Beware the Birds

Why predicting the future is easier than you think

An attractive woman, cross-armed and anxious, sits alone on the bench outside a schoolhouse. She’s far enough away so the children can’t smell her cigarette smoke, yet close enough so she can hear them singing in their classroom.

Behind her is a playground.

She can’t see—but you can, thanks to director Alfred Hitchcock—the large, black crow perched on the playground’s jungle gym. Then, a few seconds later, there are three more.

Or, as the old joke goes, an attempted murder.

A few more drags, a few more birds. A few more glances toward the school, a few more verses of the same sing-song. Until, high in the air, a single crow catches her eye. She follows it, fixed and unblinking, as it slows and descends, gliding to a silent, graceful stop atop the jungle gym.

Which is teeming with crows. Dozens, maybe hundreds of them. Which she now realizes are going to attack the school children the instant they step outside. Which they are about to do.

And… cut!

Truth be told, The Birds can’t teach you much in the way of ornithology. Uh, ravens run amok? Sparrows and seagulls with a taste for human blood? Kamikaze crows? Come on, Hitch. But the film in general and this sequence in particular can teach you about something much more important.

Predicting the future.

Think about it. When you saw this film for the first time, at what point did you realize those poor kids were going to get their eyes pecked out? After the first crow? After the fourth? The fifth? The seventh?

After the last one, when it was too late to do anything about it?

Turns out what’s good for birds is also good for business. Our business. The casino business. Be honest: Did you know right away that progressive jackpots would work as well on tables as they did on slots? That Macau would dwarf the Las Vegas Strip in revenue? That tournament poker would boom and bust and boom again? That electronic table games would be an actual thing and that skill-based gaming—at least in its current form—probably won’t be?

Exactly how far ahead can you see?

Because that’s what makes a visionary a visionary. It’s not an exercise of wild-eyed speculation and conjecture, the realms of Nostradamus or Rasputin. Or the Psychic Friends Network. Instead, it’s a system of disciplining your mind to identify trends before your competitors do.

To strengthen your soothsaying powers, keep these three things in mind:

 

The Player Always Wins

As you nibble at the buffet of new products and services being offered at G2E, try to tune out the glitz. The girls dealing the games. The celebrities signing photographs. The little robot guy zipping around and handing out free candy.

After you get your Snickers bar, of course.

Focus instead on one question: If you were a casino customer—and most of us in this industry either were or still are—is this something you would like? Is it fun? Would it make you want to stay and play longer? Would it make you want to come back?

From shufflers to TITO to multi-hand video poker to electronic table games, there is no innovation that transformed a casino floor that wasn’t pulled in by players. If you can find something that answers “yes” to all those questions, go ahead and jump on it.

 

The Obvious Often Isn’t

One of the safest predictions 10 years ago was that millennials, when they came of age to gamble in casinos, would strike the death blow to anything analog. This made perfect sense in that it’s hard, nay impossible, to find anyone between the ages of 18 and 30 that isn’t essentially a conjoined twin with his or her smartphone. So you weren’t exactly going out on the a skinny limb of a tree when making this assumption.

Except that it was wrong.

Research shows young players gravitate toward old-fashioned table games more so than their parents do. Of course, from here until eternity, most casino floors will remain dominated by slot machines and slot players, but craps, roulette and poker—games that not long ago had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel—are staging a comeback, a comeback fueled by, ironically enough, these digi-kids.

History is full of counter-intuition. Don’t guess.

 

Clues, Clues, Everywhere Clues

Because of its regulated nature and lengthy product development cycles, the gaming industry tends to follow, rather than lead, the cultural zeitgeist. So, to catch a whiff of what’s coming next to casinos, it helps to look first at other forms of entertainment.

And when you look, what do you see? Well, today, it’s all about immersion and socialization. Entertainment is a form of escapism, has been since the days of the Greek theater and gladiator fights. And people tend to escape in the opposite corner of their daily lives. Before cellphones existed and people had to actually, you know, interact with each other, they escaped by playing video games by themselves, by listening to music with headphones on, by staring into the screen of a slot machine.

Now it’s gone topsy-turvy. Navigating through daily life is all about your wireless device and online shopping and the self-checkout register at the supermarket. Things that separate you from people. The escape from that reality is, for many people, hanging out with tens of thousands of strangers at a music festival. Or with a handful of close friends at a local pub to drink and play—brace yourself—“Cranium” and “Cards Against Humanity” at the weekly board game night.

Wait. What the %$#@ is going on?

These trends, especially when you consider they are led by young people, are heading to a casino resort near you. To an extent they already have, what with the proliferation of nightclubs and day clubs, of non-gaming attractions like zip lines and Top Golf, of themed gaming environments designed to transform ordinary casino space into an environment of excitement and energy and fun.

Yup. Ready or not, something new, something different, something wicked awesome this way comes. Just keep your eyes—and your mind—open and you’ll catch on before anyone else does.

Roger Snow is a senior vice president with Scientific Games. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Scientific Games Corporation or its affiliates.

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