January 19, 2023 Technology, Online, Land Based, Interview

Is this the dawn of the metaverse casino?

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Gaming America sits down with FlowPlay President and Co-Founder Derrick Morton to discuss AI and social casinos – and how land-based operators will react to them.

AI art generators to enhance, not replace, game artists

AI art has been progressing at a speedy rate in recent years, with AI art generators such as DALL-E andNightCafe becoming familiar names to those curious about the technology. However, anyone who has used these sites can tell you that the results produced by AI generators are somewhat… mixed.

As Derrick Morton, FlowPlay President & CEO, comments: “If you’ve ever played with these tools you know you can do some really interesting and cool stuff but it mostly comes out weird. To come up with something that is precise is something that AI is not able to do, and I don’t think it will be able to for a while.”

That being said, AI generators are able to do some things well, particularly in relation to backgrounds, patterns and auto-generating things that artists are then able to use as their ‘toolbox.’ Morton notes that AI generators are good at all these things, as well as graphics, but knows they are far from the finished article. He states: “There are people – gaming artists especially – who are worried that AI will replace them, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case.” Instead, he thinks it is more likely AI generators will complement the work of gaming artists, rather than take their positions altogether.

AI art generators provide a great starting platform, one that is far superior to artists working from scratch or from photographs. But they alone can not create gaming art that is independently coherent.

"Streaming is also not easy from a hosting perspective, a delivery perspective and requires inordinate amounts of bandwidth."

Is Google Stadia the rule or the exception?

Google Stadia was a cloud-based video game streaming service that was launched in 2019. It is likely you have never heard of it and that is precisely why it is shutting down – it does not attract enough users to the platform to be viable.

Morton attempts to explain the failure of Google Stadia: “I think it was a solution with no problem to solve. There was nobody screaming – particularly looking at consumers – 'Hey I just wish I didn’t have to have an app on my phone. I wish I didn’t have to go to a website.' There are so many options and the friction is not that great that streaming solves a real need that consumers were looking for.”

Low demand is not the only problem with cloud-based video game streaming services being applied to betting platforms. Many companies that are trying to be innovative sink money into expensive technology for streaming that is not easy to provide from a service-side point of view. It’s also not easy from a hosting perspective, a delivery perspective and requires inordinate amounts of bandwidth.

Morton gives his insight into these issues: “If you’re playing a streaming game on your phone, every pixel of that game has to come over the network, versus if you’re playing a game that is client-based. With streaming, almost all the game is on your phone – all that’s really going back and forth is scoring information.”

The FlowPlay CEO sees synchronization between players in multi-player games as key and says it is far easier to achieve with client-based games than streaming games. Despite this, he acknowledges that streaming-based games have potential if taken on by a company with the resources to back up the complexities and logistics that come with them. He says: “Microsoft is looking at it as it helps them get into the mobile platform. For them, it is great, because they can offer a streaming avenue to get into Android devices and other devices.”

The metaverse is not a new concept for gamers

Morton points to the peak-pandemic years as being an exceptional time for online gaming and one that will have a lasting impact. He says there were huge amounts of consumer interest online as, “it was one of the only options, so I think next year there will be regrouping. The audiences won’t be as great as they wereduring Covid-19.”

So what exactly will this ‘regrouping’ look like? Morton also describes it as a rebuild, in which companies will have to consider what their marketing plans are going to be and what their plans are for opening up in new territories. He believes sports betting is where the action remains for iGaming companies for the most part, saying: “I haven’t heard about much new upcoming online content outside of sports. Obviously, sports betting is opening up really fast in the US.

“In terms of pure online gambling and slots, blackjack and other table games, I haven’t heard of a lot else opening up in the five to six states that are active (with iGaming betting).”

Will land-based operators embrace online social casinos?

With online sports betting and social casinos on the rise, a hard question is posed to land-based operators on whether they should pivot to accept this change in the industry – or stick to what they know.

"Although land-based operators are learning from the successes of the metaverse, Morton evidently thinks they still have catch-up work to do to get to the CRM capabilities of social casinos. Time will tell."

Morton believes the established brick-and-mortar will move with the times. He says: “I think that land-based casinos are realizing this and have for a long time. The casinos are going to see gamblers playing a popular mobile-based or PC game and, in many cases, they know they don’t have a solution in-house. The customers are going to be playing a Slotomania-type game or some third-party product to satiatetheir desire for a gambling-style experience.”

Land-based casinos will want to maintain an operator-customer relationship once the player is outside the casino floor. Morton says FlowPlay is working with Hard Rock International now, which has developed an exclusive product, where customers can earn Hard Rock points when they’re playing the game online or on their phone.

Morton believes online social casinos do have an upper hand in customer relationship management (CRM), though. He points to the mobile slot game company MyVegas as an example of a company that has been “doing CRM for a very long time and very successfully. They’ve had a couple of limited partnerships but I see room for expansion as it doesn’t make sense for them to have athird party managing their relationship, to take on the management of their customer relationships.”

Although land-based operators are learning from the successes of the metaverse, Morton evidently thinks they still have catch-up work to do to get to the CRM capabilities of social casinos. Time will tell.

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