The Challenge in Designing Skill-Based Casino Games

Casino Slot Machines, Poker Machines
Certain casino games have little skill involved. Slot machines are perfect examples, because they merely require making bets and spinning the reels.

However, casinos have recently begun rethinking their model on slots. They’re now trying out skill-based slot machines in an effort to judge their popularity.

Of course, creating the perfect skill-based game isn’t easy. I’m going to discuss more on these games and why developers have a hard time getting them right.

What Is a Skill-Based Casino Game?

Skill-based gambling certainly isn’t new in casinos. Blackjack, which has been around for centuries, has long required skill.

Poker is another example. This player-vs-player game features more strategy than anything else in the casino.

But these days, gambling venues use the term “skill based” to define a slot machine that requires skill. After all, slots have traditionally lacked any sort of complex play throughout their history.

A skill-based slot machine is one that gives players some degree of control over their results. Typically, the bonus round is more interactive and offers talented players a better chance to rack up credits.

Here’s how it works:

  • You’re playing a racing themed slot.
  • You trigger the bonus.
  • You must race against AI opponents.
  • Your score (payout) is based on your finish.
Essentially, skill-based slots offer arcade-style gaming during bonus rounds. If you can master the bonus, then you have a stronger chance of winning money.

Other than this aspect, skill-based games play just like any other slot machine. You spin the reels and let luck do the rest.

This category of gaming can also refer to new touchscreen table games. For example, Gamblit is making unique products that introduce skill in a new way.

Gambling Poker, for example, sends cards flying across the touchscreen. The goal is to touch the best cards, or at least those that help your hand the most, before other players.

Again, poker already features plenty of strategy. But this version requires hand-eye coordination, rather than just mulling over whether to bet, raise, or fold.

I’ll focus on skill-based slot machines for the remainder of this discussion. However, I just wanted to explain how this new breed of games goes beyond just slots.

Why Are Casinos Offering Skill-Based Games?

Some casino games have existed in their current form for centuries, including blackjack and roulette gambling. Others rely on technology to stay current with the times.

Slot machines are definitely in the latter category. They’ve undergone a lot of changes since being introduced on gaming floors in the 1970s.

Today’s slots offer multiple features, such as second-screen bonuses, unique wild symbols, and cascading reels. These additions have been enough to appease the average slots player.

But casinos have found out that millennials aren’t playing slot machines like previous generations. The current technology boom is perhaps the main reason why.

Millennials have grown up with smartphones, Xbox One, and social gaming. Their definition of the latest tech and hottest trends is far different from what Generation X and Baby Boomers expect.

Guy Holding XBox Gaming Control

They’re not impressed with a walking wild symbol or cascading reels. They demand more from gaming, because they’ve witnessed rapid advances in the field their whole lives.

The gambling industry is now trying to figure out what this generation will play. Millennials do play table games like blackjack and poker to a degree.

The problem, though, is that slot machines are the big breadwinner for gambling establishments. They can only rely on Gen X and Baby Boomer slots players for so long.

Skill-based gaming is an attempt to attract millennial gamblers. The skill-based bonuses are something new that may or may not appeal to young adults who love both advanced and social gaming.

The first attempts at this style of gaming have centered on arcade games like Scientific Games’ Space Invaders and IGT’s Centipede. Both are based on old Atari games and include bonuses that involve blasting invading aliens.

Arcade machines from the 1980s don’t seem like the perfect pitch to young adults. But they’re at least a step in the right direction.

Getting the Right Balance Is Difficult

Skill-based gambling is nothing new when considering blackjack and poker. However, this is the first time that casinos have made a serious attempt at introducing skilled electronic games.

Designing such products isn’t easy. Developers need to figure out the right blend of skill, luck, and entertainment.

Create a game that’s too easy and the casino will lose money. Make a game that’s too hard and everybody will see it as a losing bet.

Therefore, one of the biggest challenges is developing a game that appeals to both casual and advanced gamers.

This is likely the reason why casinos are debuting Atari classics. They want something that older players are familiar with, while still offering the skill-based play that could possibly draw millennials.

Casinos are walking on delicate ground by making forays into this niche. Tournament.com provides an example of what can go wrong in this category.

In the late 2000s, Tournament.com created a platform where video gamers could bet on Valve’s Half-Life and Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). The site let players wager on their individual and team performances in each match.

Unfortunately, the platform went awry almost from the beginning. Pros could perform worse to lower their rating, then bet big while competing against amateurs.

Players soon came to distrust the site and wouldn’t deposit. Tournament.com was also struggling to pay their high server costs.

Another example involves a partnership between Sweden’s Jadestone Group and GamArena. The two sides worked together to create a betting platform for Tetris, golf, racing, and table tennis games.

Lack of demand and interest quickly became problems. Much like with Tournament.com, gamblers were leery of betting outside of the more common sportsbooks, casinos, and poker sites.

Of course, major casino brands that offer skill-based gaming have established more trust with players. So, they may not deal with the same problems as the Jadestone/GamArena and Tournament.com efforts.

But these stories show that good ideas don’t always translate into success. This is especially true when calling on gamblers to rely more on their skill versus luck.

Casino Gaming Regulation Has Arrived

The good news for skill-based gaming efforts is that the regulatory powers seem to approve. Nevada, which often sets an international standard for these matters, has already given their blessing.

Aerial View of the Las Vegas Strip Casinos

The state legislature passed Senate Bill 9 in May 2019. This law makes way for skill-based slot machines. Politicians in the Silver State understand the situation that Las Vegas casinos are facing. Therefore, they were quick to approve legislation that will possibly help attract younger players.

“This bill allows gaming manufacturers to use cutting-edge technology to meet the challenges prompted by a younger, more technologically engaged, visitor demographic,” said Gov. Brian Sandoval.

“Passing this legislation into law is an important step forward in providing new opportunities for this critical industry to progress, while ensuring that Nevada remains the global epicenter for gaming innovation and development.”

The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement has also given their stamp of approval. They’ve allowed GameCo to trial Danger Arena and Nothin’ But Net at Atlantic City casinos.

Danger Arena (first-person shooter) and Nothin’ But Net (basketball) are interesting because they’re not slot machines. Instead, they’re general video games that have been adapted for casino play.

Companies Are Working on the Matter

Plenty of gaming companies have jumped on the mission to develop casino games with skill. GameCo, Gamblit, IGT, and Scientific Games are just some of the developers that have produced such games.

Eric Meyerhofer, the CEO of Gamblit, believes that the goal of such efforts is to focus on fun above all.

“It’s as much about the modern-day, fun arcade experience as it is just a pure gambling experience,” said Meyerhofer.

CEO of GameCo Blaine Graboyes

GameCo CEO Blaine Graboyes highlighted the massive group of adult gamers that these products can potentially attract.

“Attracting millennials to the casino floor is the most critical issue facing gaming destinations today,” he explained. “[…] We have created a truly state-of-the-art experience that speaks directly to the nearly 93 million adult Americans that play video games.”

Conclusion

Slot machines still appear to have plenty of life left on casinos floors in their current form. However, the situation may very well change within the next few years.

Gregg Giuffria, a former rocker who now heads G2 Game Design, believes that the industry is in dire straits.

“It’s an emergency situation that we’re in right now,” explained Giuffria. Slot machines as we know them—it’s over. Five years from now, there will be casinos operating with about 50% slots. 10 years from now, only 10% to 15% of the casino floor will be filled with slots. People will talk about how their parents played those.”

10 years may be a short time frame for slot machines to nearly vanish from casino floors. After all, they currently take up around 80% of gaming floors today.

However, Giuffria and others involved in the industry can see the writing on the wall. Traditional slots aren’t the same draw they were in the past.

As for what will ultimately take their place remains to be seen. Giuffria sees gambling versions of Call of Duty and Candy Crush as the future.

Gambling on a complex game like Call of Duty seems ways off. However, social gaming like Candy Crush could definitely be on casino floors in the near future.

Social gaming has the perfect balance between skill and casual play. That said, you can probably look forward to skill-based gambling versions of Candy Crush and Plants vs. Zombies—sometime soon.