Skill-based gaming vendors push through COVID and bring new technologies and play mechanics to operator floors and websites
Casino operators focusing on innovative ways to bring in a younger demographic to the gaming floor is not a new trend, and ways that have proven to work involve creating personalized, engaging and interactive experiences. Indeed, every casino facility has its own strategy on how to update traditional gambling staples, developing what works best for them and their players. Among the numerous options, we can find skill-based gaming.
“Skill-influenced games have been percolating in the industry over the last several years, but due to the necessary processes of industry regulation and approval requirements, adoption is just now starting to really pick up,” said Georg Washington, CEO of Synergy Blue. “So we’ve had time to experiment, find the right balance of wagering and mix that with really engaging, fun game play. These games present a unique marketing opportunity for casinos and a way to capture play that might otherwise skip the casino floor.”
In the past, skilled-based games were fighting to find space on the gaming floor; but the new reality is that casino floor space, with the exception of a few jurisdictions and properties, is no longer at a premium. “Almost all casinos were built for many more slot machines than they operate today,” said Blaine Graboyes, CEO of GameCo. “Most casino floors have 25-50 percent fewer slot machines than a decade ago. This is because slot machines continue to improve in their performance but they’re all cannibalizing and monetizing the exact same audience of 60- to 70-year-old players.”
Gaming manufacturers like GameCo are attempting to attract and monetize a completely different player base. Graboyes stated that, “81 percent of spending on GameCo’s VGM Games is generated by21- to 49-year-old Gen X and Millennial players. This is four times the amount of spending from the same demographic on slot machines.”
However, just as skill-based gaming was starting to gain some traction within casino properties, the coronavirus hit, and the social/communal aspect of these types of games has come under fire in the current COVID-restricted environment. Skill-based game manufacturers are addressing these concerns, emphasizing that the engaging game play of their machines can still take place even with social distancing rules in place.
“Our products are designed for maximum fun and flexibility, for casino operators as well as their properties’ unique guests,” said Washington. “And while they do promote a more engaging experience, players don’t have to get any physically closer than they would while playing traditional gambling games. Our products feature a tripod configuration, which means they’re six feet apart, and come with Blue Shield Technology, which comes standard on all new 2600 series cabinets. We’re also incorporating additional safety features into our hardware to ensure confidence in personal health.”
Other skill-game manufacturers are also providing options to overcome the challenge of COVID-19 restrictions. “In the retail casino industry, we’re generally deploying VGM Games in our carousel configuration or ‘TriPod’ setup,” said Graboyes. “This is perfectly geared towards social distancing as each VGM Unit is six feet apart. There is no need for plexiglass dividers or other expensive solutions to protect players’ health and safety.”
Skill games continue to hold significant opportunity for vendors and operators to bring in new technologies and concepts to the gaming floor. Companies leading the charge are profiled below, along with some of their recent product introductions.
Located in Las Vegas, Next Gaming has complied a team of accomplished gaming professionals that have very diverse and extensive backgrounds. The common thread is its operational experience which allows the company to look at its game designs from both the player and operator perspective.
“That’s why we chose to partner with Taito and Atari and offer some of the most recognizable and iconic arcade-style skill-based games that will appeal to a wide demographic audience,” said Michael Darley, CEO at Next Gaming. “Our partnerships with Taito and Atari in acquiring the IP licenses for the most recognizable and popular arcade games of the 1980s is unsurpassed. We value the significance of their brands and have honored them through our design elements. With Arkanoid, BUST-A-MOVE, BUST-A-MOVE ADVENTURE, Space Invaders and Bubble Bobble from Taito and Asteroids, Missile Command, Tempest and Centipede from Atari, our game offerings are widely accepted and certainly recognized. That’s an advantage, because when the player sits down to play, there isn’t a long learning curve to start their session.”
Next Gaming recently received certifications for Oklahoma, New Mexico and California for Asteroids, Arkanoid, BUST-A-MOVE and its own proprietary game ZFORCE. Nevada and other jurisdictions will also follow, according to the company.
In terms of the Next Gaming’s product evolution, it has consciously kept games authentic to the original playing experience, but with significant graphic enhancements and player engagement attributes. Games offer three different skill levels—easy, normal and hard—for the player to choose. This can deliver various degrees of intensity that fit the player’s personal preferences.
Prior to the pandemic, Next Gaming was entering the e-sports online space with BUST-A-MOVE Real Money Tournament, by partnering with CelerX, on its Arcade Win application available on the App Store.
“As you know, with the pandemic and casinos closed, the mobile gaming market grew significantly and continues to do so,” said Darley. “In 2019, it reached $68.5 billion and has expanded from there. For Next Gaming, having our games in both casinos and online diversifies our revenue streams and recognition of our brands.”
Next Gaming remains focused on designing and delivering gaming experiences that are unique, enjoyable and engaging, with a skill component. “The opportunities are endless for us and we will continue to be innovators in this field,” said Darley.
In 2016, GameCo launched the first-ever skill-based Video Game Gambling Machine (VGM), pioneering the category of innovation for the casino industry. Over the past four years, the company reports it has continued to iterate rapidly and explore the potential for merging video games and gambling. Today, GameCo is licensed in 27 jurisdictions in North America, including key markets such as Nevada, New Jersey and Ontario.
“While the slot machine sector has been stagnant with only one percent year-over-year growth, video games have exploded with 20 percent growth yearly,” said Graboyes. “Today, GameCo delivers video game gambling products for both retail and digital casinos. For land-based casinos, we offer single-player games featuring our GamersEdge technology, providing truly skill-based wagering, as well as our Multiplayer Arena for casino e-sports competitions and tournaments. For digital casinos, we offer skill-based i-gaming games as well as the leading e-sports betting platform. We’re also poised to launch another new category we’re calling Freeplay Gambling, which allows players to win real money based on their skill without wagering their own cash. Collectively, GameCo is focused on bringing innovation to the entire casino industry.”
Slot machines are more than 100 years old and it has only been a few decades since video slots arrived to the slot floor. GameCo invented the category of Video Game Gambling less than four years ago, and one of the things the company stated it is most proud of is its pace of iteration and innovation. “We’ve now created the fifth generation of our platform and games,” said Graboyes. “We call our latest innovation GamersEdge and it’s the most important development to date as it solves the three main challenges with skill-based games.”
GameCo’s previous generation of games solved what it calls “betting velocity,” whereby the pace of play and betting is the same or even faster than slot machines. With GamersEdge, skilled players can win bigger payouts, while those not as skilled can still enjoy a gaming experience similar to slots, and the casino can be guaranteed a fixed hold percentage. This proprietary and patent-pending technology is built into both GameCo’s retail and digital games.
“We’ve had so much innovation in 2020, though that development has been underway for the past few years,” said Graboyes. “In our retail casino vertical, we recently launched our Multiplayer Arena, the first-ever casino e-sports solution.” The Multiplayer Arena networks and its VGM Games allow head-to-head competitions and bracketed e-sports-style tournaments.
“Casinos have been desperate to capture opportunity with e-sports, and our Multiplayer Arena finally provides a platform to bring e-sports to the casino floor,” said Graboyes. “Our first games include, among others, All-Star Hoops, a basketball game with 3D gameplay similar to game consoles such as PlayStation and Xbox. We’ve also launched multiple digital offerings, including our skill-based i-gaming products and our e-sports getting solution.”
Online casinos are dealing with the same challenges as land-based casinos—an oversupply of slot games that all appeal to the same, declining audience. “At GameCo, we’re leading the industry in providing the convergence of video games and slot machines for digital casinos, particularly in North America,” said Graboyes. “We’re also unlocking the potential of e-sports betting, which is completely untouched in the U.S.
“We believe that the casino industry requires disruptive innovation immediately. The current market situation is only accelerating the underlying fundamentals. GameCo is committed to being a partner to retail and digital casinos in attracting and monetizing the next generations of players. We do not think slot machines, physically or online, will disappear. But the data shows the market is not growing without innovation of new categories and new offerings.”
GameCo has put together a solution for e-sports betting in the U.S. regulated market and will soon be launching its e-sports books in multiple states. “The key to our e-sports betting solution is our partnership with GRID, who has put together the largest catalog of official, sanctioned ‘server data’ for e-sports betting,” said Graboyes. “This allows GameCo to provide the only solution for in-play e-sports betting in the U.S.”
Synergy Blue is an entertainment and gaming solutions company based in Las Vegas. The company builds and provides arcade-style, skill-influenced games (or interactive electronic gaming machines), platforms, and applications for casino markets around the world. Synergy Blue’s game library includes a mix of over 20 titles, from traditional gambling games to mobile and arcade-styles, like Candy Ca$h and Joyride Jackpot.
“Our games are designed to attract and engage today’s casino players, from the generations who grew up playing in arcades, to console fans who started out on Atari or Nintendo, to the growing number of mobile game players,” said Washington. “This burgeoning demographic wants the excitement of wagering, but they also want an experience that echoes the game experiences they’ve become accustomed to on their mobile device. While traditional casino games will always have a prominent place on the floor, our games provide unique experiences for every type of player. “
Designed to fit both player and operator needs, all of Synergy Blue’s games are built on the patented HAWG (Hybrid Arcade Wager-based Gaming) platform, which blends regulatory approved chance and skill-influenced gambling with the uninterrupted entertainment of arcade-style game play. The HAWG platform provides maximum flexibility, allowing operators to fit their unique gambling experience and demographics.
Joyride Jackpot is one of Synergy Blue’s newest additions to its library of skill-influenced interactive games and blends wagering with realistic racing action. Arcade-style hardware, complete with foot pedal and steering wheel, along with leaderboard features and accent lighting draw players in, while the personalized experience and variety of options are designed to encourage repeat play. “Joyride Jackpot provides an opportunity for casinos to attract a variety of today’s players, including those who may not have previously shown interest in traditional gambling options,” said Washington. “Built on the HAWG platform, it fits multiple regulatory markets so the fun can be had in just about any jurisdiction where traditional slots are legal.”
Joyride Jackpot gives players the ability to race in style, with eight high-performance cars to choose from and single or multiplayer options, allowing players to customize their experience and race solo or with friends. For courses and difficulty levels, Joyride Jackpot comes with easy, medium and hard levels that allow for widespread use by players of multiple skill levels. There are five unique and realistic courses, from busy city streets to sprawling mountain tracks, each designed with the latest graphic technology. Joyride Jackpot is also supported for multiple languages.
“When we first built Joyride Jackpot, it was only single player, but because everything is more fun with friends, we added in a mutliplayer version,” said Washington.
Earlier this year Synergy Blue was approved for distribution in its home state of Nevada. It currently has games and applications placed in several countries and is planning on expanding its footprint in Las Vegas as reopening ensues. Synergy Blue has also secured distribution agreements, the most recent being in Oklahoma with Dynamic Gaming Solutions, in Canada with Bet Rite and in Asia with Jade Entertainment Solutions.
To support industry recovery and enhance health and safety measures, Synergy Blue is incorporating several new pieces of technology into its products. This includes building its latest cabinet series with Blue Safe Touch, which includes patent pending antimicrobial/germ inhibiting particles embedded in paint and plastic surfaces, as well as antiviral/antibacterial touch surfaces and UVC air filtration—which meet rigorous standards from the U.S. EPA, E.U. BPR, ISO and JIS. The new cabinet series is also available with germ shield panels, which further increases personal space to ensure player confidence in their safety.
“It’s difficult to map out a future plan when everything is changing so often,” said Washington. “There’s a lot of uncertainty in the casino industry, which is causing the majority of challenges. For a lot of companies, this is pushing a quick shift to i-gaming, which seems like a natural progression for interactive games, as well as one that would eventually benefit brick-and-mortar casinos. Right now, we’re continuing to push developments forward and support industry recovery with innovative products, enhanced game play and superior flexibility. We have some other exciting things in the works too, so stay tuned.”