“The casino industry doesn’t have the depth of knowledge on who their future consumer is.” Those were the words spoken by Rahul Sood of Unikrn during GiGse 2017 in San Diego last month. Indeed, a major focus of the three-day casino gaming industry event surrounded video gamers instead of traditional slots and table-game players – showing that the door is open to a new and lucrative market for non-casino game developers.
In one panel, experts from UNLV’s Center for Gaming Innovation, GameCo, Rover Strategic Advisors, Zeal Networks, and Guru Games, barely touched on traditional casino fare and focused entirely on how to merge skill-based games with gambling.
GameCo’s Blaine Graboyes noted that the average gamer is 35 years old and is looking for VIP experiences that the casino industry is adept at – but with a video gaming slant. “I’ve been producing games for over 20 years and there’s just a level of interactivity and engagement that isn’t available in slot games.”
Troy Pettie of Guru Games said in the panel that it’s important to reward more for better play in skill-based games. “We define skill as allowing players to meaningfully impact their wager.” He also cautioned against pseudo-skill games, saying that after repetitive plays it becomes obvious if winnings are based on true skill or have elements of luck to them.
In another panel with experts from Partis Solutions, Rush Stree Gaming, Landry’s and BetRadar, discussed the merits of vsports. Warren Steven noted that it is a very visual medium with a social component that makes people want to sit around and talk about it – and is a great opportunity for reaching out to younger audiences.
Warren also noted that vsports (as well as VR) lends itself to an overall experience, noting that being able to interact with vsports on any platform – but particularly mobile – would be ideal. Ali Hajjafar of Rush Street Gaming suggested that the real value of vsports is marketing it to players that it might be appealing to and then learning whatever can be gleaned from those players and trying to convert them to existing channels casinos already have.
Esports are also viewed more as a spectator sport with very visual and social components – rather than skill-based games, which casino attendees would actively take part in on the casino floor. In a panel with experts from Spectrum Gaming Group, Unikrn, Fifth Street Gaming, The Factory Network, and LEET, panelists discussed how esports are currently being pursued by casinos – with a large portion of the topic focused on events.
When discussing tournaments, LEET’s Kingsley Edwards said that it’s good to have a mix of big and small – with frequent smaller tournaments followed by larger blowout events. Dan Kelly of The Factory Network noted however that it can be tough to find a balance between what’s best for players, the team as a whole, and spectators. Some casinos, such as Las Vegas’ Downtown Grand, have the modernity to allow both large and small events, while other casinos, such as the Las Vegas MGM, currently couldn’t support a wide range of events.
Fifth Street Gaming’s Seth Schorr suggested that esports wagering would continue to become a bigger and bigger part of the esports experience. He noted that tournament operators currently take on the responsibility for making sure there is integrity in each of their events – while Kingsley mentioned that developers would also be a good place to turn to discuss integrity in esports gaming.
In a question regarding whether there are esports seasons that might prevent saturation or overkill, Dan noted that each esports game has their own leagues and there are things happening all year. However, Rahul said that, as a betting operator, this is great because it means you’re getting actions 365 days a year.
Bringing it all together
Perhaps the most important thing that was discussed across all the different panels related to skill-based games, vsports, and esports, was the need for a holistic approach. Ali noted that on-premise gaming is a great way to introduce vsports to people and Warren explained that, at least for Landry’s, the idea is that vsports players and spectators will ultimately convert to table games.
Seth explained that, for The Downtown Grand, esports, skill-based gaming, and other new offerings are all part of a larger strategy. “Any casino that is thinking 10 years down the road has to think of millennials. People under 30 are not compelled to play slot machines. Based on my experience, young people find the concept of chance-based games stupid. We need to dramatically change the way we offer (casino-floor) products or they will become a small part of our experience.”
What about regulators?
Interestingly, while regulators often get a bad rap for saying “no” to everything – the biggest proponents of bringing things like esports, vsports, and skill-based games into casinos were those on the government side of things.
George Rover, a former deputy director and assistant attorney general of the Division of Gaming Enforcement for the State of New Jersey, noted that “we’ve seen casinos closing and we saw early on that clearly there was a dropoff in people having an attraction to the traditional slot machine. In New Jersey two years ago, we pushed through skill-based gambling legislation to try and encourage operators to get on this before it became a serious problem. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like there’s this sense of urgency – but operators need to get on this sooner rather than later.”
Calling all developers!
To finish Rahul’s quote: “The casino industry doesn’t have a depth of knowledge on who their future consumer is. When a casino hosts an esports tournament and the crowd doesn’t turn out, it doesn’t mean esports has failed, it means the casino didn’t understand their customer.”
It is clear that the intersection between video gaming and land-based casinos is just beginning and not going away. Those who know video gamers best will be an integral part of making sure the casino industry’s transition is smooth. The time is ripe for non-casino game developers to start exploring this budding relationship between the casino and video game industries.