Title:
WAGERING GAME METHOD, GAMING MACHINE, GAMING SYSTEM, AND PROGRAM PRODUCT PROVIDING A FEATURE CLUB SYSTEM
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A gaming machine includes a feature club interface system. This feature club interface system provides an interface through which a player at the gaming machine may access a number of features available through the gaming machine which may or may not be related to wagering games offered through the gaming machine. The feature club interface system may rely on communications with a remote feature club server to initiate or enable various features at the gaming machine.



Inventors:
Johnson, Bradley W. (Austin, TX, US)
Application Number:
13/622275
Publication Date:
03/28/2013
Filing Date:
09/18/2012
Assignee:
Multimedia Games, Inc. (Austin, TX, US)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
463/42
International Classes:
A63F9/24
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
MOSSER, ROBERT E
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Everi Games, Inc. (Attn: Ms. Harper Ko, Chief Legal Officer - GC 206 Wild Basin Road South Building B, Suite 400 Austin TX 78746)
Claims:
1. A gaming machine for providing a wagering game, the gaming machine including: (a) a wagering game display system, the wagering game display system defining a primary game display area at a front of the gaming machine cabinet; (b) a feature club interface system mounted on the gaming machine cabinet below the primary game display area; (c) a touch screen display included in the feature club interface system; (d) at least one wagering game processor; and (e) at least one memory device operatively connected to the at least one wagering game processor and storing instructions executable by the at least one wagering game processor to (i) receive one or more inputs from a wagering game player interface system to initiate a play in a first wagering game, (ii) obtain an outcome for the respective play in the first wagering game, (iii) cause the at least one wagering game display system to display a graphic representation of the outcome for the respective play, (iv) cause any winning credit amount associated with the outcome for the respective play to be awarded for the respective play, (v) receive one or more inputs from the feature club interface system, (vi) cause a feature club input communication to be sent to a feature club server remote from the gaming machine, the feature club input communication identifying a feature available through the gaming machine, and (vii) receive a feature club output communication from the feature club server, the feature club output communication affecting a feature available through the gaming machine.

2. The gaming machine of claim 1 wherein the at least one memory device also stores instructions executable by the at least one wagering game processor to cause a player club input communication to be sent to a player club server remote from the gaming machine to affect a player club account maintained by the player club server, the player club server being separate from the feature club server.

3. The gaming machine of claim 1 wherein the touch screen display included in the feature club interface system also includes controls for the wagering game player interface system.

4. The gaming machine of claim 1 wherein the at least one memory device also stores instructions executable by the at least one wagering game processor to cause the touch screen display included in the feature club interface system to display a graphic for at least one additional wagering game available at the gaming machine other than the first wagering game.

5. The gaming machine of claim 1 wherein the at least one memory device also stores instructions executable by the at least one wagering game processor to cause the touch screen display included in the feature club interface system to display a graphic for at least one tournament game available at the gaming machine other than the first wagering game.

6. The gaming machine of claim 1 wherein the at least one memory device also stores instructions executable by the at least one wagering game processor to cause the touch screen display included in the feature club interface system to display a graphic for at least one advertisement for a product unrelated to any wagering game available at the gaming machine.

7. The gaming machine of claim 1 wherein the at least one memory device also stores instructions executable by the at least one wagering game processor to cause the touch screen display included in the feature club interface system to display a graphic for a software application unrelated to any wagering game available at the gaming machine.

8. The gaming machine of claim 1 wherein the software application comprises a social networking application.

9. The gaming machine of claim 1 wherein the at least one memory device also stores instructions executable by the at least one wagering game processor to cause the touch screen display included in the feature club interface system to display a graphic for a feature available in one or more wagering games available at the gaming machine.

10. A method including: (a) receiving one or more inputs to initiate a play in a first wagering game available through a gaming machine; (b) obtaining an outcome for the respective play in the first wagering game; (c) displaying a graphic representation of the outcome for the respective play through a wagering game display system of the gaming machine; (d) displaying any winning credit amount associated with the outcome for the respective play through the wagering game display system of the gaming machine; (e) receiving one or more inputs from a feature club interface system of the gaming machine; (f) sending a feature club input communication to a feature club server remote from the gaming machine, the feature club input communication identifying a feature available through the gaming machine; and (g) receiving a feature club output communication from the feature club server, the feature club output communication affecting a feature available through the gaming machine.

11. The method of claim 10 further including sending a player club input communication to a player club server remote from the gaming machine and separate from the feature club server, the player club input communication affecting a player club account maintained by the player club server.

12. The method of claim 10 wherein the feature club interface system includes a touch screen display and wherein the touch screen display also includes controls for a wagering game player interface system of the gaming machine adapted to provide player inputs to control the play of the wagering game.

13. The method of claim 10 wherein the feature club interface system includes a touch screen display, and further including displaying at the touch screen display a graphic for at least one additional wagering game available at the gaming machine other than the first wagering game.

14. The method of claim 10 wherein the feature club interface system includes a touch screen display, and further including displaying at the touch screen display a graphic for at least one tournament game available at the gaming machine other than the first wagering game.

15. The method of claim 10 wherein the feature club interface system includes a touch screen display, and further including displaying at the touch screen display a graphic for at least one advertisement for a product unrelated to any wagering game available at the gaming machine.

16. The method of claim 10 wherein the feature club interface system includes a touch screen display, and further including displaying at the touch screen display a graphic for a software application unrelated to any wagering game available at the gaming machine.

17. The method of claim 16 wherein the application comprises a social networking application.

18. The method of claim 10 wherein the feature club interface system includes a touch screen display, and further including displaying at the touch screen display a graphic for a feature available in one or more wagering games available at the gaming machine.

19. A program product stored on one or more non-transitory computer readable data storage devices, the program product including: (a) player input program code executable by at least one processor to receive one or more inputs to initiate a play in a first wagering game available at a gaming machine; (b) result program code executable by the at least one processor to obtain an outcome for the respective play in the first wagering game; (c) game display program code executable by the at least one processor to cause a display system associated with the gaming machine to display a graphic representation of the outcome for the respective play through a wagering game display system of the gaming machine; (d) feature club program code executable by at least one processor to (i) receive one or more inputs from a feature club interface system of the gaming machine, the feature club interface system including a touch screen display, and to (ii) cause a feature club input communication to be sent to a feature club server remote from the gaming machine, the feature club input communication identifying a feature available through the gaming machine, and to (iii) receive a feature club output communication from the feature club server, the feature club output communication affecting a feature available through the (e) payout program code executable by the at least one processor to award a prize for each outcome for the respective play of the first wagering game representing a winning outcome.

20. The program product of claim 19 further including player club program code executable by the at least one processor to cause a player club input communication to be sent to a player club server remote from the gaming machine and separate from the feature club server, the player club input communication affecting a player club account maintained by the player club server.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

The Applicants claim the benefit, under 35 U.S.C. §119(e), of U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 61/538,743 filed Sep. 23, 2011, and entitled “Wagering Game Method, Gaming Machine, Gaming System, and Program Product Providing a Feature Club System.” The entire content of this provisional application is incorporated herein by this reference.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE

A portion of the disclosure of this patent document contains material which is subject to copyright protection. The copyright owner has no objection to the facsimile reproduction of the patent document or the patent disclosure as it appears in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office patent files or records, but otherwise reserves all rights.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

This invention relates to wagering games, gaming machines, gaming systems, and associated methods and program products. More particularly, the invention relates to wagering games, gaming machines, and gaming systems which facilitate additional player interactions during the course of a gaming session to enhance the player's gaming experience.

2. Description of the Related Art

Numerous types of wagering games have been developed in an attempt to provide players with new and varied gaming experiences. In addition to providing primary games, a gaming machine may offer one or more bonus or secondary games. These bonus or secondary games may be offered in an effort to vary the play at the gaming machine, and to offer enhanced prizes which help hold the player's interest. Gaming machines which offer wagering games may also provide tournament play in which players compete against each other in the play of a primary or other game offered through the gaming machine. Various prizes may be offered for the tournament winner and high ranking players (such as the second and third place players for the tournament).

In addition to offering different types of gaming machines to attract players, casinos may also offer a player club system to casino patrons. Player club systems commonly require a player to enroll in some fashion, and may be used to collect player activity records, store player preference information, and offer promotional points which may be redeemed by the enrolled player for various benefits.

There remains a need in the field of wagering games for systems and arrangements to enhance the player's gaming experience and encourage the player to continue play at a given gaming facility.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention encompasses gaming machines which include two separate interface systems, and also encompasses methods employing these two separate interface systems. A first interface system may be referred to as a wagering game player interface system or simply a “player interface system.” This player interface system provides an interface through which the player may play wagering games offered through the gaming machine and may include an interface with a player club system offered by the casino in which the gaming machine may be located. A second interface system included in a gaming machine according to the present invention includes a feature club interface system. This feature club interface system provides an interface through which a player at the gaming machine may access a number of features available through the gaming machine which may or may not be related to wagering games offered through the gaming machine. In particular, a gaming machine embodying principles of the invention may include a feature club processor which receives one or more inputs from the feature club interface system and, in response to those inputs, causes a feature club input communication to be sent to a feature club server remote from the gaming machine. This feature club input communication identifies a feature available through the gaming machine. The feature club processor also receives a feature club output communication from the feature club server. This feature club output communication affects a feature available through the gaming machine, for example, enabling the feature.

In addition to gaming machines and methods performed through a gaming machine, the present invention also encompasses networked gaming systems including one or more gaming machines and methods of operating such networked gaming systems. The invention further encompasses program products executable by one or more processing devices to perform the various gaming machine and gaming system methods.

These and other advantages and features of the invention will be apparent from the following description of illustrative embodiments, considered along with the accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is an isometric view of a gaming machine which may be used in various embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 2 is a diagrammatic representation showing various components of a gaming machine which may be employed according to one or more embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 3 is a diagram representation showing components of an alternative gaming machine which may be employed in a tournament gaming system according to various embodiments of the invention.

FIG. 4 is a diagrammatic representation of a networked gaming system in which the present invention may be implemented.

FIG. 5 is a representation of a customer retail center and game preview graphic display which may be displayed through a feature club interface according to various embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 6 is a representation of a game incentive offer graphic display which may be displayed through a feature club interface embodying principles of the present invention.

FIG. 7 is a representation of an application (app) selection graphic display which may be displayed through a feature club interface according to various embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 8 is a representation of a tournament advertisement graphic display which may be displayed through a feature club interface according to various embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 9 is a representation of a tournament selection graphic display which may be displayed through a feature club interface embodying principles of the present invention.

FIG. 10 is a flow chart illustrating examples of how a feature club system embodying principles of the present invention may cooperate with game play at a gaming machine.

DESCRIPTION OF ILLUSTRATIVE EMBODIMENTS

In the following description, FIGS. 1-4 will be used to describe a gaming machine embodying principles of the invention, and a gaming system in which the gaming machine may be connected. In particular, FIG. 1 shows a gaming machine 100 including a feature club interface system. The block diagrams of FIGS. 2 and 3 show further details of two alternative arrangements to gaming machine 100 along with certain variations which may be employed in the gaming machine, while FIG. 4 shows an example gaming network in which gaming machines such as gaming machine 100 may be employed in implementing a gaming system within the scope of the present invention. FIGS. 5-9 will be used to describe various interface graphics which may be produced through a feature club interface system.

Referring to FIG. 1, gaming machine 100 includes a cabinet 101 having a front side generally shown at reference numeral 102. A primary video display device 104 is mounted in a central portion of the front side 102, with a button panel 106 positioned below the primary video display device and projecting forwardly from the plane of the primary video display device. In this particular implementation, button panel 106 comprises a touch screen display device mounted in an arm rest structure 105. In addition to primary video display device 104, the illustrated gaming machine 100 includes a feature club video display device 107 (“feature club display 107”) which is also preferably a touch screen display and is positioned in between the primary video display device and button panel 106. The display surface of feature club display 107 is inclined at an angle to provide a comfortable viewing angle to a player standing or sitting in front of gaming machine 100 with their hands in position to reach button panel 106, the feature club display, and perhaps the lower portion of primary display device 104. Gaming machine 100 also includes an additional smaller auxiliary display device 108 located between primary display device 104 and feature club display 107. Auxiliary display device 108 may also comprise a touch screen device. It should also be noted that each display device referenced herein may include any suitable display device including a cathode ray tube, liquid crystal display, plasma display, LED display, OLED display, or any other type of display device currently known or that may be developed in the future. As will be described further below in connection with FIG. 2 and elsewhere, it is also possible for gaming machines within the scope of the present invention to include mechanical elements such as mechanical reels. Regardless of whether implemented as a video display device or a mechanical device such as a spinnable reel, or a combination of such devices, all of the display devices of the gaming machine which are involved in displaying game results may be referred to as a wagering game display system.

The gaming machine 100 illustrated for purposes of example in FIG. 1 also includes a mechanical control button 110 mounted on arm rest structure 105. Mechanical control button 110 may comprise a “Play” button which may be used to initiate a play in a game at the gaming machine, or may comprise a programmable, multi-function button. It will be appreciated that virtual buttons or other controls to allow a player to select a bet level, select pay lines, select a type of game or game feature, and actually start a play in a primary game may also be implemented on touch screen button panel 106. Other forms of gaming machines through which the invention may be implemented may include switches, joysticks, buttons, or other mechanical input devices, along with the virtual buttons and other controls implemented on touch screen displays such as touch screen button panel 106. For example, the lower areas of primary video display device 104 in gaming machine 100 provides a convenient display device for implementing touch screen controls in addition to or in lieu of mechanical controls or touch screen controls located elsewhere. Mechanical input devices in addition to the single mechanical button 110 may be conveniently located in areas of arm rest 105 not taken up by touch screen devices. The mechanical or touch screen-implemented player interface devices which receive player inputs to initiate the play of a game through the gaming machine, such as controls to select a wager amount for a given play and controls to actually start a given play, may be referred to generally as a player interface system.

It will be appreciated that gaming machines may also include a number of other player interface devices included in the player interface system in addition to devices that are considered player controls for use in playing a particular game. Gaming machine 100 also includes a currency/voucher acceptor 112, a player card reader having a player card input 114, and a voucher/receipt printer 115. Numerous other types of player interface devices may be included in gaming machines that may be used according to the present invention.

A gaming machine which may be used to implement embodiments of the present invention may also include a sound system to provide an audio output to enhance the user's playing experience. For example, illustrated gaming machine 100 includes speakers 116 which may be driven by a suitable audio amplifier (not shown) to provide a desired audio output at the gaming machine. An additional speaker may be included above primary display device 104, but is not shown in the perspective of FIG. 1.

Gaming machine 100 further includes a cabinet accent lighting system for providing accent lighting effects in coordination with events at the gaming machine or otherwise. The illustrated embodiment includes a cabinet accent lighting system having elongated upper accent light fixtures 118 which may include a number of LEDs or other types of lights to provide various lighting effects on either side of primary display device 104. Lower elongated accent light fixtures 120 are also included on either side of the cabinet 101 between the level of primary display device 104 and touch screen button panel 106.

As will be described further below, feature club display 107 makes up the primary player input device for the feature club interface system of illustrated gaming machine 100. Although mechanical buttons may be located around the periphery of feature club display 107, this display provides a convenient location for many of the graphic presentations that may be displayed to the player in implementations of the feature club system. A touch sensitive surface associated with feature club display 107 provides a convenient location for receiving feature club inputs as will be described below.

FIG. 2 shows a diagrammatic representation of gaming machine 100 which includes a central processing unit (CPU) 205 along with random access memory (RAM) 206 and nonvolatile memory or storage device 207. All of these devices are connected on a system bus 208 with an audio controller device 209, a network controller 210, a second network controller 210a, and a serial interface 211. A graphics processor 215 is also connected on bus 208 and is connected to drive primary video display device 104 and auxiliary display device 108 (both mounted on cabinet 101 as shown in FIG. 1). As shown in FIG. 2, gaming machine 100 also includes a touch screen controller 217 connected to system bus 208. Touch screen controller 217 is also connected via signal path 218 to receive signals from a touch screen element associated with primary video display device 104. It will be appreciated that the touch screen element itself typically comprises a thin film that is secured over the display surface of primary video display device 104. The touch screen element itself is not illustrated or referenced separately in the figures.

The diagrammatic representation of FIG. 2 also shows gaming machine 100 as including a separate feature club interface processing system 222 which may comprise a single board computer. The second processing system 222 is included in the illustrated gaming machine 100 for controlling the feature club interface content displayed on touch screen feature club display device 107 and certain tournament system functions including communications with a feature club host server 406 tournament host server 410 (which are shown and will be described below in connection with FIG. 4) and communications with the game processor for the gaming machine, CPU 205.

Feature club interface processing system 222 includes CPU 225, with its own random access memory (RAM) 226, and non-volatile memory 227, such as a suitable disk-based or solid state hard drive for storing feature club graphical user interface program code 224 and any other program code which may be executed by CPU 225. Processing system 222 also includes network controllers 230 and 230a, and touch screen controller 229 connected to a suitable touch screen film or other touch-registering element associated with feature club display device 107.

Those familiar with data processing devices and systems will appreciate that other basic electronic components will be included in gaming machine 100 such as a power supply, cooling systems for the various system components, audio amplifiers, and other devices that are common in gaming machines. These additional devices are omitted from the drawings so as not to obscure the present invention in unnecessary detail.

All of the elements 205, 206, 207, 208, 209, 210, 210a, and 211 shown in FIG. 2 are elements commonly associated with a personal computer. These elements may be mounted on a standard personal computer chassis and housed in a standard personal computer housing which is itself mounted in cabinet 101 shown in FIG. 1. Alternatively, the various electronic components may be mounted on one or more circuit boards housed within cabinet 101 without a separate enclosure such as those found in personal computers. Feature club interface processing system 222 may comprise a single board computer mounted within cabinet 101 or within a separate EMI shielded enclosure within the cabinet. Those familiar with data processing systems and the various data processing elements shown in FIG. 2 will appreciate that many variations on this illustrated structure may be used within the scope of the present invention. For example, since serial communications are commonly employed to communicate with a touch screen controller such as touch screen controller 217, the touch screen controller may not be connected on system bus 208, but instead include a serial communications line to serial interface 211, which may be a USB controller or a IEEE 1394 controller for example. It will also be appreciated that some of the devices shown in FIG. 2 as being connected directly on system bus 208 may in fact communicate with the other system components through a suitable expansion bus. Audio controller 209, for example, may be connected to the system via a PCI bus. System bus 208 is shown in FIG. 2 merely to indicate that the various components are connected in some fashion for communication with CPU 205 and is not intended to limit the invention to any particular bus architecture. Numerous other variations in the gaming machine internal structure and system may be used without departing from the principles of the present invention. For example, a gaming machine in some embodiments of the present invention may rely on one or more data processors which are located remotely from the gaming machine itself. Embodiments of the present invention may include no processor such as CPUs 205 and 225 or graphics processor such as 215 at the gaming machine, and may instead rely on one or more remote processors.

It will also be appreciated that graphics processors are also commonly a part of modern computer systems. Although separate graphics processor 215 is shown for controlling primary video display device 104, CPU 205 may control all of the display devices directly without any intermediate graphics processor. Similarly, although processing system 222 is shown as including no separate graphic processor for controlling feature club display device 107 (thus implying that the graphics processing for display device 107 is handled by CPU 225), implementations of the invention may include a processing system such as system 222 with a separate graphics processor. The invention is not limited to any particular arrangement of processing devices for controlling the video display devices included with gaming machine 100. Also, a gaming machine implementing the present invention is not limited to any particular number of video display devices or particular types of display devices.

In the illustrated gaming machine 100, CPU 205 executes software which ultimately controls primary game play and related functions and tournament game play including player input program code executable to receive player inputs, result program code executable to obtain game outcomes, and game display program code executable to control the presentation of the graphic symbols displayed in the course of game play through the display devices 104 and 108 associated with the gaming machine. CPU 205 also executes software related to communications handled through network controllers 210 and 210a, and software related to various peripheral devices such as those connected to the system through audio controller 209, serial interface 211, and touch screen controller 217. CPU 205 may also execute software to perform accounting functions associated with play of the primary game (such as payout program code executable to award prizes for game play), and may execute player club program code to implement play club features at the gaming machine as will be discussed further below. Random access memory 206 provides memory for use by CPU 205 in executing its various software programs while the nonvolatile memory or storage device 207 may comprise a hard drive or other mass storage device providing storage for game software such as game program code 204 prior loading into random access memory 206 for execution, or for programs not in use or for other data generated or used in the course of gaming machine operation. Network controller 210 provides an interface to other components of a gaming system in which gaming machine 100 may be included. An example network will be described below in connection with FIG. 4. Network controller 210a provides an interface to the separate processing system 222 via network controller 230a and crossover cable 232.

CPU 225 or CPU 205 may execute feature club program code executable to receive inputs from the feature club interface system of the gaming machine, and to control feature club communications to and from the feature club server as will be described further below.

It should be noted that the invention is not limited to gaming machines employing the personal computer-type arrangement of processing devices and interfaces shown in example gaming machine 100. Other gaming machines through which the feature club system may be implemented may include one or more special purpose processing devices to perform the various processing steps for implementing the present invention. Unlike general purpose processing devices such as CPU 205, which may comprise an Intel Pentium® or Core® processor for example, these special purpose processing devices may not employ operational program code to direct the various processing steps.

The example gaming machine 100 which may be used to implement some embodiments of the present invention is shown in FIG. 2 as including user interface devices 220 connected to serial interface 211. These user interface devices may include various player input devices such as virtual buttons on touch screen button panel 106 in FIG. 1, and/or levers, and other devices. It will be appreciated that the interface between CPU 205 and other player input devices such as player card readers, voucher readers or printers, and other devices may be in the form of serial communications. Thus user serial interface 211 may be used for those additional devices as well, or the gaming machine may include one or more additional serial interface controllers. However, the interface between peripheral devices in the gaming machine, such as player input devices, is not limited to any particular type or standard for purposes of the present invention.

Reel Assembly 213 is shown in the diagrammatic representation of FIG. 2 to illustrate that a gaming machine which may be used for various embodiments of the invention may include mechanical reels. For example, a set of mechanical reels may replace the primary display device 104, or at least part of that display device. Alternatively, mechanical reels may be included in the gaming machine behind a light-transmissive video display panel. Although the invention is not limited to any particular mechanical reel arrangement or control system, mechanical reels may be controlled conveniently through serial communications which provide instructions for a respective stepper motor for each reel. Thus some embodiments of the present invention which employ mechanical reels may use a serial interface device such as serial interface controller 211 to control communications with the reel assembly, and may not include a dedicated interface as indicated by FIG. 2. Details of a mechanical reel arrangement are not shown in the present figures so as to avoid obscuring the present invention in unnecessary detail.

The diagrammatic representation of FIG. 3 shows an alternate configuration for the various processing elements and controllers which may be included in gaming machine 100. In this configuration, feature club interface processing system 222 does not communicate directly with the processing system including CPU 205. Thus the configuration shown in FIG. 3 omits network controllers and a connection (network controllers 210a, 230a, and crossover cable 232 in FIG. 2) for accommodating such direct communications.

It will be appreciated that the diagrammatic representations shown in FIGS. 2 and 3 are shown only to show examples of how gaming machine 100 may be configured for use in providing a feature club interface system in accordance with the invention. Numerous variations on these generalized configurations are possible within the scope of the present inventions. For example, as noted above in connection with FIG. 2, alternative implementations may position the processing power provided by the CPUs at a location remote from the gaming machine itself. In configurations employing remote processing, the gaming machine would retain the display devices and user input devices and these devices would communicate with the remote processor or processors using a suitable interface.

It should also be noted that regulatory requirements may affect the configuration of gaming machines 100 which may be used in gaming systems implementing the present invention. For example, some regulatory environments may allow communications to and from a game processor such as CPU 205 with another processing system within the gaming machine such as processing system 222. In these regulatory environments, the configuration using direct communications via crossover cable 232 shown in FIG. 2 may be employed. However, regulatory environments that do not allow such communications with the game processor may require the gaming machine configuration shown in FIG. 3.

Referring now to FIG. 4, a networked gaming system 400 associated with one or more gaming facilities may include one or more networked gaming machines 100 (EGMs) connected in the network by suitable network cable or wirelessly.

The example gaming network 400 shown in FIG. 4 includes a host server 401 and floor server 402, which together may function as an intermediary between floor devices such as gaming machines 100 and back office devices such as the various servers described below. Game server 403 may provide server-based games and/or game services to network connected gaming devices such as gaming machines 100. Central determinant server 405 may be included in the network to identify or select lottery, bingo, or other centrally determined game outcomes and provide the information to networked gaming machines 100 providing lottery and bingo-based wagering games to players. Although not shown in FIG. 4, a gaming system having gaming machines 100 may also include a player club server. Such a player club server may be connected in the back office network together with progressive server 407, accounting server 411, player account server 409, tournament host server 410, web server 420 and feature club host server 406. The player club server may function to receive player club communications from the gaming machines 100 to maintain a player club account for each player enrolled in a player club.

Feature club host server 406 includes a suitable processing device for receiving feature club input communications from the feature club interface systems associated with the various gaming machines 100, and sending the appropriate feature club output communications back to the gaming machines, and particularly to the respective feature club interface system associated with each respective gaming machine 100. Feature club host server 406 also maintains databases for tracking feature club points (which may include multiple different types of points) for each feature club enrollee, and perhaps other types of points or credits. Feature club host server 406 may also be accessed through suitable elements of network 400 to enroll players in the feature club and open feature club accounts. For example, the feature club interface system associated with a given gaming machine 100 may allow a player to enroll in the feature club and open a feature club account using various graphic displays presented on feature club display 107 in FIG. 1. Also, casino patrons may be allowed to open a feature club account through gaming website 421 or some other website hosted by web server 420.

Feature club host server 406 may also maintain databases relating activated or available features to the various player accounts. For example, implementations of a feature club system according to the present invention may allow feature club members to use their awarded feature club points to purchase features such as avatars, applications available through feature club display 107, and other types of features. Also, various features may be made available to feature club members based on various characteristics of the players, including total playing time, wagered amounts, etc. Feature club host server 406 may maintain all of this information related to the various feature club accounts using one or more databases.

It should be noted that the player club points which may be maintained through a player club server included in system 400 are separate from the feature club points which are maintained for various players through feature club host server 406. Feature club points may be used to obtain the example features noted in the preceding paragraph, while play club points may typically not be used to obtain such features.

Tournament host server 410 is included in network 400 for supporting the tournament-related processes which may be offered as a feature through a feature club interface system according to the invention. Tournament qualification and tournament game scoring processes may be performed through tournament host server 410 for example. In particular, tournament host server 410 may receive primary game play and wagering information and entry fee payment information from each gaming machine 100 in order to perform tournament qualification functions.

It will be appreciated that the nature of communications between a gaming machine 100 and tournament host server 410 in a given embodiment of the invention will be somewhat dependent upon the configuration of the gaming machine and the network or networks in which they are connected. For example, in the gaming machine 100 configuration shown in FIG. 2, CPU 205 is able to communicate game play information and tournament play information directly to CPU 225. Thus it is processing system 222 that may send information to tournament host server 410 necessary for that server to perform the entry fee account maintenance and tournament play scoring. However, in the gaming machine 100 configuration shown in FIG. 3, CPU 205 may be responsible for communicating primary game play and tournament play information directly to tournament host server 410.

Progressive server 407 may accumulate progressive awards by receiving defined amounts, such as a percentage of the wagers from eligible gaming devices or by receiving funding from marketing or casino funds. Progressive server 407 may also provide progressive awards to winning gaming devices in response to a progressive event. Such a progressive event may comprise, for example, a progressive jackpot game outcome or other triggering event such as a random or pseudo-random win determination at a networked gaming device or server. Accounting server 411 may receive gaming data from each of the networked gaming devices, perform audit functions, and provide data for analysis programs. Player account server 409 may maintain player account records, and store persistent player data such as accumulated player points and/or player preferences (for example, game personalizing selections or options).

Networked gaming machines 100 (EGM1-EGMn) and one or more overhead displays 413 may be operatively connected so that the overhead display or displays may mirror or replay the content of one or more displays of gaming machines 100. For example, the primary display content for a given gaming machine 100 may be stored by a display controller or game processor 205 or tournament interface processor 225 of the given gaming machine and transmitted through network controller 210 as shown in FIG. 2 to a controller (not shown) associated with the overhead display(s) 413. In the event gaming machines 100 have cameras installed, the respective players' video images may be displayed on overhead display 413 along with the content of the player's gaming machine display.

Example gaming network 400 also includes a gaming website 421 which may be hosted through web server 420 and may be accessible by players via the Internet. One or more games may be displayed as described herein and played by a player through a personal computer 423 or handheld wireless device 425 (for example, a Blackberry® cell phone, Apple® iPhone®, personal digital assistant (PDA), iPad®, etc.). To enter website 421, a player may log in with a user name that may, for example, be associated with the player's account information stored on player account server 409. Once logged onto website 421 the player may play various games on the website. Also website 421 may allow the player to make various personalizing selections and save the information so it is available for use during the player's next gaming session at a casino establishment having the gaming machines 100.

Website 421 may also provide functions associated with the feature club offered through gaming machines 100. For example, players may be allowed to create a feature club account through website 421 which may be associated with feature club points earned by the player.

It will be appreciated that gaming network 400 illustrated in FIG. 4 is provided merely as an example of a gaming network in which tournaments may be offered according to embodiments of the present invention, and is not intended to be limiting in any way. In particular, servers shown separately in the example of FIG. 4 may be combined in a single physical processing device, or the processing duties of the various illustrated servers may be split into additional physical devices. Furthermore, a tournament gaming system according to one or more embodiments of the present invention may be implemented using any suitable network topology. For example, tournament host server may be connected in a network with the various feature club interface processing systems 222 (in FIGS. 2 and 3), and may communicate with other servers shown in FIG. 4 through a separate network.

The feature club interface system for each respective gaming machine, that is the feature club interface processing system 222 (in FIGS. 2 and 3) and the associated input and display device such as feature club display 107, enable feature club members to access and use various features that may be available at the respective gaming machine 100. These features may be gaming related, such as different games available at the gaming machine, or tournament games available through the gaming machine. Alternatively, the features may be non-gaming features such as coupons for various services available at the gaming site or nearby, or entertaining, non-gaming apps (application programs) presented through feature club display 107. Examples of features that may be available in accordance with the invention are apparent from the example graphic displays shown in FIGS. 5-10.

FIG. 5 shows a representation of a customer retail center and game preview graphic display 500 which may be displayed through feature club display 107 in FIG. 1. Graphic 500 shows several virtual buttons which may be selected on the touch screen display to reach another graphic or screen related to the indicated feature. For example, when the player touches the “Player's Club” button 501, feature club processing system 222 (in FIGS. 2 and 3) either by itself or in cooperation with feature club host server 406 causes feature club display device 107 to display an interface to the player's club account. A player may touch “Play APP” button 502 to cause display device 107 to display icons for various applications which are available to the player through display device 107. The player may then select one of the displayed application icons to initiate the application at display device 107. When a player touches the “About Casino” button 503, display device 107 may show one or more graphics (such as tabbed pages for example) with casino information such as room information, available services, and other information about the casino in which the particular gaming machine may be located. A player may touch the “Attendant” button 504 to cause the feature club system to communicate with an appropriate casino administration system to call an attendant to the physical location of the gaming machine. Finally in this example, a player may touch the “Tournament” button to cause the processing system controlling display device 107 to cause the display device to show a tournament information screen such as for example the tournament buy-in screen described below in connection with FIG. 9.

Graphic 500 in FIG. 5 also shows a representation of a game preview section 510. Game preview section 510 allows a player to select an icon or virtual button 511 to initiate a preview display for the corresponding game. The preview display may include a video sequence (analogous to a movie trailer) showing highlights of the game features and other information which may attract the player's interest and cause the player to switch to the previewed game. Additional or related screens shown on feature club display 107 (FIG. 1) may allow the player select a game to be loaded on the gaming machine 100 to allow the player to play that game rather than the currently loaded game at that gaming machine.

FIG. 6 shows a representation of a game incentive offer graphic 600 which may be displayed on feature club display device 107 under the control of the feature club processing system 222 shown in FIGS. 2 and 3. This incentive graphic 600 provides information about the indicated game and also offers an incentive to try the different game, in this case three free spins (plays). This sort of game incentive graphic may be displayed through feature club display 107 after a player has played a given game for an extended period time and may be tiring of that initial game.

FIG. 7 shows a representation of an application selection graphic 700. Graphic 700 may be the sort of graphic which is displayed in response to the “Play APP” button 502 shown in FIG. 5. This particular graphic 700 includes several application icons which the player may select to execute that application. It is noted that all of the applications shown in the example graphic 700 are applications that are related to game play in some sense. For example “Lucky Dust” icon 701 may invoke a feature at the gaming machine in which touch screen display devices such as primary display device 104 produce a special graphic effect (such as trailing particle effect, shock wave, ripple, or other effect) in response to a player's finger swipe across the touch screen. “Winning Sounds” icon 702 may be invoked to execute an application that allows the player to modify the sounds which are played at the gaming machine for a winning outcome. “Avatar” icon 703 may be invoked to initiate a process to allow the player to select or build an avatar that appears either on the game display (such as primary display 104 in FIG. 1) or the feature club display 107, or both.

Personal jackpot icon 704 may be invoked to initiate a process which allows the player to add a personal progressive jackpot to the game being offered at that gaming machine. The player selects the size of the jackpot and the average frequency of the jackpot. Based on those selected values, the underlying software calculates the size of the side wager the player needs to make on each game play to activate the personal progressive jackpot. The program then matches up progressive frequency with a symbol combination in the game that approximates that frequency, and then causes a display device such as feature club display 107 to communicate to the player the symbol combination they need to win the jackpot. The player could create a password so that every time they play that game on given gaming machine they could pull up their personal jackpot.

FIG. 8 shows a representation of a tournament advertisement graphic 800 which may be displayed at feature club display 107 under the control of feature club processing system 222. This tournament advertisement may provide high-level information about the tournaments available through that gaming machine, and, as shown in the example graphic 800, provide a button which may be invoked to lead to a tournament registration or entry screen such as, for example the graphic shown in FIG. 9.

It will be appreciated that some of the example graphics described above include virtual buttons which when touched cause a different screen or graphic to appear at the feature club display device 107. However, if no virtual control available on a given graphic displayed at feature club display 107 is invoked in a given period of time, feature club processing system 222 may cause the display device to show another graphic. Feature club processing system 222 may cause the graphics to rotate to ensure the player sees all of the features that may be available as a feature club member. Also, the particular graphics chosen for a particular sequence at feature club display 107 may be influenced by the activity at the gaming machine. For example, if the game available at the gaming machine offers a progressive prize and the player takes some action such as opening a help screen regarding the progressive prize, feature club display 107 may be controlled to display a graphic such as graphic 700 which includes the personal jackpot application.

FIG. 9 provides an example of a touch screen graphic 900 which may be used at a gaming machine 100 (FIG. 1) to provide an interface between the player and a tournament gaming system. This graphic 900 may be shown on feature club display 107 for example, and may be presented after a player has selected the “Push to Play” icon of tournament advertisement graphic 800 shown in FIG. 8.

Graphic 900 provides an announcement area 901, an animated character 902, and icons 905, 906, and 907 for three different tournaments available through the gaming system. A button icon 908 may be invoked by the player to retrieve rules relating to tournament qualification and play. When button icon 908 is invoked, the rules may be displayed in announcement area 901, or the entire screen area or some other display portion may be used to display the requested rules. Numerous other graphic elements, informational elements, and virtual buttons or other controls may be accessible through graphic 900. For example, icons 905, 906, and 907 may touched to initiate one or more screens to allow the player to enter the respective tournament, either using the feature club points or credits, or points from some other account to pay the entry fee, or using gaming credit or other value entered at the gaming machine.

The flow chart of FIG. 10 illustrates how the feature club system operates in connection with ordinary game play and player tracking at a gaming machine such as gaming machine 100 described above. In particular, a feature club system embodying the principles of the invention operates in parallel with the normal wagering game operation of a gaming machine. That is, in addition to the normal wagering game operation indicated in dashed box 1001, the present feature club system includes a parallel process of presenting feature club displays and receiving feature club inputs at the gaming machine as indicated by the process steps in dashed box 1002. A feature club system according to the present invention may also include an additional parallel process of monitoring activity at the gaming machine to maintain one or more feature club accounts for a player using the gaming machine. These monitoring and account maintenance steps are shown in dashed box 1003 in FIG. 10.

As shown in FIG. 10, a given gaming session at a gaming machine such as gaming machine 100 described above includes first initializing the gaming machine for play of the wagering game or games offered at the gaming machine. This initializing step is shown at process block 1005 and may include a number of steps depending upon the accounting system employed at the gaming facility in which the gaming machine is located and a number of other factors. For example, initialization may require a player to log in at the gaming machine using a player card or personal identification number or some other log in technique. Even where gaming may be anonymous in the sense that no player identification is required to make wagers at the gaming machine, initialization will require making some sort of wagering credit available at the gaming machine in some fashion, such as inserting cash or a cash equivalent voucher or ticket, or accessing a player gaming account which maintains gaming credits for the player. It should be appreciated that the initialization step shown at 1005 in FIG. 10 may include logging the player in to the feature club system. This may be accomplished using a separate log in process through the feature club interface system described above, or may be accomplished automatically in response to a log in or other input to initialize the gaming machine for the play of wagering games. For example, anonymous play at a gaming machine may open an anonymous feature club account for that particular gaming session at the gaming machine. At the conclusion of the anonymous play session (which may be anonymous only to the feature club system or both the feature club system and the gaming system in general) a display of the feature club interface, such as display device 107 in FIG. 1, may be controlled to display an offer of feature club enrollment to the anonymous player to allow the player to retain any accumulated feature club points for use in later gaming sessions. For example, the offer of enrollment may show the accumulated feature club points and display information on how the feature club points may be used.

The process steps shown in dashed box 1001 include those steps that are typically performed during a gaming session at a gaming machine. In particular, the player may make a wager and initiate a play in the game as shown at process block 1007. In response to the play in the game, an outcome is displayed to the player and any winnings associated with the outcome are credited to the player in some fashion as indicated a block 1008. Also, player club points may be awarded for a given play as indicated at process block 1009 in FIG. 10. This award of player club points may be based on the play itself or based on the outcome for the play, or based on some other player club process.

The process steps shown in dashed box 1002 in FIG. 10 are steps that may be associated directly with the feature club interface at the gaming machine. In particular, the example steps include displaying one or more graphics at a feature club display device as shown at process block 1012 and receiving various inputs entered through the feature club interface system as indicated at process block 1014. Both of these steps may be performed through a touch screen display such as display device 107 in FIG. 1, however, these steps may alternatively be split up between different display and input devices. The feature club interface-related process steps may also include receiving communications such as data and commands from a feature club server as indicated at process block 1015. These communications correspond to communications from feature club host server 406 to gaming machines 100 in the example network of FIG. 4. In response to the communications received from the feature club host server and/or in response to the feature club inputs at process block 1014, the feature club system implemented at a gaming machine performs feature club functions as shown at process block 1016 in FIG. 10. These functions may be any of the functions described above in connection with the example feature club graphics shown in FIGS. 5 through 9, or any other similar functions.

The feature club monitoring and account maintenance steps shown in dashed box 1003 may include a number of different steps which generally facilitate the various feature game functions which may be available at a gaming machine. In particular, the steps in dashed box 1003 include monitoring game activity as shown at process block 1020 and monitoring feature club activity as shown at process block 1021. Game activity may be monitored in any suitable fashion. For example, the feature club system implemented at a gaming machine may receive game play information directly from the game processor such as in the configuration shown in FIG. 2, and then forward that information to a feature club host server (such as server 406 in FIG. 4). Alternatively, the feature club host server may obtain game play information directly through the game processor of the given gaming machine. The feature club monitoring step shown at 1021 in FIG. 10 may be performed by a server such as the feature club host server 406 in FIG. 4. The required monitoring information may be pushed from the feature club system implemented at the given gaming machine or may be obtained in a polling procedure in which the server polls each gaming machine periodically for information relevant to the feature club accounts and various point totals which may be maintained in those accounts.

The step shown at process block 1022 in FIG. 10 may include maintaining one or more databases containing information on the various feature club accounts, anonymous or player-specific accounts. It should be appreciated that a feature club account according to the present invention may include multiple different feature club point totals which may be used to access different features available through the feature club system. For example, a given feature club account for a given player may include one feature club point total for a first type of feature club points which allow the player to obtain additional features associated with games offered at a gaming machine such as gaming machine 100 described above. The given feature club account may also include a feature club point total for a second type of feature club points which may be applied through the feature club interface to obtain applications and other non-game related features.

Aside from the functions described above, major functions of the feature club display such as touch screen display device 107 in FIG. 1 are as follows.

The display device may be used to sign a player up for different types of game-related promotions in addition to game tournaments.

The display device may be used for connecting to the Internet and for different types of social media.

The display device may be used to display and play many different types of gaming related and non-gaming related applications.

The display device may be used for television or video phone calls.

The display device may be used for separate games that may or may not have a connection to a game on the primary display device (display device 104 in FIG. 1 for example), such as separate lottery or keno games.

The display device may be used to make a sports bet.

The display device may be employed to display a leader board for some type of tournament or competition.

The display device may provide a customization interface through which a player may customize the player experience by selecting volume control, game sounds, the size of the game symbols, etc.

The display device could be used for “community” type games or bonuses, where the player is participating in a separate application from the primary game (displayed through a primary display device such as device 104 in FIG. 1). Based on the decisions and choices made within this application, the player may qualify for the community bonus and also contribute to winning credits for everyone that is qualified.

The display device may also be used to allow a player to choose an avatar from a suitable graphic and every time the player plays at a gaming machine, the avatar builds up points to purchase bonus-type trophies that can be used to win additional prizes within each game, or win free spins in the primary game, or win other types of bonuses.

In addition to these major functions which may be implemented through a feature club display device such as feature club display device 107 in FIG. 1, the feature club display device may also be used show game buttons and be integrated with the primary game offered at the gaming machine, display bingo cards and perhaps a ball draw for bingo gaming, and display information regarding restaurants and upcoming concerts.

As used in the foregoing description and the following claims, the terms “comprising,” “including,” “carrying,” “having,” “containing,” “involving,” and the like are to be understood to be open-ended, that is, to mean including but not limited to. Any use of ordinal terms such as “first,” “second,” “third,” etc., in the claims to modify a claim element does not by itself connote any priority, precedence, or order of one claim element over another, or the temporal order in which acts of a method are performed. Rather, unless specifically stated otherwise, such ordinal terms are used merely as labels to distinguish one claim element having a certain name from another element having a same name (but for use of the ordinal term).

The above-described example embodiments are intended to illustrate the principles of the invention, but not to limit the scope of the invention. Various other embodiments and modifications to these preferred embodiments may be made by those skilled in the art without departing from the scope of the present invention.