Server-based gaming has to be about what’s in it for the player

Player user interfaces from two of the gaming industry’s largest manufacturers and technology providers – including Bally Technologies’ iView Display Manager – are designed to facilitate communication and possibly foster loyalty with the patron while at the slot machine.

Slot players, while frequently fanatical, also can be slightly fickle in that they are looking for the next big thrill. While they latch onto favorite games, they are always daring slot floor managers to go them one better – to offer them new challenges, greater playing excitement and more fun.

If server-based gaming is to take off, it has to be about much more than just making slot floor operations more efficient for casinos. There has to be something in it for the player. Something exciting and desirable, and something that can also engender player loyalty and help set the casino operator apart from the competition.

And that’s where the PUI comes in – the Player User Interface.

Two of the industry’s leading gaming manufacturers – IGT and Bally Technologies – have created their own player user interfaces. For IGT, it’s the Service Window and for Bally, it’s the iVIEW Display Manager.

A lot has changed over the past 18-24 months, noted Jeff Allen, Bally senior director of business development. “The advantages of DM and the Service Window have really taken player communication to a really new level,” he said. “We’ve been on the Pechanga (Resort & Casino) floor for a year. What we are seeing about this new interface is it allows the casino to take their bonusing and player communication really to the next level.

“When it’s right in front and center to the player, it just provides a much better interface to the player.”

With Bally’s iVIEW Display Manager marketing messages are not limited to just the iVIEW SmartScreen display. The intelligent controller allows casinos to present messages on the main game screen, the top game display, even the overhead display, with picture-in-picture capability. Operators also can present systems content on the displays of most manufacturers’ slots through the iVIEW processor rather than the game processor, which Bally maintains would require separate regulatory approvals and complex development and integration efforts. iVIEW DM also is backward compatible.

Player user interfaces from two of the gaming industry’s largest manufacturers and technology providers – including IGT’s Service Window – are designed to facilitate communication and possibly foster loyalty with the patron while at the slot machine.

Rich Schneider, IGT executive vice president, network systems, holds a similar view. “While everyone has a little bit different idea about how they’re going to use it, I think every operator that we’re talking about this to understands the value of this intimate communication channel,” Schneider said.

IGT deployed its sbX Experience Management solution across the Aria hotel-casino floor on the Las Vegas Strip last December.

“Aria was incredibly visionary in taking a risk on this technology. This was all completely unproved two and half years ago when they made the decision. They bought into it and they bought into it in a big way,” he said.

After the installation went live in December, casino operators have been touring Aria to see how it’s been received by players and how Aria is leveraging the technology, Schneider said.

IGT’s Service Window also is designed to provide a unique player interaction experience, right at the slot machine. When the player inserts his players club card, a special “window” slides the game screen over, providing a menu of information and services the player and operator can customize, all designed to improve the player experience.

In March, IGT announced it has created a Service Window solution for legacy IGT 80960 video machines, which it said furthers the company’s commitment to the GSA standards and protocols. The new Service Window solution, scheduled to be deployed in fall 2010, is the only GSA-compliant player interface available for IGT 80960 machines.

“This new solution helps preserve operator investments,” Schneider said in a news release. “Now operators will have access to future technologies on the gaming machines they have today. And, because this solution is GSA-compliant, it gives operators more control and flexibility for the types of content distributed across the network – creating a better player experience.”

The slot floor at Aria hotel-casino in Las Vegas uses IGT's sbX Experience Management System. Photo courtesy IGT

It's all about the apps

Both Schneider and Allen say they believe the gaming industry is witnessing only the beginning stages of what’s to come as player apps are developed for these displays. “Over the next few months, you’re going to see some really interesting bonusing at Pechanga,” Allen said.

What’s happening is the system now is becoming an extension of the game, Allen said, giving bonusing and community gaming as examples. Marketing messages can be timed perfectly with the game, presenting offers to the player or delivering information about casino amenities.

“Everything now becomes integrated; everything becomes much more tied together,” he said. “And that’s what players like the most. It just allows you to do the marketing and player communication a whole lot better.”

Players have taken to the technology with ease at Pechanga, Allen said. “There have been no player complaints. The learning curve is pretty short. It’s pretty intuitive,” he added. Players can insert their player card, and will be given a choice of whether to have the display panel visible while they’re playing or not.

As the technology develops and matures, new applications will be deployed.

“This is enabling technology – this technology is going to allow the ideal apps to be found and deployed,” Allen said. “This is really key core technology that casinos should have across every machine on the floor.”

Allen noted he used to think maybe there was a “killer app” out there just waiting to be discovered. But now he said he believes there will be apps that will be ideally suited for many different types of casinos.

One Southern California casino already has approached Bally to build a casino-specific application to put on its iVIEWs. “Casinos know their market better than anyone,” Allen said, noting Bally is willing to help them develop applications they want or facilitate opening up the space for third-party developers. “As a company we value what our customers ask us to do,” he said.

Schneider said he’s been amazed in the amount of customer interest in the Service Window. “Our pipeline on sb is fuller than I ever thought it would be based on the outcome of Aria,” he said.

And the applications – or potential for applications – are what’s firing the casino operators’ imaginations. “We were able to layer in several applications at go live and there will be more coming,” Schneider said. Most were bonusing applications that were converted to sb applications, he said. One new app deployed at Aria was a customer service application giving high-end customers self-service W2G processing ability. “That has been very successful,” he said.

Another app, which Schneider said he’s not sure Aria has rolled out yet, is a special bonus designed to encourage continued play levels.

Aria and its parent, now known as MGM Resorts International, are already moving to create their own apps or get third parties to create them, Schneider said.

“That was always their intent,” he said. “And they certainly held our feet to the fire to make sure that we provide that opportunity to them.”

Schneider noted that there are plenty of app opportunities out there. For instance, “think of everything that happens on a kiosk now.”

But, he noted, “all of those things just kind of scratch the surface. You have to kind of take a step back and think a little bit bigger – social networking applications? Competitive and cooperative gaming apps? There is no shortage of great ideas.”