Rarestone Gaming became Playtech's newest content studio with its acquisition in 2018. Head of game development James Stewart discusses its progress to date and the popularity of its Hold & Respin feature.

The Fire Blaze Jackpots Slot series from Rarestone Gaming has proven to be a good bet for Playtech. Since joining the group in 2018, we have added a uniquely Australian gaming element to Playtech’s library with the Fire Blaze game series featuring Hold & Respin slots.

Five games in the series have been released so far, and if they hopefully continue to perform as well as they have to date, there will be more Fire Blaze slots coming in the near future.

Rarestone began as an Aussie start-up made up of game makers looking to test their skills in the UK’s online market. The five of us are all veterans of the land-based slots industry, having made retail products for Australia, Asia and the US. In 2017 we partnered with a seasoned Kyiv production house and got to work. Less than 18 months later, Playtech took a chance on us, acquiring Rarestone in mid-2018 and offering us access to its great range of operators.

Bringing the Hold & Respin feature to the UK market, Fire Blaze: Sky Queen, Rarestone’s first major release since it joined Playtech, launched at the beginning of 2019, and is already one of Playtech’s top performers for the year. Today, eight months after launch, Sky Queen continues to draw players and its popularity shows no signs of dropping away any time soon.

So, what is Hold & Respin and why is it so popular?

A “Hold & Respin” feature is similar to free games, except you are spinning for one type of symbol only (the held symbol) and each new spin contributes to one big pay off at the end, rather than a payout per spin. This is a big part of the appeal, as it makes it more climactic.

Hold & Respin games have dominated the Australian land-based market for years. Every venue offers a wide variety of Hold & Respin options to appeal to the broad spectrum of players who can’t get enough of this kind of game mechanic. This slot genre has also proved to be enormously popular in Asia and the US – but has so far not been widely introduced to the UK market.

In our experience with the Fire Blaze series, the Hold & Respin feature is an important ingredient in the series’ market appeal. With Hold & Respin, not only does each slot in the series offer two ways to trigger the Fire Blaze Feature, the game maths is balanced so that you won’t need to wait long before a feature is triggered. It is this high frequency that helps keep the games exciting, with feature streaks a common player experience.

Beyond the feature design and hit rate though, the real secret to success in game design is how Rarestone balances each game. It’s all about play-testing. The design team, Anton Tjioe and Dan Wilby, spend countless hours playing and adjusting the games until they feel right.

First, they focus on ensuring there is a good return to player (RTP) distribution between the main game play, the 2nd feature and Fire Blaze feature. Each part of the game needs a significant RTP share and some real big win opportunities.

Second, they look at making the game play feel right. This encompasses the whole experience, from ensuring frequent moments of heightened anticipation and clear presentation of where value lies to making clear that every prize is achievable and that players have a good chance of being rewarded with a memorable lucky streak.

Anton and Daniel are experts. They’ve played slots for years and they have an intuitive understanding of what makes a game fun. They each design their own games – Anton designed Sky Queen; Dan designed Blue Wizard. This double act adds some variety to Fire Blaze series and enhances each product overall. Each designer acts as a sounding board for new game ideas and as a reviewer for the other’s games. This back-and-forth makes for a creative and productive environment focused squarely on making great games.

With the Fire Blaze brand established, the designers are looking to add some diversity to the series with up-coming releases. Fire Blaze: Golden Macaque will offer a more volatile experience, adding a special doubling symbol to the Hold & Respin feature. Rarestone is also looking to increase the potential of the Fireblaze mechanic in 2020, so watch this space.

The early success of the Fire Blaze Jackpots series, as well as the access to a broad range of operators through Playtech,has given Rarestone a great introduction to the online slots market. Playtech and Rarestone have big plans to keep this streak going into 2020. All signs point to the continuing success of the Fire Blaze series.