Manufacturers are discovering that server-based technology doesn’t have to be used solely for gaming.

MEI's bill acceptor products are among many peripherals being enhanced with new technologies.

A downloadable and server-based gaming begins to make its way onto the casino floor, manufacturers of peripheral devices, such as bill validators and ticket printers, are seizing  opportunities made possible by the technology.

Server-based gaming allows casinos to configure slot machines from a remote console instead of physically having to swap out printed circuit boards, known as firmware. The game is played on the machine, but the result is determined either by the machine or by a central computer and displayed on the machine’s screen. Game content is downloaded from the server to the machine, thereby changing the game theme on the machine. Other features may also be included in this scenario, such as the ability to change game configurable options from a central server.

If the server or network were to fail, play can still continue because the random number generator is resident on the machine. The technology also allows for downloading of software updates, such as customer notifications, and also can be used to update peripheral software (bill validators, ticket printers, etc.).

The technology makes for a glitzier and more rewarding customer experience, a key requirement for attracting and retaining customers. “Successful gaming means creating an atmosphere where the player has loyalty to a specific game or even a specific location on the casino floor,” said Jean-Louis Drapeau, vice president of sales and marketing at Nanoptix, which manufactures thermal ticket printers.

Nanoptix is adapting its printers to function in a server-based world by turning them into customer touchpoints. For server-based games, its Paycheck 3 printer has the ability to print logos branding the casino as well as the game because of its Digital Signal Processor (DSP) chip - which has ample memory to store the logos and enables the printer to print very fast (a ticket in 2.2 seconds) versus the current seven to eight seconds for traditional printer models.

“We, as a printer manufacturer, can build brand loyalty between the casino and players,” Drapeau said. “Right now, we’re doing it through firmware, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t download software from server to the machine.”

Other manufacturers are also adapting their products for server-based gaming. JCM Global’s UBA bill validator features a USB download port located in the front of the unit for quick and easy program downloads without having to remove the unit from the game. Communication between the game and the validator can be achieved through the USB port in the rear of the unit.

Transact Technology’s Epic 950 printer has the ability to simultaneously connect to the game and the casino’s server while delivering targeted, eye-catching comps, coupons and offers to players. IGT has selected the Epic 950 printer as the default ticket-in/ticket-out printer for all new IGT games. “This is a historic win for TransAct, and it comes just as we believe the upgrade cycle for server-based gaming is about to begin,” said TransAct CEO Bart Shuldman.

IGT and Atronic have formed a partnership to co-develop a fully integrated solution for Atronic’s Server Assisted Gaming product line. The solution, which utilizes IGT’s AVP game platform and is interoperable with its server-based open networks, provides operators with a mechanism to deliver the complete suite of server-assisted functionality to the casino floor.

Nanoptix's Paycheck 3 printer.

Server-based benefits

The promises of server-based gaming for improving player experiences are nearly limitless. Customers can play the games they want at any location. Machines can be preloaded with games based on player profiles, and display games played during the last visit, as well as favorite games and denominations. Players can also experience peer-to-peer play by inviting others to participate in a game. For example, they can challenge other players to win the most credits during a certain period of time during regular game play; the winner then receives extra credit values or comps.

For casinos, the technology offers a way to maximize revenue by changing games to match player demographics on the floor at any time as, for example, if weekday players favor poker and weekend players favor video slots. It eliminates the need for swapping out parts on the floor, resulting in less machine downtime and increased labor savings.

Real-time player marketing can be performed through the machine by, for example, offering qualified players concert tickets, meal comps, or other marketing incentives. Time to market for new titles is slashed, with a simultaneous increase in the quantity of hot-performing games. And the technology maximizes the game life cycle by reducing lost revenue that’s experienced when an older game is in decline.

Peripheral manufacturers are eager to catch the server-based wave. “Server-based gaming offers the capability not only to change games but also enables peripherals to receive new programming, downloadable through the system,” said Tom Nugent, executive vice president of gaming at MEI Global, which manufactures bill validators.

“The technology gives bill validators the ability to download new software for the new $5 or $10 bill instead of opening the machine and changing the physical device,” he said. “It also gives printers the ability to print graphics for seasonal promotions and builds brand loyalty.” MEI Global has configured its devices to interface with new server-based gaming protocols. Its devices have been adapted over the last several months to work with products from OEM manufacturers like IGT, Aristocrat and Bally in preparation for downloadable server-based gaming. “We are shipping new units to OEMs that can be switched on to server-based gaming,” Nugent said.

Despite the growth in the use of credit cards, cash remains the dominant payment mechanism on the casino floor, and device manufacturers must accommodate it. “The reality is there’s more physical currency being used than five years ago,” Nugent said. “At the same time, we as transaction companies need to adapt to more things such as printed coupons, tickets and card types.”

A new wave of display monitors is also making its way onto the gaming floor. Elo TouchSystems has combined high-performance LCD panels with touch technologies to create a new family of large-screen, wide-aspect open-frame LCD touch monitors. Ranging in size from 20 inches through 32 inches, the monitors are designed specifically for use in public venues, such as gaming/amusement, point-of-information kiosks, interactive digital-signage displays and retail self-service. They include a choice of touch technologies, such as surface acoustic wave, surface capacitive and Acoustic Pulse Recognition (APR).

Bright screens with wide-viewing angles give developers the ability to design applications that captivate players’ attention. “Touch has become ubiquitous in gaming,” said Brian Shannon, product manager at Elo TouchSystems. “Our goal is to penetrate the gaming venue.”

The Paycheck 3 includes high-speed couponing.

Factoring in standards

Technology standards, especially the Gaming Standards Association’s Game-to-System (G2S) protocol, are transforming the way peripheral manufacturers design their products. “In the G2S world, peripherals communicate with gaming devices, which communicate with the server,” said John Hilbert, vice president of systems development at printer manufacturer FutureLogic. “It’s more efficient for the programming logic to reside on a server, which can then be downloaded to the game and to the peripheral.”

For security reasons, regulators discourage direct communications between the server and peripherals because “it might open peripherals to tampering,” Hilbert said. “G2S allows the server to talk to the gaming device, but the device still manages transaction logs and connections to peripherals.”

G2S also specifies that peripherals be USB-enabled in order to communicate with each other and with gaming devices. “All peripherals will be USB-enabled as GSA defines USB connectivity,” Hilbert said. FutureLogic’s GEN2 Universal printers incorporate the GSA standards for downloadable games and permit in-game firmware updates via the USB communications port for ease of integration required for the next generation of electronic games. The GEN2 printers and promotional couponing technology are being integrated with existing and new server-based games and slots equipped with ticket-in/ticket-out technology.