By Dean Macomber and Roy Student – Click here to jump to Part I
It is conceivable that a player could play a game indefinitely. In other words, today a player sometimes does not want to leave “his machine” for fear someone might win “his jackpot.” Another player may want a change in environment; another is disappointed “his” game is occupied.
All of these issues could be remedied by a central server-based system. For example, the player could designate “his game” within the system and the system could then download that game to wherever the player wanted to play. The player could conceivably start, stop, move, leave and return during a day, over a multiple-day trip, or even between trips or casinos in a given chain, and still have access to his game, stored in the library of games in the central server-any time, any place.
Eliminating the Mis-alignment Between Players and Games – The polar opposite issue involves players who do not know what they want to play. Neophytes are forced today to select from a bewildering array of slot machines that sometimes even the casino’s own employees do not understand. To borrow from table games, this is often a “crap shoot.”
Rather than wander through a sea of slots, a central server system environment would allow a player to stop at any machine which, in turn, could then prompt the player through a series of filter questions to lead him to the game types he would enjoy. This would help players avoid inadvertently playing a machine other than the style they’re looking for and being disappointed by the results. For example, this could prevent a play-to-win-to-play player who was really looking for frequent, small-to-medium size payouts by accident playing a play-to-win-styled game with more frequent jackpots but much fewer small payouts. Bound to be disappointed, players in this situation often end up consciously or subconsciously blaming the casino and vowing never to return.
For those playing a given game and having questions about it, central server systems would also have the ability to provide more detailed answers or help.
Neophyte or experienced player, with a central server system, the player will be able to develop and choose the game of his or her liking in terms of denomination, type of game, jackpot size or other factors. In fact, at its extreme, as players became more knowledgeable, they would be able to choose the par percentage, hit frequency and volatility specific to their preference at any point in time.
It is not too far-fetched to envision a situation where, through a simple game generator, the player could develop his own game to play.
Reducing the Boredom Factor – A central server system will also help to keep the players playing longer by preventing them from getting bored. Rather than having to get up and look for something else or somewhere else to play, they can stay at their game and flip through any number of game options.
Besides a standard library of games, the boredom factor could be reduced further by casinos morphing their casino and the games offered to fit in with various holidays, celebrations, new movie introductions (e.g., play the latest “Die Hard” slot machine), new car models (the jackpot being the new car, of course) or any other promotion or event because of the flexibility of central server systems.
De-limiting and Unrestricting Jackpots – A central server system may also provide new opportunities for jackpots. Rather than having to link jackpots within a given physical location, now jackpots can be linked to any and potentially every player in the casino. The central server could presumably homogenize play at various types of games to create larger, communal jackpots or jackpot pools that could be greater or hit more frequently than the jackpot accumulation structures now permit.
Presumably, going back to the aforementioned linking a game to one player so it is “his game,” a player could have his own jackpot accumulator that could hit over a multitude of trips. The same theory could be applied to player club tiers, patrons on a bus charter, a convention in the casino for three days, “clubs” that the casino forms (e.g., all players from City X) and the like.
Jackpots from any machine could be paid in cash and/or the player could choose from a large catalogue of other options that they could page through using one of the plasma screens located on the device. This could allow the casinos to sell advertisements and/or promote these products and services and earn income from doing so.
Expanding the “Sense of Winning” Zone – As for promoting the sense of winning, progressive meters could be displayed on the individual machine (that knows Player X is playing for Y progressive jackpot or jackpots, and show a picture-within-a-picture progressive meter), overhead displays using traditional row signage, on walls or ceilings using newly designed signage to appeal to a greater geographic area and number of players, or in a progressive “totem pole” in a central location that depicts all of the progressive jackpots that are operative, which a player can then download to any machine in the casino.
This could lead to slot machine tracking displays much like the roulette and baccarat digital tracking displays that display the recent outcomes of the game. Since the games are random, the casino risks very little to nothing in showing this information, while appealing to the player’s psyche of being able to beat the casino.
Reducing the Number of Dormant Games – To reduce the number of “boxes”/machines not being played, dormant games in the central server library might be displayed that show the number of win/loss decisions over, for instance, the last 50 handle-pulls. A player could download the games he thought might have the best chance of winning. As long as the game cycles are random and handle-pull decisions are independent, there is little to no risk to the casino in merchandising the games in this manner.
Expanding the Table/slot Marriage – Speaking of table games, virtually every table game is being developed into an electronic gaming device. These hybrid table game/slot machines are popular with new players who may want to learn the game without the embarrassment of playing with more seasoned players.
Central server systems will provide even greater flexibility to game designers seeking to morph table games to electronic devices and then merchandise them. All of the jackpot, progressive and promotional aspects previously discussed, for example, could be adapted to these table game look-alikes. It is possible again that table-based gaming devices could be clustered into a table area so a couple could play blackjack and roulette side-by-side either through a digital game or a central dealer-based game where the picture of the roulette wheel in this case could be shown on the game or a larger communal plasma screen. The options for new game ideas are boundless.
Global Operations – International operations (i.e., those outside the United States) and cruise ships can benefit from central server systems as much if not more than their domestic and land-based brethren. For example, cruise ships and many international casinos are smaller than their U.S. counterparts. But, despite the small number of units, a cruise ship or small international casino could have a game library as large as the largest casino in the world. The opportunity to offer thinner games could be particularly beneficial in cruise ship venues, as well as the ability to download the game to locations anywhere on the ship.
International casinos also often cater to players from different countries who speak different languages, have different cultural prerogatives and bring different currencies. A central server system could download any game in any language and allow play in any denomination the player preferred. And games could be developed whose coloration, symbology and game structure appealed to a given culture.
Ma rketing Prowess – Perhaps one of the greatest hidden advantages of a central server system is the ability to capture and analyze so much more information about players and their behavior. If nothing else, the player will be voting for the popularity of games and game attributes via the proxy of their play, not the availability of a game. More will be learned about individual player preferences regarding game features, payout cycles, jackpot amount, playing environment issues and the benefits of catering to groups of connected interests.
Since the player will be weaned over time to video screens, the machine will presumably have greater individual merchandising ability. In other words, instead of sending messages through a small reader board near the player’s club card insert, the casino will have the entire award and belly glass area that could now be larger, high-rendition plasma screens (or their derivative) that have excellent graphic ability to send messages. These same screens could project live television (either from the standard television or via internal casino feeds), race and sports book events or casino promotions and commercials. The flexibility and marketing potential of these screens is virtually endless.
Additionally, because so much more information will be monitored by the casino at any given point of time, there will be great opportunities to better promote and magnify the sense of winning.
An announcement or promotion of a winner anywhere in the casino could be fed to each and every game in a given area or throughout the casino. Real-time monitoring could show which games are winning and where. This could be nothing more than a curiosity item to most players, but might cater to those who are superstitious or feel that they can take advantage of patterns.
Whatever any of us can foresee for the central server system, we would suggest that once “a thousand minds” focus on this opportunity, reality will be exponentially better. Surprises await, of that we are sure.
But, What About the Skeptics? – Besides the believers, the skeptics of central server systems need to be listened to as well. Some speculate that the customers will not trust downloadable games, fearing that the casino will control the outcomes to their favor. Others speculate whether the gaming public even needs or will want the option to play an infinite number of games. Many, the skeptics say, only play three or four of their favorite game types, and in total, the gaming public only needs a couple of dozen models anyway. So, why give them more?
These and other issues will no doubt affect the introduction of central server systems and the ensuing rate of acceptance. There will be mistakes. If, for some reason, certain disadvantages cannot be changed, benefits will have to be devised that overcompensate for them.
We believe, however, the upside potential is so strong that if casinos are player-sensitive, employee-sensitive, regulator-sensitive and investor-sensitive, any adverse reaction can be prevented or overcome with good preparation, sensitivity and education.
Those mistakes that cannot be prevented will be short-lived (particularly given the ability of central server systems to change rapidly) and mere bumps in the road. Put another way, to borrow a well-used phrase, we believe the widespread adoption of central server systems is not a question of “if” but “when.”
Evolution or Revolution – Some casino owners will approach the introduction of central server systems in an evolutionary manner while others will take the risk of revolutionizing the gaming floor. This will be a good thing, since both approaches will serve the customer, the industry and those who benefit from it.
Regardless of the approach, designers of new buildings that will last for 30 or more years-much less those already operating who will need to compete with what they have-should design their gaming around the potentialities offered by central server systems. We believe that ultimately, all gaming will be operated through central server systems. Like ticket-in/ticket-out technology, this may take some time to occur and there may be some mistakes along the way.
But, all of these dynamics (and more) are part of any change in gaming. We believe that central server systems have the potential to shift what have become for too long “me-too” casino floors to much more dynamic and exciting venues.
This could not be a more exciting time. Best to plan for it now.
Dean M. Macomber, president of Macomber International, Inc. has 35 years of diversified experience in the gaming industry ranging from dealer to president, development to operations involving mega-destination resorts to locals’ oriented casinos in numerous domestic and international venues. Macomber provides high-value, executive-level
consulting in the areas of strategic and business planning, feasibility and all other project development phases, and pre- and post- opening management and profit improvement engagements. He may be reached at 702-456-6006.
Roy Student has been in the gaming industry for 35 years and is the president of Applied Management Strategies, a global consulting company specializing in the planning, marketing and sales of gaming products and central server-based systems. Prior to AMS, Student was president of Cyberview Technology Inc. and chairman of Gaming Systems International. He can be reached at 702-523-0444.