Few would argue that land-based slot machine play has been on a downward plane of late, the result of a rapidly aging player base combined with a seeming disdain for the slot experience among Gen X and younger consumer groups. To put it more bluntly, generations that drove slot machine popularity are passing, and there is no replacement consumer stepping up to take their place.
It’s a shame that a solution to this slot machine crisis is not as universally evident, and is indeed a growing source of contention between casino operators and gaming suppliers. You hear this mutual disdain all the time at conferences and trade shows—operators opining that slot suppliers need to do a better job developing games and technologies that will excite current and future slot players alike; the vendor community responding that they are doing just that, but it would help if operators supported new products more, through better marketing and perhaps a loosening of the hold percentage. Both sides have a point, both also have a pronounced bias in their observations.
But it’s a third, more neutral voice—that of the consumer—which provides a potential solution for this slot conundrum, at least in my opinion. Talk to enough long-time slot players and a number of common themes emerge, including the fact that they feel they are no longer getting value from money they invest in the machine, i.e. they used to be able to play a lot longer on $20, $50, or even $100 in the past then they are able to do now. The core issue for this group of slot fans is one of entertainment and time on device, and the lack of it in the current gaming machine experience, which in their minds does little more than find new ways to extract money from them quicker.
You could argue that the same perceived lack of entertainment value is in play for younger customers when it comes to traditional casino slots. Weaned on video games, Millennials are used to long-play sessions where the rewards are a gain in proficiency, game complexity and, perhaps, winning against an opponent—all of which are largely absent in slot machines, where the emphasis and end result is a potential cash prize. No wonder the current slate of slot games seems to leave them cold.
Based on these observations, it would appear the key to future slot success simply involves time—the need to increase time on device from both current and future slot players. Finding ways to accomplish this task are, admittedly, easier said than done, especially considering the cash- and time-strapped nature of current slot players and their evolving taste for free play, which desperate gaming properties seem to be offering more and more of these days.
The good news is that increasing time on device from new or nascent slot players may be easier to accomplish. Thanks to their video game upbringing, the primary reason for some younger customers to play a machine game is not for risk or monetary remuneration, but for pure entertainment—being good at the game means longer playing time and more complex levels in lieu of a cash prize. Indeed, as online social games show, players are even willing to invest money into the game as they play if it helps them gain some sort of advantage within it. If legal and regulatory issues can be resolved, I know the slot industry has the skills and drive to create games that can entice younger gamblers onto the slot floor, where they can trade money for entertainment that appeals to them.
It’s all just a matter of time