There are many schools of thought related to skill-based slot games, which elicit everything from indifferent shoulder shrugs to evangelical passion in our industry.
The fact that highly informed people display such a range of opinions on the topic should tell you no one really knows where we’re going to end up with skill games. We do know that people are spending a lot of time playing video games or social games on their phones and that means something. At the very least, a big chunk of the human need for enjoyable distraction is playing out in private and at relatively low costs to the user.
This was again made clear at a session on skill-based games at Southern Gaming Summit in May, Daniel Sahl, associate director, Center for Gaming Innovation, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, cited data from the Entertainment Software Association finding that 42 percent of Americans, including adolescents—or about 150 million people—play video games sessions of at least 15-20 minutes three times per week. The average age is 35, but 44 percent of that group is 36 or older. There is a gender divide, with 56 percent of gamers male and 44 percent female, but women who play video games tend to be a little bit older; their average age is 43. Social games, including puzzle, card or game show-style games, account for 60 percent of the games played.
None of this is news, and “wait-and-see” has been the attitude of most people in the industry as to what it all means. There are exceptions, and these come from corners that are more invested in change, and they’re not just game developers looking to make a buck.
“Adversity is the mother of invention and innovation,” said David Rebuck, director, New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. “This industry will come kicking and screaming into new resources that will generate more revenue either because they want to or they’re going to be forced to. Skill-based gaming can be one of those revenue resources. Will it work? I really don’t know.”
Earlier this year, New Jersey posted regulations for skill-based video games, this in response to manufacturer demands for guidelines. One early participant from the supplier side is GameCo, which has submitted a game for approval. “Danger Arena,” is a first-person action game that doesn’t play like a traditional base/bonus slot game; winnings are purely tied to the player’s ability to take out robots (as long as you take out six or more you get your money back). It looks like a slant top but it is equipped with an Xbox-style custom controller. The real-money wagering game was submitted for lab testing in May.
“The friction to understand what’s happening is basically minimized and you can have a fun time playing video games,” said Blaine Graboyes, CEO. “We can make a math model that supports any return to player and create different levels of volatility; high, low or medium. We can create something that gamers are going to play regardless of how much they’re winning just because it’s fun and they’re doing it with their friends.”
There is of course no shortage of views on what needs to happen for skill games to catch on with players. A big piece of the puzzle is convincing the operators themselves to take a chance. “One thing I would recommend to the people selling these products is that the hardware is becoming more and more important to getting people to try the game,” said Warren Davidson, slot director, Coushatta Casino Resort. “The cabinet has got to be bright, flashy, have large monitors on it. It seems to be, ‘the brighter, the better,’ even to the point where you think that can’t be good.” Davidson pointed to new games that are on a flat table where players are looking at each other and not into a screen as a potentially interesting direction. “It encourages that community aspect which I think is extremely important for the younger gambler.”
Graboyes is fluent in slot manager-speak and understands that skill games have to deliver on the metrics that floor directors are themselves measured against. But he also understands that in order to break new ground on the floor, a collective effort is required. “We have a showroom in Atlantic City where we get direct feedback from casinos. We bring in pro gamers and publishers to get their feedback on the game. We recognize the fact that whatever we do Day 1 isn’t going to be on the floor a month or a year from now. It’s up to that collaboration to create something that’s going to be the future.”