Video poker players know what they like, and they like what they know.
“Poker players are creatures of habit, if you will, and they tend to find a favorite game or a favorite bank,” said Roger Pettersson, director of slot operations at Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa in Las Vegas. “That’s kind of where they hang out and continue to come back for the same experience. It takes a bit longer to break those habits and get them to move over to a new game vs. a video slot player who bounces around to the new themes on a daily basis.”
Part of what those creatures are used to is the five-coin maximum wager. Even on multiple-hand games such as Triple Play Poker, where the customer draws to three hands at once, the tried-and-true formula is a five-coin max bet per hand, or 15 overall.
That’s changing in the wake of the success of International Game Technology’s Super Times Pay Poker, which for the price of a sixth coin per hand, randomly awards bonus multipliers. When a Super Times Pay multiplier card appears on the initial deal, winnings are multiplied by the indicated amount - anywhere from twice to 10 times the normal pay.
With that innovation, IGT has given players an incentive to change their betting patterns and give operators an incremental wager. Enough players have done just that to lead IGT to bring out further incremental-wager games, including Ultimate X, Good Times Pay and Quick Quads video poker. Some use the sixth-coin bet pioneered by Super Times Pay, others have incremental wagers of up to five coins, leading to a 10-coin per hand bet.
WMS Gaming also is doing its part to try to attract incremental wagers with its recently released Big Event Poker, which includes a two-coin wager on a community bonus round.
The key to getting that incremental wager from players?
“At the end of the day it comes down to does the player get enough value from that incremental bet,” Pettersson said. “When they see the value in that incremental bet, they take to the concept. So in that Super Times Pay obviously the bonus or the multiplier happens frequently enough that the sixth coin creates enough value for the player.”
Super Times Pay is by far the leader in the market segment, with about 1,300 games currently in the field. But it wasn’t a quick sell, recalled John Daley, IGT’s director of video poker.
“I gotta be honest with you,” Daley said. “There were a lot of people who saw the game initially said, ‘You’ll never get that wager. Video poker players only play five coins -that’s all they’re going to do. We’ve proven it in the past. It’s just not going to work.’ Fortunately for us, we sort of stumbled on the right formula this time.”
Operators were slow to accept the product, Daley said. “A lot slower than I would have expected. When we first started out, the numbers were really good, right from the beginning. Players immediately took to the game, but operators were very slow in adding them to the floor.”
Super Times Pay wasn’t the first incremental-wagering video poker game, but it was the first major success. Daley recalls the wide-area progressive Poker Mania in the early to mid-1990s, and a seven- or eight-coin version of Wheel Poker, a bonus wheel game that now has carved out a niche as a sixth-coin-per-hand game.
This time, the idea caught on.
So what were some of the keys that helped Super Times Pay find success, while others failed?
“One, timing is everything,” Daley explained. “Two, value for the incremental bet is really important. The players have to see the value of that incremental bet and see that they get whatever that bonus is or feature that they’re paying for often enough.”
The Super Times multiplier came to IGT from the arcade game company Raw Thrills Inc. IGT paired the concept with its multiple-hand games developed by Action Gaming, and came up with the Super Times Pay game that allows players to choose among Triple Play, Five Play and Ten Play options. In the Triple Play version, the sixth coin per hand means an 18-coin total maximum bet, instead of the usual 15 coins.
The success of Triple Play, Five Play and other multihand games seems to have paved the way for players to accept incremental wagers.
“We’ve had a little bit of a challenge getting single-hand games to work with an incremental wager,” Pettersson said. “It’s a tough thing to pinpoint, but I think the player that’s attracted to the incremental wagers, they like the volatility and the big hits, where playing a single hand reduces the volatility vs. playing a multi-hand with a feature. These games definitely attract a player that has a little bigger bankroll and is looking for a wild ride, so to speak.”
Singlehanded succcessIGT has had some success with single-hand incremental wager games, notably Quick Quads. A sixth-coin wager activates a feature in which two card values can be added to make four-of-a-kind hands. For example, a player who has 5-5-5-2-3 gets paid for four of a kind because the 2 and 3 add up to match the 5s.
“We’ve had Five Aces, we’ve had some other games that had incremental wagers that were maybe OK but not great,” Daley said. “But Quick Quads for example, a six-coin game, we release that in both single and multi-hand. The single-hand is great for bartops where you don’t get as many players who are willing to play that additional wager.”
WMS is making its first play for video poker incremental wagers with a single-hand game, Big Event Poker. The two-coin extra wager brings the player a chance at one of four community bonus events.
“Much like slots, video poker has been a pretty solitary experience, forever really,” said Allon Englman, vice president of game design and strategy at WMS. “It’s a one-player game. We wanted to change the dynamic of it and see how people would react if they were winning together with multiple people in a bonus round at the same time. We thought it would be very different and very unique from a video poker perspective.”
It also fits in with WMS emphasis on Community Gaming and shared bonus events that have worked so well on slot machines.
“The Big Event bonuses happen reasonably frequently. I believe it’s every three minutes you get an event, which is considerably more often than some of our other Big Event products,” Englman said. “It has a lot of different unique bonuses. I think the most compelling is the Four to a Royal bonus, where everyone on the bank gets dealt four cards to a royal flush, 1 in 48 times you get that bonus, you’re getting a royal flush pay. So we’ve designed the math of that game to revolve around the features of video poker, that is getting four of a kind, getting royal flushes and things like that. Those we combine with the community experience.”
Big Event is fully licensed in Nevada, and Red Rock was one of the first casinos to add the game. Though WMS is encouraged by early results, Red Rock’s Pettersson said it’s too soon to evaluate the game’s popularity.
“It’s only been on the floor for a month now, and typically with poker product, it takes a while for us to really see the results,” Pettersson said. “I think it comes down to the experience and whether the player feels they get enough value from a two-coin extra bet. This is the first seven-coin game we’ve put out there. We’ve only had six-coin games and 10-coin games up till this point, so they’re kind of breaking new ground a little bit. We’re still waiting to see whether that’s going to become a successful concept or not.”
For WMS, it’s a step toward carving out a niche in video poker, a segment dominated by IGT.
“Historically we’ve taken a few swings, but we’ve really never taken a big bite of video poker. Now as we’ve gotten more successful in video slots and the mechanical side, it’s definitely something that we’re going to take a closer look at in the next couple of years,” Englman said. “We’re really taking that WMS unique approach, that edge of innovation, and bringing it toward the video poker market and see if we can turn that market around and have something the players really will find compelling.”
Compelling video poker product has never seemed to be a problem at IGT. That includes the latest generation of incremental wagering games such as Ultimate X, a five-coin additional bet where every winning hand generates a multiplier for the next hand, Good Times Pay, where an incremental wager of one to five coins buys a random multiplier for the next time, and the upcoming Dream Card, where a five-coin extra bet can bring a randomly occurring wild card that becomes the value and suit that will bring the biggest pay when combined with the other four cards.
And sometimes IGT blends the games, putting a Super Times Pay option on top of other incremental wagering games to get Super Times Pay Double Pay Poker, Super Times Pay Wheel Poker and Super Times Pay Good Times Pay.
Daley says finding which ideas will work is a hit and miss process. He credits a strong design team and brainstorming sessions, along with a willingness to discard ideas that aren’t working.
“Sometimes we accept ideas and we start getting down the road with them, and at the next meeting of the minds, we look at it and decide, you know, this probably really isn’t going to work. It’s not going to work for the player and the operator, and it has to work for both.
“It’s a careful balance between the two. We have to make sure it’s going to be good for the player, but at the same time we have to make sure it’s going to be an extremely profitable game for the operator, or they’re not going to have an interest in putting the game on the floor.”
Super Times Pay and Big Event Video Poker are among the products that have helped open the door for new innovation in this arena. And more and more, the operators do have interest in putting incremental-wager games on the floor.