It has been a challenging five years (and counting) period for the gaming industry in general and slot managers in particular. Judging by the vibe onsite at G2E in late September and the follow-up reviews that you can read in this month’s Slot ManagerForum, manufacturers scored very high with operators in terms of both product quality and, even more important, player-friendly changes that will give people what they really want, which is more time to enjoy themselves.

One of the key takeaways, after all, from the post-downturn period is people like to play casino games, whether for fun or money.  The boom in social gaming, after all, is a post-recession phenomenon that was fuelled by technology, not cost. In other words, social gaming is popular even where there are loads of for-money alternatives, including legal online gaming such as in the UK. People love to game.

But there are limits, as one slot manager from Washington pointed out at a session called, “Changing Your Slot Floor on a Dime,” which is the basis for this month’s cover story.  “My players say their money doesn’t last as long as it used to,” she said. “I think the problem is the mechanical games gave you four spins a minute. Now you can do 10 to 15 spins per minute. With the bonusing, players are not getting enough payback to stay on the game. What is the manufacturer thought process on this; how do we get more time-on-device for our players?”

Washington, this operator noted, has one of the most generous payout percentages in the country. “We don’t have to pay tax or share revenue, so we can afford an average of 94 percent payback, but the games are designed in such a way that we have reached our limit on what we can pay back with a bonus structure,” she said. “Ten years ago, there was only one bonus game, Jackpot Party, now almost every game on the floor is bonused.  Your base game payout is only about two-thirds of what it used to be without the bonus, so if the player is not in the bonus when they play the game they essentially only get back about 65-70 percent of payback. The mathematics has reached its limit with the game design.”

Frank Neborsky, vice president of slot operations, Mohegan Sun, responded that lower player bankrolls were feeding the perception of tighter games. “When we went through changes in 2009-10, we did not change the hold on the floor, but we did get complaints from the players about not being able to play as long, not getting as many wins,” said Neborsky. “Our analysis showed that the games themselves are getting less handle. Getting less churn and going through the payouts less often so, less play, fewer payouts and people are not seeing the same level of excitement. It’s not that we changed the games; it’s that they’re being played less. It also has something to do with volatility. Depending on the types of players you have, some games require a higher bankroll to do the churn that you need to be able to spend a decent amount of time on the game to get some earn out of it.  Less volatile games give you more dribble pays and they keep players on the device longer and give them a chance to play.”

 So it was with interest that I read the following G2E review from Larry Flynn, senior vice president of gaming, Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation: “It’s nice to see vendors have been listening; games that have celebration features, that are configurable and bonus rounds that are achievable.  All things that will surely make our player's experience that much more enjoyable.”