Slot Spotlight: What is feature buy?
The bonus or feature buy concept was first piloted in 2017 on Big Time Gaming’s (BTG) White Rabbit Slot. It’s a slot machine that allows players to buy their way into the main bonus round, usually a free spins round, on a slot game. This is not the same as winning your entrance by spinning the slot and hitting sequential bonus symbols.
Essentially, a bonus buy is an expensive shortcut to the most lucrative round in a slot game. Many players use it because they believe that the cost would be balanced by the payouts achieved in the round and they will have saved on the cost of spinning the game multiple times before triggering it naturally. However, bonus game wins are not guaranteed, and neither is a big payout.
In the two years before feature buy was banned on UK slots, many games included the feature to increase stakes and player engagement. However, in 2019 the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) banned feature buying on UK slot games.
So why did the UKGC ban it? As with most things that the UKGC takes a hard line on, it was a simple case of protecting players and part of an overall strategy for more responsible gambling.
The UKGC’s remote gambling and technical software standards state as part of the rules regarding responsible game design that: “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.”
As feature buy included paying to unlock a round (sometimes up to 100x your stake), it infringed upon the technical standards by encouraging players to increase their stake/the amount they have decided to gamble. Additionally, there was concern that feature buy was particularly attractive to problem gamblers, who may choose to lay bets as high as £3000 by using the mechanic.
Slots games with a feature-buy mechanic can still be played at typical UK-facing slot sites, however, the mechanic must be disabled or removed from the game to comply with UK regulations. This means the only way for players to get to a bonus round is to take the longer route, trying their luck in collecting bonus symbols. For slot developers, this didn’t mean much at the time, but more restrictions followed in 2021 (details below), and further changes to UK gambling laws are expected with the upcoming Gambling Review.
In 2021 the UKGC issued new guidance for slot developers with rules including no celebrating of losses, a gap of at least 2.5 seconds between spins, and auto-play being removed as it can lead to players losing track of total spend. At the same time, the Commission banned reverse withdrawals and said that operators must display a player’s total losses or wins and time played during any online slot session.
In 2022, the UK Government is updating the 2005 Gambling Act for the modern internet industry. This will bring further sweeping changes across the industry with potential affordability checks, per-player budgets, and other new rules for slots.
Slot sites that offer feature buy slots for UK players are not licensed by the UKGC and pose great risks to players. While feature buy might be a thing of the past, new and exciting games are still released monthly, continuing the mighty pace of the slot industry’s innovation. These immersive titles provide plenty of chances for high thrill players to hit the reels and trigger bonus rounds – albeit the old-fashioned way.