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IN-DEPTH 19 December 2018
Big Question: Casino Floor Innovation
In a digitally driven world, new technology revolutionises the way we game, making it crucial for electronic table games to stay ahead of the curve. So just how do they utilise new innovations to attract new and existing customers to casino floors?
By Gambling Insider

Steve Walther, Senior Director, Marketing & Product Management – Konami Gaming. Inc

As consumers turn towards digital online media for entertainment in record numbers, land-based casinos are allocating record floor space to electronic table games (ETG) and community multi-station games that uniquely deliver shared gaming experiences not easily replicated through a mobile screen or desktop.

Multi-station games and ETGs have become a big interest for global casino markets. When we talk to our customers, they’re looking for new types of gaming entertainment to help generate energy and excitement—attributes which are characteristic of these categories because they allow players to share in the experience of the game outcome together.

The first multi-station game we introduced to casinos arrived in 2013 with our massive Titan 360 machine and its physical ball-drop center bonusing unit, which rotates to different players for the chance at cash prizes and progressive jackpots. Titan 360 has been a long-time attraction at casinos across North America.

Konami’s latest community-style innovation is a mechanical horseracing game called Fortune Cup, which combines a mechanical track with individual touch-screen betting stations and overhead LCD’s displaying real-time video animation of the race. While we’ve seen several different mechanical horseracing games through the years, Fortune Cup achieves numerous modernisations, from digital enhancements to advanced betting features unmatched by anything else available.

The core processing force behind Fortune Cup is a proprietary cross-platform game engine, uniquely developed by Konami and recognised as the leading technology behind some of the company’s most popular digital entertainment releases. This engine is responsible for producing real-time digital renderings of race events, depicted much like live sports coverage. This footage is broadcast across Fortune Cup’s 65-inch LCD display as well as individual betting terminals.

Multi-station games and ETGs carry a strong potential for crossover appeal. Depending on how socially interactive a machine might be and the nature of the gameplay, it can appeal to a variety of audiences. Overall, the social element is at the heart of it.

John Connelly, CEO – Interblock

I think we would all agree the future of the casino sector will require product offerings which are much more predicated on new forms of technology. The ETG segment is no different.

The question will be at what level can technology convince us as an industry to re-evaluate the metrics by which we have measured success over the past several decades? Personally, I think one of the greatest challenges facing our sector is the ability to change decades of perceived key success factors we have all grown accustomed to as players, suppliers and operators alike. Technology has historically been a catalyst in driving industries around the world to revolutionise their product and business applications; have we reached this point as a gaming sector?

Data points, such as house average, delineating a casino floor into table game and slot segments, measuring new carded play and how to evaluate incremental EBITDA are just a few areas being confronted by new forms of technology. The cost of innovation, combined with the regulatory and cultural expectations, create a tremendous hurdle for any innovation to overcome.

We have intentionally re-directed our R&D spend into new delivery mechanisms designed to attract incremental EBITDA to the casino floor and new carded play with the objective of making this transition an easy decision for players, our partners and financial establishments alike.

Through the utilisation of technology, we have just begun to introduce new forms of ETGs and innovative product concepts to the casino industry. Just one example is our Stadium designs, combined with an entertainment component, which has become a staple within many casinos around the world in the past three years. The ability to take an existing, proven product and distribute it through a modified form of technology opens new revenue channels never seen before. This translates into new player demographics stepping into the casino, while also attracting existing players to visit more frequently and increase their overall spend each month.

Interestingly enough, when you evaluate online free-to-play or wagering environments around the world, there is a clear momentum towards table game play within players under the age of 40. We are seeing this same momentum within our ETG players globally. In addition, we are seeing traditional slot players, who have always wanted to play a traditional table game but were too intimidated to try, now playing ETGs with incremental handle each month. We are aggressively using technology to enhance these experiences for our customers through a greater product segmentation strategy.

Interblock has historically been focused on a very specific segment of the casino market, which could afford the state-of-the-art innovation being provided. With technology, we have found ways to expand our products into a new segmentation strategy, so all casinos will have the ability to offer ETGs to their players. This can be seen in the scalability of the Stadium design currently being offered to all areas of the market.

Adam Fritz, COO – Jackpot Digital

Let’s take a step back, because I can’t help but feel we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Despite the myriad of technological advancements over the past two decades in everyday life, the casino experience hasn’t changed all that much. Casino patrons are looking for excitement, authenticity and a fun social experience. Innovative technology is not actually the deciding factor for patrons choosing a game – yet. Casino patrons still want the same thing they always have, and operators continue to try and give it to them.

ETGs have been on the market for 10-15 years but widespread public acceptance is still to come. According to the E&K Gaming Census completed at the end of 2017, there are almost 14,000 in North American casinos The number continues to grow annually but still pales in comparison to the 32,000 live table games and 985,000 slot machines across North America.

From the operator’s perspective, ETGs make all the sense in the world. They increase the speed of play, eliminate security risk, allow for better bonusing of patrons, reduce expenses and avoid the downfalls of staff turnover. If ETGs were what all players wanted and demanded, the gap between live and electronic table games would be shrinking much quicker than it is. ETG developers have solved the operator side of the equation – but have not solved the player side.

At Jackpot Digital, we categorise the ETG market segment into three categories:

Replication: ETGs which attempt to replicate the feel and look of live games

Socialisation: ETGs which are terminal-based, attached to an exterior screen or wheel for results

Gamification: ETGs which feature unique game content (skill-based gaming)

Each of these segments use technologies in different ways. Ever-improving touch-screen technologies have been one of the driving forces behind gaming innovation in the last few decades. The trend towards gamification in skill-gaming products used in land-based casinos was enabled almost entirely because of more advanced, sensitive and responsive touch-screens. Skill-gaming companies are now able to offer unique game options to draw in new casino players, because touch-screen hardware has enabled their fast-paced game concepts with ultra-sensitive touch-screens capable of handling dozens of simultaneous touchpoints. Socialisation ETGs use new networking technologies and game design to link dozens of players in stadium-style ETG installations, creating an engaging social experience shared between groups of people.

The ETG market is the most diverse of any gaming segment but is certainly not the most advanced. It is the stability and consistency of the other market segments which make the ETG segment look more reliant on technology than it is. Manufacturers are more willing to take risks with ETGs by targeting specific markets than other gaming machines, because as an industry, casinos still don’t really know exactly what customers really want. Our Jackpot Blitz product is the perfect example. Despite being loaded withthe latest technology, our biggest hurdleand most persistent feedback point is on the most simplistic aspect of gameplay – how do players look at their cards?

The willingness to create a product that is different with hopes of finding the next big hit is why there is such a wide range of ETGs on the market today. However, being different and more innovative does not ensure success. An ETG can be as innovative as technology allows it to be; but the key to attracting new and existing customers is to build an ETG which balances technology and innovation with familiarity and authenticity.
IN-DEPTH 4 September 2019
Virtual reality: Creating next-gen experiences for players

Singular CEO George Shamugia discusses a new revenue stream for casino operators

The competition in online gaming is intensifying, with players becoming more and more demanding. In some markets, single-customer acquisition costs can reach up to €400 ($440) alongside growing churn rates. Furthermore, the online gaming sector struggles to attract one of the most lucrative groups of players – millennials. The experience provided by casinos no longer appeals to the younger generation.

On  the other hand, the video gaming industry perfectly understands the needs of millennials and by introducing elements of luck in their games offers the best of both worlds. With the launch of loot box systems and Grand Theft Auto’s in-game casino, we have seen their first successful steps in targeting the online gaming sector. GTA V online, with 33 million active players, recently opened an in-game casino, where players gamble real money on games such as poker, roulette, slots, etc. As a result, churn users returned and GTA Online reached the highest number of active players since its launch in 2013.

The online gaming industry has almost fully utilised the potential of the mobile medium. The time has come to look for new, innovative ways of delivering a next-gen experience to customers.

The potential of VR

Could the next big thing for online gaming be a fully fledged virtual reality (VR) casino delivering an immersive experience and limitless new opportunities?

Although not widely adopted yet, VR has a sizable number of customers. Analysts predict it’s poised for explosive growth to become mainstream in about five years. According to market intelligence firms, the VR market will be worth $117bn by 2022, and according to Juniper Research bets made through VR will reach $520 billion by 2021. Upcoming 5G mobile network technology will propel VR’s mass adoption by allowing the development of fully portable untethered and affordable VR headsets.

Different level of social interaction

The captivating nature of gambling comes from its social aspect. Unfortunately, personal interaction is widely missing from online gambling sites. VR technology creates multiple opportunities to bring back and even enhance that social moment. The ability to connect with other players is one of the main reasons behind Fortnite’s popularity. This form of co-experience is the next generation of entertainment. Research conducted by Facebook has found participants spend more time on VR compared to any other medium. This directly translates into increased profits for casinos.

Pokerstars has made efforts in this direction by implementing Voice UI. Instead of using hand controllers to make a call, pass, or raise, players give voice commands.

Another opportunity for bringing in the social element are the players’ avatars. They enable players to build their identity reflected in the avatars’ appearance, but also the avatar's social, competitive and community status. For instance, players are willing to pay real money for virtual drinks at the bar. Operators can offer these social touchpoints for free to VIP customers as an act of appreciation.

VR also brings a new dimension to customer support. Customer support can also be represented with avatars to assist the player in person. The social moment increases the LTV of players and contributes towards lower churn rates.

Rethinking game design

VR is a way more capable medium than a 2D mobile or desktop screen. Instead of copying the existing online experience, games must be redesigned from the ground up for a competitive advantage with VR. For example, a VR slot game can become fully immersive by teleporting the user into the slots’ world of Ancient Egypt. Next, enrich the experience with high-fidelity graphics, realistic spatial sounds and animations. When betting on virtual race cars, the user can be teleported inside the car he/she made a bet on and experience the race firsthand.

New revenue streams

VR casino lobbies create new revenue stream opportunities: ad placement of brands on the venue walls, company logos decorating the bar etc. This kind of branding is not intrusive in the VR space and feels natural from the user's perspective. VR also gives users the ability to change venues from a Las Vegas casino today, to Macau or even Mars casino, the very next day. The dynamic and diverse experience increases retention rates.

The majority of profits for online gaming operators come from their high-roller players. Although they represent a small subset of active players, an operator can launch a separate VR casino brand for them. Providing exclusive VR gaming experiences to high rollers/VIPs, the operator can minimise churn and maximise VR efforts for these player demographics.

The catch with VR is to focus on quality, rather than scale. The target audience might be limited yet, once these players experience it, they will become ambassadors for your offering.

Surely, the opportunities and possibilities offered by the VR medium truly exceed anything offered by mobile and desktop. VR is a new frontier not just for gaming but for every industry, and it’s exciting to see where it takes the industry and what kind of innovation it brings upon us.