Sung to the tune of “I’m Just a Bill” by Schoolhouse Rock:
“I’m a new game
Yes, I’m just a new game
And I’m wishing you’ll come over and play
Well, it’s a long, long journey
To make it in this racket
It’s a long, long wait
Most inventors cannot hack it
But I know I’ll be a hit some day
Oh how I hope and pray for acclaim
But ‘till then I remain a new game”
Civics not being on my short list of long suits, I have zero idea the percentage of legislative bills that actually become laws. But no matter how miniscule it is—and it has to be, right, or why else would that singing scroll go berserk with joy when it happened to him?—it must be truly gargantuan compared to the percentage of new table games that actually become successes.
Peruse for a minute the list of popular table games out there today that haven’t existed in the public arena (not to mention the public domain) for hundreds of years. Because that’s all it will take: a minute. One could argue that since Caribbean Stud gave birth to this segment back in 1988, the only other proprietary games—that’s games, not side bets—to attain legitimate and longstanding commercial viability are the ones below:
21st Century Blackjack
Casino Hold’em Poker
Crazy 4 Poker
EZ Pai Gow Poker
Four Card Poker
Fortune Asia Poker
Free Bet Blackjack
High Card Flush
Let it Ride
Pai Gow Poker
Texas Hold’em Bonus
Three Card Poker
Ultimate Texas Hold’em
Nineteen times in 27 years. Yikes. Megabucks goes off more often than that. So does Mount Vesuvius.
It takes our industry an average of 17 months to deliver a killer game, which, in a quirk of conceptional coincidence, happens to be the same length of time it takes a killer whale to deliver a baby. And it’s certainly not from a lack of effort. Consider that hundreds and hundreds of games have gone into casinos during this time frame, only to get 86’d after a few days, a few weeks or a few months. Or that thousands and thousands of others didn’t even advance that far.
Makes Capitol Hill look like Easy Street, doesn’t it?
The good news, of course, is that once something gets popular, it stays popular. Forever. Or so it seems. Flavor of the month? Pffft. That’s for ice cream parlors, microbreweries or Van Halen lead singers. We concoct flavors of the decade, of the generation. Most of the big titles have been around for at least 15 years and still aren’t approaching their half-lives. It’s amazing. This side of Jennifer Lopez, nothing ages slower than a kick-ass table game.
Now, if you’re a wannabe game inventor, there’s a lesson in this list. In fact, it’s the lesson. Just take a step back, a deep breath and a long look. Pretend you’re Chazz Palminteri at the end of The Usual Suspects, sipping that coffee and scanning that bulletin board.
Keyser Soze . . . Keyser Soze . . . Who is Keyser Soze?
It’s so obvious. Go back. Check again.
Keyser Soze is poker.
Of the 19 biggest table games in history, 14 are based on poker. And it’s not exactly some encrypted, Da Vinci code secret: Eleven literally have “Poker” or “Stud” or “Hold ‘em” in their names, and the 12th (High Card Flush) references one particular—and one particularly valuable—poker hand. The only non-conformers are Let it Ride and Casino War, and the latter, if you think about it, could easily have been called “One Card Poker.”
Therefore, here’s my first, last and only slice of advice for those who want to make money making table games: Stick to poker. Draw. Stud. Hold ‘em. Omaha. Versus a paytable. Versus the dealer. Whatever. If history teaches us anything, it’s that history repeats itself.
And it’s not just ancient history, you know, like the 1990s or something. Today is the same as yesterday. Or yesteryear. Check out the fledgling games incubating in the marketplace right now, and you will see the ones showing the strongest signs of life are—wait for it—poker derivatives. Saigon 5, Heads Up Hold ‘em, DJ Wild Stud Poker, Match ‘em Hi Lo, Flushes Gone Wild, Criss Cross Poker and Poker with a Joker all have a chance to make it big.
Technically speaking, of course, poker isn’t the only way to go. (Money Suit 31 and Go Fore It are new and notable exceptions trying to crack the card cartel.) But in due respect to the exceptions that prove the rule, poker is the smartest way to go.
Hey, you could make a free throw with your eyes closed and balancing on one foot like a flamenco dancer; however, it’s not exactly the optimal technique (though it may work wonders for Dwight Howard). In creating a table game, as in shooting a basketball, it’s all about increasing your margin of error, which in turn ends up decreasing your element of risk.
Developers: Play the percentages. Leave the long-odds shots to the gamblers and the hot-dog shots for the Globetrotters. Poker is the clearest path to prosperity. Follow it.