Can we do this better?” is the simple question that drives massive change in the permanent technology revolution. The quest for improvement works its way into every solutions-driven process on earth, and system-driven in-game marketing is no different.

What the leading systems providers are finding is that it’s not only possible to do more at the machine, but operators are beginning to respond to the potential. Kiosk-style functionality continues to gain real estate at the gaming machines. The quality of in-game interactions is improving as well, as operators work with system providers to more fully leverage player data. Mobile is playing a bigger role, as system providers extend in-game and kiosk-type messaging to mobile devices. 

These were among the findings of Slot Management & Marketing’s interviews of the leading system providers at this year’s National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) show. Here’s a summary of what they had to say:

ARISTOCRAT TECHNOLOGIES

“We know that the game is not the only thing the customer wants to consume,” said Angelo Palmisano, vice president of system product for Aristocrat Technologies. “There are a lot of things that distract them; like kiosks, or promotional items that are tied to a wheel or a restaurant where you would go to get a coupon or something like that. What we’ve done is create an ecosystem of all these gaming and non-gaming events and brought them down to the game itself. So our nCompass that we are showing here provides more and more features that weren’t typically at the game level.”

That means drink or F&B coupons show up at the machine and that mobile capabilities are heavily leveraged since whatever is at the machine level can be re-shown at the mobile level. “We try to push as much as possible to where the customer is comfortable, rather than push them to where they are uncomfortable, which would be standing in line at a kiosk or a restaurant,” said Palmisano. “At one of our sites, mobile opt-in was in the 54 percent range of carded players, which I thought was pretty good.”

Aristocrat’s spectrum of operators ranges from very small to very large, but the frequency of in-game messaging tends to vary inversely with size. “The big operators use a softer approach, a little at a time, because they’ve always been burned in the past when they throw too much at the customer too fast,” said Palmisano. “But we have smaller operations who say, ‘our customers love this.’ It’s based on customer demographics. They might roll out 10 or 15 marketing programs at the same time at the machine, including on the mobile platform. That’s why we created a big ecosystem of applications because we want to cover the full range of operators, be they locals, mid-size, regional, heavy traffic or low traffic.”

Mass marketing to uncarded players is increasingly popular. Operators can throw out bonuses to uncarded patrons and, when they get hit with them, they’re allowed to enter a virtual session. “They earn points during that virtual session and someone is dispatched who says, ‘look, you’ve already earned this much, I’ll give you that in dollars if you just sign up,’” said Palmisano. “It’s basically player tracking for uncarded people. It’s a customer acquisition and satisfaction tool and it’s getting a lot of usage right now.”

Restraint is a recurring theme in Aristocrat’s current thinking about system-based marketing. “Everything that we provide through nCompass, we only want to make it available to the customer when it is meaningful to them,” said Palmisano. “Not in-your-face marketing, just a little at a time and it’s measured. We have a behavior management tool that asks how many times a customer pushes that site; don’t go in there every time with the same marketing campaign; change it. A lot of what we learn comes from mobile applications. They look at how often and how you interact with the application and, based on that, it keeps changing because it doesn’t want you to get annoyed and shut it off or turn off push notifications. The same thing goes with the machine.”

In terms of broader marketing goals, Aristocrat focuses on connecting the operator’s brand to the patron. “Little bits and pieces like bonusing come with that brand connection; we look at everything a customer is doing,” said Palmisano. “If they spend money at an F&B outlet, we tie that down to the applications and the patron experience, whether it’s at the machine, mobile or wherever. We want that customer to be engaged with the brand, not just, ‘I gotta play X to get X.’ Sometimes you have to disrupt that a little bit and don’t make it so automatic.”

That includes new wrinkles like social rewards that recognize status. “We’ve seen some of our customers use that very effectively,” said Palmisano. “It’s not monetary; it’s achievement, badges, things like that. You might think nobody cares, but the social dynamic of all these applications over the last 10 years has changed patron behavior such that they consume social badges and social interaction. It’s for people who like to say, ‘hey, by the way, I’m in the Top 5 in this VIP room.’ Personalization is critical and the slot machine and the mobile phone are the two places where we can reach people.”

SCIENTIFIC GAMES

Scientific Games continues to bulk up its Elite Bonusing Suite (EBS) product to add relationship-building value to iView DM. “When we had the iView DM on the system with just player account information, you really couldn’t put a ROI on it,” said Martha Langer, director of systems product management for Scientific Games. “The personal suite now has 12-plus promotions, including a few new ones that are going in a different direction. They are really enhancing game play and keeping people at the machine itself.”

EBS comes with four promotional theme choices and operators can change it out each quarter. “It really helps the marketers build out the calendar,” said Langer. “We think and the customers feel that it keeps things fresh. If you keep running the same old thing over and over again, it gets a little stale. That has been in place a little over a year now, so people are taking advantage of the opportunity to plan for which promotions and which styles, be it floor-wide or personalized, they are going to run each quarter.”

EBS sits on top of Scientific Games’ casino management system, so any promotion can be set to a different card level or different value lengths by card level and extracted to the patron for special events. “If you want to do a penny promotion at a certain time around certain events, you can have the promotions there,” said Langer. “You can define the promotion and make it eligible to a particular slot machine or slot machine characteristic, such as denom, or a certain player using three different games: The 3D Wheel, USpin Wheel and Ski Ball.”

When the system opened at Belterra Gaming Park in Cincinnati, Ohio, people put their card in and saw five different wheel levels to correspond with the property’s five card levels. A progression bar gives players something to shoot for during DM’s virtual racing events such as NASCAR and Horse Race. “Every race, if it’s qualifying, should have a qualifying bar,” said Langer. “When you see the green bar moving up it makes you want to stay a little bit longer. Also, with the card levels, if you can see people next to you with higher amounts, it really entices you to play to get to that next level.”

Another update, BetView, comes with three options, Casino Lotto, Monopoly and Clue. “It’s basically DM Wagering; you’re going to be able to wage money off a credit meter to play a side game,” said Langer. “I think this leans toward the newer social gamer because they like to do two things at the same time. As they’re playing the main game, they can now wager from the credit meter and play these side games. All applications can be made available to a certain group of players; many are for re-start players; players who haven’t played for six months to a year.”

KONAMI GAMING

Konami Gaming has bulked up its Synkros system with new marketing capabilities in recent years, including the ability to insert a driver’s license into a card slot and churn out a player’s club card. Konami estimates that up to 80 percent of all cards issued at a players club are reprints.

 “Operators like that we now have a full eco-system,” said Michael Ratner, director of product management-systems for Konami. “There’s the EGM, CMS and a kiosk product integrated into the CMS, both on a mobile platform or a physical kiosk, and I can have players either reprint cards or do enrollment at the kiosk. As far as in-game marketing is concerned, casinos are going to incentivize you for doing something. Or they may incentivize you with offers just for being a new member. Systems can also stream video such as live sporting events or in-house video. You can also turn your game screen into a kiosk.”

Konami’s SynKiosk product pulls the same content that is in a kiosk onto the game screen. “Operators are still wrestling with the idea of turning a slot machine into something other than a slot machine, but it does give people the opportunity not to leave their seats and go and find a kiosk,” said Ratner. “The casino can use this kiosk product to send you offers as well. For example, you have a promotion and it’s not what the machine is giving you, it’s coming from the casino management system. Rewards between the game and the system are synched with the player’s club/player tracking. The ability to send new marketing messages to the EGM can be done either through the system sending you new membership enrollment ideas or through the kiosk product sending it directly to the game screen.”

A ribbon on the bottom of the screen has icons that are system-driven. “When we send you a bonus you can keep playing while the bonus is going on,” said Ratner. “We’ve sent you, say $10 in free play, which could be the programmed business rule for the day for new members. If you stay on the machine, a green button lights up and tells you about the $10 in free play. For a new player, it might be a question of what do I do now? But you’ve got players to the left and right who are seasoned gamblers. Plus, it’s incumbent on the casino’s players club to educate their players on how to use the system. There’s no use putting in a $5 million casino management system if you’re not going to teach your players how to use it. It could be employees on the floor or at the time of enrollment.”

Offers can be delivered at the screen as well. A “You have offers available” message scrolls at the bottom of the screen, players touch an icon, enter a PIN and five offers come up—room nights, F&B credits, free play, tournaments, etc.  “Players need to pay attention to the in-game messages or they’ll miss out on benefits like free play and tournaments,” said Ratner. “Once mature players understand how the CMS works, they will get the most benefit out of it. Your regular customer is going to get it. The tourist who visits three times a year…this is a little bit over their heads.” 

IGT

“Being able to have a dynamic offer in real time based on a very deep set of qualification criteria is the evolution of where we’ve gone,” said Matt Hiu, senior manager, systems for International Game Technology PLC (IGT). “That’s not easy and it’s not cheap.”

Hiu said IGT has learned that the qualification engine needs to be more robust. “In the past, operators would say, ‘I want to do a marketing extraction. Give me all the females over a certain age from this zip code so I can give them a coupon for the buffet.’ That was typical. Now it has become a lot more sophisticated—I want all the females over a certain age from this zip code who have visited five times in the last number days or months with an ADT of X. So it’s getting a lot more detailed.”

Casinos also want the information in real time, “so as soon as I run the list it’s outdated,” Hiu said. “If that female of a certain age and ADT from a certain zip code shows up and cards in, she’s not in my list and she didn’t get the offer. So we’re saying, ‘let’s get that same robust intelligence but do it in real time.’ So when the player cards in, we ask the qualifications engine if the player meets specific criteria. If they do, give them this offer. If they’re new, give them a welcome offer. If they’ve been around for a long time, give them a different offer.

“When you think of all those permutations and all those factors, every operator has a different approach,” Hiu added. “Some operators are religious about ADT. Other operators are about average trip worth or they might have a different approach. Trying to accommodate all the different mindsets of marketing in real time is tough. But that’s where we have spent a lot of our time and effort, expanding the qualification engine and being able to deliver things in real time.”

IGT’s Point Pursuit now rewards loyalty with higher levels of personalization. If your points profile is 47 per day, a player might get a goal of 47 points plus 10 percent, or 51 points. Once you hit your mark, a game will show up, and this game will be customized. You pick a prize (which is pre-determined) and the system tells you automatically what you’ve won.

“By using tailored themes and a choice of prize icons, there are elements of personalization and participation,” said Hiu. “The same player profile in the system will yield different game themes based on player preferences [i.e. Paris or NASCAR]. The options are unlimited because it’s all web-based. This is in Valley View and Cosmopolitan currently. Operators like the ability to personalize and give a very special, niche-type experience. If you’re a top-tier player, you expect certain things and you don’t want to be treated like everybody else. Top-tier players know what everybody else is getting. When they see a special game just for them because it’s their birthday, they love the fact that the casino took time to create a special experience for them; that means something to them.”

Services can be personalized as well.  A typical tourist player will see a basic drink menu. If you’re a high-end player, IGT can customize content for high-premium alcohol. “So we can tier drinks the same way we do bonuses,” said Hiu. “Google does click tracking so, let’s say you go to a website and you want to buy a camera and you click all the way through but you don’t order the camera. The next time you go to Google, the camera is on the display. We have the same click tracking, so if you go all the way through but don’t order the Bud Lite, we’ll say to you, ‘here’s a special on Bud Lite.’ If you always order a Bud Lite, the next time you card-in, that’s what will pop up. That kind of stuff, that we take for granted on the web, is coming into the game experience.”