Athough it may come as something of a shock given all the attention it has garnered of late as a potential game changer for the casino industry, skill-based slot gaming is not a new concept for most operators and manufacturers. Indeed, slot suppliers have been adding skill-type play to gaming machine bonus rounds for years; however development of full-blown skill wagering content was always on the back burner, mostly due to the laws and regulations that maintained slots must remain games of chance.
Such slot restrictions do not exist in the online space however, and game developers have used this channel to create mobile and web-based skill slot game concepts that have resonated among younger generations, including the much sought after Millennials. This, in turn, appears to have spurred some states to reconsider their slot regulations. The past two years has seen Nevada and New Jersey gaming boards enact new slot regulations, officially defining what constitutes a game of skill, a game of chance and a hybrid game that incorporates both elements. One of the stated goals of these clarifications is to stimulate skill-based slot development to help bring more Millennials to the land-based casino gaming floor.
Despite this desire to kick-start the skill-based slot gaming business, exact technical standards for this new style of slot remained unwritten. That changed earlier this year, when the Nevada Gaming Control Board and the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) formally spelled out the technical standards covering a variety of topics from payout rates to how games must be explained to the players. The rules for the devices include provision over the percentage of bets collected and prohibit casinos from making the games harder or easier to win while a game is in progress, based on the perceived skill of the player.
With these new regulations in place, Atlantic City and Nevada casinos could soon become proving grounds for the first wave of totally skill-based terrestrial slot gaming. Regulators in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland are reportedly considering skill-games allowances for land-based gaming; understandable given the potential size of the market. U.S.-based online skill-based gaming, which is reportedly legal in 33 states, is expected to become a $9 billion revenue market by 2017, according to according to a national consumer study conducted by Frank N. Magid Associates. Capturing even a small fraction of this growing play would likely make land-based gaming operators extremely happy.
But are the major slot manufacturers truly ready to tackle the brave new world of skill-based gaming? International Game Technology PLC (IGT) appears to be. “As regulations in the development of skill-based games evolve, we remain actively engaged through AGEM and others in working with global regulatory entities to foster innovation in gaming,” said Jacob Lanning vice president of strategic R&D and sales strategy at IGT.
Unfortunately, a number of other major slot suppliers have not been as forthcoming about their skill-games and declined to participate in this article. But observations from recent industry trade shows reveal initial skill slot forays ail to create a more engaging and unique experience for players incorporating joysticks, hand motion sensors and eye-tracking detection technology with game titles Millennials grew-up playing such as Words with Friends, Angry Birds and Guitar Hero. Here’s a quick rundown of what IGT and some specialized slot manufacturers have in store for the skill-games space:
For years, IGT has incorporated skill-based elements in their games including popular themes such as the Game King video poker series, Tully’s Treasure Hunt, Blood Life Legends and of course Atari Centipede from their Video Reel Edge product line. Most recently, IGT introduced Texas Tea Pinball at G2E and Cleopatra Pinball at ICE, both of which received positive operator feedback.
“IGT remains on the forefront of innovation and we pay close attention to the evolution of casino gaming and the player demand for unique experiences,” said Lanning.
Texas Tea Pinball and Cleopatra Pinball have a skill-based element in the bonus event, which complies with regulations in and beyond Nevada, so they are distributed to customers in multiple jurisdictions. “As the Nevada regulations evolve, we’re well-positioned to offer our customers games with appropriate variations on the skill-based elements,” Lanning said.
IGT has also learned the value of incorporating trends that have surfaced in movies, video games and other forms of entertainment into its slot products. The company’s TRUE 3D games elevated gaming entertainment by engaging with players in the form of a unique, glasses-free 3D slot experience, a concept first introduced in cinema. In terms of skill-based games, it builds on the foundation that players enjoy having the ability to influence outcome, similar to what you’ll see in a video game. “With our Video Reel Edge games, we offer players the skill-based element in the bonus event or the alternative option of a free spin bonus,” Lanning said. “This allows players to choose a familiar bonus game experience or to engage in something new. We continue to work closely with our valued customers to deliver compelling game themes that cater to a broad player base while also exploring new ideas to engage with a new generation of players who seek a unique gaming experience.”
As a gaming supplier, IGT closely monitors new technologies while leveraging its industry-leading R&D investment on innovation. “We’ve transformed the slot play experience with TRUE 3D technology, and continue to develop game content that can be leveraged across multiple product segments,” Lanning said. “Given the many years of experience we have in skill-based game development, we are well-positioned to integrate new game concepts into this segment.”
Gamblit Gaming started in 2010 when CEO Eric Meyerhofer recognized the need in the market for new gaming concepts to appeal to the younger demographic as slot players were starting to age out. Gamblit was created on the vision of making active style, casual games for the casino, and they are definitely not waiting around to see what other companies are bringing into the market.
Gamblit is taking an active approach working with regulators to get skill games on the casino floors while continuing to develop skill-based games that are more arcade/video/social than slots. “I would say the whole experience has been a lesson in trailblazing,” said Darion Lowenstein, chief marketing officer at Gamblit. “It has been great to work with the Nevada Gaming Commission and all the various committees that are involved with launching a gambling product.”
Currently Gamblit is active in the United Kingdom with seven games available to play on mobile devices. Players can download the app and play for free, and then convert play to real-money wagers as desired. Gamblit also creates their own hardware and games in the U.S. and is scheduled to launch them in Las Vegas Q4 of this year.
“Online has been great because we have been able to launch games much faster into the public and immediately get that reaction from tens of thousands of users on what they like and what they don’t,” Lowenstein said. “We can figure out what power-ups they like, how long they spend on the game and what level they get up to, and that helps inform the land-based side of the business.”
Among the several big successes at Gamblit, you will find Grab Poker, the multi-player, fast-paced social game played on their large touchscreen gaming table, as well as Catapult King which debuted in 2012 receiving over 35 Million downloads on iPhone and Android and was featured on the Apple and Google Play app stores. Gamblit is currently working with Wicked Witch, the original Catapult King developer, on making a gambling version of Catapult King to bring to the casino floor and real-money mobile wagering.
The idea is to take the games people already play and are familiar with on their smart phones, and add real-money gambling with the option to compete not just against the dealer, but also your friends in casinos and online.
With skill-games, it is evident that new technologies need to be integrated into the games. “Pretty much everything we have made is cutting-edge in the casino industry,” Lowenstein said. “Everything that we make is touchscreen, all of the games are interactive and all of the games feature a reward for skill. When you’re playing multiplayer games, skill factors in terms of whether you built the best poker hand or whether you can destroy your enemies pirate ship faster, to the single player experiences which are how well are you knocking down the castles. There is a skill currency we have called Gbits which allow us to reward you directly for any skill action you do in any game of ours. It is a separate skill reward that you can use to redeem for onsite rewards, things like free drinks, a free spa day or gift cards.”
GameCo is a pioneering new company that is uniting video games with casino floor gaming. According to company literature, GameCo is the creator of the world’s first skill-based video game gambling machines (VGM), proprietary arcade-style cabinets that balance player skill with game design, while maintaining the same return to players as traditional slot machines. Founded by video game, casino gaming, technology and live event veterans, GameCo brings together executives from Scientific Games and IGT along with award-winning producers for game publishers such as Blizzard Entertainment, WarGaming, Ubisoft, DreamWorks and The World Series Of Video Games. The company has developed full compliance prototypes as part of the regulatory approval process and expects to begin field trials within major casinos in 2016.
According to a recent press release, GameCo submitted its application to the Division of Gaming Enforcement in New Jersey and now has an active account, in an effort to secure its position as the first skill-based gaming company to hit casino floors.
GameCo committed to New Jersey as the first jurisdiction to launch its VGM, currently scheduled to debut in 2016 as the world’s first introduction to skill-based video game gambling in casino properties. The launch of GameCo’s VGM will be supported by esports events, tournaments and game publisher marketing that will benefit casino partners in attracting a new audience of Gen X and Millennial gamers.
“We are excited to launch our VGM in New Jersey casinos this year,” said Blaine Graboyes, CEO of GameCo. “The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement has been extremely supportive of our endeavor to attract the next generation of gamers to the casino floor. We are confident the VGM will provide Gen X and Millennial gamers with an engaging opportunity to gamble playing video games at the casino.”
Games offered on the VGM are familiar titles from top publishers played in 30-90 second experiences featuring various genres and themes including first person action, sports, racing, fighting games, platformers, puzzle games and more.
Also among the skill-based game manufacturers is Las Vegas-based NanoTech Gaming, a company that focuses on the development of gaming products. Based on extensive research of modern, social and competitive games, NanoTech Gaming’s machines allow players to choose exactly how they want to balance their skill and intelligence against the risk / reward model of the game. Players enjoy compelling video experiences that are entertaining independent of the gambling component.
Shown at G2E 2015, Casino Kat is a fast-paced, fun, furry gambling machine with classic arcade maze-chase gameplay. Inspired by one of the world’s most recognizable video games, players have the chance to relive the excitement of 1980s arcades with a modern presentation, and an opportunity to have their skill influence their chance to win real money.
Casino Kat debuts in Nanotech’s 40-inch Deluxe Cocktail cabinet and features an HD display running at 120Hz, a four-way leaf-switch joystick and a massive 18-inch subwoofer. Along with contemporary electronic dance music (EDM) loops, players will see, hear, and feel the energy pumping out of the game.