Old-School Is New Again at the Global Gaming Expo

Photo courtesy of Global Gaming Expo

Photo courtesy of Global Gaming Expo

The Global Gaming Expo returned to the Sands Expo Center last month, giving industry members a chance to discuss the latest issues and see the newest technology. It was clear that the big question asked last year—how to appeal to a new generation of gamblers—has not been fully answered, but we got several tantalizing glimpses of the future.

Caesars Entertainment CEO Mark Frissora was bullish about reaching the “untapped” market of millennials and others drawn to social and mobile gambling, but any failure to connect with that audience hasn’t been for lack of trying.

Traditional slot manufacturers have, for the most part, sought to enrich and extend the existing slot machine model to appeal more to younger players. IGT’s massive floor presence (the company exhibited about 400 machines) included next-generation True 3-D, which provides a novel experience to those familiar with the company’s existing slots, including the Wheel of Fortune series. The new Simpsons slot has another new twist—a motion sensor that lets the player grab bonus points by manipulating their hand in front of the screen.

Aristocrat presented more immersive versions of traditional-playing slot machines, drawing on licensed properties such as Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey and The Big Bang Theory to lure new players.

Scientific Games focused on providing games that bridge the gap between social and play-for-fun offerings and traditional slot machines—rolling out a slot whose bonus round is a skill-based game of arcade classic Space Invaders. Others have gone further, putting skill at the heart of the game.

Gamblit Gaming, for example, had several offerings that “gamify” traditional board and video games: Dreadnought and Raze will be familiar to those who love board classics Battleship and Risk, respectively. Both have gambling elements but rely on a player’s skill far more extensively than anything currently on a casino floor (outside of blackjack). Grab Poker pits the player against up to three others in a game that is faster-paced and demands far more of a player’s attention than traditional video poker. These games may be off-putting to players who want only to press buttons and get lucky, but they bring the engagement of video games to a gambling context.

Nanotech Gaming brought back its acclaimed advantage-play, skill-based Vegas 2047 pinball game, which is geared toward experienced gamblers. This game differs from much of what you’ll see in a casino because it gives the player a measure of control over the house edge and, if the player is skilled enough, can offer a positive expected value. The company added CasinoKat, a Pacman-style maze chase game that may appeal to more casual players.

There is still some uncertainty as to when we will see the first skill-based games in Nevada casinos—the consensus is that it will mostly be early next summer, but, as with the rollout of online poker in the state, the wait may be longer.

Gambling is changing on other fronts, as well. Daily fantasy sports and e-sports (betting on video games) were two of the conference’s hottest seminar topics. Both would not have been on the agenda a few years back, but their exploding popularity has forced the industry to take notice.

It’s clear that the industry is in a transitional era right now. This is nothing new: Since its 1931 Nevada relegalization, the casino business has been in a dynamic state. The difference is that in 2015, the industry is far larger and more self-aware than it’s ever been.

This new spirit is in many ways good, since it can lead to more conscious envelope-pushing. The measure of a game isn’t how innovative or technically complex it is, but how well it connects with gamblers. That basic truth will never change, and those who are designing the games of the future would be well advised to remember it.

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