Networked Gaming Guide Volume 1 Issue 3

This third and final 2009 installment of CR’s Networked Gaming Guide addresses one of the most important issues to consider before taking the plunge into server-based gaming: What’s in it for the players? How will networked gaming affect the player’s experience, and how will they react to the change? What will be the ultimate ROI from their perspective? And how do we get players to “buy-in” to the new capabilities of the networked floor? Read on as industry professionals—from casino operators to game manufacturers and suppliers—weigh in on these questions and more.

Marc McDermott,
Technical Director,
GSA

In the previous two editions of this series, we have been talking about what networked gaming technology is, how it will work and what is needed to get ready for it. Now, as we turn our attention to the most important audience we have—the players—we can take a closer look at the protocols that will run networked gaming on the casino floor, what players can expect from the new technology and how operators can now reach out to players like never before.

Players will be positively impacted by networked gaming and, consequently, so will operators. With networked gaming, we can expect to improve the customer experience, reward the best players, maintain profitability margins and bring in new players.

First, let’s discuss how networked gaming will improve the customer’s experience. With S2S (System to System), operators will be able to link all the computer systems in the resort. This means that operators can create a world where one player’s card can be used across the entire operation. Today, several operators have player’s cards that can be used at multiple properties, but their use is limited. S2S and networked gaming improves the entire player experience because the customer can move seamlessly from the gaming floor to the showroom, restaurant, bar, nightclub, retail outlet, and literally anywhere where there is a system for a transaction, and that player can use their one player’s card for the transaction.

S2S allows operators to develop alliances and reward programs with vendors. Instead of telling players, “We can’t take your points here,” you can enable your on-property vendors to accept player’s cards and points so that players are hearing “Yes!” instead of “No.” S2S also gives operators the flexibility to set the point redemption “exchange” rate for various vendors and merchandise. Instead of the specific assigned monetary value we know today, S2S and the networked operation can shift to a profit margin that fluctuates based on the actual cost of merchandise or a service.

This single-card system is beneficial in other ways. First, players can choose their rewards, giving them incredible flexibility and a better total experience. For operators, a single-card solution builds brand loyalty, because you are putting the player in charge, letting them choose how to use their earned points. Next, operators can gain an accurate, real-time total view of each player, enabling better and more efficient marketing so that players get exactly what they want, based on their own individual behavior. This single-card solution and total player view allows operators to reward their players with instant, individualized comps and rewards.

Next, let’s focus on rewarding hot players. Hot players are great if you know where they are and who they are. But who have you been missing? With the G2S protocol, networked gaming will enable operators to configure their floor system to instantly notify player’s club staff and/or casino hosts of hot player activity, while the player is playing, regardless of whether they are using a player’s card or not. Hot players are identified as the back-of-house host system monitors events. G2S allows operators to customize their systems for up to five hot player alert levels. Now you can capture and reward hot players instantly, and with the one-card system discussed above, operators can continue to reward these hot players with customized incentives tailored to each player’s individual activity.

Next, even players who are not in your current database can be incentivized to visit your property and be rewarded for it. This can work in a number of ways. For example, a casino can partner with a local business that has a loyalty reward program in place, such as a grocery store offering the shopper incentives to become a new player. S2S provides the link between the casino and its partner so that the grocery customer can earn points toward a visit at your casino.

The S2S standard also allows unaffiliated casinos to link their rewards systems together so that points can be earned and redeemed at either property. This feature kicks the marketing door wide open. Now you can reach out to players virtually anywhere, giving them a reason to visit your casino based on activities that are completely unrelated to your operation. And you can instantly reward them and begin building loyalty the second they walk into your property. Of course, with the single-card system, you can then track that player across the entire operation, further enhancing the guest experience and building loyalty.

The GSA protocols that drive these innovations are available for free download at www.gamingstandards.com. Because now is the time to prepare for the future, GSA also has a series of courses through GSA University. Visit www.gsauniv.com for the latest information.

Chris Rowe,
Associate Product Manager,
Aristocrat Technologies Inc.

Miss Betty pulls up to the casino valet and is greeted by name. Intrigued by the pretty-looking butterflies fluttering around in the Butterfly Kisses™ LCD top box, she walks up to her favorite game, initiates her player session, and a happy birthday celebration appears on screen. A waitress shows up with a Bloody Mary—with a little extra kick—just like she likes it.

“Happy birthday, Miss Betty,” the waitress says cheerfully. After an exciting hour, this happy customer takes a break while she’s ahead. As she cashes out, the ticket printer rewards her with her winnings—and a ticket for a complimentary cone at the casino’s ice cream parlor.

After her refreshing treat, Betty decides to play a little more. The slot machine welcomes her back and grants her $5 free play for her loyalty. When she has had enough, she signs out for the day. As she gets to the front door, her car is waiting in valet. She is sent off with a “See ya tomorrow, Miss B.” All of this for little Betty, who is not even in the top tier of the player’s club.

How did the high-speed network make Betty’s casino visit more enjoyable? It did not. What did make her visit special was the casino’s careful selection of valuable applications to run on that network.
Not every operator needs to offer an experience like Betty’s. Some may even get close to this level of service without the help of fancy technology. However, for those who see value in (at least a portion of) what Betty experienced, Aristocrat offers a number of networked applications designed to help casinos attract and retain customers.

Technological evolution is inevitable, and it’s exciting. Just look at the world around us. As people have come to expect more out of their mobile phones, casino goers will come to expect more of their gaming experience. A means for pushing the envelope is Aristocrat’s Vertex™ bonus controller, just one of many products founded upon GSA protocols and, therefore, high-speed networks. Vertex may never be a brand that players are familiar with, but it’s one that operators will know and love. What casino patrons will identify with are the revolutionary game forms made possible by this technology.

Aristocrat is combining various forms of progressive triggers and is changing the way these prizes increment. This means players will be constantly presented with new and exciting ways to chase and win jackpots. Beat the Bandits™, Aristocrat’s first product to employ the assistance of Vertex, will hit the market later this year. In this game, players may pick one of three jackpots they wish to pursue; the fourth and top award is a mystery. Additionally, the unprecedented amount of data collected in this new world enables our game designers to reward players based on factors never before considered. For example, Lucky 88™, a connected gaming experience by Aristocrat, rewards players based on betting patterns over time on device.

As Aristocrat strives to add excitement and allure, slot machines—equipped with faster processors and increasing amounts of memory—seem to be appearing more and more as massive, multi-game units. Players, as observed in recent focus groups, are still attracted to “pretty pictures” and “cool-looking graphics.” Multi-games, while they have their applications, may demonstrate a lack of individual game attractiveness. Furthermore, in his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz argues that “eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety.” Visitors to your casinos are inherently subject to as many choices as you have slot machines on your floor. Shall we further complicate the initial purchase by adding more and more decisions to be made at the point of sale? Just something to consider as we move forward.

But getting back to Betty, by providing the tools to connect your casino floor to various information systems within the casino, Aristocrat enables the casino to better understand the player, recognize his or her total contribution, and reward him or her accordingly. This is a major premise of Aristocrat’s Oasis 360™.

This process involves a bit of work on the back end, which is transparent to the player. The Oasis 360 player database, coupled with a robust business intelligence solution, will help facilitate the segmentation process. Linking to other information systems via Oasis 360 x2S—developed using GSA’s S2S protocol—will lend insight into total contribution as well as personal taste. This integration will help answer such questions as how much is the player spending in my retail establishments? Where does he or she like to eat? And which amenities does he or she prefer?

Once value is established and an understanding is gained, the patron starts to realize benefits. Using networked technologies, we may reward the player at the point of sale. Further, we may tailor these rewards to the individual’s liking. Hence, Betty’s voucher for a free cone (total cost $0.50, perceived value $5) at the casino’s ice cream parlor printed from the ticket printer in the slot machine.

Via some sort of networked player interface, whether onscreen or a secondary device, we may present service functions, bonus games and messages to the customer. The software development kit associated with Oasis 360’s Content Delivery Manager (CDM) enables any operator or designated third party to create custom content to be broadcast to these devices.

By connecting the player to the game to the casino to the enterprise, every player, regardless of ranking, can feel like they are a part of the top tier.

We must be tactful in the execution of these strategies and ensure that interaction at the point of sale is impactful. If done poorly, it is conceivable that the player will be bombarded with the equivalent of “pop-ups” on the main screen or junk mail from the ticket printer. Again, it is up to the operator to deploy these functions as the market requires.

Sometimes we get wrapped up in the “cool” factor of what all of this new technology can do and what we can do with it. But as Betty helps us remember, it is the player and the player’s experience that should constantly be in the forefront of our thinking. Technology has brought us to a point where the network is one and the possibilities are many; attracting and retaining customers is more targeted and exciting than ever before. Whether it takes an entire library of applications or one great game to make your customers happy, Aristocrat is here to help you make the transition to the future without leaving common sense in the past.

Bruce Rowe,
Senior Vice President of Strategy & Business Development,
Bally Technologies Inc.

High speed bidirectional communications to and from the game are fundamentally changing the way we communicate with players and what we offer them, but what business problems does this solve and what opportunities does it create?

Marketing can fundamentally change because while marketing has always been done throughout the facility and in the mailbox, marketing at the point of play is just emerging. Message types will be able to be customized by customer, time of day and day of week, and be driven by sophisticated decision-making linked to likes and dislikes databases, life-stage and lifestyle analyses, and other geographic, demographic and psychographic analytical tools. The ability to link media-management systems to the point of play will open up new linkages to other companies and products to market and new sources of marketing funds for casinos. Additionally, many of the tried-and-true marketing promotions will now have new and more efficient distribution channels on the floor to make the promotions more timely, easier to manage, and more relevant to the customers, because they will be delivered conveniently and be linked to the play experience. Customers will have a higher level of satisfaction when they can redeem and get promotions at the game instead of waiting in lines at loyalty clubs and wasting valuable gaming time.

Second-chance-to-win marketing events will move to a whole new level. These very effective marketing reinvestment programs can take on multiple looks and feels with game mechanics that are very familiar to gamblers. This will allow the operator to create differentiated experiences on any game from any manufacturer, and thereby create loyalty to their property and not a machine. Further, these events can take place on any game on the floor, thus defining the entire casino as a community of games and players, not a collection of neighborhood games and systems that do not allow the operator to decide which events they want, on which games, at what time of day, on what day of week, and for which customers.

Tournaments, which have always been very popular and successful special events, will be able to be done in locations where operators want to create a focus of energy and where players want to play. The games will not have to be relegated to non-prime locations and operators will not have to worry about compromising the win per unit. The linkage of these games to media-management systems like Bally’s CoolSign™ will take the excitement to any place in the resort, including the hotel room.

Self-service will be a major benefit to players. Bally’s iVIEW Display Manager™ (DM) turns the game into a kiosk that allows customers to answer questions or do transactions that would previously have required them to leave the game or involve an employee. The technology we have running in the field tells us that things as simple as ordering a drink and way-finding to checking account balances and downloading credits or currency have real value to players.

We’ve done considerable market and player research as part of the development of our Networked Floor of the Future™ products to ensure that the casino player sees a definite benefit from our server-based solutions. For example, as part of the development of our iVIEW DM we conducted several player focus groups. During this process, we learned a number of things, including how important it is that iVIEW DM have the flexibility to be player-configurable for the left or right side of the main game screen to accommodate both left- and right-handed people. With that feedback at the forefront, we developed iVIEW DM so it is player- and operator-configurable anywhere on the main game screen—left, right, top or bottom. Some players didn’t want it on the screen at all during game play, so we built in an option that allows players to minimize the interface until they need to check their points, order a drink or obtain other information.

Player configurable is where we are headed so the operator can configure things they want the customer to see or be offered and the player can configure what and how they want to see it. From display settings to favorite options, to choice of language and even TV channels, options will be available as never before. As the technology evolves, operators and players will tell us what has value and why.

The kinds of capabilities mentioned here can only be done in a timely and cost-efficient way if they are able to be done on both existing and new games. It is unlikely any one application could ever create enough ROI to replace an entire gaming floor of popular and profitable games. This is why we have created the technology that can protect our customers’ and players’ favorite and most profitable games while connecting to legacy, server-based and point- to-point computer systems to link the data to the customer experience.

As we have learned from more than 33 years in the systems business, installing more than 200 high-speed floors, implementing GSA standards, and having our iVIEW DM solutions in the field, this is an evolutionary process. We must listen to the customer before, as we build, and after we deploy the technology, and they will tell us clearly what they value and want more of. With that we will enable our operators to offer a differentiated and rewarding experience for the player. And in the end, isn’t that what it is all about?

Paul Miller,
EVP of Business Development, U.S. and Canada,
BetStone

When it comes to life, Americans are spoiled for choice. From the 99 items on the Cheesecake Factory menu to Ben & Jerry’s 64 flavors of ice cream, Americans are used to having a plethora of options and choices. The Constitution guarantees choice with the First Amendment’s freedom of speech. And people are accustomed to enjoying a wide range of products and services, from business to pleasure, from small to large, from home-grown to exotic. Even the country is vast, with a multitude of different landscapes, sights, cultures and pastimes.
So it is fitting that BetStone offers freedom of choice for the slot player with its server-based gaming platform. Server-based gaming allows the ultimate in flexibility and management, it creates an environment where there’s something for everyone and allows players to try new and exciting variations.

BetStone uses revolutionary software to control the main game platform, but players don’t care what’s happening behind the scenes—they just care about their own personal experience. They want exciting games, the thrill of the win and pure entertainment. Operators use this flexibility in the back-end system to configure different game choices, compelling math models, exciting jackpots and entertaining options.
BetStone is a true pioneer in server-based gaming solutions and has a rich content library of more than 90 games and a commitment to an impressive rollout schedule of 20 new games every quarter.

The benefits of server-based gaming are many. First, the games are stored and controlled on a central server. Second, game determination is controlled by the server, and all results are managed and reported centrally. Third, different math models and return-to-player percentages can be managed interactively. Floor content can be freshened, different promotions can be rolled out, messages can be broadcast, and new games can be implemented in seconds. Simultaneous global rollout of new content has become a reality. There are tremendous benefits in terms of management reporting, money reconciliation, game performance analysis and player tracking.

Some people like the “dribbler” games, where they have a small win every minute or two. It keeps them entertained and motivated, always with the distinct possibility of winning a large prize or progressive jackpot. Some gamblers like a more volatile math model, where there is a longer interval between wins, but when they do win, it’s big. Others yet like something in between, where the winnings are not too spaced out, but they’re still sizable. What’s important is that the operators know their players and can configure the options accordingly. And they set the configuration to satisfy the different players.

There are other benefits to server-based gaming as well. If a casino is crowded on a Friday night, it may not want to offer “loose” games to the public. Instead, it can tighten up its hold percentage to maximize profitability. But on that quiet Tuesday morning, the venue can cater to locals by providing more rewarding win levels to encourage loyalty.

But that’s not all. An operator can determine micro-demographics. For example, an operator can tell which games people are playing—middle-aged women versus young men, for example. A casino can feature the right mix of game titles featured on the main display screens to appeal to its clientele. But it can also run different promotions, mix up the promotional splash screens, and rotate the content across different machines—all interactively—so that the gaming floor is always changing, always fresh.

BetStone’s server-based gaming platform can do all of that—with no new capital required by you.
BetStone’s technology is easy to use. The player simply goes from menu to menu, with the touch of the screen, showing all the different games on offer. Players can maintain their credits, keep their favorite seating location and try the many game varieties.

When you visit a traditional casino, you are greeted with a floor of the same, but different, slot machines. There is usually one game per machine, with particular belly glass and artwork. So if you’re playing Big Kahuna and feel like a change, you have to get up and walk over to Pirate Bay and start over. The feeling for some players is that they are leaving their “investment” behind. In other words, they have been sitting at the same machine for some time, topping it up with their money, and it could be only moments away from a win.

With the BetStone offering, a player can change games without changing machines. You press one button to view the games menu, and then choose a different game. Even though there may be 60 or more games to choose from, people seem to get used to it very quickly. If you like the new playing experience, then you’re captivated all over again. If not, just go ahead and select another game.

Players also get to sit where they are comfortable. Do they like to be in a quiet and isolated corner or where it’s busy and happening? Do they want to be close to the bar or close to the live band? With these choices, operators can maximize the play on every single machine.

How do you notify players of the capabilities of a networked floor? You don’t have to. One, because people work it out very easily for themselves. It’s intuitive, and each person will have their own, unique experience. Two, people don’t play a platform, nor do they care about the technology—they only care about games and entertainment they are experiencing.

When it comes to operators it’s a different story. Having a networked floor allows operators to know exactly what’s happening at any moment in time. And who is playing what. It allows them to link two or more casinos; offer tournament-style events; have multiple levels of progressive and mystery jackpots, from localized to wide-area; and appeal to individuals based on their preferences and habits.

BetStone’s server-based gaming technology is well proven, so the risks and downsides are no more than any other slot product. In fact, the redundancy and fail-over capabilities of the server provide additional assurance. Power outages and failed communication links are automatically detected and resolved. But it is worth reminding operators that, like any relatively new technology, it’s important to start small and explore the different options one at a time. Get your customers used to enjoying the games and then start invigorating the interactive experience. Don’t try to build Rome in one day, but also understand that you have the ultimate flexibility to fulfill your customers’ needs and exceed their expectations. This one fact alone is a very powerful driver of customer satisfaction.

When people are presented with more choice, it’s hard to go back to what once was—look at what cable did for television and what the Internet did for personal computers. Once used to the power and choice that these technologies provide, it’s impossible to live without them. BetStone has experienced the same phenomenon: In some markets, the players get used to the BetStone product in one venue and then start requesting BetStone by name in another venue.

Server-based gaming technology has opened up the world of gaming on the slot floor, and BetStone is bringing you those choices today. Whether you want to create the ultimate player experience or offer the largest variety of choice to your customers, it all adds up to the same result: keeping your customers happy and maximizing the revenues on your slot floor.

Peter Shoebridge,
Founder,
Blue Yonder Gaming Corp.

As the previous two issues of Casino Enterprise Management’s Networked Gaming Guide have clearly underscored, networked gaming is expected to bring profound changes to the casino industry. In particular, as many of the overviews from industry experts outlined, networked gaming will open the door to a new wave of innovation for casinos, including new games and gaming concepts for the player, the focus of this final issue in the series. Indeed, many of the articles from company executives cited products already launched that leverage the high-speed infrastructure in many casinos now.

As veterans of technology initiatives in this and other industries, we at Blue Yonder Gaming are not only looking to envision what’s in store for the casino player on our own but even more so by enabling those who are best equipped to provide for the innovation easier access on to the networked casino grid.
We see that in much the same way that technology provided for the basis of evolution in video games, casinos soon will have a higher tech foundation to transform the offerings presented to their players.

According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), as video games moved from one-dimensional action and solo play to what are now experiences with expanded sights and sounds for friends and groups, so too did the appeal change to new types of players. ESA statistics show that non-gaming video players are now 40 percent female and more than a quarter are over the age of 50, which seems to closely correlate to current casino players. By innovating and evolving, casino games are expected to draw upon these and other new types of players.

This is a fairly straightforward way to envision how networked gaming will set the stage for player innovation. More—much more—is to come, but there is another side to the adoption and use of the latest technologies that may lie in the way. For many, networked gaming will present obstacles to innovation—even for those who are the best candidates to supply the new and improved for the player.

With the complete gaming platform infrastructure changing and new communication protocols requiring system and code modifications, current content providers and manufacturers could be distracted from their focus of taking gaming to the next level. Time and expense easily can be expended in adopting networked gaming or in trying to reinvent the wheel themselves.

At the same time, casinos are already installing or planning for high-speed networks and applications to control their environment. The current economy is driving the need to be more efficient and lower costs, for which technology has appropriately been used. In the initial thrust, operators now want to use technology to integrate their games with property events and offers from their restaurants and services. Sooner rather than later, casinos will be looking for suppliers to provide them with added dynamic gaming and events and, eventually, even more new player experiences. In all of this, casino operators are envisioning an environment based on open standards and interoperability to allow products from different sources to seamlessly operate and co-operate throughout their properties.

Many major manufacturers currently have designed their own, mostly proprietary, solutions for networked gaming in casinos. Yet there are many other gaming companies that work in the industry, or in related fields, that could provide innovative new products but may be at a disadvantage without a practical way to transition what they do now to a networked gaming environment. Many of these other companies are the visionaries that will be the ones to bring new concepts to the casino floor.

Innovators will come from a wide range of disciplines, and collaboration will cross many sectors. We at Blue Yonder Gaming are set to assist those who want to innovate but have been sidetracked by the ins and outs of networked gaming. We are providing an opening to networked gaming, especially for those with the expertise, creativity and insights to evolve the casino and player experience.

When my Blue Yonder co-founders and I first teamed up, it was with Sona Mobile, adapting wireless technology to benefit casinos. Our team piloted the technology to be the first ever to receive certification for wireless in casinos. These endeavors and successes brought us face to face with the unique challenges in the casino industry. We understand firsthand that there are learning curves, especially for those who have been dealing with the older, established products and services.

At Blue Yonder Gaming, we want to enable innovation by providing the tools and technology to harness network gaming. To that end, we have developed a networked gaming product that aims to provide a practical way to transition to a networked gaming environment without the need for the development of an in-house solution. Current content developers, gaming manufacturers, and other innovators from a wide range of disciplines and sectors can focus their expertise on creating new experiences for players.

In our work with several of these innovators, we already hear how they are not just dreaming of the future; they have the expertise and creativity to build it. From them, we hear about how they are applying the new technology specifically to the gaming industry.

They already have solid plans for player-selectable game add-ons, allowing the player to decide whether they want to have bonus rounds, double-up games or progressives. There are game demos on demand to allow players to try new games without risk. Social gaming will allow in-game interaction and communication among a group of players. “Intelligent” games will recognize the player and provide customization for a better fit.

Ultimately, what the casino player can expect in the future is in the hands of these innovators, and we at Blue Yonder Gaming are excited to enable them to realize their visions.

David Harris,
Chief Architect,
Cadillac Jack

The entertainment experience of the player will change dramatically as networked gaming allows for a more dynamic, highly customizable delivery of games, entertainment and player marketing. Innovative technologies that provide time-relevant marketing, promotion and entertainment to the player on the game and across the gaming floor are vital to the future of networked gaming.

In addition, networked gaming has proven to be a reliable, efficient means for gathering player information that can then be analyzed to understand player behavior. Cadillac Jack has already worked extensively in networked gaming in our Class II markets, and we are now applying our experience to the future of networked gaming in the Class III arena. We collect extensive data from our large footprint of networked games and perform complex calculations to predict player behavior and trends on our product lines. We believe that players are concerned with the entertainment value of their play experience as well as the reward for playing various mathematical models.

Technology that allows us to provide a better value proposition to our players by increasing the game play experience, while providing this at the same cost, is well received according to our data. Networked gaming opens the door for adding features such as variable player selectable and AI-based math models, real-time updated media and entertainment content, and more intelligent bonusing schemes.

With the advent of G2S, this player analysis can be taken to higher levels in order to provide the best possible experience to the player. Networked gaming with G2S is a building block for future innovation in the gaming industry. Manufacturers will be able to perform real-time analysis of players’ habits and, in turn, perform immediate actions based upon that analysis. This feedback, communicated across a high-speed network, will allow manufacturers to innovate at a much faster rate than ever before. New games, new features, new real-time promotions, and new cutting-edge technologies will be implemented with more ease. This will enable the creation of an interoperability model that can extend gaming to entirely new levels.

Of course, in reality, all of this will not happen immediately. In most cases, the initial games that are created and released to work on G2S will be somewhat similar to their non-networked counterparts. Because of this, the average player may not notice many differences with the initial implementations, and because the future changes will evolve over time, the player may notice only subtle differences as time goes on, but they will experience more value from their play.

From the operators’ standpoint, they will have to contend with different back-end technology and with a full network on their game floor. However, once the network is in place, it is likely that the floor network will not have to change significantly over the next decade.

What makes slot manufacturers so excited right now is that since the networks that are necessary are standard networks, and since the G2S protocol is built using a solid technological base, the protocol can be easily extended as new ideas and games are manufactured, without causing disruption to existing games or the network.

We believe that five or more years down the road, the networked floor may look entirely different than the non-networked floor. Bonusing options that were not previously available before can now be incorporated into the games. More real-time features and information can be made available on the game console, and games themselves may be able to change in real-time based on real-time events. With networked gaming, products can more easily be developed where players compete against each other, not only within the same casino but also across casinos.

With the adoption of networked gaming, many of the same techniques and technology used on the Internet will now be available to use throughout the casino. Technology using the Internet is exploding, and as new concepts become available, their use in gaming may be adopted. As with the Internet, these changes will come, but they will not all be implemented at once, giving both the player and the operator a chance to adapt and embrace the new technology.

In the end, with networked gaming, the players will have a richer, more diverse and more exciting gaming experience.

Daniel DeWaal,
Director of Network Systems,
IGT

Anthony Baerlocher,
Director of Game Design,
IGT

Javier Saenz,
Vice President of Network Systems,
IGT

New game experiences. Bonusing. The Service Window. Adding applications to the network. These are all innovations designed and developed for the player. It’s all about the player—and creating fun, memorable entertainment experiences that pique and keep their interest.

In IGT’s games, the innovative evolution of REELdepth™ technology, the ongoing success of IGT’s unprecedented MegaJackpots® game experiences, MultiPLAY and video poker continue to prove IGT is the leader in game content. Game content is delivered to the right player at the right place and time through sbX™, the experience management solution.

IGT is taking gaming to the next level. IGT is bringing to market exciting player experiences in sound and feel, skill- and time-based game play, and community play experiences that are amped up with player features that are truly different than what’s on the floor today.

In network systems and technology, IGT is leading the way. This starts with IGT’s leadership and groundwork in open architecture GSA protocols, which have led to the award-winning Service Window, new and exciting bonuses, tournaments, and third-party applications that open up the industry to never before seen opportunities to personalize the player experience.

In an example of how IGT leverages customer feedback, the development of the innovative Service Window was driven by player and operator discovery. IGT first interviewed several operators to get valuable feedback on the Service Window. Once operator-based enhancements were made, IGT conducted onsite player research.

“The players felt the Service Window was part of the game,” said Daniel DeWaal, director of the network systems studio. “Because it wasn’t disruptive to the game, they liked it.”

In post-test interviews, the players also recalled that they were given offers during their test session and were able to intuitively interact with the Service Window as part of the gaming experience. “They said if there was an option to offer money or a prize, they enjoyed it and would play a game because of these kinds of features,” said DeWaal.

“Players like being given new ways of winning things. If something is out of the ordinary or not in the more traditional way of winning, they respond to that,” said Anthony Baerlocher, director of game design. “We also validated the notion that the game play is not interrupted by the Service Window regardless of whether it is opened or closed. Most importantly, it is seen as nondisruptive technology to the player. We designed it to open and close within the game screen, instead of having it overlay on top of the screen for these reasons.”

How do players benefit? With the Service Window, the player has an enhanced experience. “It all starts with the Service Window. It makes it much easier for players to check their status, view their rewards, and be notified when they earn something,” said Javier Saenz, vice president of network systems.

“In terms of the networked floor, players can be awarded more bonus types and promotional offers, order drinks, buy lottery tickets, read responsible gaming messages and get real-time messaging from the casino host, which was a recurring request we received from our customers. We envision this all being tied to point-of-sale activity throughout the property to further enhance the total guest experience,” he said.

“The network will connect multiple games together, as a shared experience. If you move from one game to another, come back and continue your game, or if you share an experience with other players on the network, these become different types of experiences,” said DeWaal. “For some players who prefer a more isolated game play experience, they might not gravitate toward some of these more social and communal game play opportunities. As is the case with other technologies, the consumer engages at a threshold they are comfortable with—it’s their choice.”

“IGT, as with any game content provider, needs to continue to be 100 percent on top of security and identity issues moving forward,” Baerlocher added.

When IGT started planning for an enhanced tournament experience, operator feedback was a key factor in representing player insights. “A couple of years ago, we met with tournament directors as they ran us through what players liked and didn’t like—what their superstitions were, their seat preferences, and things of that nature,” said Baerlocher. “As a result, what we’ll be offering is real-time interactive leaderboards, new interactive game play that connects machines, auto registration, and player ID tracking through our Tournament Manager product. And we will use Service Window technology to display that.”

Getting continuous feedback did not stop there. “During more operator feedback sessions, our customers validated that when we put a bonus delivery game on the game screen—whether it was delivered through the Service Window or digital top glass—and not on a secondary display, that this one function makes the advancement in technology completely worthwhile,” said DeWaal.

Giving players what they want is priority No 1. It’s about creating meaningful experiences full of “wow” moments—moments when player expectations are exceeded. At IGT, we are doing just that.

Bill Gustafson,
Hospitality Industry Market Development Manager,
Microsoft Corp.

Michael Raheem,
Hospitality Industry Market Development Manager,
Microsoft Corp.

There’s an old joke that goes something like this:

A blackjack dealer and a player with a 13 count in his hand were debating about whether or not it’s appropriate to tip the dealer.
The player claimed, “When I get bad cards, it’s not the dealer’s fault. Likewise, when I get good cards, the dealer still had nothing to do with it, so why should I tip him?”
The dealer replied, “When you dine out, do you tip your waiter?”
“Yes.”
“Well, he serves you food, I’m serving you cards, so you should tip me.”
“Alright, but the waiter gives me what I ask for. I’ll take an 8.”

Now, obviously the odds are stacked against the player being dealt the exact card that he wants. Gambling will always be a game of chance, and players recognize this reality. However, what players are less willing to take a chance on these days is the personalized experience that they get when they enter a casino.

A lot has changed in the more than 60 years since the opening of The Flamingo and the Rat Pack’s heyday, when deals were great and service and entertainment were believed to be even better. There remains a sense of nostalgia today for that era when casino hosts knew their customers by name and their preferences by heart. While casinos have continued to evolve their offerings, gambling styles, games and machines to keep pace with their players, many feel that true intimacy with the guest has diminished along the way.

In the current economy, with fewer dollars to chase and fewer people gambling, or gambling less frequently, the casino industry must keep pace with shifting guest desires and service expectations. First and foremost is recognizing the guests’ and players’ increasingly mobile and digital lifestyles. Our consumer research shows that today’s players are part of a connected digital community, having instant access to information and using technology on the go. They are more informed and demanding than ever before. If they find a better deal from another casino, they may just take it—unless they are given a more compelling reason to stay. They want what they want, when they want it. They want choice. They expect to have a great experience, a unique experience and a personalized experience.

Therefore, achieving a truly interoperable and open environment within the casino could become mandatory in order to meet the current expectations of travelers, guests and players. Like a house with a broken air conditioner in 112-degree weather, the current convergence of trends has created a serious need for the casino industry to install a new solution as well—one that will deliver innovation, differentiation and the type of experience that will drive guest loyalty, increased play, and cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.

Networked gaming can play a big role in addressing this heat wave. And the benefits of networked gaming will have even bigger gains when it extends beyond the floor to the additional systems within the property.

Networked gaming will enable casino operators to deliver powerful functionality and features to their players. Casinos can offer more games and gaming options on a networked floor and more easily change and modify a player’s choice of games. With the popularity of Internet gaming offering massive multiplayer online games (MMOG), casinos can attract guests and meet expectations with social-gaming tournament options and progressive jackpots.

Beyond the enhancements in gaming options, the real power of networked gaming comes from being able to connect the floor to other systems within the property and become an integral part of a larger infrastructure that draws insights from business, loyalty, sales and operational data.

Now, any machine can provide an interface for personalized play, complete with games and promotions based on the guest’s profile, status level and past game play. Advanced analytics can even be applied to predict guest preferences and make suggestions based on guest recognition and behavior patterns.

By providing the intelligence needed to make the right decisions, casinos can optimize the efficiencies and opportunities that a server-based floor will allow. It opens new doors for casino operators to differentiate themselves and connect with their guests by creating additional and personalized experiences, ultimately leading to new revenue streams. The casino host is also empowered with the right tools and information to re-enable that one-to-one guest coverage and greater interaction for exceptional customer service.

We realize that achieving this level of integration and capability is easier said than done, and many casino operators are questioning if they should be pulling back on their IT spend right now. Making the right technology investment is important in both good and bad economic times. During times of crisis, some companies decide to retrench. Others use it as an opportunity to innovate and grow, grabbing market share from competitors. From our perspective, we believe that this is a time for hospitality organizations to innovate—seize the opportunity to leap ahead of the competition by leveraging technology.

The trends that have made the last decade so dynamic for the hospitality and gaming industry haven’t changed. Technology continues to improve. Productivity continues to rise. New opportunities continue to emerge. Through a networked casino environment integrating guest and operational data, casino operators can drive a rich, valuable experience for the guest not only on the playing floor but throughout the property.

Microsoft believes that we, as part of a community of technology vendors, need to work together for the common good of casinos to help them meet and exceed player expectations. We all lose when casinos lose customers. Microsoft is focused on delivering innovative technologies that enable casino operators to connect with their guests and create the kind of positive memories that differentiate their brand and drive greater customer loyalty. The infrastructure, technologies and services required to support this experience must be interoperable, stable, efficient, manageable, and above all, positively affect the bottom line.

The technology is here, and with networked gaming, new opportunities have emerged not only to deliver the old-school one-to-one style of customer service but also to far exceed it. While players will never get that 8 on demand—and dealers will still be working hard for those tips—casino operators can use today’s new capabilities to usher in a new era—and set the service bar even higher—by delivering a unique, differentiated and personalized experience that will keep guests coming back again and again.

Mark Pace,
Vice President of Network Gaming Engineering and Operations,
WMS

In the history of gaming, there have been a relatively small number of innovations that have truly impacted the player’s experience in a positive manner. In fact, the number of those innovations can be counted on one hand:

• The introduction of electro-mechanical and then electronic gaming devices;
• The introduction of the bill acceptor;
• The introduction of wide area progressives; and
• The introduction of TITO.

Some might argue that a couple more innovations should be added to this list, but the list would still be quite small, especially in light of how long gaming has been around.

Over the past couple of years, the industry has been struggling to understand whether—and, if so, how—network gaming (NG) is going to positively impact the player’s experience. While this is still an ongoing debate, at WMS we believe the answer is clear.

We absolutely believe that NG is going to allow for an improvement in the player’s gaming experience.We can be so sure that NG is going to deliver an enhanced level of entertainment and excitement to the gaming public because we have already proven that this is, in fact, the case.

We have already introduced a number of highly successful NG products that were the result of months and months of player focus group research and concept testing. Products within our Community Gaming®, Sensory Immersion Gaming and Adaptive Gaming® were only possible through the use of network-enabled EGMs.

Based on our research, players have shown little interest in how the underlying technology of networked gaming will function but have been very responsive to what it can enable for them at the slot machine itself. What players want is what they have always wanted—great games and an entertaining, exciting gaming experience; a safe, secure and clean environment; recognition and rewards; and a chance to win. How the inner workings of NG deliver those core requirements is not of concern to them.

While we understand and have proven that NG-enabled gaming products can deliver highly entertaining exciting and profitable games, we also understand that not all NG products will have the same impact.
Take, for example, Remote Configuration & Download (RCD), an application that has been highlighted by the industry at large as defining what NG is. What will it deliver to the player? What enhancement will it provide to the player’s gaming experience? We believe the answer to be practically nothing. As a matter of fact, we see RCD as just the ante stakes into the NG arena.

However, RCD may provide value to operators seeking to yield-manage their slot floor. As has been standard practice with table games, slot managers will now be able to price their products differently based on time of day and day of week. They may be able to increase revenues by effectively matching their products’ price to the demand at any particular point in time. However, operators need to be wary of what this means.

From a player’s perspective, RCD can have a much more negative side. Those of us who have worked on casino floors have been accused of “tightening the machine” when resolving a jam or other game malfunction, as if there was some mythical magical button that we could push to change the theoretical hold percentage on the game. For all these years we could, hand-on-heart, state that no such button existed, but with RCD that button now becomes a reality.

The extent and frequency by which operators make use of RCD to change product pricing will largely dictate whether RCD will be viewed negatively by players. Rest assured that players will find out that the “magical button” does, in fact, exist!

A close runner-up to RCD as the NG defining product is the whole concept of EGM windows. These windows will appear on the EGM’s main display screen, exactly where players focus their attention, and can potentially takeover the EGM’s whole screen when warranted, capable of displaying full motion video with stereo sound.

The amount of promotional, advertising, reward information and concierge services that can be communicated and offered is practically limitless. This technology will definitely enhance the way operators can communicate with players as well as provide players a much more convenient manner to avail themselves of services.

As a player, if you want to order a drink, there will be no more waiting for a beverage server to come around; simply touch the window. Want to make a restaurant reservation? Touch the window. Want to have your car retrieved from valet parking? Touch the window. You get the picture—definitely a step up in terms of player convenience. But this tool, too, comes with a potential player negatives.

What if operators use the window to constantly advertise their products and services? What if players start to view this content as “spam” and the windows become synonymous with those annoying pop-ups on the Internet? What if it interferes with and detracts from the gaming experience? And how much drink ordering, restaurant reservation making and valet car retrieval requesting will a player actually make during a casino visit? Is this the window’s true value?

At WMS we certainly believe that communicating promotional and reward information and offering concierge services are important and add value. But we also see the window as an opportunity to give the player an enhanced gaming experience, a means to generate more excitement and simultaneously provide the operator a mechanism to increase revenue.

We are therefore focusing our efforts on creating gaming concepts that will leverage the window functionality. We are enhancing the way windowing will work in order to support truly new innovative gaming applications that enhance the player’s experience, raise the level of excitement on the casino floor to new heights, and increase revenues for our customers, the casino operators.

Based on our research and the data provided by those NG applications already in the field, we firmly believe that NG will allow us to leverage our focus on Player Driven Innovation. Operators and players alike are looking to us to create and deliver new gaming concepts that take full advantage of a networked casino floor. And we aim to deliver.

Robert Allen,
Corporate Vice President of Slot Operations,
Grand Casinos

Three of the most important things I’ve learned over the years of my career in gaming operations:

1) Never underestimate the player.
2) Never underestimate the player.
3) Never underestimate the player.

I clearly remember hearing a pitch five years ago in a gaming technology conference breakout session on the subject of “server-based gaming.” It touted benefits associated with the ability to change the hold percentages of the gaming mix (conveyed at the time as “pricing”) with a few keystrokes at a remote terminal—“Imagine having dynamic control to reprice your entire slot mix in minutes by changing the hold percentages of your games in anticipation of a scheduled marketing promotion or event. The ongoing financial benefits of this strategy would be enormous!” This, according to the presenter, was one of the key values that “server-based” technology offered the gaming operator.

in∙teg∙ri∙ty
n. 1. Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code

eth∙ics
n. pl.
1. A set of principles of right conduct
2. A code of behavior, especially of a particular group, profession or individual trust
n. 1. Firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing;
2. A feeling of certainty that a person or thing will not fail

loy∙al∙ty
n. 1. A feeling or attitude of devoted attachment and affection;
2. Feelings of allegiance;
3. The act of binding yourself to a course of action

How much is invested and reinvested on an annual basis in this industry in order to affect player loyalty? It’s a huge number—no doubt in the billions of dollars. Ask any person in a marketing leadership position to list their top two or three over-arching objectives, and odds are that the No. 1 item on that list will be to drive player loyalty.

How much in time and money does it take to build a brand? What is the value of your brand?

Gaming manufacturers have a huge (and ever-growing) vested interest in having networked gaming and the associated products begin to gain traction in the market. A few of the first-generation products will offer not much more than limited utility functionality, such as remote download and configuration of games. In an effort to see some of those initial products deployed quickly and in quantity, some manufacturers have chosen to fashion ROI arguments to substantiate purchase decisions, over-emphasizing improved “yield management” capability achieved through the use of scheduled remote configuration of games.

As casino gaming expands and competition continues to step up throughout the U.S., the financial success of every gaming property will be dependent on repeat player visitation. Gaming operators need to approach the subject of remote configuration of games with a profound sensitivity, in consideration of doing what’s right and fair for the player, and with the ultimate goal of serving the best interest of their businesses over the long term.

With that out of the way, I can step off of the proverbial soapbox and move on to touch briefly on a few of the many truly exciting possibilities for players associated with operating in a networked environment. A high-speed networked gaming environment will be capable of delivering a range of benefits to the player that is unimaginable today. Some of these benefits may include the following.

More Sophisticated and Engaging Core Gaming Experiences
• Interconnected, online types of experiences that create opportunities for community/social gaming.
• Adaptive gaming— “intelligent” games that can recognize or know the player and provide content customization for a better fit with the player.
• “Build Your Own” game capability—giving players an opportunity to select a favorite base game and then combine other game components, such as progressive jackpot options, bonusing options, real-time tournament options and so forth. As players build their own game by adding the various component options, they would also custom build the overall wager value. As the wager value increases, the RTP value could also increase and could be conveyed directly to the player, providing them with an additional powerful incentive to bet up.

Personalization and Customization
• Direct access to “My Games”— players can create their own custom game library of their favorite games by manufacturer at that manufacturers’ slot machine.
• New game recommendations generated by an integrated business intelligence engine based on past play preferences.
• Game demos on demand—demonstrations of new games that can be viewed by players that highlight unique game features, game bonuses and convey game volatility values.
• Extraordinary actual loss “safety net”— in cases where a player’s gaming session actual loss exceeds theoretical loss within operator-definable parameters, an automated offer (free play, for example) is triggered and delivered in real time to the player at the game.
• Bidirectional communication portal or service window on every networked game that serves as a convenient information and communication center for the player.
• One-to-one marketing capability at the gaming machine in real time via the service window or portal.
• Direct communication at the gaming machine with a host.
• Player account management at the gaming machine.

A high-speed networked gaming environment, although an essential first step, is in itself not much more than an advanced and efficient content delivery mechanism. To that basic “plumbing,” you can add a broad array of hardware and software components designed to be fully interoperable and built on open standards. To those essentials, add in real-time marketing and communications to and from the player via a service window or portal, and you have the fundamental ingredients needed to transform the gaming experience. What, then, is the key to sparking a renaissance in gaming? It is in leveraging the power of those essential fundamental ingredients, coupled with steady flow of “killer” content that captures the imagination and enthusiasm of the player.

Marlon Ortiz,
Director of Information Technology,
Morongo Casino

While the topic for this essay is “how players will be affected by networked-gaming,” the reality is that they are already being affected. And there is already a convergence of the rapid advances of computer technology, evolving casino and gaming operations, and player’s expectations that makes the implementation of networked-gaming floors almost inevitable. First, let me try to briefly explain this convergence.

From a technology point of view, all new gaming devices are using more and more off-the-shelf technologies. If you open a standard personal computer and compare its components with the latest gaming device, don’t be surprise if they look the same—they share motherboards, processors, memory, USB ports, video graphics cards, operating systems (Microsoft Windows or any of the many flavors of Linux). And it’s because the latest gaming devices are just personal computers masquerading as gaming devices.

This makes sense from the manufacturer’s perspective, since it is always more cost effective to use readily available hardware components and open standards. Using existing computer technology releases precious R&D dollars that can be better spent on developing new gaming content. For some gaming vendors, their future relies on becoming the Microsoft of the gaming industry, hopefully with a reasonable software license program. Hardware will become a commodity item, and in the not-so-distant future, casino operators will provide the infrastructure: a multi-gigabit layer 4 fiber optic network connected to their gaming devices and powered by the latest multimedia personal computers. The gaming vendors will provide their library of games to lease, buy or rent.

This trend is very appealing for casino and gaming operators, since the same mature technologies that are in use to support, secure, monitor and maintain back-of-the-house computer networks are going to be ported to support this networked gaming device. At this time, it is possible to execute downloads of new software applications, updates of hardware firmware, and changes of setting on personal computers remotely from a central location. Now imagine these capabilities extended to the gaming devices on the casino floor and used to perform on-demand downloads of game content, firmware upgrades for peripherals components, wide-area bonusing programs, cross-promotion multi-media content, and more importantly, to manage gaming device settings based on business levels. We can see the inevitability of these implementations from the casino operators’ perspective.

And this brings us to the last and most important element of this convergence: the player’s expectations. We have been conditioned by the rapid progress of technology to expect a more engaging level of entertainment every time we play a video game, visit a website, watch a movie or even go to see a live show (Cirque du Soleil, anyone?). Technology is slowly becoming pervasive throughout our lives, and great technology leaps are now trivial everyday events. High-definition TVs, satellite, cable, movies on demand, Internet commerce, smart phones, GPS, iPods, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc., all these are part of our everyday lives, and our appetite for entertainment is increasingly getting more sophisticated.

We can see this trend on our existing casino floor right now: Our players are moving away from older types of gaming devices to the newest movie-themed, animation-intensive and photo-realistic touchscreen, semi-interactive games. A networked-gaming floor will provide the flexibility needed to provide the new and engaging level of entertainment needed to meet our player’s expectations.

As we can see, this convergence is slowly moving into high gear. The good news is that many casino and gaming operators understand the forces behind this convergence and are busy right now building the infrastructure to support these deployments. Many more have pilot programs in different levels of implementation. Any property still waiting should ask this question: Do I have an environment that will satisfy the customer’s expectations, an environment that will make them come back again and bring family and friends? If you don’t have that environment, change. Your competitor will.

John Kenefick,
Vice President of Information Technology,
Pechanga Resort & Casino

I believe players will appreciate the advances that networked gaming provides. The technology allows operators to build more value through providing additional features to the guest. They can easily tell when they are receiving rewards and are able to use those rewards much easier and more conveniently than ever before. I believe they find the value and are becoming accustomed to these new features. Likewise, the addition of bonusing linked to the Internet at home, shared bonus concepts that go beyond progressives, and new concepts of revenue generation via cooperative advertising on slots and/or stored value cards are exciting.

While certain demographics of players may be sensitive to new technology, over time they will adapt and accept it. We have to be careful to not change their gaming experience too drastically, making them uncomfortable or not wanting to play in our casino. The process should be slow and gradual, allowing them to adapt to the features that new technology allows us to deploy. There is also a fine line between which features benefit the operator and which do not: We do not want to distract the guest away from gaming or make a feature so complicated that guests cannot figure out how to play or use rewards, we just want to simply enhance their experience and service.

When it comes to deciding which side of this fine line a feature falls on, we have done some field trials with newer technology, getting feedback from test groups of customers. We are planning to do much more research to obtain feedback from customers and operators to determine if the technology is generating an ROI or positively enhancing the customers’ experience. Surprisingly, our players have led us to focus more on the human touch of location, design and biometrics as much as we have on new technology. It’s the same old story of using new technology to find better ways of doing what always worked.

I expect that once network-based gaming is implemented, we should all be able to provide a better experience for our guests. These improvements may not all be customer facing but will ultimately impact their experience. For example:

• Rewards systems that are easy to view and redeem;
• The ability to store and cater to customer preferences, including features that allow us to use this data for current and future stays;
• On-demand notification to guests of events and promotions, or customizable messages;
• Notification to the back of the house of guests’ needs (drink orders, machine problems, questions, player host notification, etc.); and
• On-demand promotions that are customizable by player or slot data.

To a certain degree, a networked floor can even help advertise these features, but traditional marketing, guest ambassadors, information booths, floor people, and digital signage will still be keys to informing guests about these features. Having a terrific bonus does little good if no one understands the concept. There are many lessons out there from which we can learn as we move forward. For example, mystery bonus concepts took too many years to reach full productivity because no one knew what or why they were winning—they were truly a mystery to the guest. We can’t make this mistake with networked gaming concepts.

And, of course, we need to be realistic about how long it will take for all of these benefits to be realized. I’ll leave you with this grain of salt: When testing was underway for an early Aristocrat version of a networked downloadable video game, I was pointing out the new unit to one of our regular players. He said he couldn’t tell the difference between this game and the other standard models. I said that that was the beauty of it—he couldn’t see any difference and it played the same as a regular game. But, I noted with pride, we could change the machine to another game in an instant instead of taking two days to do a standard conversion by changing the chips and reel glass. He then asked me to do it. I had to explain that I couldn’t do that now because local and national gaming regulators had to monitor and approve the process first. He asked how long that would take. My answer was two days.

John Filippe,
Vice President of Information Technology,
Red Hawk Casino

When it comes to players embracing server-based gaming, it will happen eventually. As with all gaming innovations involving technology, players take time to adapt to the changes that occur. Like bill validators and ticketing’s march into the gaming world, the player is at first confused, then resistant, then hesitant, and finally accepting. In the end, players are willing participants and excited about the innovation. It is at this point that they will truly start to appreciate the advantages of server-based gaming.

One of the common dilemmas that server-based gaming solves on a gaming floor is the mathematics of saturation or elimination. When games can be changed on the fly by management or, in the case of some models, by the customer, it allows us to take advantage of customer trends much more rapidly and with much lower labor costs. Being able to change game choices throughout the casino based on player needs or marketing direction is going to provide the player the ultimate gaming experience. Players will be hesitant, but in the end, they will truly embrace this technology.

So many possibilities open up in the server-based gaming world. For example, the desire to create a simple dinner reservation without leaving the game and without calling for the host can now be accommodated directly on the slot machine screen. You can have a pop-up that can ask guests if they would like to book a room for the evening based on their play and the duration on the game. If you feel like the personal touch is missing, you setup an online host or hostess that is connected via a webcam and summoned at the touch of a button. You can even offer a player’s card to guests while they are in play and offer to roll in their current session of gaming to the card. With the ability to track and handle slot machine functions and player functions in the same place, the customer experience becomes incredibly customizable. Possibilities are endless for optimizing the player experience when we add in the final network connection to the game itself.

We’ve long talked to players and listened to their needs, but there has never been a way to accommodate all of them on the slot side. Some want higher limits, some want lower limits, some want this game type, others want that game type, and most of them don’t want to be next to the restroom—in the end, you find that you can’t please everyone. I don’t think that all players will get everything they want out of server-based gaming, but we will be able to get a lot closer to accommodating their shifting needs at a speed that even the most aggressive player will appreciate. With the ability to change the game types, denominations and minimum bets all over the floor, we will not only be able to meet the players’ needs, but we will also be able to move our players through the building to take advantage of marketing opportunities. One of the areas that table games has always been able to manage, but that slots has not, was that on busy nights they could change the table limits to match the crowd. Now, with server-based gaming, the casino can easily accommodate a high-limit crowd on certain days and a lower-limit crowd on other days simply by adjusting denominations to meet the player needs. Opportunities such as bonus or side games, customer relations, and many others become available without the need for additional screens or equipment.

The concern with server-based gaming is that the player will become overwhelmed and confused by the change. Server-based gaming is a great and powerful tool, but if not implemented with a great deal of player education, the experience will be lost on them. Players who were used to finding machines in a certain area will end up on an Easter egg hunt every time they enter the casino if proper mobile signage isn’t implemented. A constantly changing slot floor will have an effect on the employees as well; they will need to have a good grasp on how the floor changes to be able to assist customers. With the ability to create several different types of bonus structures and side games, the possibility of saturating the visual gaming area is a concern. As we fight for gaming floor real estate within the casino, soon we will be fighting for screen real estate on the slot machine.

While researching server-based gaming, we are still weighing a lot of the opportunities against some of the questions that are as yet unanswered. Although the benefits and opportunities of server-based gaming are vast, it also creates vulnerabilities that never before existed in a serial environment. Server-based gaming will require the already slowly merging IT and slot departments to merge into a single department, or a new third department, to handle the security and integrity of the slot devices on the floor. So, as we look into server-based gaming as a continuing commitment to remaining one step ahead of the competition in the field of gaming technology, we are also working to make sure that we are one step ahead in securing that same gaming technology before moving forward.

When it comes to our gaming suppliers providing this particular product, they need to understand that just because they can, it doesn’t mean they should when it comes to our players. We can use technology to get closer to the player or to push them away; it is a very fine line and one that we tend to blindly cross frequently in this day and age. With network gaming we have the ability to provide a positive experience by giving the player a lot of features and advantages, but we run the risk of overwhelming them with available options on their beloved slot machine. The last thing we want is our guests’ slot machine to look like a spam attack on their home computer.

It is from this platform that the player experience will take the next leap, and like that of its predecessors, it will take awhile for the player to embrace it wholly. But when they do, the increase in casino revenue and player satisfaction will grow geometrically. The most exciting aspect of this next evolution in gaming is that it is open again. We have gone about as far as we can go in the serial-based environment on the slot machine, and now we are back at the beginning with a new starting point—the best ideas haven’t even been imagined yet!

Paul Tjoumakaris,
Senior Vice President of Gaming,
Seminole Hard Rock

In the past two issues of this Networked Gaming Guide, I thought that the writers articulated their viewpoints from their individual discipline’s perspective extremely well regarding the technical aspects of network gaming. They all emphasized that the final analysis is all about the experiences, choices and benefits that the open architecture will provide to our players. My comments will focus mainly on the short-term wants and needs that will help our players maintain some level of comfort at their machine during the networked gaming transition period.

Our research tells us that the trends in gaming have always been about pleasing the players, and the challenge for our marketers has been to increase the total number of players that find gaming acceptable and fun. The overall majority of our players tell us that they want to be able to play the machines/games they want to play when they want to play them. From what we have seen so far from the various vendors’ presentations, networked architecture will provide more flexibility at the game level and will offer our players the experiences and celebrations that will keep them coming back.

We believe that along with this new technology will come better ways to service the player right at their slot machine. Systems that remember customer preferences (e.g., Amazon.com) such that our patrons will be treated with more familiarity will enhance the overall player experience. When we do that, the frustrations go away, the service gets smoother, the satisfaction is higher and the returns are greater.
The trick will be how to move forward in the interim in unison—slot and system providers with operators and regulators—without confusing the operator with an abundance of clutter and ultimately passing on the best options to the players at the machine. Our players are already experiencing some of the effects of the new technology advances that have been creeping up recently at the machines’ cabinet level, as well as the peripheral equipment level, and confusion from choices they may not understand.

We have a vendor that began to enlist our slot players to sign up for their own personal account (via the central vendor’s remote database) directly from their unique game. Ultimately, this offers the player the opportunity and privilege of opening up additional game options (depending on their play) that nonmembers do not have. The players may access their account and carry their history and level of play not only at their favorite local casino’s machines but at any other casino across the country. This is nothing new in terms of what our current slot rating systems do for club loyalty programs, but it is the first such program that originates directly from the game provider and it makes their machines substantially more competitive and attractive. As I see it, it is the first glimpse of service gaming at the fingertips of a slot player and a brilliant way of loyalizing the player not only to the property that offers the games but also to the brand of the slot product as well. Some operators have already cleverly piggybacked on this idea and incorporated these players into their own marketing loyalty programs for additional incentives based on their level of play.

This is exciting and beneficial for our players, but how do we market and optimize the value of this technology, which is already in the games deployed on our floors, during the transition period to network gaming? It will be a huge challenge not only for the operator but for the players’ educational process as well. Without the back end or the full networked gaming systems to monitor and evaluate game data, we’ll have difficulty managing our player’s wants and needs.

Vendors are already incorporating certain peripheral options in their new introductory networked game platforms—for example, multi-button panels for future downloadable functionality that may or not be functional for current game configurations. Although necessary for future expendability, this is slightly confusing for some for today’s functionality.

Another example that has been challenging for some of us and our players is the multitude of game themes—each with various payout percentages, denominations, lines, progressive options, etc.—available in one cabinet. Clutter and confusion occurs on the main menu screen when all choices are unwisely enabled for play. This was usually the case on the multi-poker game products in the past, and it was somewhat manageable. However, today’s new advanced video game products offer so many configuration options that it can be very confusing to our players.

Naturally, this flexibility is payback for the freedoms of choices we’ve always being requesting and are now offering our players. How we configure these options to make their play more fun without frustration so they stay in their game longer without yet having the network gaming system to tell us and evaluate their play properly is a huge dilemma for the slot analyst.

The barn door is cracked open, the horse is ready to escape, and we need to take control by putting it in front of the cart—and not the other way around. The new vendors’ slot products that provide all of the new functionality and multitude of options cannot continue to grow with the same old SAS protocol. The voluminous transaction data collected with these new options is kept locally deep in the machine’s database and available only by a manual process. We cannot retrieve players’ performance accounting data with our current systems and current machine protocols to make smart decisions about what the player likes to play. The why, the who, and all the whistles and bells can be addressed later when we go full speed with network gaming and acquire the right resources with the proper knowledge and with a lot more sophistication. A machine performance analysis with multiple game options is needed now, and more so for those of us who have already made the financial commitments in the infrastructure of our floors as well as the full complement of machines that are “server-based ready.”

The time is now for vendors, operators and regulators to get busy and expedite the open architecture process with the proper certified standards to accommodate, first and foremost, the infrastructure of this technology. We do not want to go another decade talking about server-based gaming and gridlock ourselves with patents in proprietary technology and vendors’ business models that will stiffen competition. We are already paying substantial amounts of money for machine cabinets that incorporate all of the necessary technologies for content and delivery. It is time we separate the two by leaving the delivery technologies to the engineering folks that will provide access to all vendors’ machines and systems as the standard for all and let the creative folks compete with the content for the best interest to their consumers.

When we do that, the customers’ frustrations go away, the service gets smoother, the satisfaction is higher and the returns are greater.

Jim Gabriele,
Director of Business Development, North America,
CashCode, Crane Payment Solutions

CashCode, which has been part of GSA since its inception, has followed GSA’s initiatives for some time. Now part of Crane Payment Solutions, the newly launched CashCode one™ bill validator was designed with the networked gaming floor of the future in mind. It has the capability to support dual channels of communication simultaneously, meaning it can talk to the network and provide critical performance/transactional data in real time while communicating to the host machine for the required functions of game play.

Crane Payment Solutions is looking to leverage its technology to help OEMs create greater operational efficiencies. By utilizing features such as remote network updates for new bills, as we currently do in other vertical markets such as retail. This will bring significant cost savings and efficiencies to the operator.

For those existing “analog” sites where SBG is in transition mode, the CashCode one™ is able to support the current legacy protocols being used in gaming machines and, at the same time, can support new USB protocols such as GDS that are more suited to a networked floor functionality.

Crane Payment Solutions’ management toolkit includes its BlueChip™ technology, which allows for updates of software and/or firmware via the network directly from the CashCode secure site.

Within the networked environment, operators will be able to interrogate and update the CashCode one™ bill validator in real-time, giving them information and efficiencies that aren’t realized today. With the current economic environment, this type of technology can make a significant difference to the bottom line, not just more money in the cashbox—that is a given with the CashCode one™.

Crane was the first bill manufacturer out with the newest generation gaming validator, which not only supports the network environment but also has a number of key benefits for the player:

Acceptance speed of less than three seconds. Now players can play at their speed and not be bottlenecked by a slower device that may take more time or center a bill or may have to scan it optically. Acceptance rates are also among the highest in the industry to date.

Proven technology. While others are now announcing their next generation, CashCode’s newest generation has been installed in numerous casinos, not only in North America but also around the globe. The results have been exceedingly impressive, and the product has continuously received fine-tuning over the past year since its launch.

Four-way barcode acceptance. Players need not be frustrated that their TITO ticket takes multiple insertion attempts to be accepted. The CashCode oneTM accepts the ticket in any of the four-directions. What’s more, the acceptance rate is the same or greater than that of bills, thanks to Crane’s patented self-centering guides ensuring fast and accurate recognition every time.

Easy dispute resolution. If a player insists the bill inserted is different than the credit given, the slot attendant can easily and quickly print a report of the last five bills inserted. This can be done without calling a technician, who would normally have to open the machine’s cashbox to visually inspect its contents.

John Hilbert,
Vice President Systems Development,
FutureLogic

Since 1999, when FutureLogic introduced the first TITO printer in collaboration with IGT, we have conducted numerous studies on player behavior, looking for ways to create new products and applications that enhance the gaming experience. When the first TITO games were installed in a Las Vegas casino, FutureLogic was there. Among other things, we wanted to know how players would react to the loss of coins. There was initial confusion, naturally, but players quickly adapted to the technology and an industry-wide replacement cycle was launched.

FutureLogic has also been in the vanguard when it comes to network gaming. FutureLogic has worked closely with EGM customers, casinos, regulatory agencies and players to develop peripherals that will help the industry migrate to downloadable games and other new technology.

The most recent example of this is our new TableXchange® printer/scanner, which effectively brings TITO gaming to table games. Currently, when a player finishes playing a slot machine with credits remaining, he cashes out and receives a TITO ticket or cash voucher. He then has several redemption options: redeem for cash, move to another slot machine, or keep the ticket for use at another time.

The TableXchange concept resulted from our player research on crossover players. Crossover players typically move from slot machines to table games, and vice versa. In order to do this, the player must go to the cashier cage and redeem the TITO ticket for cash and then go to the table game of choice. This may require some waiting time in the queue before he can resume play, a less than desirable solution.
With the TableXchange printer/scanner, the player simply gives a TITO voucher to the dealer to buy in.

The TableXchange printer/scanner then scans and displays the voucher value on the device’s LCD and touchscreens, allowing the player, dealer and security operations to confirm the voucher amount. The player receives chips and a TITO voucher for any cash balance. To cash out, the dealer simply collects and enters the value of the player’s chips on the alpha-numeric keypad. The TableXchange printer/scanner then prints a cashout voucher for the player.

The principal advantages of the TableXchange technology are:

• Provides a connection from existing table games to a casino’s existing TITO network by scanning and printing TITO vouchers.
• Provides a common currency across the casino.
• Provides a bridge between slots machines and tables by allowing players to move quickly and easily between games.
• Provides casinos with a means to identify valuable crossover players.
• Provides for valuable chip inventory control by reducing or possibly eliminating the need to replenish chips at table games.

The TableXchange printer/scanner is also fitted with a Magstripe reader to record and update player’s club cards, enabling players to receive loyalty points for activity at table games. In addition, the device provides a variety of administrative interface features to assist the dealer.

The TableXchange printer/scanner can also be integrated into promotional coupon systems, such as FutureLogic’s PromoNet™ promotional couponing solution. Many casinos are now delivering promotional content to the player via TITO printers at slot machines, and this new device will allow them to do the same at table games. With non-gaming revenue becoming more important to casino resorts and complexes, linking reward programs across multiple leisure experiences, as well as casino floors, has become an important initiative for marketers.

Having helped pioneer couponing technology used to retain and reward customers in grocery stores more than 20 years ago, FutureLogic has worked closely with end users, retailers, casinos and OEM customers to develop innovative couponing solutions. Promotional couponing has once again revolutionized the casino environment, this time in terms of player loyalty and reward programs. The ability to issue a player a barcoded promotional coupon helps casinos attract and retain customers. For players, these offers provide valued savings and incentives, thereby enhancing their casino/resort experience.

By directly linking promotional campaigns to specific player actions, activities or behavior, TITO printers become a multifunctional marketing tool. The PromoNet promotional couponing solution allows casinos to automatically trigger a marketing campaign based on game play metrics, player tracking information, POS systems and redemption terminals. For example, a player who has just hit a number of pre-determined triggers may be issued a barcoded a promotional coupon that can be redeemed at any of the bars or restaurants within a resort.

In addition to player research, FutureLogic works closely with our EGM customers to monitor trends and develop the interfaces needed to make play faster, easier and more convenient for casino patrons. FutureLogic also works closely with our casino customers to implement these solutions.

Clearly, players don’t like to stand in lines to redeem cash-out tickets or wait for a slot tech to deal with a printer jam, failure or refill operation, so our principal focus has been on product performance and reliability. One of our most important reliability features is our Intelligent Ticket Handling (ITH™) technology. This function was developed specifically for the gaming industry to reduce tampering and ticket jamming. By completely printing and bursting the ticket internally—before it is presented to the player—our printers deliver a perfectly printed ticket 100 percent of the time. FutureLogic printers also provide storage space for up to 300 tickets—that’s 50 percent more than competitors’ products. This simple advantage dramatically reduces down time on the game.

In addition to providing robust hardware and software solutions, our management structure reflects our goal to be our customers’ best printer resource. Choosing FutureLogic is not just about specifying a high-performance product—it’s also about the world-class support behind the FutureLogic name. Whether that is a rapid turnaround on ticket design requests for a casino opening, or on-the-ground support for major TITO trials and installations, our global game manufacturers, casino customers and, ultimately, the players can depend on FutureLogic for innovative technology, reliability and exceptional service!

Kunal Mishra,
New Business Development,
JCM

When we as an industry talk about networked gaming and the player, the conversation usually quickly turns to the games themselves. This is natural; after all, when players walk into a casino, the first thing they typically see is a sea of slot machines, so it is a logical train of thought when considering networked gaming’s direct impact on the player to think about the games themselves. How will they attract players? How can they be more interactive? How can they draw the attention of the next generation of player? What more can the game do?

Rarely in these types of considerations are peripheral devices such as bill validators and printers mentioned. With so much attention on the larger device (the game itself), peripherals sometimes get lost in the possibilities of networked gaming. However, the reality is, when bill validators and printers are connected to a network, an exciting new world of possibilities for the player—and the operator—comes to life, with all the promise of revolutionizing the way the industry works as do networked games.

To understand this point about the future, let’s briefly revisit the past. For decades, players needed to get change from a change person or the cage to play slots. Then, in the early 1990s, JCM revolutionized the industry by embedding the bill validator. Suddenly, the player could interact more directly—and more frequently—with the game itself. Suddenly, the player had more control, and the result changed gaming forever. Slot profits increased exponentially, quickly taking over tables as the most profitable area of the casino.

The next evolution was TITO, which normalized the payout process across the casino floor. Casinos benefited from decreased operational costs due to a lack of coins on the floor and also an increase in revenues as it became easier for players to move between machines with different denominations.

The advantages of connecting the bill validator to the network are numerous. The bill validator is still the initial point of contact that the casino has with the slot player. Having a bill validator directly connected to a system allows for real-time monitoring of the device by the casino. Any changes in the product’s performance can be tracked and acted upon, thus optimizing the validator’s performance. New bills are always being introduced into circulation by governments, and the casino system can now push the latest firmware directly to every validator, assuring that that each machine will accept all the latest notes. This automation process will enhance the patron’s experience, because the validator will accept the currency or the denomination the player chooses.

At G2E this year, JCM will be unveiling a new validator product that will change the way the industry sees gaming. It is the foundation of intelligent validation, meaning it was carefully and deliberately designed with the future—and all of its exciting possibilities—in mind. We like to call it future-proof because it sees the future through the network in a way that previous products from any manufacturer simply have not.

This is an exciting time in gaming, and we should collectively see the network as a network, where devices, systems and peripherals all work together to bring their potential to life and to significantly enhance the player experience.

Eric Fisher,
Vice President Americas,
MEI

Follow the money. That isn’t just good advice for investigative reporters, it also applies to casino operators. Building consumer loyalty by enhancing the player experience is more critical as competition intensifies.

The intent of every operator is to create the right mix of environment, games and customer service to cater to every customer, time and time again. Operators have embraced CASHFLOW SC as it has increasingly connected improved bill validator acceptance and jam rate with a higher level of service and increased player satisfaction.

Game peripherals can make a huge impact on the playing experience. An example is the adoption of TITO. Operational benefits persuaded casinos to implement TITO systems. The resulting implementation of barcode tickets had to be managed carefully, balancing the need to capture efficiencies and the need to raise the player experience. Customers can be resistant to change, but TITO is now widely accepted, and it would be difficult to imagine casinos without it.

Technology must move forward. That is especially true in gaming. And networked gaming appears to be the next frontier. Networking, by definition, leads to increased efficiencies.

MEI recently introduced EASITRAX Soft Count that allows operators to use information stored in the CASHFLOW SC to better manage the soft count process and send that information into a database that is networked to multiple locations. That data can then be accessed to improve maintenance practices and analyze slot floor performance. There are numerous benefits, including improved machine uptime and additional data to ensure the right titles are placed on the floor in the right place.

The ability to network the entire gaming floor should enhance the player experience further. It will lead to a more customized experience and opportunities to engage players into additional casino activities. Improved infrastructure will lead to additional usages. And, best of all, every enhancement will be additive, providing more convenience without any subtraction. There is no customer behavior that needs to change for networked gaming to take off.

Networked gaming is a broad landscape. Wider availability will lead to the development of new applications. And peripherals will play a valuable role in the collection and dissemination of information.

Performance expectations have risen for bill validators over the past few years. Some of that is due to the increasing sphere of influence, from the slot floor, through the soft count room and into accounting systems. The depth of information collected in the CASHFLOW SC is finding more use. That will continue to expand with the influence of network gaming.

Because bill validators provide a direct interface to the customer, there is vast potential to both collect additional information and help communicate messaging back to players via a printed message on a coupon. So while we all eagerly await the possibilities associated with full system adoption, we look forward to help building the path that will ultimately be created by customer demand.

Tracey Chernay,
Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing,
TransAct

Communicating with players has historically been limited to marketing mailers and casino hosts that typically focus on higher-end players. This has limited the ability to communicate and maximize the player experience for a visit, trip or session. The ability to communicate and drive the player experience creates a win-win situation for the players and operators. The addition of a network utilizing current technology provides the capability to actively communicate with all players on a slot floor and promote offerings that meet operator goals and objectives.

TransAct is widely regarded as the world’s leading company for financial transaction printers. This extensive experience has helped U.S.-based TransAct expand its gaming industry presence through the development of the acclaimed Epic 950®, a thermal printer for gaming machines. TransAct believes that key selling points for the Epic 950 include its innovative technology, rugged and reliable design, ease of deployment and many advanced features, including low-ticket sensing, quick disconnect, ticket burst and present, and flexible connectivity options. In addition, the Epic 950 provides the basic infrastructure for operators that may not have a high-speed network in place but have plans to upgrade and deliver promotional offers to players at gaming machines.

The introduction of ServerPortTM exemplifies TransAct’s dedication to understanding customer needs and providing casino operators with the latest technology designed to enhance the players’ experience. ServerPort provides a clear upgrade path to the delivery of promotions and coupons to the game. ServerPort upgrades existing Epic 950 printers and turns them into even smarter printers that allow operators to monitor printer events, configure the printer for special functions, and print promotional offers at the gaming machine. The key is TransAct’s dual-port technology, which dedicates a communications port to systems-based applications for the delivery of promotions and coupons based on the system’s knowledge of a player. It really puts the operator in the driver’s seat to tailor the individual player experience.

A player that receives interactive promotions and offers in real-time with the ability to accept or reject the offer provides a level of customer service that cannot be experienced without a networked gaming floor. This sort of immediate feedback and reward of players has the potential of not only lengthening the player’s stay on the property but will also enhance the player’s experience. For operators, this is paramount; the better the player’s experience, the more opportunity operators have to maximize the player’s worth and strengthen loyalty programs.

The benefits of networked gaming to players are less about the technology and more about providing the best possible experience. In fact, the more invisible the technology, the better and quicker it will be received by the vast majority of players.

Other than the labor-intensive efforts to reward players currently on the casino floor (e.g., casino hosts, players club booth, etc.), the player visits a casino, inserts his or her player’s card into a gaming machine and plays. When the player is finished, he or she may take advantage of other property offerings or simply go home and wait for an offer to show up in the mailbox. A networked gaming floor provides the necessary infrastructure to reward or provide promotional offers in real time. This has the potential of increasing a player’s perception of how valuable he or she is to a casino, which could, in turn, increase player loyalty. When a player feels that he or she is valued by a casino and appropriately rewarded or given promotional offers, player satisfaction increases. In addition, let’s not forget about the player’s club lines; nothing says “I don’t value your time” like making players wait in lines. Real-time offers that are sent to the game, accepted by the player, printed at the game and redeemed at the venue provide a no-waiting, VIP-type experience for all players.

When a networked gaming floor is in place and the Epic 950® and ServerPort are utilized, a player that inserts his or her player’s club card or plays to a defined threshold can be sent promotional offers and coupons designed to enhance that player’s experience and maximize that player’s value to an operator. The power of the network is to provide a vehicle and infrastructure for real-time communication. Once the network is in place, players can be enticed with offers that can be redeemed when the player chooses, providing a better player experience.

The ability to send a player a promotional offer at the gaming machine, giving them the ability to accept the offer, and then printing the offer so the player has validation that the offer will be honored, is really the basic foundation that drives TransAct’s dual port technology. Operators are very excited about this capability, and we feel that it will revolutionize the methods of player interaction. If communications with players can be made more efficient and waiting in lines at the player’s club can be minimized, it means players can spend more time at the many amenities that today’s casino operators offer.

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