As consumers spend more time multi-tasking on little screens, it stands to reason that TV-sized slot screens will eventually follow suit.
The technology is in place to make game screens as information-rich as a business news program during closing time. As people become increasingly attuned to looking at more than one thing at a time, operators might want to ponder how long they want to hold onto aging games that rely on tiny LCD screens to communicate marketing.
The impact of windowing game screens, particularly on the marketing side of things, was a session topic at the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) show last month. Leading the conversation was Tom Doyle, vice president of product management, Bally Technologies, supported by Buddy Frank, vice president of slot operations, Pechanga Resort & Casino and Michael Ratner, director product management, systems, Konami Gaming. Here are some excerpts from the conversation:
The way of the future is not so new:
Ratner: Our industry is able to blend game content with system content on the same screen and it is nothing new. It’s been done in industries such as cable TV, where, if you hit the menu option, it comes up and the program screen shrinks to accommodate it. It’s nothing new.
A slot machine is there to drive play and provide an enjoyable experience. The fact that we can put messages on a game screen is not a reason to buy it. We have to find ways to provide content that provides value for operators.
Frank: It’s not new at all. Just look at your own Internet screens at home. You’ll notice that ads pop up on the side, top, bottom and everywhere else. That’s a pretty good lesson; there’s nothing more irritating than ads you don’t want to see. On the other hand, if it’s relevant, you welcome it. If you can offer an entertaining and interesting value proposition to your customers at the same time, that’s the best place to market. If you do stuff that’s not relevant, you’ll just upset your players.
Finding the right on-screen presentation:
Ratner: Technology opens up a whole new way to market to players at the game. The types of information that you’ve traditionally sent to the slot machine on the small LCD display will be no different from what you see in a blended environment on a game screen. This takes up 20 to 30 percent of the real estate on a game screen. This must be a cohesive venture between our game designers and our system designers. We need to understand at what point we inject those messages and at what point we take over a certain part of the real estate of the game screen and make that valuable to the player. Someone who’s playing on their favorite game certainly doesn’t want to play on a smaller piece of real estate as opposed to 100 percent; we don’t want to be intrusive on their favorite game. But it’s no different than what we’re sending to players today on the small LCD screen.
Frank: Done right, it’s not intrusive but it adds to the game. The best example I can think of is countdown triggers, which have been around a long time, i.e., “get this many points and you’ll achieve this.” If you put that right alongside the game experience, it’s far more relevant than before.
My big negative when I first saw these displays was, if we shrink that screen, we’re really going to make it a negative experience for the guest. Interestingly, we were an early innovator with this technology and IGT wasn’t exactly on board with using a Bally system to make their screen smaller, so we had to do some of the work ourselves. When we shrunk down those IGT pokers with their 13-inch screens, it got pretty small and I was really worried that there would be a huge negative reaction from our customers. They all had the option to push a button and make it bigger again. Most of our guests didn’t. They liked the smaller display because by making it smaller the quality of the graphics got better.
Winning applications that work for the player:
Doyle: Tiered bonusing, or bonusing that is tailored to the player, is one of the best applications we’ve seen in these windowing environments. With bonusing, let’s say you qualify for three different bonuses. We can put progress bars on the screens, such as $100 to qualify for the next level of bonus, or a free spin for a lower level of play, or a long-term promotion that you need to play thousands of dollars over a multi-week period and that bar goes real slow. But when players can actively see their points grow and their progress towards qualifying for a promotion, it engages them more and entices them to play more.
The other thing you have is beverage ordering, when you can go on-screen and order your drink. Casinos have found a couple of things happen with that. First, players get serviced faster. They also get their exact preference right away, like a Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay. These orders go out to a point-of-sale server in many cases. So the server will be able to respond with an offer of a mint julep on Kentucky Derby Day, or Guinness as a special drink during St. Patrick’s week. You’re able to interact with the players and, by opening up that window to the world, let other vendors into the process.
You can put most of the kiosk functionality onto that window as well. If the player wants to update their information, change their PIN, these things are available right in front of them. The long-term vision is every machine is a kiosk, and we’re starting to get there. Some of it is coming fast, some slow, but this is where we’re going. We’re not turning back; we’re going to be using that screen more and more. It opens up marketing departments to interact with their guests.
New concepts that move beyond the LCD screen:
Ratner: Bally demonstrated that windowing is not just about putting what you normally put on your LCD onto a game screen, but a medium that allows you to inject brand new ideas and concepts onto the game screen. Tournaments are one of the turning points that answered the questions people who were scratching their heads and asking why would I do this? The purchase of this windowing or picture-in-picture technology is expensive. Applications like communal gaming events give the player a brand new experience and help justify the expense.
The tournament idea has been tested. We’re seeing a lot of success in our markets with player-on-demand tournaments. These are tournaments where players earn entry based on certain criteria; it could be wagering levels, ADT, your birthday or a new sign-up. You get a tournament entry and, instead of having to find a tournament area to play your entry, if your machine is windowing-enabled, you can elect to play that tournament on-demand. Group start tournaments are the norm.
Frank: The flexibility is up to your imagination. You can run little eight-machine tournaments, or a local tournament where everybody buys in for a certain amount; a free tournament; on-demand, a new area that we are exploring and seeing great success. There’s a market for big events and on-demand tournaments, so, along with tiered bonusing, this is one of the better applications.
Keeping bonusing and promotions fresh and relevant:
Frank: If you have a drawing where you award players $10 in free play, for many of our players, that’s a great prize. But if you have players who are doing $200 handle pulls, it’s an insult. Those are two extremes, but imagine if I could run little games, whether it’s boat races or smash-into-a-wall or a horse race, and tier those prizes. Lower level players might receive prize range from $2 to $50; a high roller, for the same game with the same odds, could be from $2,000 to $10,000. It’s rigging the drawing, so to speak, but it’s giving each player a meaningful winning experience.
When we ran those games on a tiered basis, we got phenomenal returns because the rewards matched their desired experiences. Best thing is there is very little labor; it’s all automated. The rewards went directly to the players’ accounts, they didn’t have to take time off from playing and, at the end of the day, all of those funds went right back into the machines and we had record revenue days.
Doyle: All promotions risk becoming entitlements. What you want to do is keep them fresh. Another good thing Pechanga has done is seasonal promotions. You may have to hit the Lucky Leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day, pumpkins on Halloween, etc. You seasonalize it so that you are giving the player interesting new graphics to look at. If a player is sitting at a machine and receives a message, “You get $50 for your play,” that’s nice. But the fact is when you tell them they can win between $5 and $1,000, and they have an interactive involvement in picking something, like one of eight pumpkins, it’s more exciting and they might come in more often for certain events because they like them.
Frank: When you start something like this you say, “I have a large audience; I want to give them all $5.” Then you say, “I’ll give some people $1, others more.” But when you scale it up a little bit, you get lots of winners all over the casino and that feeds on itself because players know they have a chance to win. When you think about players in your casino, there’s a pretty good chance that they like to gamble and they like to play games; that’s why they’re in your casino. If you can make your rewards a game, it satisfies them more. It means more when you get a reward that they actually felt like they won. Bonusing on slot machines is getting better and the bonusing within your player rewards is also getting better.
Impact of content and graphics on entertainment value:
Ratner: It’s important to understand that this technology makes the gaming experience that much richer. Not having to divert the eyes up or down depending on where the LCD screen is located. All of the player-centric information is blended onto the game screen. Sending content to LCD screens that are either above or below the game screen has always posed a problem for system manufacturers because you can communicate to the player all day, but if they’re focused on the game screen and they don’t see this LCD up here or down there, all of your communications are for naught. Communicating to the player directly on the game screen is one reason why you would adopt this technology.
Tournaments are a great thing. Turning your game screen to something other than a slot machine is possibly another angle. It could be a tournament or promotional game, or a full-service kiosk. These promotional kiosks that you see around the casino, players have to find them and swipe their card can now be accessed on the EGM. Web services applications can hit another server. You can make a sports wager at your machine.
Frank: Your game may be operating very effectively with a touchscreen where people play the game, but then you put up a windowing screen and now you have a problem. It’s not a major problem, but you realize your touchscreens have to be good all over. We did find that we had what we thought were good touchscreens and some of them weren’t because people were touching different areas than they had before. Also, when you design your games, you have to make sure they are clear and easy to understand. We did a couple of games that the customer couldn’t figure out.
Ratner: Windowing works across most manufacturers’ games, including legacy touchscreens and brand new ones. But if you’re going to deploy a sophisticated game that requires players to touch various parts of the screen and interact with various parts of the screen, we found some legacy games probably don’t behave as well as you’d like. The interfaces may be aging and out of date. The brand new games are wonderful to work with. Deploying a new technology onto an aging platform has its challenges.
Doyle: With applications already linked to the Internet, you have the chance to post wins to Facebook, whether it’s a casino or a personal page, or another form of social media. Those things are also now interacting with promotions. The gaming industry has always been accused of being seven or eight years behind in technology. Now we’re probably only about four or five years behind. We’re trying to use more smartphones in our gaming applications and being able to do more and more things at the gaming device.
Frank: We bought a photo kiosk a while back. People go up to it, snap a photo of themselves and then they can send it to anyone they want via Facebook, Twitter or whatever platform they want. This thing is mobbed, particularly with our younger people who use it. We’ll be putting this thing on a slot machine to capture wins.
Ratner: The debate that rages is how much do you want to put on the machine that actually diverts the player from playing the game and interacting with something that is not generating revenue? There are two schools of thought. People like the technology, but they don’t want players spending time on a web services application. That said, I think the social media application is a wonderful idea. The system should be intuitive enough to know that you won a jackpot and ask you if you’d like to post. The integration that takes place between external applications like Facebook or Twitter should take place because right now players are doing it with their phones. We should give them this convenience at the EGM.
Frank: We can determine when we allow them to do that. For winners, I like to allow them to do that. Right now, because of the regulations in the industry, that’s where we slow down guest services for paperwork, so it’s great to give players something else to do in the meantime. I agree we wouldn’t want them checking ball scores while they’re playing, but during the right times I think it helps the process of celebrating and winning.