Skill-based games are missing the mark because of not following KISS

Skill-based games are missing the mark because of not following KISS

October 24, 2017 3:11 AM


One of the first things I learned in the gaming industry is when it comes to gambling games the old adage “keep it simple stupid” (KISS) is still some of the best wisdom ever for game creators/developers.

While there will always be segments of any group that prefer complex offerings, for the core mass market that wanders the casinos if it takes more than a few short minutes to understand the basics of a game, well, the game is probably DOA.

When I share this thought, I usually get the immediate retort that craps and roulette are not simple games to learn with references to the wide range of the wagers available on the respective games. To borrow a bit from the late John Pinette, “I say nay, nay.”

Even with all the separate betting options available on games like craps and roulette, the base wagers are very simple. In craps the bet is on if a number (the point) will or will not be rolled again before a “7” and in roulette if the little ball will land on the number you picked. So simple are the basics of the games that most everyone gets the basic betting premise in less than a minute then grows into appreciation for the other available bets on the games. Slot machines are even simpler: bet, hit spin button, win/lose.

Ultimately the most popular and long standing of the casino games all have these basics in common: 1) customer bets on event, 2) event happens – usually very quickly, 3) customer wins or loses, 4) repeat steps 1, 2, 3 – so intuitively simple and adherent to the KISS principal.

Another important feature of a good casino game from both the casino’s and gambler’s perspective is speed. The math of all casino games is in favor of the house. As such the more wagers made the more money the casino will make. While it is a given the casino will not win every bet made by a gambler, the longer the gambler bets the more probability is monstrously in the favor of the casino to come out ahead.

While speed of game often adds excitement for the customers, more games played usually equals a winning day for the casino. Fast slot machine players can play 20 to 30 games a minute; fast “21” players can play two to three hands a minute; fast baccarat players can play between two and four hands per minute; and fast video poker players can play 15 to 20 games a minute.

With all the above in mind, let’s work through the challenges with skill-based games in a slot machine format on the casino floor.

A skill is usually something acquired over a period of time. To exercise a skill requires time and involves actions and reactions that are time consumptive. To become proficient will require the customer to be willing to take the time to both explore and learn the game and even more time to develop a level of mastery.

As the skill games are interactive the games are not resolved like the games above, with fairly concise win or lose events, but additive actions. Skill-based games will by their nature take longer to play and most current offerings out there have time duration of play between 45 seconds and two minutes.

From the player perspective: How do you learn to play? How much are you willing to lose to learn to play a game? How much time are you willing to commit to learn the game?

From a casino perspective: Skill games are an experiment to see if the millennial generation will bite on them. From a revenue-perspective they are currently very slow earners and appeal to a very small audience of non-traditional customers.

Skill game developers are looking to use popular video game titles to entice player interest but that is still a ways off. How much will the minimum bet need to be to pay the royalties on the game, to pay the manufacturer and still leave something for the casino? Essentially they are currently failing the KISS principal in speed to learn and in speed of play.

While I believe there will be great opportunities in skill-based games, I suspect they need to crack the game education problem by making skill games part of a bonus round on another form of game and build their following there. After all, who is willing to pay and pay to learn and master a game? And how much patience will casinos have waiting for skill games to get a KISS?