bonus occurs relatively often in this slot from Push Gaming. This could just have been me getting lucky for an hour or two, though! Only you can decide if you feel it is worth paying 80x your stake to go straight to the free spins. It seems a fair price to me.

Faerie Spells by Betsoft

This developer is surprisingly under-represented here in the UK, so playing Faerie Spells was a welcome reminder of just how great this developer can be. Microgaming and NetEnt pretty much have Europe sown up, and while other developers offer their games here, they are easily lost in the sea of games from the big two juggernauts.

Fairie Spells increases the price of buying a bonus to 86x your stake, which is understandable given that this is a ten-payline slot. Some prizes on the pay table are huge, and the multiplier in the bonus could send your winnings to the moon!

300 Shields Extreme by NextGen

The original 300 Shields was pretty extreme already, so I was amazed to hear they were coming out with an “Extreme” edition.  As it turned out, the option to buy a feature and some great high-definition graphical updates were all it took to make this game “Extreme.”

300 Shields was a great game in its original form, and this update makes it even better. It can indeed be challenging to reach the 300x stage, but that is precisely what makes this game so appealing to me! The cost of buying the bonus is just 60x your stake also – a definite plus.

Neon Cluster Wins by Stakelogic

This 6×6 grid slot can be an entertaining format for players who normally play generic five-reel slot machines. The original 300 Shields was pretty extreme already, so I was amazed to hear they were coming out with an “Extreme” edition.  As it turned out, the option to buy a feature and some great high-definition graphical updates were all it took to make this game “Extreme.” It costs just 60x your current stake to jump into the feature, which looks pretty reasonable to me.

Summing Up: The Pros and Cons of Bonus Buy Slots

A significant number of players view the base game of online slots as nothing but an interlude between their bonus rounds. The ability to skip the base game and head straight for the bonus is an absolute godsend for those players.

If you are playing a game where you feel it is a struggle to hit the feature, the ability to skip the base game is highly desired. The problem is, most of the bonuses you buy will result in a loss of almost your entire stake.

When you play the game normally, every time you hit a feature, it costs you just $1. Nobody feels so bad if they only receive $5 back from such a bonus. When you pay $80 for the bonus game and receive just $5 back less than a minute later, it can be hugely frustrating.

Nevertheless, being able to skip the boring base game is hugely tempting in nearly every slot. The bonus buy feature has been a smash hit with players, and yet some jurisdictions are banning it based on what they feel is best, rather than talking to the people who play the games.

If the bonus occurs very frequently, as in Fat Santa, it doesn’t seem particularly remarkable to jump straight into the bonus round. On the other hand, Dead or Alive 2 can take forever to trigger. Paying 66x your bet to jump straight to the bonus round always feels like a bargain to me. Buying the bonus can even result in a five-scatter trigger, paying you 2,500x your bet before the free spins even begin.

I am incredibly frustrated as a UK citizen who is barred from using the bonus buy feature in slot machines. Players understand that online gambling is a problem, but the condition only affects a small number of people. Players should be able to decide what rules are reasonable and which are not. The option to buy a bonus may be expensive, but you can also win big if it is your lucky day.

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