Casinos appear to be struggling to appeal to the next generation of gambler, with slots in particular looking tired to the younger audience. So could skill-based games be the answer, or will the savvy millennial gamer quickly see the odds are still stacked in favor of the house?
Although far from mainstream, some big names have recently announced they are taking a bet on skill-based products to draw in the younger demographic.
Australia’s Crown Resorts and Chill Gaming – a 50/50 joint venture between Crown and New Gaming Pty Ltd, owned by Wymac Gaming Solutions – plans to deploy a suite of skill-based electronic games after showcasing prototypes at gaming shows.
While GameCo, a self-styled video games casino, recently displayed its proprietary video gaming gambling machines (VGMs) at the Australasian Gaming Expo (AGE) in Sydney. The New York-based company is also hopeful that Macau will approve its machines before the end of the year.
CEO Blaine Graboyes says: “We’re seeing a very similar underlying business focus from casinos worldwide; the search for new, innovative products that attract new audiences and generate incremental revenue. We have strong demand from operators in Macau and other regulated gambling jurisdictions across Asia, while our participation at AGE was our first chance to expose Australian operators to our products and I am pleased to say that the response was very encouraging.”
The company is currently finishing its internal development to accommodate the Macau “1.1” gaming standard with plans to make a submission to regulators before the end of the year.
GameCo, which has VGMs installed at the Tropicana and Borgata casinos in Atlantic City, describes itself as a “data-driven startup”. It regularly gathers and analyses user feedback and performance metrics from casinos to assess how its games are performing. For example, its games typically allow bets of between US$2 and $20 per play, though average bet size is around $4. Meanwhile, the games are generally 45-60 seconds in length per play, while users tend to play each machine for an average of 15 minutes.
Users also often flit between games, which is why a carousel of gaming options, such as a ‘pod’ of three or four VGMs, helps keep them interested, according to the firm’s research. GameCo has been granted a patent on its proprietary system for controlling return to player using similar math to traditional skill-based games like poker. The company’s games portfolio includes the likes of Danger Arena, a first-person shooter in which participants have to eliminate advancing enemies, basketball game Nothin’ but Net, and Pharaoh’s Secret Temple whereby players match gems to collect rare treasures within a time limit.
“We are seeing a strong correlation between players who enjoy traditional casino games as well as new video game gambling offerings,” says Graboyes. “Gamers come in all ages, from Millennials to Generation X [baby boomers].” Different genres appeal to different players, however. For instance, around 60 percent of Danger Arena players are male and under 40. Meanwhile, the majority of those that play Pharaoh’s Secret Temple and Poseidon’s Deep Sea Saga (a bubble shooter game) are females over 40.
Established in 2010, Gamblit Gaming has a developed a number of multiplayer tabletop games that replicate an online social gaming experience on the casino floor. Its first games – Gamblit Poker and Cannonbeard’s Treasure – have been installed at casinos across the US and cruise ships operating in the Atlantic and Pacific. With these games, there is a joint combined wager against the house, anywhere from a total of $8 (four players each with a $2 bet) up to $20 (four players each with a $5 bet).
The outcome of the wager is the pot that the players then compete for. “We think that the allure of these specific games is that people get to play together,” says Marcus Yoder, VP of business development for regulated markets at Gamblit Gaming. “One person – the winner – comes away from each hand with an outcome greater than what they wagered in that hand.
Similar to GameCo, a Gamblit survey found that the median age of its players is 37, while 64 percent are between 21 and 39.
Furthermore, the male-female divide is pretty close. “We’ve seen that along the gender line, both games come up fairly equally in terms of male and female players, with Gamblit Poker skewing only slightly more male, and Cannonbeard’s Treasure skewing only slightly more female,” says Yoder.
However, there is major challenge for game designers. They need to ensure that titles aren’t too intimidating for non-gamers who may feel they lack the gaming aptitude to succeed and stand a chance of actually winning money.
On the flipside, there has to be enough difficulty so that more accomplished gamers don’t win too much too easily. It’s a fine balancing act. “Yes, we have taken into account the potential for some players to feel like they could never be skilled enough to win at skill-based games,” says Yoder. “First off, most games that you will see in the near future from Gamblit and other suppliers will continue to have an element of chance in the wagering outcome. Some jurisdictions will still mandate that.
“Second, the term ‘skill game’ will have a very broad definition. Basically, any game that you play on your smartphone is a skill-game. We have taken a nod from the most successful game genres out there; match three, word puzzles, endless runner and first-person shooters to create ‘gamblified’ skill-games. We think we will have a game for many different interests, skill sets, and skill level – a something-for-everyone approach.”
GameCo’s VGMs include a Random Number Generator (RNG) that is used to randomly choose the “playfield” for each game - which can also be thought of as a map or level. Each game session offers the player the opportunity for a maximum possible payout based on the game’s paytable. About a third of game sessions will offer players the ability to win up to 25 times their bet, based on current game design. It is then completely up to the player’s skill to achieve that maximum potential payout or win. GameCo games do not track player’s skill and each play is random and independent of past and future game sessions.
Ng Hai, co-founding partner at technology strategy and management group, Neomancer, says he sees a bright future for skill-based gaming, though it will take the collaboration of the game designers, regulators and the casinos themselves to get them off the ground.
He says the designers will need to “think outside the box” and not just come up with a machine that to all intents and purposes mirrors a traditional slot machine. He agrees millennials enjoy the more social aspect of gaming, so clusters and position on the casino floor will be key.
In Asia, where slot machines have taken a backseat to tables, a game that gives the player the impression of controlling the odds may stand a winning chance.
Asia Gaming Brief is a news and intelligence service providing up to date market information for worldwide executives on relevant gaming issues in Asia.
ASIA GAMING BRIEF
PO Box 1139, Macau SAR
Tel: +853 2871 7267
Fax: +853 2871 7264