The Demise of Participation Games
With the announcement by one of the largest casino operators, to drastically scale back its population of revenue participation units, as well as its wide area progressives (WAP), some are rushing to sound the death knell for these business models.
The target games are the specialty licensed theme games that are only offered in an 80/20 percent split of the net win, scenarios. The 20 percent goes to the manufacturer. The other group of target games is the WAP games. These are the multiproperty linked progressive games in which the casino pays a portion of the coin-in/handle to the manufacturer. To put the WAP payments into perspective, they are the equivalent of 70/30 percent to 60/40 percent splits, with the 40 percent going to the manufacturer.
The roots of reductionThe trend to reduce this “external payment” population of games is not new. It initially started at the pinnacle of the “Licensed Theme Game” explosion around 2002. Many of the larger operators were becoming more and more concerned with the poor quality of standard theme offerings compared to the licensed Participation counterparts. The manufacturers were not shy in admitting that main focus was geared toward these participation-type themes, which further exacerbated the situation. The operators scaling back the percentage of this population was their first form of protest against the manufacturers.
Why now?The current reaction is more economic nature than protest, but the protest angle is still alive. The protest is in response to a perception that manufactures are currently obsessed with creating “server-based gaming” and not focused on content/theme development. Manufacturers are asking operators to be patient with the weak performance of the majority of available themes and the associated small libraries of options. Essentially, all currently active games are “dead men walking” waiting to be terminated the day that the server-based units are approved.
The overall economic environment is much more challenging than in previous years and the operators are looking for ways to bring more dollars to the bottom line. When times are good, it is easier to justify the added expenses of Participation games as a method to diversify your offerings. When times are tight, it is difficult to justify paying a company for the privilege of the company placing its games on your floor while you, as the operator, incur all the costs of operating that game. This is the point where operators start losing the “cost/benefit” argument with your bean counters.
Again, the games under discussion are the specialty participation games and not standard cabinets placed to augment your general game population. The specialty participation games are not to be confused with games placed on floors in participation situations due to business models or capital funding constraints. The motivation for these two scenarios is vastly different than that of a casino wishing to bring variety to its wholly owned game population.
The manufacturers’ challenge is to provide the operators justification to keep the games on your floor. Unfortunately, there has been no empirical proof that a player will leave your casino because you do not have a certain participation/WAP offering. The reality is that operators have closely tracked the effect of the reduction of these games and determined that the revenue, previously split with “outsiders,” is now being redistributed to games providing the house with 100 percent of the revenue.
Why are these games so important to the manufacturers?Besides the obvious operational profit motive, one of the most direct responses as to why these games are important to manufacturers lies in the manufacturers’ Wall Street image and correlating stock price. With Wall Street not always having the most thorough understanding of the gaming industry, they latch on to certain performance indicators. Games sold, recurring revenue streams (WAP and participation), and intellectual property rights, are the three biggies. Themanufacturers have built their images around these indicators and need to do everything to emphasize and highlight them. If one of these key indicators slips, the overall stock price could be affected.
The participation/WAP segment is closely tied into the intellectual property indicator, through the acquisition and licensing rights of games’ themes, such as Star Wars or Monopoly. In many cases, the acquisition costs, and ongoing licensing fees, associated with themes like the “Star Wars” movie saga, are tremendously expensive. With the current abbreviated lifespan of themes, in many cases, the revenue generated from these themes never recuperates the cost of their acquisition and development.
The third indicator’s involvement lies in the fact that manufacturers “sell” cabinets to themselves to be placed in these WAP/ Participation scenarios. New game sales represent a key indicator of performance. Depending on the sale price the manufacturers are charging themselves across divisions, a reduction of games being sold for participation could have a profound effect on the “average” sales prices being reported to Wall Street.
When a property orders one less game for purchase, it only affects a manufacturer once. When a property removes a participation game, it actually affects a manufacturer simultaneously in three areas just like a cartoon baseball pitch, in which the batter swings at a single pitch three times and strikes out.