This year, the fan-favorite GameON conference by supplier AGS headed west in grand fashion, with three days of panel discussions, group events and product demos at Reno’s Grand Sierra Resort and Casino (GSR) June 13-15.
After a rain-soaked round of golf and drinks in Lake Tahoe the previous afternoon, AGS President and CEO David Lopez kicked off the formal festivities June 14 with a nod to his marketing and event staff, noting that the company’s overall workforce and studio count have effectively doubled since the event began in 2016.
Danny Britson, vice president of casino operations for GSR, then detailed the history of the resort and its quest to become the premier property in the Reno-Sparks market in the last 10-plus years.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics were themes of the event, with a range of experts from inside and outside the gaming world painting a picture of how the technology will shape the industry of tomorrow.
Keynote speaker and former Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who now serves as CEO of the analytics startup Sumer Sports, detailed how artificial intelligence is revolutionizing even the most human-centric industries, such as football scouting.
When asked about a potential saturation point, Dimitroff said we aren’t there yet, but cautioned teams to at least acknowledge the value and importance of analytics, because if they don’t, “there’s going to be a lot more data scientists running teams, with football people as the sidebar.”
Putting the “AI” in Gaming
The industry panels began with a presentation from Kiran Brahmandam, CEO of Gaming Analytics, and Mark DeDeaux, senior vice president and general manager of games for AGS, about the basics of AI and how early adopters make 3-16 percent better margins on average across all industries.
Brahmandam illustrated how AI optimization can improve all aspects of a gaming operation, from floor layout and machine count to marketing and bonus strategies. His biggest suggestion for seeing the true capabilities of the technology was to attend a non-gaming tradeshow or conference to see how far it’s already been deployed elsewhere.
Perhaps the most provocative conversation of the event came via Dr. Jennifer Golbeck, a University of Maryland computer scientist whose facts about the data mining and location tracking capabilities of today’s tech platforms made attendees fidget and squirm.
Golbeck also shed light on the various patterns of how information spreads online, as well as the effectiveness of cross-marketing to individuals with shared interests and connections.
Tables of Tomorrow
AGS Senior Vice President and General Manager of Table Products John Hemberger was joined by Ari Mizrachi, head of North America for Tangam Systems, to ponder the future of table games, and to applaud the recent advancements made in the sector after decades of slot dominance.
Harkening back to the theme of the week, Mizrachi highlighted the ability for data platforms to supplement the human instincts and experiences of skilled casino managers to create the best possible table game player experience.
Games on the Brain
University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor and fledgling game designer Dr. David Gruber closed out the second day by breaking down the minutiae of human decision-making, and how “the right small things make a big difference” over time. Gruber explained that small changes with regard to product choice and placement are effective because our brains need guidance; they’re affected by irrelevancies and they pick up social perceptions.
For the casino space, Gruber suggested that operators consider the social aspect of game placement and referenced the idea that you can control decision-making by carefully curating the options set forth.
The Value of Free Stuff
The third and final day was kicked off by Scott Nicholson, vice president of strategic partnerships for Imagine This, to talk about the benefits of continuity programs, or weekly free gift events that aim to drive incremental trips over the course of four to five weeks.
Nicholson was joined by Angel of the Winds COO Jeff Wheatley as well as Jason Mozart, assistant general manager for Soboba Casino Resort, who both gave testimonials after implementing Imagine This programs for their players.
Also included in day three was a round robin from AGS game executives: Chief Technology Officer Sigmund Lee, Vice President of Game Development Steve Walther and Vice President of Hardware Engineering Karl Zedell all spoke on what makes a good game—or as Lee put it, what makes a game good.
The panel explained that it’s difficult to find good talent in the space because there’s no set path to becoming a designer, and even established designers take several years to produce passable games. Walther expounded on the complexity and beauty of modern games but noted that “companies often step outside the box and then step back inside,” meaning that everything comes back to good math in the end.