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Player Tracking: You've Come a Long Way, Baby

Four of the top players in casino management systems share their insights into the fast-changing world of player tracking

Player Tracking: You've Come a Long Way, Baby

Today, the latest developments in player tracking systems are not only altering what’s happening on the gaming floor but also how casinos relate to and interact with their patrons.

Collectively and separately, companies like Bally, Aristocrat, IGT and Konami are leading the way with new tools for gaming operators to help create, manage and grow the overall casino experience, and expand upon customer interactions. Player tracking now stands as one of the most powerful applications of the overall casino system. In fact, calling it merely “player tracking” misses the current state of the art of these systems. 

Yet, the beginning of these systems just didn’t seem that momentous.

Who’d A Thought It

What’s now called player tracking can trace its origins back to the first computerized networks used by casinos, basically just simple linking systems providing for regulatory reporting and accounting.

“It wasn’t until the early 1980s that casinos became automated,” says Tom Doyle, VP of product development for Bally Technologies. Bally, the industry leader in the systems space, also lays claim to the distinction of building the first slot accounting system ever installed, called Slot Data System, or SDS. Now, more than three decades later, more than 620 casinos use Bally systems, with more than 271 sites now using high-speed Bally networks. 

Doyle brings a unique, personal perspective to the history of casino management systems. He was on site at the Las Vegas Hilton watching the first system go live. A supervisor in charge of research and development for the state agency at the time, Doyle viewed the “first streams of green bar paper get printed out of the system.”

In the ensuing years, new extensions and features were added as the systems transformed to address the latest challenges, needs and wants of casino operators. “Casinos added functions starting back with the first bill validators, and eventually, more and more was done electronically,” he says.

By the 1990s and after many innovations within systems, Doyle notes that casinos started asking, “How do we reward our players?” In response, casinos added card readers to create minimal player tracking systems and began bestowing rewards from players clubs.

Player-Centric

It was the start of an evolution going from slot-centric systems to player-centric, says Doyle. “Casino operators were seeking a way to keep their players on the property longer,” says Kelly Shaw, vice president for systems sales and marketing for Aristocrat Technologies.

“In the late 1990s and into the 2000s, the need for greater marketing applications that increased time on device was born,” says Shaw, who oversees the company’s Oasis 360. One of the most widely installed systems in North America, the system currently monitors devices at more than 265 casinos. 

“By the mid 2000s, casino operators were seeking a greater enterprise view of their player—not just what their players were doing in the gaming locale, but how much money their players were investing throughout the casino enterprise, such as in the spa, on the golf course and in the restaurants.”

One company that focused on the player in its systems early on was International Game Technology. “We recognized early on that operators needed solutions that not only helped them manage their operations more efficiently, but also gave them the ability to know their players and offer them a unique entertainment experience that increased loyalty,” says Richard Yim, vice president of IGT Systems. “Our systems solutions evolved to meet the demands for a more personalized and dynamic gaming experience.”

A late entry into casino systems, Konami Gaming, Inc. took up the challenges of player tracking by applying newer technology, and its Konami Casino Management System, or KCMS, is now one of the hottest system products on the market.

“The first iteration of KCMS was in 1998, and consisted of integrated single-wire modules that included slot accounting and player tracking functionality,” says Phil O’Toole, Konami’s systems product manager. “KCMS became the first system capable of supporting multi-game and multi-denomination real-time tracking and analysis at both the device and patron level.”

Happening Now

Today, all four companies have invested their individual systems with a growing multitude of new features and functions. In various ways, every one of the systems enables operators to better cater to their players, recognize total customer worth, expand casino/customer interaction and even build experiences around the specific casino and brand.   

Aristocrat Technologies

“Customers are looking not only to increase customer service to their players but to streamline within their operation,” says Shaw of Aristocrat. “Our customers need to understand their player behaviors in greater detail as marketing budgets have become more constrained and economic pressures have increased. We need to provide our customer with the ability to successfully target their players for greater revenue generation.”

At Aristocrat, the foundation for the future of its systems development starts with the “nVision” solution, explains Shaw. A new business intelligence solution, nVision provides a method of analyzing player worth, behaviors and ROI on key marketing campaigns.

With interactive dashboards and advanced reporting capabilities, nVision accesses key information enabling insights into performance data both current and historical, and can be used to expose the true value of the casino patron beyond just their gaming spend.

“It’s actionable information right when it’s needed,” Shaw says. “We also have developed a powerful user interface through nCompass that allows for direct messaging to the player through the main game screen of a video product.”

According to Shaw, nCompass is more than just an interactive touch-screen display. Instead, the nCompass was designed as a powerful engine to deliver video or animated content, display player points earned in a day or points earned based on tier ranking, and give casinos the ability to develop custom content.

“Together, these are two foundational components for the future of gaming, which is evolving into downloadable and online gaming offerings,” Shaw says, adding that that even now, “our customers are asking for flexible ways in which to achieve these next steps. We offer our customers the ability to have hybrid floors so they can migrate a portion of their floor at their pace—thus, when they have realized a return on their investment, they can continue to migrate, justifying the cost to their business leadership.”

Bally Technologies

“Casino customers want to be able to improve their communications with their players,” says Doyle of Bally. “They want to be able to give players the feeling that they are individuals; that the casino is marketing to them and trying to give them a worthwhile experience.”

The company answers the challenge with innovative solutions including its Elite Bonusing Suite. With it, casinos interact with players right on the screen of their gaming machines through the company’s iVIEW display and the iVIEW Display Manager (DM), which allows interactive bonus games and individualized messages or rewards to be funneled to players either through the slot system or, increasingly, over Ethernet-connected, server-based networks. The concept was to turn every game with a touch-screen—not just those from Bally—into devices that transcend the delivery of games or simple messages.

By taking over a portion of the touch-screen display, and without interrupting the base game, the system can reward players as they play with second-chance-to-win and other activities. The latest applications, U-Spin Bonusing, Virtual Racing and DM Tournaments, allow players to spin wheels, select and root for their favorite horse to win or participate in floor-wide slot tournaments. 

It’s “not just some bonusing where we draw your name out of a barrel or give you $20 to come in on Wednesday. Now, it’s a promotion based on keeping the player engaged and participating. It is a lot of excitement and a lot more interactive for the player.”

On another front, Doyle also notes that “everything we are doing now is much more analytical in our player tracking system.

“We can start to predict that if we run this type of promotion, we think your profits from the promotion will be that. You can now change the makeup of your promotion: how long it runs, what members of your player marketing database you are targeting and what types of promotion you run. All of those now can be designed and measured much better with our business intelligence applications.” 

IGT

“Casinos are looking for solutions to provide an enhanced and differentiated player experience, and players are looking for a more personalized and dynamic gaming experience,” says IGT’s Yim. “Inherent in the way we design, develop and integrate our products to meet these needs is in the convergence of dynamic game content and systems-based technology.”

A key part of this, says Yim, is IGT’s Media Manager. This has been designed to give operators the ability to leverage the high-speed open network and to deliver powerful applications directly in the game screen via its Service Window, through traditional secondary player tracking displays or onto the IGT AVP machine digital top glass. These applications include IGT’s existing bonusing solutions as well as any to be developed by third parties.

IGT system architecture now also includes what Yim describes as Intelligent Applications Technology, an infrastructure that makes creating and deploying smarter and more targeted player promotions possible. It supports the tracking of a number of gaming session triggers, including coin-in, coin-out, points earned, games played and more. “This level of information and tracking has previously been unavailable,” says Yim.

Using this data, IGT is creating applications that reward players in real time for achieving configurable play thresholds. Point Pursuit, Lucky Seat Slots and Message Blast are the first applications using this technology. “They provide operators a smarter and more intelligent way to reward their players, resulting in increased play and player loyalty,” says Yim. “This infrastructure is at the heart of a number of additional IGT player applications coming soon.”

Enhancements to the IGT Patron Management application include the ability to expand player ratings beyond traditional slots and table games spend to non-traditional gaming spend such as keno and bingo, as well as to non-gaming spend including hotel, spa and restaurant activity. “This enables player rewards based on overall value to the property,” Yim says.

Konami Gaming

“Operators consistently tell us that they want a casino management system that is easy to use, is highly reliable, and provides them with as much accurate player tracking and accounting data as possible,” says Konami’s O’Toole. 

“Because of its architecture, KCMS generates data in real time, so that it is available at a user’s fingertips whenever they need to make accurate operational decisions on the fly. There are significant operational benefits of being able to respond proactively on the floor, instead of having to wait for summarized information to be collected at the end of the gaming day after the moment of need has long since passed.”

As such, one of the best and most unique functions of KCMS is its ability to reward patrons for meeting whatever pre-defined criteria have been established, at the very moment that they do so. “In this way,” says O’Toole, “a patron can be rewarded right at the machine for being a loyal customer, rather than having to wait for a traditional offer to arrive in the mail after the fact.”

Other new options support a more entertaining and satisfying customer experience, especially the KCMS Advanced Incentives bonusing toolkit.

“Rather than provide pre-defined ‘canned’ marketing campaigns straight out of the box, this offers operators the flexibility to design any number of custom campaigns specifically to suit their individual acquisition, reacquisition and retention goals,” O’Toole says. “When a casino’s promotional campaigns are rolled out, they won’t appear to its patrons to be the same as the ones being offered by the nearest competitor down the street.”

Within the last year, Konami also has enhanced its table games module with its Table Games Accounting and Patron Tracking. Additionally, its workstation interface has undergone a major overhaul to deliver a better overall end-user experience. “We’ve also introduced simple touches, such as user-definable tool tips, that make KCMS even easier to use.”

What’s Next

All executives agree that the future holds more casino/player interaction through networked systems.  “What you are going to see is a lot more interactive features where games and systems are working together,” says Doyle at Bally. He sees this as evolving from what already is happening today with having the system activate promotions played out on linked gaming machines on the floor.   

Also key to this more system-centric future will be the gathering and use of business intelligence, he adds. There will be more use of biometrics, both facial and fingerprint recognition, to help casinos identify key patrons without them having to present a players club card, something the company has in prototype stage now. 

He also highlights the effect that social media will have going forward. “You are going to see people being able to do different things on games that will be more interactive and involve both off-line and online gaming activities.”  

The effect of social media and online gaming was a shared concept for the future. “Customers understand that the future of gaming is heading into downloadable, online offerings and extensions into the social media space,” says Shaw from Aristocrat. She says a key part of what the future systems will need to provide is greater integration into the customer’s website offerings with the ability to track more online behavior as well as social media interaction.

“Our customers are seeking to develop a new player demographic, and the younger gamer will be coming into a land-based casino environment with a web/internet mindset,” Shaw says. “They’ve grown up with online offerings through Xbox and have been communicating through Facebook and playing games in this new environment.” She adds that for land-based casinos to remain competitive, casino management systems providers need to keep this upcoming demographic in mind for all future systems development.

At IGT, Yim also believes that both online and mobile experiences will be tied in “to create a holistic approach which extends a property’s brand to the web and to the home.”

“We use a variety of operator and player research to help guide our decisions in developing enhancements to our existing player tracking systems while also planning for the future,” says Yim. “The next generation of player tracking systems is trending towards providing a player experience that is seamless between game play and property-specific offers.” 

Keying in also on the social media and online effects, O’Toole of Konami believes that the integration of social media with casino marketing is going to be “the one area to keep an eye out for as the next generation of player tracking systems evolves.” He also hints at some interesting possibilities.

“While the commercial realities of various social media are still being realized, most casino systems vendors are playing with ideas in this space at the moment,” O’Toole says. “It will certainly be interesting to see which of these concepts will have genuine long-term viability in a casino environment and which may even interrupt the overall gaming and entertainment experience.”

A marketing veteran also based in Las Vegas, Carolan Pepin has been working with companies from beyond the U.S. since her introduction to international business in Chicago with the Japanese conglomerate Panasonic. After being recruited to the gaming industry in 1996, Pepin worked for Aristocrat, Sigma Game and Cyberview Technology. Most recently, she has focused on helping an East European gaming manufacturer with its expansion into the American markets. Pepin can be reached via [email protected].

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