There was plenty of volatility on the floor at Casino Marketing Conference last month if you’re in the slot machine business.

That slots would play an increasingly important role in a marketing conference makes sense because most folks agree that real-time marketing to players is central to the way many operators plan to define themselves in what the players see as a commoditized business with more free play coming their way all the time.

Of course, much of the commentary focused on what’s not happening, but also on better things to come. Javier Saenz, executive director, IGT, in a presentation that addressed what gaming can learn from other industries said other industries have become all about content delivery based on customer preferences (iTunes Genius, Pandora, Netflix, and Amazon). We need recommendation engines rather than total, unguided choice. Just dumping 600 games on the floor won’t work.

“Server-based technology supports acting on real-time data from the floor,” said Saenz. “Slot play is a constant blind taste test. It’s hard for the player to do a value calculation. Use a rating system to categorize volatility, not unlike Chili’s pepper rating for spiciness that it uses on menus. Show game history, as in jackpot payouts, and group like games together. Let players draw their own conclusions as to whether a game is hot or cold. We have huge amounts of data on the games and the players. We’re way beyond ADT. Consumers expect content to be relevant based on their choices.”

More value us critically because slot machines are by definition expensive to player and operator alike. “There is structural dissatisfaction in our product,” said Randy Fine, managing director, The Fine Point Group. “When you beat customers over the head three out of every four times they visit you they start to buy their product from someone else. That’s why marketing is at the center of things.”

Not missing a beat, John Acres, founder, Acres 4.0, who spoke about his company’s push for tablet-based gaming, said, “We have expensive games and expensive technology that is expensive to build and impossible to maintain. Younger players will accept pad gaming and you need younger players. When you look at Bejewelled or FarmVille or AngryBirds, people are getting a lot of entertainment for 99 cents. Our offer looks pretty expensive. People aren’t playing and price has a lot to do with it.”

Manufacturers are getting the message; let’s face it, new game sales have been hard to come by for some time now, and operators are increasingly turning to more affordable software-based solutions to revamp their floors instead of expensive new hardware.

This was the underlying reality that Eric Tom, chief operating office, International Game Technology, spoke of after IGT introduced its Universal Game Adapter (UGA), which will make it possible for operators to offer sbX Media Manager capabilities to players on legacy machines, at its user conference in late June.

“The UGA is really a reflection of customers saying we love the idea of Media Manager; the ability to network the floor to create value for my players through marketing programs and connect with my player at the slot machine,” said Tom, in a conference call after the announcement. “They want to see the service window on the machine, whether it is a part of the actual digital screen on which the game is played or as an independent window as some have deployed. But they want to be able to have that connection to the player and be able to deliver robust capabilities to that window. The value of the Media Manager capability was beyond what we thought it would be. We actually thought the real killer app (for networked gaming) was going to be downloading config.

Tom added that, at the end of the day, IGT’s customers having this capability across a floor of slot machines that are provided from a multitude of manufacturers will enable their ability to leverage the service window in a manner that allows them to provide compelling value propositions and marketing programs to communicate with their players and create value for their casinos by differentiating them from other casinos. “Ultimately serving that player in a more customized manner is what we’re all after to maintain the competitiveness of our industry against many other forms of entertainment,” said Tom.