In my capacity as a consultant to the gaming industry, I not only produce operational and efficiency profiles of casino resorts, but also reports for gaming manufacturers. These reports focus on players’ preferences and range from the hardware design to the ergonomics of the products, the software and the game components. Although the details and applicability of these reports are always confidential to each client, there are nevertheless many generalities that can be culled from them. In this article, I will explore some of the most interesting information that I have obtained from several thousand research subjects. The focus will be on slant-top slots, specifically on the hardware cabinetry design of the machine that holds the game.
Although many of the players who play slant-top slots may not be able to explain their preferences in quantifiable terms, there are nonetheless enough similarities in the language and expressions they use—and in the ways in which they speak about these machines—to lead me to these conclusions.
Players are almost evenly divided between those who like slant-tops and those who hate them. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. Players are distinctly divided into the two groups “yes” and “no.” Those players who like the slant-tops say that they like them because they are more like a table and seem easier to use. Players who hate them say they hate them for precisely the same reasons, adding that they like the uprights because, on those, they can put their feet up on the cabinet, lean back and relax while playing the machines. This is not possible on the slant-tops, and these players claim that slant-tops are just too uncomfortable.
Players also don’t like it when casinos crowd slant-tops together, so much so that people fall on top of each other trying to navigate between them. This isn’t really a manufacturing problem, but the manufacturers can help by making their slant-tops wider by about
4 inches. Two inches of extra space on either side will go a long way toward making the actual use of these machines more player-friendly and will cause less player-perceived “congestion” between machines and players. This is actually a real problem, particularly in casinos that stack machines in close proximity to maximize floor space. During busy times, the machines are blamed for the congestion, and the players are often alienated from the machines instead being angered by the casino’s placement of the machines, which is caused by bad floor plans. Nevertheless, this negativity in player perception will be felt by the manufacturers of the machines and the games in them, because most players will simply not realize that their displeasure has little to do with the machine or the game and everything to do with the way the casinos placed them.
Many slant-tops have a padded area that forms a sort of half-moon. This is very unfortunate, as it leaves corner areas into which dirt falls, cigarette butts are placed and ashes mound, and as there isn’t enough room to rest a drink or anything else. Drinks tip over on these corners, causing spills, machine malfunctions and great distress to the players—and the employees who have to clean up the mess and get the machine working again. Any machine that is made this way should be remodeled immediately, because this is the most useless configuration ever perpetrated upon the hapless casino customer. The initial idea to provide comfort might have been good, but the real-world usage of these machines means that the exact opposite is achieved—player discomfort is caused instead. The same applies to slant-tops that have already been re-worked but whose designers still put components like ticket printers and currency validators on the lip of the machine, and where players put their belongings.
The best slant-tops have smooth surfaces, with no ridges or anything high, protruding or that has any kind of interference with operation. They also give players the ability to lean forward and somewhere to place their drinks or an ashtray, and they don’t have anything that could be a tripping hazard or in some way interfere with ease of operation, cleaning and maintenance. If padding is used, it should be form-fitted so that it doesn’t rise above the plane of the machine’s deck, lip or screen. The screen itself should be flat (or covered flat) and be reset inside a hollow, with smooth surfaces throughout.
Part of the perceived problem with the designs of some slant-tops seems to be a lack of forethought about the actual in-casino use of this equipment. Machines get dirty and have to be cleaned. People playing the machines bring “stuff” along with them, and they need space to put this stuff on the front of the machine. And since slant-tops aren’t placed on top of a cabinet, unlike uprights, they therefore also don’t have spaces between machines where people can put their stuff. Casino personnel have to be able to get to the machine when needed, and to do this, they have to ask the people to move their stuff. This is often a very huge problem. Simply put, many such machines just aren’t player-friendly in their basic design.
A very significant problem still plaguing many slant-top machines is a very bad design of the coin drop trays, even though these days most machines are TITO equipped and no longer use coins. Naturally, this applies only to those designs that still have such drop trays. The drop trays on these slant-tops are more like drop “pits.” They are narrow, hard to reach into, and even harder to get anything out. And in the case of some, where the tickets print into this pit of no return, the problem of dirt, liquid and other stuff accumulating inside these pits is even more pronounced. Such problems frustrate players by the thousands. Women especially hate this because they often ruin their manicures or break their nails trying to reach in there and get out the ticket, or whatever else they dropped inside. Of course, everyone gets their hands dirty.
Another problem is that these pits are so narrow and so dark, and often so deep, that many people use them as trash bins. Dirt, cigarette butts, ashes, drink glasses, wrappers and all sorts of other garbage gets dumped into these pits, sometimes unintentionally but sometimes intentionally, since some players think they are table-top trash disposal bins. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that casino personnel virtually never think of looking in there and cleaning those pits out. Usually, such cleaning only takes place when a customer cashes out and then realizes that the ticket is printing in among all that trash. Wet trash and spilled drinks in these areas aggravates the problem.
Even though new machines are now made exclusively with ticketing technology, some of these problems will always remain for designs using such pits. Any manufacturer making machines like this should consider making improvements to its drop pits or, better yet, eliminating them altogether.
Another point of interest is the fact that a significant majority of players would still like to use coins. These same players absolutely love the ticketing systems, but at the same time, they lament that they can no longer use coins in some of these machines. The obvious solution is the combination of both, whereby the machine is programmed to drop a small amount of coins and print a ticket for pays exceeding a certain limit, while also allowing for the use of coins to initiate play. Casinos will likewise benefit from this because many players still prefer to play their pocket change as they pass by machines, something that they now cannot do with totally coinless gaming.
By far the greatest problem with slant-top slots is the awful fixed seating that sometimes accompanies the machines. Players absolutely hate this, so much so that many will refuse to play slant-tops altogether because of it. Having fixed seating in front of any machine causes players so much anguish and discomfort that it renders any game decidedly off-putting, whatever it may be. Fixed and non-adjustable seating in front of gaming machines is among the most frequently cited complaints about slant-tops from all slot players, along with short stools with no back rests. Why anyone would do this is befuddling, except perhaps to those who designed the machines that way. While I realize that manufacturers cannot control the seating that casinos put in front of their machines—unless the manufacturer supplies this fixed seating as part of the machine and cabinet—at no time should any slant-top, or any slot machine for that matter, be supplied, made or equipped with these less than ideal devices.
By their very nature, machines with fixed seating have to be configured to accommodate large people, and while the majority of Americans may now be statistically overweight, this doesn’t mean that the rest of the world’s slot players need be so compromised by a problem so easily solved. As a result of such inflexible and fixed seating, the machines appear to be made only to accommodate 300-pound, 6-feet-tall people. This means that most machines, and slant-tops in particular, have their fixed seating arranged so far away from the game that the vast majority of players simply can’t sit there. If they do, they have to sit at the very lip of the seat and lean forward to operate the machine, often having to reach even further to operate the button deck or on-screen game controls. This is directly responsible for slant-tops with fixed seating receiving 73 percent less play than those with free-standing, comfortable chairs (with back rests) over the past decade. It is clear that fixed seating is not good for the game’s performance—for the casino or for the manufacturer.
The final item is player fatigue. This is particularly relevant to slant-tops that contain video poker, either as a standalone game or as part of a multi-game platform. The design of the cabinetry requires players to lean forward at an angle of about 20-25 degrees from what would be correct posture for a sitting position. This is accentuated on machines that have a button deck requiring constant player participation, which is the case in video poker. Even if these slant-tops have comfortable freestanding seating in front of them, the fact remains that the button deck on these machines is located too far away from where the player can sit, even if the player’s stomach is pressed against the front lip of the machine. Additionally, the button deck on these machines is generally ergonomically awful and often quite unresponsive to commands. The outcome of all of this is that the customer—the casino player upon whom both the casino and the game manufacturer rely for profitability—is left to tire quickly. Players on machines like this fatigue at a rate of about three times that of uprights, according to our research over the past decade.
Although many of the players of these games will not actually realize this during their play, they will quickly leave the game, often complaining of backaches, particularly in the small of the back. It so happens that the designs of these slant-tops force players to sit at an angle that places huge stress levels upon the muscles that support the spine, hips, lower back and abdomen. This is precisely where the juncture of nerves is the highest, and the solidity of the human body the weakest. The sciatic nerve runs directly through this juncture, and such a posture as is required of players of these slant-tops directly results in inflammation of this nerve and muscular fatigue. It quickly rises to the upper back and shoulders, and eventually to the forearms, hands and fingers. Repetitious activity, such as the frequent pressing of buttons required during play on video poker slant-tops, accelerates and exacerbates this process. The ultimate outcome is that the player leaves the game far sooner than he or she would have otherwise, and at a rate of about three times as soon as they normally leave more comfortable uprights (although some of those have problems of their own), according to our numbers.
Such rapid player fatigue leads to player attrition at a rate higher than necessary. A simple redesign of the controls will solve this issue, and both the casinos and the manufacturers will benefit by the increased play that these machines will thus generate. The point of all of this is that sometimes the reasons why a machine or game is underperforming has little to do with the game itself, and a lot to do with the box it’s in, and how that box is actually placed and used in the actual casino.