January 3, 2020 Casino, Technology, Interview

Finding our place

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Executives from the leading suppliers of skill-influenced games met at G2E to discuss their place in the market, competition with slots, understanding casino players and their future position

The Panel

Georg Washington, CEO, Synergy Blue

Eric Meyerhofer, CEO, Gamblit Gaming

Michael Darley, CEO, Next Gaming

Blaine Graboyes, Co-Founder & CEO, GameCo

Keith Winters, Chief Creative Executive, Competition Interactive

It's not often we're granted the opportunity to speak with so many senior executives from a particular segment of the market for a lengthy period of time, but the opportunity presented itself to Gaming America at this year's G2E.

The narrative on skill-influenced gaming may have shifted in recent years, with some of the earlier projections about a supposed takeover of the casino floor in the coming years now being downplayed, but it becomes clear from the panel here that there is plenty left to learn and certainly still room for growth. But as you'll see from the first question, just don't call it skill gaming.

What do you make of the term 'skill gaming' and does it accurately describe what you provide?

GW: I think it's a terrible term. We call it skill-influenced gaming. Pretty much everything we do right now is chance-based, with an influence of skill. Video poker is the style of game we model our games on.

EM: I agree. When you say something is based on skill, that doesn't really describe what we do and I really don't think it's a very useful marketing term for us. We like to think of it more as interactive video, video slots or another segment.

MD: We're doing so many things, and our product is evolving. The definition of us is expanding. To call it skill gaming is very myopic. It doesn't have a great term right now. People look at skill-based and it's fuzzy for them. We're explaining how they're influenced by skill.

GW: Another thing with skill-based is people think of grey-market areas, so it's a bit of a tarnish on the name.

How would you assess the current position of skill-influenced gaming compared with where it was at the beginning of the decade?

BG: It's important to think about the comparisons to other things and how quickly we're working. The first slot machine was invented in 1886 and the first video slot was invented in 1976. I think it's pretty fair to say we've done 90 years' worth of work in four or five, in a category that we invented. It's happening incredibly quickly.

MD: The big suppliers are replicating what they've done last year and the year before and so on. We really see an uptake in creativity and it's evidenced in all our booths. We have taken leaps since the last G2E, so when you talk about when we got started, we have rapidly grown year-over-year. We're really focused. We have pressure, but we do well in chaos!

KW: I think transition is key. It's about the slot player transitioning to these other games. With the skill gaming we launched last year, which is a racing game, as hard as it was to monetize, players were hesitant. 1) Because it's different. 2) It was monetized differently to what they were used to.

If players hesitate, operators are going to sense that in a second, and they want something different. Skill gaming came down from all the hype to "ah skill gaming is not going to work." I don't believe that notion, but as a company that needs it to perform now, I think we're reaching out to the player with a huge skill component that is working as a bonus within the slots.

MD: You're talking about conversion. Can I get slot players to play our games? There are multiple segments to people.

KW: We in the skill industry can have the resources to last four or five years, but action needs to happen now.

MD: But you can't force people to do anything. You have to decipher a specific way to get them to the machine.

GW: Some cater to some. Some will be an eye-catcher to bring them in. You've got a bit of a mix, and when you look at the stat that three out of 10 slot machines are successful, you can say not everything will be successful, because look at slot machines.

EM: I actually think it's closer to one in 10 and I think that's normal. That's why they produce 100+ titles every year. I think they might get 10 out of that which stick.

BG: I'd say three in 10 are premium, but a premium game probably lasts on the floor for three months.

EM: I think they're all on an aging curve and the best I can tell is that 80% are off the floor within six months. They just roll on to the next one.

MD: We're challenged with those habits and we fight against them. We fight against the slot floors that churn their machines, because it's an easy fix for them. If they
take one out and put one in, there will be an uplift and a honeymoon period. We make a handful of games compared to them. If we were churning games like they did, it wouldn't work. We fight against a number of embedded behaviors in slots that may not be applicable to us.

There have been a lot of examples of skill-influenced products in casinos appearing similar to arcade games. Why do you think this has been common?

MD: I think all of us have recognized that getting somebody involved in a longer experience where they push buttons and make decisions is where we're all at. We decided to go towards the arcade games, because we believe it appeals to a wide demographic. People have said many times they played them as kids and have played them with their kids. Plus, they're fun, interactive and very presentable. People relate to them.

BG: Yeah, I think brands are good to track people, but every game that we all make, you can learn to play in 15 seconds. That's part of what makes it easy to get into and then where does the challenge come in? We're starting to get into head-to-head and bracketed tournaments, but in terms of entry, we want to make it really easy for people to walk
up and play these games. Brands definitely help, but I think at the core, it's the same as in what we would call casual games. It's about being easy to play and hard to master. That's what we're creating as a segment.

EM: When I look at slot players, they're gambling, and I don't even really think of them as playing the game. At least for Gamblit, one of the challenges that we contemplate is the line you want between entertainment and gambling. At the end of the day, they're there to gamble. There's so much content you can get on your phone for free, so what are we offering?

KW: It's about familiarity. It's a challenge for us as a group, because we're on the floor of a sea of slot machines that all look large and have bright lights. Players kind of have tunnel vision. They either know where they're going and they're going to sit there or they're just wandering aimlessly. It's about attracting that eye to that area and it has a little bit to do with our presentation, but also the operators and how they lay out their floors. We've all talked about a potential designated area for skill gaming and The Linq is doing that. That's another aspect that we battle; the casino design mentality.

EM: I think that's one area where you might find a difference in this group. I say just put us on the floor. It doesn't help to over-think about something like that. We push for all this capex investment in floor labs, but I think that's way down the road.

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