Manufacturers, casinos see benefits of reaching out to customers while they’re playing their favorite slots

It’s been a Holy Grail of sorts for casino operators – the ability to reach out to your players while they’re sitting in front of a slot machine. The immediacy of such real-time offers can go a long way toward engendering loyalty, increasing play and return visits, and boosting revenues throughout the property.

Many slot developers and manufacturers have developed, or are developing, tools that  allow for just that kind of interaction.

Rich Schneider, executive vice president of product strategy for IGT, recalled the strategy of Acres Gaming (later acquired by IGT), and its Acres Bonusing.

“If you look at what we were trying to do there was we were really trying to give the operator the tools to differentiate their gaming experience from that of their competitors,” he said. “What ended up being a real ceiling was the inability to really communicate with the player in a truly ffective manner.”

The small NextGen screens, and similar products from other manufacturers, are still strong tools for casinos to use, “but they’re [located] kind of away from the focal point of the player,” he said.

Schneider maintains much more power lies in communicating with players right on the gaming machine screen through IGT’s Service Window technology.

Other ways that casinos communicate directly with players is through casino hosts, who are very effective, but are limited, and direct mail, which is expensive and slow, and Web-based initiatives.

 “Fundamentally, the real problem is they’re all kinds of latent forms of communication that happen only after that consumer leaves the property,” he said.

Some detractors have questioned the wisdom of interrupting the gaming experience with such offers, but Schneider said IGT’s Service Window isn’t disruptive. Communications via the Service Window technology would occur at “certain key moments,” such as when a player is buying in, cashing out, or enjoying a big win, Schneider said.

 “You can reach out to the customer in a cost effective manner to provide direct communication that is not only real time and immediate but based on immediate experiences,” he said.

For instance, Schneider said, a casino, through player tracking, can help leave a player who has just completed a big losing session with a more satisfying experience by offering a promotion to return with a free play coupon or dinner at one of its restaurants. Or, he said, the Service Window could be used for community bonusing events, or just to highlight a regular promotion. “If you’re an operator and you’re trying to compete and you can only reach out to your players every two weeks, if you can offer those same promotions on an hourly basis directly, I just have to believe that there’s true benefit and value there.”

Instead of being annoyed, players will be receptive, Schneider said, adding he can’t envision players complaining, that “I wish you’d quite bothering me with all those winning awards.”

Among the other upsides for such interaction, he said, are the increased recognition that players receive and the added excitement to the casino experience.

Development of new applications will come over time, he said. “We’re just going to have to learn about what works and what doesn’t work in that space,” he said.

Schneider wouldn’t give specifics or timeframes, but he said Service Window applications should find their way onto machines at MGM Mirage’s CityCenter project, which will open with server-based gaming by the end of 2009, and at other casino properties that have been experimenting with IGT’server-based products.

“They’ve been pretty savvy at recognizing new technology and being the first to buy in and then enjoying the benefits of being an early adopter. It’s certainly our hope that the cycle will repeat itself,” he said of MGM Mirage. “We’re working with them on a host of customer service and bonusing related applications.”

Another important point, Schneider said, is that IGT has been careful to architect the product so that it doesn’t create issues with regulators and yet can be changed frequently and easily.

Another company that is making inroads in this arena is Las Vegas Gaming Inc., which has an agreement with IGT to develop applications for the Service Window.  LVGI last fall developed the first third-party application for the Service Window.

At the Global Gaming Expo in November, LVGI showcased an application, using IGT’s sbX Media Manager interface to deliver service through IGT’s award-winning Service Window.

Las Vegas Gaming President and CEO Jon Berkley said his company was able to completely integrate its application within a few short weeks of receiving IGT’s sbX Media Manager interface specifications.

Commenting on its agreement to develop applications for IGT, Berkley said LVGI looks forward to working with IGT to create applications that enhance the player experience. “Combined we will offer the gaming operator a path to move forward with software applications that can either be delivered with the robustness of the IGT sb network or by retrofitting existing machines through [LVGI’s own] PlayerVision. This combination will drive more rapid adoption of these ground-breaking technologies.”

IGT and LVGI aren’t the only companies moving forward with such player-focused enhancements.

Bally's iVIEW

Innovation and cooperation

Bally Technologies at G2E demonstrated its downloadable marketing promotions and messages through the iVIEW high-speed communication network on each game in its booth. The iVIEW network and Bally Systems provide improved service, customized marketing at the point of play, second-chance win, dynamic game configuration, easy-audit revenue management, and support for responsible gaming, the company said.

Its technology is available on games from every manufacturer.

Visitors to Bally’s G2E booth saw the new Bally Live Rewards Tournaments, which offers the player a selection of standalone games or real-time tournaments in which players can compete against other players.

Bally also showed its iVIEW Display Manager, which allows gaming operators to create picture-in-picture capability on the iVIEW display, the main game display, the second gaming display, or any game display. This capability is run through the iVIEW processor rather than the game processor which would require separate regulatory approvals and complex development and integration efforts.

Two other manufacturers, Aristocrat and Konami Gaming, showcased live demonstrations of the iVIEW DM, an  intelligent controller that allows casinos to present marketing, system, and other content  on the main game screen, the top game display, even the overhead display, with picture-in-picture capability – without interrupting game play on the traditional base game.

 “We are very happy about the collaborative spirit of Konami and Aristocrat and the enthusiasm they share with us about Bally’s iVIEW DM and its ability to provide a whole new player interface and player experience to casinos,” Richard M. Haddrill, Bally chief executive officer, said in a news release.

 “As more and more casino floors implement high-speed networks that enable expanded marketing and customer-service solutions like iVIEW DM, cooperation becomes even more important,” Nick Khin, president of Aristocrat Americas, said in a news release.

Konami Gaming COO Steve Sutherland said working with Bally on iVIEW DM “makes good business sense for Konami because it enables us to offer our customers new ways to market and enhance convenience for their players. Most important, because it is backward and forward compatible, our customers do not have to purchase new games or costly upgrades, which protects their previously invested capital.”

The three gaming manufacturers also are cooperating in the development of Bally’s Download Configuration Manager, a server application that allows casino operators to view, examine, and manage their floor configuration from a central location.


Beaming up a new experience

WMS Gaming and Harrah’s also recently took a step that promises to give players new ways to leverage their player experience.

The two companies are deploying a Harrah’s Total Rewards version of WMS’ STAR TREK series of gaming machines.

Players who are members of the Harrah’s Total Rewards player’s club will be able to use their cards to create a personalized and differentiated gaming experience on the STAR TREK-themed gaming machines at most of the company's casinos in North America, as Harrah's moves forward with a market-by-market implementation plan, subject to additional jurisdictional regulatory approvals.

The STAR TREK video gaming machines are the first games deployed on WMS’ Adaptive Gaming technology platform. This server-enabled, networked gaming platform provides players with the unique ability to personalize their game play, allowing them to save their play status and unlock additional bonus rounds and game episodes over time.

“As we introduce our latest innovation at Harrah's, in collaboration with the creative WMS team, the unique Adaptive Gaming platform has enabled us to provide an enhanced level of personalization and a more differentiated entertainment experience each time a player logs onto the game with their Total Rewards card,” said Tim Stanley, chief information officer and senior vice president, innovation, gaming and technology of Harrah's Entertainment. “As players advance through the dynamic Star Trek storyline, they can save their progress through the game and pick up where they left off during their next visit, regardless of which STAR TREK gaming machine in a Total Rewards-enabled casino they visit.”

Today’s economy adds a new reason for casinos to consider such innovative moves, Schneider noted.

“Our operator partners are telling us in most all cases their head counts are about the same, the same folks are coming in, but the people who are walking in are spending substantially less money, and the casinos are spending the same amount and more to get them in.”

Initiatives that add marketing value at the machine can could help casinos better target offers, engender more visits or help capture new players. “We know slot customers are a fickle lot. Anything you can do to engender loyalty that does not turn into an entitlement is really the only avenue you have to try to recoup. It’s now more than ever that these tools need to be experimented with.”