AU2006202858B2 - Method, apparatus and system for perpetual bonus game - Google Patents

Method, apparatus and system for perpetual bonus game Download PDF

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AU2006202858B2
AU2006202858B2 AU2006202858A AU2006202858A AU2006202858B2 AU 2006202858 B2 AU2006202858 B2 AU 2006202858B2 AU 2006202858 A AU2006202858 A AU 2006202858A AU 2006202858 A AU2006202858 A AU 2006202858A AU 2006202858 B2 AU2006202858 B2 AU 2006202858B2
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bonus game
player
plurality
game
gaming machines
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AU2006202858A1 (en
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Lee E. Cannon
Don G. Duperault
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IGT Inc
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IGT Inc
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Priority to AU2002352969A priority patent/AU2002352969B2/en
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Priority to AU2006202858A priority patent/AU2006202858B2/en
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    • GPHYSICS
    • G07CHECKING-DEVICES
    • G07FCOIN-FREED OR LIKE APPARATUS
    • G07F17/00Coin-freed apparatus for hiring articles; Coin-freed facilities or services
    • G07F17/32Coin-freed apparatus for hiring articles; Coin-freed facilities or services for games, toys, sports or amusements, e.g. casino games, online gambling or betting
    • G07F17/3244Payment aspects of a gaming system, e.g. payment schemes, setting payout ratio, bonus or consolation prizes
    • G07F17/3258Cumulative reward schemes, e.g. jackpots

Description

Regulation 3.2 AUSTRALIA Patents Act 1990 (Cth) IGT COMPLETE SPECIFICATION FOR A STANDARD PATENT Invention Title: Method, apparatus and system for perpetual bonus game The following statement is a full description of this invention, including the best method of performing it known to us: 201037631 I METHOD, APPARATUS AND SYSTEM FOR PERPETUAL BONUS GAME BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION [0001] Field of the Invention. The present invention is directed to methods of playing games of chance and apparatus and systems for playing an ongoing bonus game wherein a player may enter the ongoing bonus game, participate therein and exit therefrom while the ongoing bonus game is still in process. 10002] State of the Art. Games of chance have been enjoyed by people for thousands of years and have enjoyed widespread popularity in recent times. Many people enjoy playing variations of games that they have not played before. Playing new variations of games adds to the excitement of this recreational activity, particularly when some form of gaming is involved. As used herein, the terms "gaming and gaming devices" are used to indicate that some form of wagering is involved and that players must make wagers of value, whether actual currency or some equivalent of value, e.g., token or credit. 10003] Players involved in games of wagering often enjoy new games or variations of old games with relatively simple rules that can be readily learned by a beginner or casual player. Variations to a game with respect to the method of wagering and the ability to increase winnings attracts more players and is highly desired in the industry. The ability to increase winnings where risk is involved based on the selection of a possible random outcome is also highly desired. There has been an accelerating evolution of gaming devices over the past few decades. At the beginning of this evolution, there were mechanical gaming devices, such as the traditional slot machine. The advent of relatively inexpensive computer processors and associated display devices in the form of electronic gaming devices allowed the introduction of computer-emulated games and a pseudo (video) display of the movement of reels or other elements of a mechanical device as well as the game outcome. The next evolutionary step was the integration of communication capabilities between servers and other computers and electronic gaming devices, allowing the interchange of data and information between electronic gaming devices and an operator such as a casino via a network between computers. 10004] The development of communications between gaming machines and networks allowed for the development of systems allowing the players at those machines to compete for additional prizes while playing the traditional wagering games. Among these are progressive 1lk gaming systems, such as those disclosed in U.S. Patent 4,837,728 and U.S. Patent 5,855,515, the disclosures of which are incorporated herein by reference. In a progressive system, a number of gaming machines are linked together and an additional or bonus prize is made available, which increases in value as wagers are placed on the machines and a portion of each wager is allocated into a bonus prize pool. Each coin drop freezes the available bonus amount for that game. When a player wins, the entire amount of the progressive bonus is awarded and the progressive game restarts. While players are attracted to larger progressive bonuses, after an award of the bonus, interest in playing the machines can wane due to the small amount of the available bonus prize. [0005] A current enhancement to the market is the addition of secondary or bonus games to slot machines. These gaming machines allow a player to participate in an additional or "bonus" game and thereby have a chance to earn an additional payout or bonus prize. The bonus game is typically a single event, or a sequential event where progress through the bonus game is determined by the continuation of play on the slot machine. Examples of such bonus games are disclosed in U.S. Patent 6,089,978, U.S. Patent 6,089,976 and U.S. Patent 5,796,716, the disclosures of which are incorporated herein by reference. These bonus games conventionally begin when a selected random event occurs in a primary game on a gaming machine. The bonus game is then activated and begins. At the end of the game, an indicated payout value is awarded as a bonus prize. The bonus games disclosed in these references include a prize wheel that spins, a number of computer generated options that are selected to receive bonuses until an end game signal is reached, or a dexterity- or skill-based video game [0006] U.S. Patent 6,190,255, the disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference, discloses modifications that may be made to a bonus game. A random occurrence in a base game, such as the occurrence of a special symbol combination, causes a computer processor to generate a resource exercisable in the bonus game. For example, a resource can be used to override the end bonus outcome and continue the bonus game to receive a different end outcome. [0007] The networking of computers has also allowed and improved the ability to track the usage of individual gaming machines including the players using such a machine. Player tracking systems allow for the management of large numbers of gaming machines and players simultaneously. Examples of player tracking systems may be found in U.S. Patent 6,165,071, U.S. Patent 6,048,269, and U.S. Patent 5,655,961, the disclosures of which are incorporated 2 herein by reference. Such systems allow players to carry credits from one gaming machine to another, thereby avoiding or at least minimizing the use of coins or tokens, to track the gaming usage of the players for marketing purposes and to allow the players to play for a higher payout upon meeting certain conditions. 5 BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION According to one aspect of the invention there is provided a method of playing a game, the method comprising: receiving a wager from a player displaying an image associated with a primary game; 10 determining a game outcome associated with the primary game; determining if a qualifying activity has occurred during the primary game; altering an image representing at least a portion of an ongoing bonus game independent of an input from the player until a qualifying activity is determined to have occurred; after determining that the qualifying activity has occurred, altering the image 15 representing at least the portion of the bonus game according to a non-wager input from the player, provided during play of the ongoing bonus game, independent of the game outcome of the primary game; after receiving the non-wager input, receiving a termination input, the termination input not related to a determination whether the player has won the bonus game; and 20 altering the image representing at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game independent of the non-wager input from the player after the termination input is received until a qualifying activity is determined to have occurred again, the ongoing bonus game thus operating substantially continuously over an extended period of time. 25 According to another aspect of the invention there is provided a gaming system comprising: a plurality of gaming machines, each gaming machine programmed, for each of a plurality of plays of a primary game, to: (a) receive a signal indicating a wager from a player, 30 (b) cause a display of an image associated with said play of the primary game, and (c) determine a game outcome associated with said play of the primary game; and at least one computer programmed to: Dcm,,8No- c 3 (a) determine if a qualifying activity occurs based on any play of the primary game of any of the gaming machines, (b) cause an image displaying at least a portion of an ongoing bonus game to be altered a plurality of times independent of any input from a first player at a first one of the 5 gaming machines, said alteration occurring prior to determining that the qualifying activity has occurred for any of the gaming machines, (c) after determining that the qualifying activity has occurred for the first gaming machine, cause the image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game to be altered based on a non-wager input from the first player provided during play of the ongoing 10 bonus game, said alteration being independent of any game outcome associated with the primary game, (d) after receiving the non-wager input from the first player, receive a termination input, and (e) cause the image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game to be 15 altered a plurality of times independent of the non-wager input from the first player after the termination input is received until the qualifying activity is determined to have occurred again for at least one of the plurality of gaming machines. According to yet another aspect of the invention there is provided a gaming system comprising: 20 a plurality of gaming machines, each gaming machine including: at least one display device; at least on input device; at least one processor; and at least one memory device which stores a plurality of instructions, which when 25 executed by the at least one processor, cause the at least one processor to operate with the at least one display device and the at least one input device to: (i) enable a player to wager on a play of a primary game, (ii) generate a primary game outcome for the play of the primary game, and O-m ~ 3a (iii) if a designated event occurs in any play of the primary game, enable the player to provide a bonus game input usable in an already ongoing bonus game, said designated event enabling the player to play the already ongoing bonus game; and 5 a computer programmed to operate with said plurality of gaming machines to: (a) cause a display of a plurality of bonus game elements of the ongoing bonus game prior to a first occurrence of the designated event in any play of the primary game of any of the gaming machines, (b) cause a display of a plurality of initial modifications to the displayed bonus 10 game elements of the already ongoing bonus game prior to the first occurrence of the designated event in any play of the primary game of any of the gaming machines, (c) after causing the display of the plurality of initial modifications, determine whether the designated event occurs in any play of the primary game of any of 15 the gaming machines, (d) for each of the gaming machines for which the designated event occurs: (i) receive data indicative of said bonus game input for said gaming machine, (ii) designate at least one of the initially modified displayed bonus game 20 elements of the already ongoing bonus game based on the received data indicative of the bonus game input for said gaming device and (iii) provide an award based on the at least one designated bonus game element of the already ongoing bonus game, and (e) repeat (b) to (d) at least once. 25 According to still another aspect of the invention there is provided a gaming system comprising: a plurality of gaming machines, each gaming machine including: at least one display device; 30 at least one input device; at least one processor; and at least one memory device which stores a plurality of instructions, which when executed by the at least one processor, cause the at least one processor to operate with the at least one display device and the at least one input device to: c:f -M 3b (i) enable a player to wager on a play of a primary game, (ii) generate a primary game outcome for the play of the primary game, and (iii) if a designated event occurs, enable the player to provide a bonus game input usable in an already ongoing bonus game, said designated event 5 enabling the player to play the already ongoing bonus game; and a computer programmed to operate with said plurality of gaming machines to: (a) cause a display of a plurality of bonus game elements of the already ongoing bonus game prior to determining that any designated events have occurred for any of the gaming machines, 10 (b) determine whether the designated event occurs for any of the gaming machines, (c) for each of the gaming machines for which the designated event occurs: (i) designate at least one of the displayed bonus game elements of the already ongoing bonus game based on the bonus game input for said gaming device, and 15 (ii) provide an award based on the at least one designated bonus game element of the already ongoing bonus game, (d) after designating said at least one displayed bonus game element of the ongoing bonus game, cause a display of a plurality of modifications to the displayed bonus game elements of the ongoing bonus game, said modifications being 20 independent of any bonus game input, and (e) after displaying the plurality of modifications to the displayed bonus game elements, repeat (b) to (d) at least once. According to still yet another aspect of the invention there is provided a gaming system 25 comprising: a computer programmed to operate with a plurality of gaming machines to: (a) cause a display of a plurality of bonus game elements of an ongoing bonus game prior to any occurrence of a first designated event, a second designated event, or a third designated event, 30 (b) determine whether a first designated event occurs for a first one of the gaming machines, the first designated event enabling the player to play the ongoing bonus game, (c) if the first designated event occurs for the first one of the gaming machines: o--eml, 3c (i) designate at least one of the displayed bonus game elements based on a first bonus game input associated with the first gaming machine, and (ii) provide a first award to a first player of the first gaming machine, 5 said first award being based on any designated bonus game elements, (d) after designating the at least one displayed bonus game element based on the first bonus game input, cause a display of a first plurality of modifications to the displayed bonus game elements of the ongoing 10 bonus game, (e) after causing the display of the first plurality of modifications to the displayed bonus game elements, determine whether a second designated event occurs for a second one of the gaming machines, (f) if the second designated event occurs for the second one of the gaming 15 machines: (i) designate at least one of any of the displayed modified bonus game elements based on a first bonus game input associated with the second gaming machine, and (ii) provide a second award to a second player at the second gaming 20 machine, said second award being based on any designated bonus game element after said first plurality of modifications to the displayed bonus game elements, (g) after designating the at least one displayed bonus game element based on the second bonus game input, cause a display of a second plurality of 25 modifications to the displayed bonus game elements of the ongoing bonus game, (h) after causing the display of the second plurality of modifications to the displayed bonus game elements, determine whether a third designated event occurs for the first one of the gaming machines, and 30 (i) if the third designated event occurs for the third one of the gaming machines: (i) designate at least one of any of the displayed modified bonus game elements based on a second bonus game input associated with the first gaming machine, and 3d (ii) provide a third award to the first player at the first gaming machine, said third award being based on any designated bonus game element after said second plurality of modifications to the displayed bonus game elements. 5 According to even still yet another aspect of the invention there is provided a gaming system comprising: a computer programmed to operate with a plurality of gaming machines to: (a) cause a display of a plurality of bonus game elements of an ongoing bonus 10 game; (b) prior to receiving any bonus game input, cause a display of a first plurality of modifications to the plurality of bonus game elements of the ongoing bonus game regardless of whether any player is wagering on any play of a game of any of the gaming machines; 15 (c) after causing the display of the first plurality of modifications to the plurality of bonus game elements, receive at least one bonus game input from at least one of the gaming machines; (d) cause a display of at least one input-based modification of at least one of the bonus game elements of the ongoing bonus game based on said at least one 20 bonus game input; and (e) after displaying said at least one input-based modification, cause a display of a second plurality of modifications to the plurality of bonus game elements of the ongoing bonus game regardless of whether any player is wagering on any play of the game of any of the gaming machines. 25 BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION 100081 Various embodiments of the present invention comprise gaming devices including a first gaming unit for randomly selecting and displaying a set of indicia and apparatus for generating a signal corresponding to some signal from the first gaming unit, for 30 example, input by a player, certain combinations of randomly generated and displayed indicia in play of a primary game thereon, or some other event associated with primary game play on the first gaming unit. The gaming device also includes a second gaming unit for displaying an ongoing bonus game where the second unit is in communication with the first gaming unit and enables participation by the player in response to a signal generated by the first gaming unit. C.o.PA.rMoM ~3e [0009] The ongoing bonus game may be communicated from a host server functioning as a bonus event computer over a network to a number of gaming units configured for play of a primary game and, in combination with the host server, enabling participation in the ongoing bonus game. 5 [00101 The present invention also comprises an ongoing bonus game wherein a player may enter the ongoing bonus game while it is in progress, participate and then exit the bonus game while it is still in progress. Reentry into the same, ongoing bonus game from time to time so as to enable intermittent play thereof is also encompassed by the present invention. [00111 While the present invention encompasses a so-called "perpetual" 10 ongoing bonus game, it is also contemplated that a bonus game ongoing for an extended period of time but which is not literally "perpetual" is also encompassed by the present invention. For example, an ongoing bonus game which extends for a sufficient period of time for play of a plurality of game segments or portions thereof to some conclusion possibly resulting in, or progressing toward, a bonus prize award is contemplated as within the scope of 15 the present invention. Specifically and without limitation, ongoing bonus games which may extend over periods of at least minutes and including periods of hours, days, weeks, months or years are contemplated and encompassed by the present invention. 'C,-%OPe " flnX3d 3f [0012] The invention in a preferred embodiment provides opportunities to increase winning payouts and also allows a player the opportunity to participate in a bonus game that is continually ongoing and offers the ability to increase the value of bonus awards among networked machines. For example, offering a player the opportunity to participate in an ongoing bonus game where the value of available bonus awards increases from the actions of multiple gaming machines and thereby increases his or her potential winnings. This embodiment also allows the player to reenter and continue participation in the ongoing or perpetual bonus game.

10013] As used herein, the term "game of chance" includes and encompasses not only games having a random or arbitrary outcome, but also such games which also invite or require some player input to the game having at least a potential for affecting a game outcome. Such player input is generally termed "skill" whether or not such input is in actuality beneficial in terms of game outcome. BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE DRAWINGS [0014] FIG I is a schematic representation of one possible embodiment of a gaming machine that may be used in accordance with the principles of the present invention; [0015] FIG. 2 is a representation of an ongoing bonus game system that may be utilized to implement embodiments of the present invention [0016] FIG. 3 is a multi-site ongoing bonus game system that may be utilized to implement embodiments of the present inventions; and FIG. 4 is a flow chart of an example process for providing the ongoing bonus game disclosed herein. DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE ILLUSTRATED EMBODIMENTS 100171 The following describes some exemplary embodiments of the present invention. It will be appreciated that the examples used herein are illustrative only, and the invention include methods, systems and devices for gaming that include or enable play of a perpetually ongoing bonus game. [0018] FIG. 1 illustrates an exemplary gaming machine, which may also be termed a gaining device or gaming unit, for use in implementing the bonus game of the present invention. Shown is gaming machine 100, which includes a main board 144 and a back plane 146 integrally or separately formed. Memory expansion board 140 as well as processor board 142 including a graphics system processor and video expansion board VGA/SVGA 148 are operably coupled to 4 the main board 144. The main board 144 preferably includes memory in the form of ROM, RAM, flash memory and EEPROM (electrically erasable programmable read only memory). In addition, the main board 144 includes a system event controller, a random number generator, a win decoder/pay table, status indicators, a communications handler and a display/sound generator. [0019] The main board 144 is operably coupled to the back plane 146, which may include additional memory, such as in the form of an EEPROM, and connectors to connect to peripherals. Furthermore, the back plane 146 provides a plurality of communication ports for communicating with external peripherals. The back plane 146 provides the coupling between discrete inputs 150 and the processor board 142 and main board 144. Typical examples of elements which provide discrete inputs are coin acceptors, game buttons, mechanical hand levers, key and door switches and other auxiliary inputs. Furthermore, the back plane 146 provides the coupling between discrete outputs 152 and the processor board 142 and main board 144. Typically, elements that provide discrete outputs are in the form of lamps, hard meters, hoppers, diverters and other auxiliary outputs. [00201 The back plane 146 also provides connectors for at least one power supply 154 for supplying power for the processor board 142 and a parallel display interface "PDI" 156 and a serial interface 158 operably coupled to game display device 178. In addition, the back plane 146 also provides connectors for a sound board 160 and a high-resolution monitor 162 Furthermore, the back plane 146 includes communication ports for operably coupling and communicating with an accounting network 164, a touch screen 166 (which may also serve as a game display device), a bill validator 155 incorporated in a currency (bill) acceptor, a printer 168, an accounting network 170, a progressive current loop 172 and a network link 174 [00211 The back plane 146 optionally includes connectors for external video sources 180, expansion buses 182, game or other displays 184, an SCSI port 188 and an interface 190 for at least one card reader 192 (debit/credit, player card, etc.) and key pad 194. The back plane 146 also preferably includes means for coupling a plurality of reel driver boards 196 (one per reel) which drive physical game reels 198 with a shaft encoder or other sensor means to the processor board 142 and main board 144. Of course, the reels may be similarly implemented electronically by display as video images, technology for such an approach being well known and widely employed in the art. In such an instance, reel driver boards 196 and physical game reels 198 5 with associated hardware are eliminated and the game outcome generated by the random number generator on main board 144 is directly displayed on a high-resolution monitor 162 and, optionally, on a separate game display device 178, as known in the art. Other gaming machine configurations for play of different wagering games such as video poker games, video blackjack games, video Keno, video bingo or any other suitable primary games are equally well known in the art. It will also be understood and appreciated by those of ordinary skill in the art that selected components of gaming device 100 may be duplicated for play of a primary game linked to a bonus game or event in accordance with the present invention. Accordingly, while it is contemplated that the bonus game of the present invention may be implemented by a bonus event computer networked to a gaming device 100 for individual participation or team play, it is also contemplated that the bonus game may be configured for standalone play as a "top box" or second gaming unit mounted to a first gaming unit configured for play of a primary or base game. 10022] Gaming machine 100 may be used to play the primary game that activates the bonus game of the present invention and as a terminal for play of the bonus game. The gaming machine 100 may be configured as a reel-type gaming machine, a video gaming machine which simulates reels or enables play of a card game, or any other type of mechanical or electronic gaming device known in the art for play of the primary game. In one exemplary embodiment, the gaming machine 100 is configured with a five-reel, multiple pay line spinning reel game as the primary game. 100231 In one embodiment of the present invention, multiple gaming machines 100 located at a particular casino site comprise a bank or other plurality 214 of gaming machines Gi, G2 ... Gn which may be configured, by way of example only, as gaming machines 100. In implementation of the present invention, the gaming machines Gi, G 2 ... G. offering play of the bonus game of the present invention may be deployed, as schematically depicted in FIG. 2, in a gaming network 210 including a central server computer 220 operably coupled to a plurality 214 of gaming machines G 1 , G 2 ... G, which may include both electronic and reel type game machines. It is notable that, unless the gaming network 210 is configured for progressive play, a variety of different makes of gaming machines G 1 , G 2 . . . Gn offering widely different games may be incorporated in gaming network 210, since the bonus event operates independently of the primary game on each gaming machine. The central server computer 220 automatically interacts 6 with a plurality of gaming machines G1, G 2 . .. G, to activate a bonus event. [00241 More specifically, and again referring to FIGS. I and 2, the gaming network 210 includes a central server computer 220, a bonus event computer 240 and a plurality of gaming machines G 1 , G 2 ... G. The functions of central server computer 220 and bonus event computer 240 may be performed by a single computer. Each gaming machine Gi, G 2 ... G" includes a controller assembly 280 operably coupled to the central server computer 220. Each controller assembly 280 is comprised of a controller unit designed to facilitate transmission of signals from its associated individual gaming machine G 1 , G 2 ... G, to central server computer 220, which monitors networked gaming machines G1, G 2 ... G. In addition, the controller assembly 280 includes a network interface board fitted with appropriate electronics for each specific make and model of each individual gaming machine G 1 , G 2 . . . G. 10025] Referring to FIG. 2, in electronic video games, the central server computer 220 is operably coupled to at least one video game display element 118 as shown at the left-hand side of FIG. 2 and sequesters a portion of the video game display element 118 for displaying video attract sequences to attract potential players. Video game display element 118 may be used for display of both the primary and bonus games. Where the gaming network 210 includes reel-type game machines G 1 , G 2 .. . G., as shown at the right-hand side of FIG. 2, the central server computer 220 may be operably coupled to at least one active display element 120 so that potential players receive a clear indication of attract sequences and the active display element may be used as a video display for the bonus game. As shown at the left-hand side of FIG. 2, the gaming machines G1, G 2 . .. Gn may also be provided with a second video display 122 as an alternative to sequestering a portion of the video game display elements 18 for displaying video attract sequences and the bonus game. In addition, the central server computer 220 may include sound-generating hardware and software for producing attractive sounds orchestrated with the video attract sequences at each of gaming machines G 1 , G 2 . . . G, if such is not already incorporated therein. The games support input and output between the player and the game for such devices as heads up display, joystick, keyboard, mouse and data glove via interface modules connected through the expansion bus or buses 182 and SCSI port 188. [0026] The attractive multimedia video displays and dynamic sounds may be provided by the central server computer 220 by using multimedia extensions to allow gaming machines G1,

G

2 ... G, to display full-motion video animation with sound to attract players to the machines. 7 During idle periods, the gaming machines G 1 , G 2 ... Gn preferably display a sequence of attraction messages in sight and sound. The videos may also be used to market specific areas of the casino and may be customized to any informational needs. 100271 Furthermore, the gaming network 210 includes bonus event computer 240 operably coupled to the central server computer 220 for scheduling bonus parameters such as the type of bonus game, pay tables and players. The functions of central server computer 220 and bonus event computer 240 may be combined in a single computer. The bonus game may be conducted solely on the bonus event computer 240 and visible manifestations of the bonus game including the outcome thereof displayed as video images on one or more bonus game displays 236 as further discussed below. Bonus event computer 240 may be employed to initiate the bonus game on bonus game apparatus 242 and to receive communications therefrom indicative of the course of the bonus game and its outcome for determination of winners and losers and issuance of bonus awards resulting from winning wagers. Preferably, the gaming network 210 further includes a real-time or on-line accounting and gaming information system 260 operably coupled to the central server computer 220. The accounting and gaming information system 260 includes a player database for storing player profiles, a player tracking module for tracking players and a pit, cage and credit system for providing automated casino transactions. [0028] As previously implied, a bank of gaming machines G 1 , G 2 ... G. may be networked together in a progressive configuration, as known in the art, wherein a portion of each wager to initiate a primary game may be allocated to bonus event awards. In addition, and referring to FIG. 3, a host site computer 320 is coupled to a plurality of the central server computers 220 at a variety of remote gaming sites C 1 , C 2 . . . C for providing a multi-site linked automated bonus gaming system 310 which, optionally, may be configured for progressive play. [0029] Preferably, the host site computer 320 will be maintained for the overall operation and control of the system 310. The host site computer 320 includes a computer network 322 and a communication link 324 provided with a high-speed, secure modem link for each individual casino site C1, C 2 ... Cn. [00301 Each casino site C 1 , C2 ... C, includes the central server computer 220 provided with a network controller 230 which includes a high-speed modem operably coupled thereto. Bi directional communication between the host site computer 320 and each casino site central server 220 is accomplished by the set of modems transferring data over communication link 324. 8 100311 A network controller 230, a bank controller 232 and a communication link 234 are interposed between each central server computer 220 and the plurality of attached gaming machines GI, G2 ... G. at each casino site C1, C 2 ... C. In addition, the network controller 230, the bank controller 232 and the communication link 234 may optionally be interposed between each central server computer 220 and at least one separate bonus game display 236 at each casino site C1, C 2 . .. C,. However, the system 310 may include hardware and software to loop back data for in-machine meter displays to communicate with bonus event award insert areas on gaming machines G1, G 2 ... G. . [0032] As illustrated in FIG. 2 and by way of exemplary implementation of the present invention, the bank 214 of gaming machines G1, G2 ... G, is connected or linked with at least one bonus game display 236 to form a competitive bonus gaming network 21.0. In one preferred embodiment further described below, the bank of gaming machines 214 comprises at least fifty gaming machines G,, G 2 ... G. , where "n" equals at least fifty, connected or linked with the bonus game display 236 through communication link 234. The bonus game of the present invention is displayed on the at least one bonus game display 236. The multiple gaming machines are represented in FIG. 2 as G, through G., where G, is depicted as an electronic slot machine and Gn is depicted as a reel type slot machine. Although only at least fifty gaming machines are networked in the example illustrated in FIG. 2, it will be readily apparent to one-of ordinary skill in the art that any number of gaming machines G1, G2... G, may be used in the present invention. [0033] Bonus game displays 236 employed in implementation of the present invention may be configured as a relatively large liquid crystal display ("LCD") screen or a plurality of such screens. The screen is relatively large in comparison to the high-resolution monitor 162 or other game display device 178 of the gaming machine 100. The bonus game display or displays 236 may be positioned in an area above the gaming machines G1, G2 . .. G, so that its screen(s) is/are visible to all players at the bank 214 of gaming machines G1, G2 ... G. Bonus game display 236 may comprise other types of display screens known in the art, including cathode ray tube (CRT) screens, plasma display screens, and/or screens based on light-emitting diode (LED) technology. Bonus game display 236 may be a display screen configured for multiple uses and/or concurrent display of other casino-sponsored information. [00341 Gaming machines G1, G2 ... Gn may be connected to bonus game display 236 9 through communication link 234. Communication link 234 may be any of a variety of communication links known in the art, including, but not limited to: twisted-pair wire, coaxial cable, fiber optic, Ethernet, token ring, bus line, Fibre Channel, ATM, standard serial connections, LAN, WAN, Intranet, Internet, radio waves, or other wireless connections. [0035] The player of a primary game at one of gaming machine G 1 , G 2 ... G, wins entry into the bonus game by achieving one or more specific outcomes or by meeting other selected criteria associated with play of the primary or base game. These specific outcomes activate the bonus game. Different specific outcomes may activate various features of the bonus game. [0036] In some embodiments, the ongoing bonus gaming network 210 includes a bonus computer 240 operatively coupled to the central server 220 for operating the ongoing bonus game. The bonus computer 240 may be operatively coupled to a bonus game display 236, which may be a large display for displaying the ongoing bonus game. Alternatively, embodiments that include a multiple network system as illustrated in drawing FIG. 3 may continuously operate on and be administered by the host site computer system 320, allowing the same ongoing bonus game to be accessed at multiple casinos, as discussed further below. In other embodiments a continuously ongoing bonus game may operate on a single gaming machine G 1 , G2 ... G. 100371 Referring to drawing FIG. 3, the cooperative and competitive bonus gaming system includes a host site computer 320 operatively coupled to the plurality of central server computers 220 at a variety of remote gaming or casino sites C 1 , C 2 ... C, for providing a multi site ongoing bonus gaming system 310. It is preferred that in such embodiments a single ongoing bonus game operates on the host site computer 320, and is accessible therefrom the gaming machines G1, G 2 . .. G, over the network connections described herein. It will be appreciated that it is within the scope of the present invention to operate a number of different ongoing bonus games on the host site computer 320, or to operate a number of games on the central server computers 220 or gaming machines G 1 , G 2 . .. Gn and merely transmit only the data necessary to allow identical or equivalent games to be operated simultaneously on such devices. [0038] In order to more fully appreciate the present invention, several exemplary embodiments of ongoing bonus games, gaming machines and gaming systems will now be discussed in connection with the embodiments of drawing FIGS. 1, 2 and 3. It will be appreciated that the exemplary embodiments are illustrative only and that no limitation of the 10 invention is to be implied by their use. It will be further appreciated that the principles and methods of the present invention may be practised with other embodiments of gaming machines and gaming systems or otherwise as known now, or in the future, to those skilled in the art and all such embodiments and methods are within the scope of the present invention. [0039] The ongoing bonus game of the present invention is a continuous game in which a player may participate at any point. Players may enter and leave the ongoing bonus game at any time upon the occurrence of a predetermined event at a gaming machine G.sub.1, G.sub2. ..G.sub.n upon which they are playing. Unlike a traditional bonus game, the ongoing bonus game does not terminate due to a player bonus win or other termination of participation in the game, but progresses thereafter. Similarly, it is contemplated that the ongoing bonus game will already be in progress when a player enters to participate therein. At times when a player is not participating in the bonus game from a gaming machine G.sub.1, G.sub.2...G.sub.n, it is preferred that the ongoing bonus game continue to be displayed upon a display 118 or 120 of each gaming machine G.sub.1, G.sub.2.G..Gsub.n. [0040] A predetermined activity at a gaming machine G1, G2... G. qualifies a player to participate in the ongoing bonus game, allowing the player to participate in the ongoing bonus game and potentially obtain a bonus prize award. The predetermined activity may be any of a number of occurrences on a gaming machine G, G2 ... G,. For example, where a gaming machine G, G2 ... G. offers a spinning reel base or primary game, the random occurrence of a certain number of one or more characters or symbols at a pay line from a spin of the reels may be a qualifying event, as may be certain combinations of characters or symbols. With multiple pay line reel machines, these numbers or combinations or characters or symbols may be required to occur at a specific pay line or qualification may be permitted by the occurrence thereof at any pay line. Alternatively, the placement of a wager of a certain amount on a gaming machine G, G2... G., the placement of a selected number of wagers, or the time spent playing a gaming machine G1, G2... G, may be the predetermined activity. For other types of gaming machines 01, G2... G., the predetermined activity may be any activity that can occur on that machine, but it is preferred currently that the predetermined activity be associated with a randomly determined outcome of a base or primary game at a gaming machine G, G2... G,,. The base or primary game on each of gaming machines G, G2.- G,, may be, for example, a multi-line, five reel spinning reel game, either electromechanical with actual moving reels or electronic with 11 simulated reels and movement thereof, the base or primary game awarding prizes when specified numbers, types and configurations of symbols, characters or indicia, also termed "elements," occur on a winning pay line or are otherwise visibly displayed in a winning pattem or arrangement. Alternatively, the primary or base game may comprise any other reel-type game, card game, or other game of chance susceptible to representation in an electronic or eIectromechanical form. It will be appreciated that the predetermined activity may be selected to occur at any desired percentage of the outcomes, or be otherwise linked to play, of a base game. [0041] The ongoing bonus game will operate substantially continuously, over an extended period of time, but for downtime of the gaming system on which it operates or for modifications to game parameters. Preferably, the ongoing bonus game will be continuously displayed on a display 118, 120 or 236, allowing it to also serve as an attract sequence, to attract players to the gaming machines G. While the bonus prizes awarded in the ongoing bonus game may be fixed, it is preferred that the prizes adjust and reflect events occurring in the base games on the gaming machines G.sub.1, G.sub.2.. .G.sub.n. This may be accomplished by providing an increase in the prizes in response to specific events occurring on the gaming machines G, G.sub.2 ... G.sub.n. For example, the occurrence of a selected random event in response to a wager on a gaming machine G.sub.1, G.sub.2... G.sub.n may provide a corresponding increase in the available bonus prizes. In a multi-site system, like that depicted in drawing FIG. 3, the increase may be introduced by the individual casino site C.sub.1, C.sub.2... C.sub.n in which that selected random event occurs. In such embodiments, it is preferred that a fixed amount be provided as initial bonus prizes when the game is started. It will be appreciated that the bonus prize values may be funded by the gaming machines G.sub.1, G.sub.2. ..G.sub.n or by a casino site C.sub. 1, C.sub.2.. .C.sub.n providing an increase in the value. Such funding may be tracked and apportioned by the on-line accounting and gaming information system 260 or otherwise as known to those skilled in the art. [0042] The ongoing bonus game may be any game, including a video game, that can be continuously ongoing and award prizes to participants, and all such games are within the scope of the present invention. Some examples of suitable ongoing bonus games are selection games, in which a player selects an option out of a number of options and is awarded a prize associated with that option. Another potential ongoing bonus game is a collection game, where the player collects an "object," such as a computer-generated icon in a video game, and is awarded a prize associated with that object. An additional suitable ongoing bonus game is a role-playing game. 12 In an exemplary role-playing game, a player enters the game as a character, preferably selected among a plurality of possible characters, to perform tasks within the game. Many such role playing games are known to those of ordinary skill in the art. An ongoing bonus gaming system such as those described herein, may be enabled to uniquely identify players, as for example through assigned player identification or "tracking"cards that may be inserted into a card reader 192, an identification code the player inputs into a gaming machine G 1 , G 2 ... G,, or by another suitable player tracking system as known in the art. Such a uniquely identified player may be able to enter an ongoing bonus game with attributes from an earlier entry, or otherwise continue earlier play of the ongoing bonus game. Players may also be enabled, or required, to act in a coordinated fashion, as a team, to collect bonus awards in an ongoing bonus game. [00431 One example of an ongoing bonus game is a random selection type of game. In one possible embodiment of this game, a number of gaming machines G 1 , G 2 ... Gn are networked to each other and to a bonus event computer 240, which is operatively connected to at least one bonus game display 236. It is preferred that there be at least fifty networked gaming machines G 1 , G 2 ... Gn that offer a spinning reel-type game as a primary or base game. The ongoing bonus game may be entitled "Loads of Luck," play of which includes animation on at least one bonus game display 236 in the form of a forest scene including a number of leprechauns (for example, ten), each carrying bags of gold. In the foreground of the display is a gate, by which sits one additional bag of gold. The leprechauns represent ten options selectable during play of the ongoing bonus game. [0044] When specific events occur in the base games on the gaming machines G 1 , G 2 . . . G,, the amount of bonus prize awards increases randomly within the selected options. For example, a player at a gaming machine G1, G 2 ... Gn makes a wager and plays a base game to an outcome resulting in 3, 4, 5, or any selected number of gold coin characters appearing on the reels or on a video display 118 simulating reels. The gold coin characters may also be displayed on a display 120 or 122 for emphasis. At least some of the bonus prizes for the ongoing bonus game, as represented by the bags of gold, are then increased by an amount related to the number of gold coin characters displayed. The amount added is randomly distributed among the (for example, ten) selectable options and the distribution process is animated as the leprechauns on bonus game display 236 gather pieces of gold that fly onto the background scene and place them in bags. The amounts in the bags of gold of the various leprechauns may be displayed on the 13 bonus game display 236 to attract player interest in the games in a manner that does not reveal which selectable option (leprechaun) is associated with which value (bag of gold). The leprechauns may periodically trade their bags of gold, which trade may also be animated by depicting the leprechauns exchanging bags. [0045 When the predetermined activity enabling participation in the ongoing bonus game occurs on a gaming machine G1, G2. . . G., the player at that machine G1, G2 ... G. is allowed to select an option, which selection is displayed on a bonus game display 236 as selecting a leprechaun. The selection may be effected, for example, by the player touching a corresponding leprechaun symbol on a touch screen display on his or her gaming machine Gj, G2 . . . Gn. The player is then awarded the value associated with the selected option as a bonus prize award. The award of the bonus prize is also animated in the form of the selected leprechaun bringing his bag to the gate and dumping the gold coins out. The amount of the bonus prize award may be indicated, for example, on bonus game display 236 as well as on a credit display on the player's gaming machine G1, G2. .. G . The selectable option (leprechaun) presenting the bonus prize award subsequently returns to the forest after picking up the bag of gold by the gate, that bag having an associated bonus prize award value. The emptied bag is left by the gate to accumulate gold coins in the further course of ongoing bonus game play. Fig. 4 illustrates a flow chart of an example process 400 for providing the perpetual, ongoing bonus game disclosed herein. Although the example process 400 for providing the ongoing bonus game is described with reference to the flow chart illustrated in Fig. 4, and references specific embodiments disclosed herein, it should be appreciated that many other methods of providing the ongoing bonus game disclosed herein are contemplated. For example, the order of certain of the blocks may be changed, and certain of the blocks described are optional. In one embodiment, the process 400 begins by displaying an ongoing bonus game including a plurality of bonus game elements, as indicated by block 402. For example, the gaming system in one embodiment displays an image of a plurality of leprechauns in a field, wherein each leprechaun is carrying a bag of gold. In one embodiment, these images are displayed regardless of whether any players are wagering on plays of a primary game associated with the disclosed ongoing bonus game. In one embodiment, the plurality of bonus game elements are displayed on an appropriate display device, 'such as on bonus game display 236. In one embodiment, the process 400 further includes displaying at least one change to the at least one bonus game element of the ongoing bonus game, as indicated by block 404. For example, in the leprechauns in a field example embodiment, the gaming system displays at least one of the leprechauns as moving within the field, gathering gold. In one embodiment, the gaming system displays this change to at least one of the gaming elements regardless of whether any player is wagering on any plays of the associated primary game. In a further embodiment, the gaming 14 system repeats this display of at least one change to the at least one bonus game element a plurality of times regardless of whether any player is wagering on any plays of the associated primary game. In one embodiment, the gaming system enables a player at one of a plurality of gaming devices to wager on a play of a primary game associated with the disclosed ongoing bonus game, as indicated by block 406. For example, the gaming system enables the player to wager on a play of a reel-based primary game. In one embodiment, the primary game is configured to display symbols which are thematically related to the bonus game. For the play of the primary game, the gaming system is configured in one embodiment to determine whether a predetermined qualifying activity occurs which enables the player to participate in the bonus game, as indicated by block 408. In various example embodiments, the gaming system determines whether a winning symbol combination is generated or whether a random determination independent of the generated symbol combinations results in the predetermined qualifying activity. In one embodiment, if the gaming system determines that the predetermined qualifying activity does not occur, as indicated by block 408, the gaming system displays at least one change to at least one bonus game element, as indicated by block 404, and enables the player to wager on another play of the primary game, as indicated by block 406. In one embodiment, if the gaming system determines that the predetermined activity does occur, as indicated by block 408, the gaming system enables the player to participate in the ongoing bonus game. In one embodiment, the gaming system enables the player to provide an input to alter one or more of the bonus game elements, as indicated by block 410. For example, the gaming system enables the player to select one or more of the leprechauns moving in the field of the ongoing bonus game. In one embodiment, the gaming system displays an indication of the alteration of the bonus game based on the player's input, as indicated by block 412. For example, the gaming system displays the selected leprechaun as bringing his bag of gold to a gate in the front of the field of leprechauns. In one embodiment, the gaming system provides a prize to the player (if any) for the player's participation in the bonus game, as indicated by block 414. For example, the gaming system provides a prize based on the amount of gold which a selected leprechaun is carrying. In a further embodiment, after providing the prize to the player, the player's participation in the bonus game ends, and the gaming system displays at least one change to at least one bonus game element, the change being independent of any player input, as indicated by block 416. For example, the gaming system displays an image of the leprechaun returning to the field to resume gathering gold. In one embodiment, the gaming system thereafter enables a player to wager again on a play of the primary game, as indicated by block 406. [0046] The foregoing example may also be implemented as a standalone bonus game, although implementation as a competitive game among players at a plurality of networked gaming machines G, G 2 ... G is currently preferred. It is believed that competition for the various bonus awards, which may be obtained more frequently over time through increased frequency and thus rate of play of the primary or base game, will stimulate greater interest on the 14a part of players and thus generate a higher level of revenue for the casino or other game operator. [0047] A second example of an ongoing bonus game is a combination of a role-playing game and a collection game. The game requires players to select a role, complete tasks and collect items associated with a bonus award value to receive a bonus award. An example of this game may be referred to as "Gold Quest." A large area is animated on a displays 118, 120 or 236, and preferably is a "western" scene, or another landscape scene. When specific events occur on gaming machines GI, G2 ... G, bonus prize award units become available for collection within the ongoing bonus game. This may be animated as a number of gold units, 14b which may be animated gold nuggets, appearing on the displays 118, 120 or 236 and then disappearing. The amount of bonus prize award units available at any time may be displayed. [0048] A player at a gaming machine Gi, G 2 ... G, is uniquely identified during the course of play on that gaming machine G 1 , G 2 . . . Gn, allowing a series of actions to be taken on as participation in the ongoing bonus game is enabled or qualified. Preferably, a player may retain a unique identification in the manner discussed above to enable the player to leave the ongoing bonus game and subsequently return to the same or any other gaming machine GI, G 2 . . G, to continue play in the ongoing bonus game from the same point at which the player left the game. The uniquely identified player may even be enabled to continue play at a different casino C. The unique identifier may also be used to track player attributes, such as number of base games played as well as the number and amount of wagers made in the base game, in addition to other player attributes that may be useful for marketing casino or other services to that player. [00491 In one exemplary embodiment of this game, a number of gaming machines G 1 , G 2 G. are networked to each other and to a bonus event computer 240. As the base game is played on the gaming machines G1, G 2 ... G,, specific events occur at random and the available bonus awards are increased. The bonus awards are animated as gold nuggets residing in a number of mines. The mines are scattered all over an animated play field presented on a bonus game display 236, the play field being depicted on the display as extending beyond what the eye can see. [0050] A player is qualified to participate in the ongoing bonus game when a predetermined activity randomly occurs on the gaming machine G 1 , G 2 ... G, the player is using. The player may be assigned (by, for example, occurrence of a given symbol on a reel display for the primary or base game), or select (the opportunity to select being attendant to being enabled to play in the ongoing bonus game), a role such as a scout, a miner, a transporter or another one of a plurality of predetermined roles selectable from a plurality of different roles. The ongoing bonus game may be configured to enable players to switch roles, or it may not. For example, a player may be enabled to select different roles in order to perform all the tasks associated with recovery of gold nuggets from a mine and participate alone in the ongoing bonus game. To encourage team play, role switching may not be permitted so that recovery of the gold requires participation in each role by at least one different player. In either instance, it is contemplated that the ongoing bonus game enable players to form teams to increase their ability 15 to obtain bonus awards and compete with other player teams. The different roles may be assigned different tasks for play of the ongoing bonus game. [00511 A player qualified to participate in the ongoing bonus game may, for example, select the role of scout. This player role performs the task of locating a mine containing bonus prize award units represented as animated gold nuggets. Each participation in the ongoing bonus game may allow the scout to make a certain number of moves, explore a certain area, or spend a preselected amount of time searching for a gold mine on the play field. Depending on the configuration of the ongoing bonus game, the location of a mine by a scout may allow the team to "claim" that mine, preventing other teams from collecting the gold nuggets therein and receiving the bonus prize awards associated with those bonus prize award units. Alternatively, the teams may compete to collect the gold nuggets found within a mine, or the first team to actually collect gold nuggets within a mine may then "claim" the mine. 100521 A player selecting the role of miner may participate in the ongoing bonus game by becoming active at a mine after it has been located by a scout. The miner may be at least a second player on a team, allowing the player in'the role of scout to continue to locate additional mines in subsequent moves and increase the ability of the team to eam bonus prizes. Each participation in the bonus game may allow the miner to perform the task by "mining," or collecting, a fixed number of bonus prize award units (gold nuggets) from a mine. 100531 A player selecting the role of transporter may participate in the ongoing bonus game by becoming active after the player selecting the role of miner has collected or "mined" the bonus prize award units. As with the other roles, it is preferred that the role of transporter be selected by a different player on a team, although it may be an additional role selected by a single player. The transporter performs the task of moving the animated gold nuggets to an image of one or more banks represented on the animated display, allowing the players to collect the bonus prize amount associated with the collected bonus prize award units. 10054] It will be appreciated that team play may be used to enable scouting, mining and transporting gold from more than one mine and at a faster rate that might be effected by a single player. In addition, frequent and continuous play by team members is encouraged by the display c & other teams finding, mining and retrieving gold nuggets during periods of inactivity by one's own team. 16 [0055] Preferably, collection of the bonus prize during team play is accompanied by apportioning the bonus prize amount among the uniquely identified players on a team, using the online accounting and gaming information system 260. Apportioning may be effected by awarding the full amount of the bonus prize award units to each player on the team, by awarding an equal percentage or number of bonus prize award units to each player on the team, or by dividing up the bonus prize award units in inverse proportion to the number of moves put into earning the bonus prize award units by each player, or otherwise as may be desired. Players on a winning team not currently playing at a gaming machine G 1 , G 2 ... G, may collect their portion of bonus prize winnings when they next return to play the ongoing bonus game, at a bonus prize award terminal, or as otherwise enabled. Once all the bonus prize award units have been removed from a mine, it is deemed to be no longer active and the team which has depleted the gold reserves therein must locate a new mine to continue to obtain bonus prize award units. Closure of a mine may be signaled by an animated image of the mine collapsing. [0056] It is contemplated that ongoing bonus game movements may be enabled roughly thirty-three percent of the time in the course of primary or base game play. That is, roughly one of every three reels spins of primary or base game play, on average, results in display of a symbol to enable play in the ongoing bonus game. It is, of course, further contemplated that there will be primary or base game payouts for bars, sevens, cherries, etc., as a conventional reel type primary or base game currently pays. [00571 Players on a team may be required to all be located at a single casino site C, or a single bank of gaming machines G 1 , G 2 . . . G. Alternatively, with a multi-site system such as that depicted in drawing FIG. 3, players on a team may be located at different casino sites C 1 , C 2 ... C., which may be located anywhere, and still participate as a team. It will be appreciated that it is within the scope of the present invention to allow a personal computer connected to a network, including a local area network (LAN), a wide area network (WAN) or the Internet to function as a gaming machine G 1 , G 2 . . . G. under appropriate circumstances. For example, where a secure or encrypted connection may be made to an online casino, over the Internet, and credits may be entered to play a base game using a credit card, a debit card or another recognized account, portions of the personal computer monitor may be respectively sequestered to display the ongoing bonus game and the base game of a gaming machine G 1 , G 2 ... G. As with a more traditional gaming machine embodiment, the player may be enabled to participate in the ongoing 17 bonus game upon the occurrence of a predetermined activity. In such an embodiment, a player may even join in team play from his or her home. [00581 The use of a team competition may encourage players to continue, extend, or return their play of the gaming machines G 1 , G 2 ... G,. While teams may be formed at a casino

C

1 , C2 ... C, for the purpose of play over a limited period of time, an ongoing team may be made up of group of friends or family members who will encourage each other to return and continue play of the ongoing bonus game to collect (mine) and transport bonus prize award units that have already been located, or transport bonus prize award units that have already been collected (mined) but not transported, by other members of the team. On the other hand, teams may be built "on the fly" with strangers. Players may be enabled to signal the need for other team members in unfilled roles before entering the ongoing bonus game, after performing tasks which generate potential bonus prize award units for which assistance is required to secure, or otherwise according to the game configuration. In addition, it is contemplated that mere play of the base or primary game on a gaming machine G 1 , G 2 ... G. and generation of additional amounts to be added to the bonus prizes may not enable participation in any bonus prize award already being accumulated by, for example, other players acting as a team. To the contrary, in order to participate in the ongoing bonus game and bonus prize awards, a player must qualify into bonus game play by the occurrence of some predetermined activity associated with primary or base game play. 10059] An additional element of difficulty may be incorporated in the game configuration, such as the collapse of a mine shaft portion between a scout or miner and the cache of gold nuggets, the transporter's mine car going out of control or the transporter being held up by bandits after exiting the mine, or otherwise. The difficulty may be overcome, for example, by diversion of player "moves" from their primary tasks, or by wagering additional sums in bonus game play in return for the potential of the bonus prize award sought to be recovered being greatly increased by random chance. If desired, this aspect of the ongoing bonus game may be used to present an opportunity for recovery of a "mother lode" in the form of a progressive jackpot or other greatly enhanced bonus prize award. 10060] At the inception of an ongoing bonus game according to the present invention, the award pool for the bonus prize awards may be "seeded" with money fronted by the game operator, such as a casino. From that outset, however, the award pool should be self-sustaining 18 with a portion of wagers placed for play of the primary game on one or more gaming machines enabling play of the ongoing bonus game. Alternatively, the award pool may be sustained by funds transferred from the primary game in response to occurrence of certain preselected outcomes thereof relating to the ongoing bonus game. [00611 Further, and as enabled by player tracking, it is contemplated that specific states, roles or other status associated with play of the ongoing bonus game may continue to be associated with a player during periods where he or she is not participating in the ongoing bonus game. Therefore, upon reentry to the ongoing bonus game, a player may continue play in a previously established role, or in a previously earned status, either individually or as part of a team. [00621 In addition, while entry into the ongoing bonus game of the present invention has been described herein as requiring a qualification responsive to some activity or event, such qualification may comprise mere play of a primary game so that substantially every play or round of a primary or base game enables entry to and participation in the ongoing bonus game. [0063] It will be appreciated that modifications to the above exemplary embodiments or other, equally suitable ongoing bonus games may be created by those of ordinary skill in the art. All such ongoing bonus game modifications and other ongoing bonus games and machines, systems and methods for implementing same fall within the scope of the present invention. It will be further appreciated that any method, system or device for providing an ongoing bonus game in connection with a gaming machine may fall within the scope of the present invention. [00641 Accordingly, the present invention preferably includes conducting a game of chance, comprising placing a wager with a first gaming unit configured to generate a series of random outcomes during play of a primary or base game and qualifying to participate in an ongoing bonus game based upon a predetermined activity associated with play of the primary or base game on the first gaming unit. It is preferred that the ongoing bonus game be displayed on a display, which may be associated with the gaming machine or in communication with a gaming system to which the gaming machine is networked. Participation in the ongoing bonus game may be enhanced by continuing play of the primary or base game; this is particularly useful where a uniquely identified player is enabled to reenter the ongoing bonus game and continue an earlier participation therein. The ongoing bonus game may be a selection game, a collection game, a role-playing game, or any other suitable game. A role-playing game preferably includes a number of roles from which a player selects a role, and requires cooperation between players as a team to receive a bonus prize award. The players may be assembled on competitive teams. The bonus prize awarded to a team may be awarded to each 19 player on that team, or may be apportioned between those players. The predetermined activity for participation in the ongoing bonus game may be achieving a predetermined random outcome, making a certain value of wager, making a certain number of wagers, or completing another activity associated with play of the primary or base game on the gaming machine. [0065] The present invention preferably further includes providing a perpetual competitive bonus game over linked gaming machines, including providing a bonus event computer configured to run at least one ongoing bonus game thereon and networking at least one gaming machine configured to generate a series of random outcomes in play of a primary or base game in operative communication with the bonus event computer. Participation in the at least one ongoing bonus game is dependent upon occurrence of a predetermined activity associated with play of the primary or base game on the at least one gaming machine. It is preferred that a plurality of gaming machines be networked with the bonus event computer in communication therewith. The gaming units may be networked to at least one bonus game display to exhibit the at least one ongoing bonus game and may be configured to simultaneously exhibit the at least ongoing bonus game thereon. Where a plurality of gaming machines is employed, some gaming machines may be situated at two or more mutually remotely located casino sites. The operative connections between components may be made over a LAN, a WAN, or the Internet. [00661 Although the present invention has been shown and described with respect to preferred embodiments, various additions, deletions and modifications that are obvious to a person skilled in the art to which the invention pertains, even if not shown or specifically described herein, are deemed to lie within the scope of the invention as encompassed by the following claims. All publications mentioned in this specification are herein incorporated by reference. Any discussion of documents, acts, materials, devices, articles or the like which has been included in the present specification is solely for the purpose of providing a context for the present invention. It is not to be taken as an admission that any or all of these matters form part of the prior art base or were common general knowledge in the field relevant to the present invention as it existed in Australia or elsewhere before the priority date of each claim of this application. It is to be understood that any acknowledgement of prior art in this specification is not to be taken as an admission that this acknowledged prior art forms part of the common general knowledge in Australia or elsewhere. 20

Claims (45)

1. A method of playing a game, the method comprising: receiving a wager from a player displaying an image associated with a primary game; 5 determining a game outcome associated with the primary game; determining if a qualifying activity has occurred during the primary game; altering an image representing at least a portion of an ongoing bonus game independent of an input from the player until a qualifying activity is determined to have occurred; after determining that the qualifying activity has occurred, altering the image 10 representing at least the portion of the bonus game according to a non-wager input from the player, provided during play of the ongoing bonus game, independent of the game outcome of the primary game; after receiving the non-wager input, receiving a termination input, the termination input not related to a determination whether the player has won the bonus game; and 15 altering the image representing at least the portion of the bonus game independent of the non-wager input from the player after the termination input is received until a qualifying activity is determined to have occurred again, the ongoing bonus game thus operating substantially continuously over an extended period of time. 20
2. The method according to claim 1, comprising: associating at least one interactive graphical character with the player; and altering the image associated with the ongoing bonus game in response to interaction between the image and the graphical character associated with the player according to the non 25 wager input from the player independent of the game outcome of the primary game.
3. The method according to claim 2 comprising storing a change in status of the graphical character associated with the player according to the alteration of the image associated with the ongoing bonus game in response to interaction between the image and the 30 graphical character associated with the player according to the non-wager input from the player independent of the game outcome of the primary game.
4. The method according to claim 1, comprising: occMeM3.aC 21 receiving a plurality of non-wager inputs from a plurality of players other than the player; altering the image associated with the ongoing bonus game according to the plurality of non-wager inputs from the plurality of players other than the player and independent of the 5 non-wager input from the player prior to determining that the qualifying activity has occurred; altering the image associated with the ongoing bonus game according to the plurality of non-wager inputs from the plurality of players other than the player and the non-wager input from the player independent of the game outcome of the primary game if the qualifying activity is determined to have occurred; and 10 altering the image associated with the ongoing bonus game according to the plurality of non-wager inputs from the plurality of players other than the player and independent of the non-wager input from the player after the termination input is received until a qualifying activity is determined to have occurred again. 15
5. The method according to claim 1, comprising: associating at least one interactive graphical character with each of the players of the plurality of players other than the player and with the player; and altering the image associated with the ongoing bonus game in response to interaction between the image, the interactive graphical characters associated with each of the players of 20 the plurality of players other than the player according to the plurality of non-wager inputs from the plurality of players other than the player and the graphical character associated with the player according to the non-wager input from the player independent of the game outcome of the primary game. 25
6. The method according to claim 5, wherein the interaction between the image associated with the ongoing bonus game is different for at least one of the at least one interactive graphical characters associated with each of the players of the plurality of players other than the player and the at least one interactive graphical character associated with the player. 30 omnw0-C 22
7. The method according to claim 6, wherein the at least one of the at least one interactive graphical characters associated with each of the players of the plurality of players other than the player has a different role than the at least one interactive graphical character associated with the player. 5
8. The method according to claim 6, comprising storing a change in status of the graphical character associated with the player according to the alteration of the image associated with the ongoing bonus game in response to interaction between the image, the interactive graphical characters associated with each of the players of the plurality of players 10 other than the player according to the plurality of non-wager inputs from the plurality of players other than the player and the graphical character associated with the player according to the plurality of inputs from the player independent of the game outcome of the primary game. 15
9. A gaming system comprising: a plurality of gaming machines, each gaming machine programmed, for each of a plurality of plays of a primary game, to: (a) receive a signal indicating a wager from a player, (b) cause a display of an image associated with said play of the primary 20 game, and (c) determine a game outcome associated with said play of the primary game; and at least one computer programmed to: (a) determine if a qualifying activity occurs based on any play of the 25 primary game of any of the gaming machines, (b) cause an image displaying at least a portion of an ongoing bonus game to be altered a plurality of times independent of any input from a first player at a first one of the gaming machine, said alteration occurring prior to determining that the qualifying activity, has occurred for any of 30 the gaming machines, (c) after determining that the qualifying activity has occurred for the first gaming machine, cause the image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game to be altered based on a non-wager input from the first player provided during play of the ongoing bonus game, said oceom .ece 23 alteration being independent of any game outcome associated with the primary game, (d) after receiving the non-wager input from the first player, receive a termination input, and 5 (e) cause the image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game to be altered a plurality of times independent of the non-wager input from the first player after the termination input is received until the qualifying activity is determined to have occurred again for at least one of the plurality of gaming machines. 10
10. The gaming system according to claim 9, wherein the at least one computer is programmed to: associate at least one interactive graphical character with the first player; and cause the image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game to be altered 15 in response to a displayed interaction between the image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game and the interactive graphical character associated with the first player according to the non-wager input from the first player and independent of any game outcome associated with any play of the primary game of any of the gaming machines. 20
11. The gaming system according to claim 10, wherein the at least one computer is programmed to store a change in status of the interactive graphical character associated with the first player, said change in status being based on the alteration of the image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game in response to the displayed interaction between the image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game and the interactive 25 graphical character associated with the first player according to the non-wager input from the first player and independent of any game outcome associated with any play of the primary game of any of the gaming machines.
12. The gaming system according to claim 9, wherein the at least one computer is 30 programmed to: receive a plurality of non-wager inputs from a plurality of players other than the first player; cause the image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game to be altered based on the non-wager inputs received from the plurality of players other than the first player 0M-4e 24 and independent of the non-wager input from the first player prior to determining that the qualifying activity has occurred for the first gaming machine; cause the image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game to be altered based on the non-wager inputs from the plurality of players other than the first player if the 5 qualifying activity is determined to have occurred for any of the gaming machines, said alteration also being based on the non-wager input from the first player and said alteration being independent of any game outcome associated with any play of the primary game of any of the gaming machines; and repeatedly cause the image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game 10 to be altered based on the non-wager inputs from the plurality of players other than the first player and independent of the non-wager input from the first player after the termination input is received and until the qualifying activity is determined to have occurred again for the first gaming machine. 15
13. The gaming system according to claim 12, wherein the at least one computer is programmed to: associate at least one interactive graphical character with each of the plurality of players other than the first player and to associate at least one interactive graphical character with the first player; and 20 cause the image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game to be altered in response to an interaction between the image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game, the interactive graphical characters associated with each of the plurality of players other than the first player based on the non-wager inputs from the plurality of additional players, and the interactive graphical character associated with the first player based 25 on the non-wager input from the first player, said alteration being independent of any game outcome associated with any play of the primary game of any of the gaming machines.
14. The gaming system according to claim 13, wherein the alteration of the image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game is different based on the interaction 30 with at least one of the interactive graphical characters associated with each of the plurality of players other than the first player than the alteration of the image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game based on the interaction with the at least one interactive graphical character associated with the first player. D."- 25
15. The gaming system according to claim 14, wherein at least one of the interactive graphical characters associated with each of the plurality of players other than the first player has a different role than the at least one interactive graphical character associated with the first player. 5
16. The gaming system according to claim 14, wherein the at least one computer is programmed to store a change in status of the at least one interactive graphical character associated with the first player based on the alteration of the image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game in response to interaction between: 10 (a) the image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game, (b) the interactive graphical characters associated with each of the plurality of players other than the first player based on the non-wager inputs from the plurality of players other than the first player, and (c) the at least one interactive graphical character associated with the first player 15 based on the non-wager input from the first player; said alteration being independent of any game outcome associated with any play of the primary game of any of the gaming machines.
17. The gaming system of Claim 9, which includes at least one community display 20 device, wherein the at least one computer is programmed to operate with the at least one community display device to display the image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game and any alterations of said image displaying at least the portion of the ongoing bonus game on the at least one community display device. 25
18. A gaming system comprising: a plurality of gaming machines, each gaming machine including: at least one display device; at least one input device; at least one processor; and 30 at least one memory device which stores a plurality of instructions, which when executed by the at least one processor, cause the at least one processor to operate with the at least one display device and the at least one input device to: (i) enable a player to wager on a play of a primary game, (ii) generate a primary game outcome for the play of the primary game, and OvemwMce 26 (iii) if a designated event occurs in any play of the primary game, enable the player to provide a bonus game input usable in an already ongoing bonus game, said designated event enabling the player to play the already ongoing bonus game; and 5 a computer programmed to operate with said plurality of gaming machines to: (a) cause a display of a plurality of bonus game elements of the ongoing bonus game prior to a first occurrence of the designated event in any play of the primary game of any of the gaming machines, (b) cause a display of a plurality of initial modifications to the displayed bonus 10 game elements of the already ongoing bonus game prior to the first occurrence of the designated event in any play of the primary game of any of the gaming machines, (c) after causing the display of the plurality of initial modifications, determine whether the designated event occurs in any play of the primary game of any of 15 the gaming machines, (d) for each of the gaming machines for which the designated event occurs: (i) receive data indicative of said bonus game input for said gaming machine, (ii) designate at least one of the initially modified displayed bonus game 20 elements of the already ongoing bonus game based on the received data indicative of the bonus game input for said gaming device and (iii) provide an award based on the at least one designated bonus game element of the already ongoing bonus game, and (e) repeat (b) to (d) at least once. 25
19. The gaming system of claim 18, wherein the designated event includes a generation of a winning symbol combination for any primary game outcome of any of the gaming machines. 30
20. The gaming system of claim 18, wherein the designated event occurs independent of any primary game outcome of any of the gaming machines. o---d 27
21. The gaming system of claim 18, wherein each of the plurality of displayed bonus game elements is associated with a value, and wherein the provided award is based on the value associated with at least one of the designated bonus game elements. 5
22. The gaming system of claim 18, wherein a first of the plurality of displayed bonus game elements is associated with a first category of bonus game elements, a ,second of the plurality of displayed bonus game elements is associated with a second category of bonus game elements, the computer is programmed to store data representing that the first bonus game element and the second bonus game element were both designated, and the provided 10 award is based on at least one of the bonus game elements of the first category being designated and on at least one of the bonus game elements of the second category being designated.
23. The gaming system of claim 18, wherein the computer is programmed to cause 15 the display of the plurality of bonus game elements upon the computer being booted.
24. The gaming system of claim 18, wherein the computer is programmed to repeat (b) to (d) until an occurrence of one selected from the group consisting of: the computer is disconnected from an electricity source, maintenance is performed on the computer, and the 20 computer is turned off.
25. The gaming system of claim 18, wherein at least one of the plurality of gaming machines is located physically remotely from the computer, and wherein the computer is programmed to operate with the plurality of gaming machines using a data network. 25
26. A gaming system comprising: a plurality of gaming machines, each gaming machine including: at least one display device; at least one input device; 30 at least one processor; and at least one memory device which stores a plurality of instructions, which when executed by the at least one processor, cause the at least one processor to operate with the at least one display device and the at least one input device to: (i) enable a player to wager on a play of a primary game, 28 (ii) generate a primary game outcome for the play of the primary game, and (iii) if a designated event occurs, enable the player to provide a bonus game input usable in an already ongoing bonus game, said designated event enabling the player to play the already ongoing bonus game; and 5 a computer programmed to operate with said plurality of gaming machines to: (a) cause a display of a plurality of bonus game elements of the already ongoing bonus game prior to determining that any designated events have occurred for any of the gaming machines, (b) determine whether the designated event occurs for any of the gaming machines, 10 (c) for each of the gaming machines for which the designated event occurs: (i) designate at least one of the displayed bonus game elements of the already ongoing bonus game based on the bonus game input for said gaming device, and (ii) provide an award based on the at least one designated bonus game 15 element of the already ongoing bonus game, (d) after designating said at least one displayed bonus game element of the ongoing bonus game, cause a display of a plurality of modifications to the displayed bonus game elements of the ongoing bonus game, said modifications being independent of any bonus game input, and 20 (e) after displaying the plurality of modifications to the displayed bonus game elements, repeat (b) to (d) at least once.
27. The gaming system of claim 26, wherein the designated event includes a generation of a winning symbol combination for the primary game outcome of any of the 25 gaming machines.
28. The gaming system of claim 26, wherein the designated event occurs independent of any generated primary game outcome. 30
29. The gaming system of claim 26, wherein each of the plurality of displayed bonus game elements is associated with a value, and wherein the provided award is based on the value associated with at least one of the designated bonus game elements. DneM 29
30. The gaming system of claim 26, wherein at least one of the plurality of gaming machines is located physically remotely from the computer, and wherein the computer is programmed to operate with the plurality of gaming machines using a data network. 5
31. A gaming system comprising: a computer programmed to operate with a plurality of gaming machines to: (a) cause a display of a plurality of bonus game elements of an ongoing bonus game prior to any occurrence of a first designated event, a second designated event, or a third designated event, 10 (b) determine whether a first designated event occurs for a first one of the gaming machines, the first designated event enabling the player to play the ongoing bonus. game, (c) if the first designated event occurs for the first one of the gaming machines: 15 (i) designate at least one of the displayed bonus game elements based on a first bonus game input associated with the first gaming machine, and (ii) provide a first award to a first player of the first gaming machine, said first award being based on any designated bonus game 20 elements, (d) after designating the at least one displayed bonus game element based on the first bonus game input, cause a display of a first plurality of modifications to the displayed bonus game elements of the ongoing bonus game, 25 (e) after causing the display of the first plurality of modifications to the displayed bonus game elements, determine whether a second designated event occurs for a second one of the gaming machines, (f) if the second designated event occurs for the second one of the gaming machines: 30 (i) designate at least one of any of the displayed modified bonus game elements based on a first bonus game input associated with the second gaming machine, and (ii) provide a second award to a second player at the second gaming machine, said second award being based on any designated bonuesgadmc 30 bonus game element after said first plurality of modifications to the displayed bonus game elements, (g) after designating the at least one displayed bonus game element based on the second bonus game input, cause a display of a second plurality-of 5 modifications to the displayed bonus game elements of the ongoing bonus game, (h) after causing the display of the second plurality of modifications to the displayed bonus game elements, determine whether a third designated event occurs for the first one of the gaming machines, and 10 (i) if the third designated event occurs for the third one of the gaming machines: (i) designate at least one of any of the displayed modified bonus game elements based on a second bonus game input associated with the first gaming machine, and 15 (ii) provide a third award to the first player at the first gaming machine, said third award being based on any designated bonus game element after said second plurality of modifications to the displayed bonus game elements. 20
32. The gaming system of claim 31, wherein the computer is programmed to determine whether any primary game outcome of any of the gaming machines results in the first designated event, the second designated event, or the third designated event.
33. The gaming system of claim 31, wherein at least one selected from the group 25 consisting of; the first designated event, the second designated event, and the third designated event occurs independent of any displayed primary game outcome of any of the gaming machines.
34. The gaming system of claim 31, wherein each of the plurality of displayed 30 bonus game elements is associated with a value, and wherein at least one of the first award, the second award, and the third award is based on the value associated with at least one of the designated bonus game elements. 31
35. The gaming system of claim 31, wherein at least one of the plurality of gaming machines is located physically remotely from the computer, and wherein the computer is programmed to operate with the plurality of gaming machines using a data network. 5
36. The gaming system of claim 35, wherein the data network is an internet.
37. A gaming system comprising: a computer programmed to operate with a plurality of gaming machines to: (a) cause a display of a plurality of bonus game elements of an ongoing bonus 10 game; (b) prior to receiving any bonus game input, cause a display of a first plurality of modifications to the plurality of bonus game elements of the ongoing bonus game regardless of whether any player is wagering on any play of a game of any of the gaming machines; 15 (c) after causing the display of the first plurality of modifications to the plurality of bonus game elements, receive at least one bonus game input from at least one of the gaming machines; (d) cause a display of at least one input-based modification of at least one of the bonus game elements of the ongoing bonus game based on said at least one 20 bonus game input; and (e) after displaying said at least one input-based modification, cause a display of a second plurality of modifications to the plurality of bonus game elements of the ongoing bonus game regardless of whether any player is wagering on any play of the game of any of the gaming machines. 25
38. The gaming system of Claim 37, wherein the computer is, programmed to operate with the plurality of gaming machines to, upon an occurrence of a designated event for one of the gaming machines, receive the at least one bonus game input from said one of the gaming machines. 30
39. The gaming system of Claim 38, wherein the designated event is based on a primary game outcome for the play of the game of one of the gaming machines. om.".- 32
40. The gaming system of claim 39, wherein the primary game outcome includes a generation of a winning symbol combination,
41. The gaming system of claim 38, wherein the designated event is independent of 5 any primary game outcome of any play of the game of any of the gaming machines.
42. The gaming system of claim 37, wherein each of the plurality of displayed bonus game elements is associated with a value, and wherein the computer is programmed to operate with the plurality of gaming machines to provide an award based on said at least one 10 bonus game input and also based on the value associated with at least one of the bonus game elements.
43. The gaming system of claim 37, wherein at least one of the plurality of gaming machines is located physically remotely from the computer, and wherein the computer is 15 programmed to operate with the plurality of gaming machines using a data network.
44. A method of playing a game substantially as herein described with reference to the accompanying Figures. 20
45. A system of playing a game substantially as herein described with reference to the accompanying Figures. Docun3.doc 33
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