Adding skill-based gaming experiences to slot floors is one of several initiatives that casino operators are taking to engage a broader demographic of players
Just a few short years ago, skill-based games were developed to offer casino patrons a chance to influence the outcome of a slot-like game through expertise of play; essentially emulating the play experience of traditional video and arcade games where the most skilled players garner the highest scores.
As expected, this concept has grabbed the attention of the younger generations weaned on video games; somewhat unexpected was the ability of skill-based games to turn the heads of older, more experienced slot players.
“I don’t think there is a point of demarcation that can be readily identified,” said Michael Darley, CEO at Next Gaming. “Of course, a younger demographic such as the Millennials or Gen Y has been a significant topic of conversation since the inception of skill-based games. Fortunately, there is a broader appeal that also encompasses Gen X and the Baby Boomers. It’s kind of an alphabet soup at this point. What they have in common, across the board, is their quest to become an active participant in their gaming experience instead of just waiting for a random outcome from a traditional slot machine.
“These types of games have resulted in an immersive and entertaining experience that, for the most part, replicate the games they play at home, on their mobile devices or even in an arcade setting giving the player a sense of familiarization which can boast their confidence in play,” Darley added.”
Gamblit Gaming, a pioneer in the skill-based games space whose devices can be found in casinos throughout Las Vegas and various tribal gaming facilities in California, has found that, “on average our customer is 10-20 years younger than a typical slots player—late 30s through the late 40s,” said Darion Lowenstein, chief marketing officer for Gamblit. “They want a different form of wagering experience, and over half our players tend to be un-carded players, which strongly suggests new revenue for casino operators.”
However, these types of games are not as cut and dry when it comes to play and payout. “There’s quite a range in the taxonomy of these types of games, from interactivity on games which are predominated by chance, to games where skill comes to factor in, in a significant way,” said Lowenstein. “How interactivity, chance, skill and entertainment are blended in these games is where the secret sauce lies. Based on the blend of these things, one can drift the age of the player up or down, depending on the desired result. Retention on the game cannot ever be something one guarantees but rather is organic to the game’s construct, so there will be wide variation on that.”
While both a typical slot machine and skill slot subscribe to the same regulatory standards, pure skill games can differ from traditional slot games in numerous ways. Perhaps the most fundamental difference is the math—the outcomes within traditional slot games are based purely on chance, whereas skill-based games leverage a math model that combines chance and skill. “We’ve seen variations on form factors, art, pay tables and themes used in skill-based games,” said Mike Brennan, vice president product management for International Game Technology PLC (IGT). “Because all of these elements influence the player experience, it’s reasonable that suppliers would experiment with different game dimensions to attract and engage new players. With IGT’s Video Reel Edge games, we give players the option to engage in a skill-based bonus event, or instead to choose a traditional free games bonus.”
Over the last several years, there has been a gradual expansion of skill-based games in various domestic and international markets, and as with any new product, there have been notable successes and failures. Still, skill-style slots still hold significant opportunity for game manufacturers to bring new technologies and concepts to the gaming floor. Here are a few of these companies and their latest product offerings in skill-based gaming.
IGT has been a skill-based games innovator for decades since, fundamentally, video poker is a skill-based game given that the genre blends chance and skill.
In the more common context of skill gaming, IGT has what are considered “hybrid” skill games such as Cleopatra Pinball, Texas Tea Pinball and Fuzzy’s Fortune from its Video Reel Edge game family on casino floors in multiple jurisdictions. These games feature a traditional base game slot experience, and then give players the option to enjoy skill-based bonus events.
In addition, IGT plans to start distributing Chill Gaming’s innovative games Bloomtopia and Fortunes of the Brave in the very near future. The company has demonstrated these games at global trade shows, and operator and media feedback reportedly continues to be positive. Bloomtopia will be the first Chill theme to hit the casino floor. This game rewards players with monetary and non-monetary awards and gives players the opportunity to build an on-screen garden—similar to several popular social games. Bloomtopia players can save their progress on an RFID card and leverage it on return visits.
“Although this is not technically a skill-chance hybrid game, it features social elements that are unique to other gaming experiences found on casino floors today,” said Brennan.
Fortunes of the Brave will be the next Chill Gaming product that IGT plans to release to market. This game blends skill and chance, and affords players the opportunity to battle in bonus events in a video game-type of experience.
“We remain committed to the skill games that IGT has in the field and on our roadmap,” said Brenna. “IGT will soon launch Chill Gaming’s Bloomtopia and Fortunes of the Brave and we are confident that both games will introduce unique player experiences that our customers can leverage to differentiate their floors.”
Gamblit was founded in 2010 for the purposes of creating interactive games for land-based casinos.
“As more of the population have become either younger than the running average age of slot players today, and in the slot group many have joined the ranks of the tech savvy, we felt new products were needed to be more tailored to meet the interest of this cohort,” said Lowenstein. “Especially those that grew up with video games, the internet and all things digital. By creating futuristic looking touchscreen devices that have a variety of games on them, we provide engaging wagering experiences where the player becomes more actively involved in games, even when the games are predominated by chance.
“We’ve learned a lot in just two years of being live; from how we explain game rules to new players, to balancing player decision factors in a game with sufficient coin-in rates leading to an evolution of how one serves this type of game, at least in our case,” Lowenstein added.
Many of Gamblit’s new games take all this acquired knowledge into account, as seen with both of the company’s Pac-Man and several of its organic titles. Gamblit’s single-player Pac-Man Cash Chase, for example, will hit some of the company’s highest coin-in rates, all while keeping players in that classic ghost-chasing, pellet-eating gameplay. Meanwhile Deal or No Deal Poker, Gamblit’s first big brand and licensing deal to hit the floor, has reportedly been very successful at bringing new players in with brand appeal, familiar gameplay mechanics and bonuses that keep them on the machine.
“We’ve been lucky enough to partner with some of the greatest game developers in the world—and being entrusted with gamblifying their hit games has been a fun challenge for our team,” said Lowenstein. “Games like Cut the Rope, which has over a billion downloads, and Jetpack Joyride, which has over 750 million downloads, have massive fan bases that will bring a lot of appeal and interest to the gaming floor. We are live in dozens of locations now, so we are getting a ton of data about what consumers want in different markets.”
As Gamblit launches over 10 games this year, the company plans to continue to understand what its customers want, and what works best for operators. “With a lot of big brands and unique gameplay experiences, we see a steady expansion ahead with higher-earnings titles, offering a wide variety of play experiences,” Lowenstein said. “We’re about variety and bringing in younger players to open new revenue channels for operators.”
Next Gaming has licensed iconic games such as Asteroids, Missile Command and Tempest from Atari and Arkanoid and Bust-A-Move from Taito. Additionally, in its non-skill-based portfolio, the company has licensed Grumpy Cat.
“For our installations, we are currently in the process of obtaining our certifications in Nevada and plan to conduct a field trial in two prominent properties in the Las Vegas strip,” said Darley.
What Next Gaming has experienced in the design of its games is how players get immersed in the game play. “Unlike a traditional slot machine, which is generally a one-spin occurrence, you are engaged in an evolving experience that has multiple levels and individual components,” said Darley. “Our company is committed to be part of this dynamic transition of the traditional slot floor for the long term. It’s an exciting time, and our capabilities and sheer enthusiasm in creating a unique experience is something that we all value.”
GameCo’s Riches of the Golden Dragon video game gambling machines come to Mohegan Sun
Mohegan Sun recently announced that GameCo’s latest the video game gambling title, Riches of the Golden Dragon, is now live near Seasons Buffet at Mohegan Sun. These three new machines mark the first roll out of this game in the U.S.
“Providing entertaining and unique gaming experiences across our beautiful casinos at Mohegan Sun is always something we are focused on,” said Ray Pineault, president and general manager of Mohegan Sun. “Being the first entertainment destination to launch GameCo’s Riches of the Golden Dragon, not only in the northeast but in the U.S., is something we’re very excited to roll out for guests,”
Riches of the Golden Dragon features video game gambling. To start, players are presented with three dragon tiles and within each there is a reveal of either an immediate cash reward, tokens that can be used in mini-games or a chance at a bonus round or mini-game. The bonus round and mini-games are where skill comes in to play and also where tokens earned up to that point, can be used to instantly win cash inside a mini-game. In some cases, a selected tile will take players directly to a mini-game like the Melt Coins, where players melt falling coins, while avoiding falling rocks, with an electric current by pressing the corresponding buttons. There is also a Match Dragons mini-game, where players use the buttons on the deck to match three of the same type of dragon on screen at one time. The mini-games provide players with a return to player (RTP) of 100 percent or more when playing optimally. At any point too, the initial selection among three tiles can reveal an immediate progressive jackpot win up to $5,000.
“The pick-and-win play style provides a really unique gaming experience and we are thrilled to have Mohegan Sun as our first launch partner,” said Blaine Graboyes, founder and CEO GameCo. “Mohegan Sun’s commitment to providing the newest and best experiences to their guests makes it an ideal location for our debut.”