As I was perusing the schedule for next month’s Global Gaming Expo, I noticed that there are at least five sessions dedicated to networked, downloadable or server-based gaming. Now, it’s been at least five years since this kind of system has become the fashionable subject at G2E, so I began to wonder. What’s taking so long? When exactly are these systems going to be launched, if ever? And will they even work?
Now I’ve read all the data, material and praise for how these systems are going to dramatically change the gaming industry. But I don’t think I’m quite ready to drink the Kool-Aid.
Now, I’m not an operator or affiliated with any, but I’ve heard all the questions:
• Why should I make the change?
• How much is it going to cost?
• What exactly are the advantages over the games I offer now?
• Why should I do it now, instead of waiting until it’s a proven success?
• Does it really work?
• How will my customers accept the change, if they even will?
• What do the regulators think of these systems?
And of course the biggie:
• Will I make more money from server-based gaming than I do now from my “regular” machines?
So no matter what you call it— networked, downloadable or server-based gaming; and they’re all different, by the way—SBG is still a mystery, at least five years after we first heard about it.
We’ve heard that the first widespread installation of SBG will occur at MGM Mirage’s CityCenter (now known as ARIA casino resort), which IGT will install and operate. That’s going to be a great test, but it raises many other questions. What is the pricing structure, for one? And will players have access to games from other manufacturers on the IGT system?
It will be a new casino with an entirely new casino floor. Therefore, it will have new players. Will those players take to the new system, or will they be confused and move on to the nearest “traditional” casino floor?
Now, I love new technology in the gaming industry. There’s no doubt that TITO has revolutionized the slot floor. But do we remember some of the first attempts to introduce this technology? MGM Grand put in a bank of machines in the mid-1990s, and for the first year, those machines were avoided like the plague.
It wasn’t until the technology was tweaked with the sounds of winning, dependable tickets and printers, and a concentrated information
campaign that showed players why tickets made much more sense than coins, that TITO became
Or how about multi-player games? At first, people were shy about getting involved electronically with other players. But that reticence has now dissolved and “community gaming” has become another hot industry buzzword.
I suspect the same will be true of server-based gaming. It’s not going to be an immediate hit. It’s going to take hard work and innovative efforts to demonstrate to players why SBG works for them. Once they understand they can change the game they are playing without getting up, that might help. But some players are going to want to move. Others will be superstitious when it comes to new technology.
The theoretical advantages of SBG were demonstrated very clearly in a two-part series we published late last year by Dean Macomber and Roy Student, two of the most savvy experts in the gaming industry. They showed how operators would save money on SBG, be more flexible when it came to the casino floor, and appeal to different groups by using the various elements of SBG.
So why has it taken so long to catch on, even among operators? Because most of the questions I outlined above have not yet been answered to the satisfaction of the operators. We need one manufacturer to step forward with the “silver bullet,” the one example that will cause us to snap our fingers and say, “Why didn’t we think of that?”
Yes, I’ll go to the SBG sessions at this year’s G2E. I’m very interested to hear if there are any answers to these questions and others that I’m sure the operators have. Because until the manufacturers can supply those answers, I’m sure the SBG sessions at G2E 2009 will be just as ever-present—but even more unfulfilling.