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Lessons from HBO

Game of Thrones isn’t just for geeks

Lessons from HBO

Turns out there are two kinds of people in the world. The first are the ones who can’t stop chattering on and on about Game of Thrones, delving into the most minute of minutiae, regaling anyone and everyone with their conspiracy theories and spoiler alerts, and proving physically incapable of walking past a bank of elevators without yelling out, “Hodor! Hodor!”

Then of course are the second kind of people, the ones who want to slap the $@#% out of the first kind.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the Sept of Baelor—what’s left of it anyway, right, Cersei?—or idling with the wildlings north of the Wall, you know the HBO drama just wrapped up its seventh and penultimate season.

Thrones is set in Westeros, a mythical land of feuding families, shaky alliances, bloody battles, frontal nudity, dorsal nudity, side-al nudity, fire-breathing dragons, and an unstoppable army of frozen albino zombies.

More about them later.

But, believe it or not, beyond the brilliant writing and exquisite set locations and the luxurious blonde, braided locks of Emilia Clark—oh, Khaleesi!—Thrones serves as an apt analogy for business in general and the gaming business in particular.

Hey… what you talking ’bout, Varys?

Let me explain. Imagine the show takes place in Las Vegas, and instead of royal houses there are casino suppliers: Scientific Games. IGT. Aristocrat. Konami. Interblock. Ainsworth. Everi. AGS. Nobody gets along, at least not for long, as they each want to expand their reach and influence over the industry. They compete. They fight. They litigate. They poach each other’s talent. They spend millions developing new products and millions more commercializing them, all with the intent of increasing market share at the expense of the rest.

But, as any Thrones devotee understands, such scraps and squabbles—violent and viscous as they may be—are still just scraps and squabbles. They’re a way to keep score, a way of determining whose banner flies atop whose castle or whose son gets to marry whose daughter. Meh. Who cares? What matters most is taking a stand against the real threat, the threat that could wipe every living human soul from the face of the known world.

Unstoppable army of frozen albino zombies? That’s your cue.

The White Walkers, as they’re called, have arrived. They’ve breached the Wall, the glacial barrier that had quarantined them outside Westeros for 8,000 years. They’ve got millions of soldiers who can’t be killed because they’re already dead. They’ve got giants. They’ve got weapons. They’ve got this bad-ass leader with Marilyn Manson’s skin tone, Bradley Cooper’s blue eyes, and Roberto Clemente’s throwing arm.

And, yes, they’ve even got a dragon of their own.

So if the inhabitants of the Seven Kingdoms don’t chillax and start focusing on this particular problem, then guess what? It won’t make a god-damn bit of difference in the next episode who defeats whom in the battle of whatever.

Because. They. Will. All. Be. Dead.

Same goes for gaming. While suppliers bludgeon each other with product innovation, strategic alliances and accretive acquisitions, they must also take up arms against the greater threats facing them all.

Nightclubs. Day clubs. ESports. Uninterested and un-capitalized millennials. New technology. Outlet malls. Arcade games. Bottle service. Candy Crush. Haute cuisine. Not-so haute cuisine.

In gaming’s Game of Thrones, these are the White Walkers.

And they must confronted. Head on and right now; otherwise, the industry will be forever relegated to a near zero-sum battlefield. Where every victory is always someone else’s defeat. Where the average player gets older every year. Where you need a magnifying glass—or a microscope—to discern market growth. Where, when you see someone under the age of 30 in a casino, you assume he or she is lost. Or headed to the Deadmau5 after-party.

Suppliers must not engage solely in a tug-of-war over current players; they must attract new ones as well. Gaming is not immune to the laws of physics, nor the laws of politics, for that matter. It cannot serve and re-serve the same group. The base needs to be more inclusive. It needs to expand.

Truth be told, the resistance is already mounting. Unlike the good—and the evil—folks of Westeros, who spent six and a half seasons twiddling their thumbs and diddling their siblings as the White Walkers inched closer and closer, casino suppliers have been bracing for this assault.

All of them seem to spend a significant amount of time and money on research and development. Many, especially among the major players, have “future labs,” where a team of dreamers and engineers is charged with conjuring up game-changing concepts that may take two, three or four years to hit casino floors. Still others have gone all-in on a fledgling niche, like skill-based slots or RFID tables.

Yes, many ideas that come from these incubators will flop. Some spectacularly so. That’s not the point. Success often rises from the ashes of failure; the lessons learned are clues, and they can lead you in the direction you were meant to go all along.

Though this may be madness, there is a lesson in it: You’ve got to take shots, even longshots. If you ain’t failing, you ain’t trying. Doing the same old same, assuming the world around you won’t change, is foolish. It’s the surest recipe for having your business disrupted and discarded. Just ask Circuit City. Or Blockbuster.

If you can find one.

Fortunately, the gaming industry is too smart for all this. It has withstood booms and busts, recessions great and small, global and local. As with casino operators, who always seem to pivot towards the next big opportunity, suppliers are resourceful enough—and humble enough—to avoid the trap of complacency.

You can bet on it.

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

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