This is part of a series on the convergence of video games and the casino industry and opportunities for non-casino game developers. This article focuses on skill-based games. Part 1 focuses on mobile games. Part 3 focuses on spectator events such as esports and virtual reality.
At the recent Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas, panels and attractions with companies such as Caesars, IGT, Gamblit Gaming, GameCo and Competition Interactive made one thing abundantly clear: The video game and casino industries are converging. This promises not only new sources of revenue for casinos, but new opportunities for game developers outside the casino industry as well.
Keith Winters of Competition Interactive, which showcased its multiplayer skill-based game Running Rich Racing at G2E, says that casino operators are describing the current state of the industry as “catastrophic.” Competition Interactive CEO Paul Steelman echoes the sentiment, saying that 20 years ago gaming revenue was 90% of a casino’s revenue, but today it is typically less than 30% of the total revenue generated.
Paul adds that current solutions, which include things like nightclubs, tend to focus on drinking culture – which is not necessarily a healthy unique adult experience to be promoting. This is where video games come into the picture. They believe the integration of casino gaming and video gaming (often termed “skill-based gaming” in the casino industry) can allow for a unique adult experience that will revolutionize casinos.
Caesars Senior Vice President Melissa Price also believes skill-based games will serve to revitalize the industry. In a panel titled Skill-Based Games at G2E, Melissa noted that there is a “burning platform” and consumer preferences have changed; but those same consumers are also vocal about their desire for mobile games, console gaming and more.
Adding skill-based games to casino floors looks to be a match made in heaven. Casinos look set to get younger audiences and those who prefer non-slot games onto the casino floor while non-casino game developers will likely have expansive opportunities in a new market.
GameCo debuted its skill-based game Danger Arena at G2E where CEO Blaine Graboyes noted that content drives everything and non-slot game developers have the content younger audiences are seeking. Blaine predicts that, eventually, there will be thousands of developers making games for casinos with new kinds of content experiences that haven’t even been thought of yet.
On the consumer side, gamers everywhere stand to win big as well. Blaine notes that gamers are still a largely underserved demographic who are stereotyped and ostracized with no real opportunities for VIP treatment. The thing casinos do better than anyone else, Blaine says, is the VIP experience. GameCo’s vision is to give gamers a place they can feel like a VIP – which is why GameCo has opted to focus on land-based casinos.
Rules & Regulations
Even regulators, which are often stigmatized as naysayers, are excited with the shift towards skill-based gaming. In the Skill-Based Games panel at G2E, NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement Deputy Director George Rover explained that they will be very generous to any product that people bring to them and will work to get them onto casino floors as fast as possible.
Paul acknowledges this is the case, saying that regulators have been fully on board with the shift and have been helpful in making the process as easy as possible to get these skill-based games onto the casino floor.
And while some may deride rules and regulations, Blaine actually believes they are helpful to the creative process. “I’m a big believer that constraint drives creativity. The idea that you can make any game makes it hard to know where to start. But in this case, there is a set of regulations that describe what we do and we have to find a way to make our experience fit within those regulations.”
Heart of the Game
Competition Interactive, GameCo and Gamblit Gaming all have somewhat different strategies for bringing skill-based games to casino floors. While Gamblit and GameCo have opted to mostly work with already established intellectual property (IP) and games – citing its ability to draw gamers – Competition Interactive is building their own games and IP in-house.
“Name recognition can be great,” says Paul, “but it can also alienate people. If, say, I see a Call of Duty casino game, I’m not going to play it, because I know I’m going to lose to the 22-year-old sitting next to me who grew up on the series. New titles allow for new experiences.”
One thing everyone seems to agree on though is that it’s important the gameplay – the heart of the game – remain unencumbered by gambling mechanics. In all games from the different companies showcased at G2E, player wagering and other gambling took place on dedicated screens before gameplay started and/or after gameplay ended, leaving the actual game as a pure gaming experience for the player.
Skill-based games aren’t just for the players though. Competition Interactive, GameCo and Gamblit Gaming are all working on side-betting devices and mechanics. Currently, some look relatively simple, such as letting a spectator bet on the skill of a player they are watching. Others, however, are more ambitious, such as letting players not only bet on a player, but then interact with the game’s environment to help that player win – creating an almost multi-player aspect.
Additionally, tournaments, leaderboards and synchronous multiplayer games are also in the works for some of the companies. GameCo, which plans to focus on single-player experiences, also plans to introduce a dual-economy system so that players can win money but also garner points toward prizes.
Further down the road, GameCo hopes to create a rewards program that allows players to play casino-floor games with their at-home gamer accounts and characters, which they can use to win exclusive DLC they can then use in their everyday gaming – providing gamers with extra incentive to play games on casino floors.
For developers looking to get involved there are many options open to them. Both Gamblit Gaming and GameCo currently work with adapting already established games on devices ranging from mobile phones to consoles for the casino floor.
Gamblit Gaming CMO Darion Lowenstein notes that they are interested in games with an “arcadey” experience and that already have accolades and lots of downloads. At G2E the company showcased 18 games, including several world debuts, that were largely skill-based third-party titles from the mobile, PC and console sectors. Darion says that looping gameplay and shorter gameplay that only lasts a few minutes are great for the casino floor. “In a 90s arcade you could walk up to a machine, understand more or less what is was, insert a quarter, jump in and play.”
Blaine echoes the sentiment for compact gameplay experiences that balance the player’s entertainment value with the revenue the casino is looking for. In order to provide something for everyone, Gamblit, GameCo and Competition Interactive are working with or planning to work with various game genres such as action, adventure, platformer, racing, fighting, casual and more.
What Casinos Need
Blaine notes that people in the casino industry also want partners who are creative and have a spirit for collaboration – as well as continued enthusiasm for their game even amid changes. “When you get into the process with a casino, they might tell you to change something – they need a partner who can do that.”
One thing Blaine and others at G2E point out is that, despite opportunities in the casino industry, it can be very daunting for developers because of the things that are required. There is licensing, fundraising, product development and compliance testing that must all be taken care of – and all of which can push back a developer’s time-frame for getting their product to market.
Currently, both Gamblit and GameCo are able to take care of licensing and compliance for developers they partner with. Additionally, GameCo will be releasing their controllers and API to the industry in 2017 – potentially opening the door to casino floors for an untold number of game developers.
According to Darion, now is the time for developers to start making the switch, saying that mobile and console markets are shrinking and tougher to succeed in, but “the casino world is so ready for this change and has an appetite. There is a lot of money to be made and I think there is a lot of room for games to do really well.”