Skill-based games highlighted G2E

Skill-based games highlighted G2E

October 17, 2017 3:10 AM


One of the hot topics of this year’s Global Gaming Expo was skill-based games.

For those of us in the industry for a while, we find the notion that skill-based gaming is a new concept to be misleading. Casinos have had skill-based games for many, many years. We could argue a bit as to whether roulette or craps has any skill. The question of whether or not avoiding the really bad payback wagers is a skill.

But certainly, blackjack has always required skill. The notion that an expert player would achieve the same results as a novice is folly. Then there is the possibility of counting, which assuredly is a skill reserved to a small subset of even good players.

Then we have video poker, which might be relatively new compared to the aforementioned games, but is still roughly 25-30 years old. With a strategy similarly complex to blackjack, only a fool (or a judge in the 1990’s) would determine video poker to be a game of luck only.

So, treating these new games as the only games of skill seems, well, wrong. What makes these games different than the older version of skill-based games? They are in fact different in two important ways. The first is they involve some amount of physical skill, not just mental skill. The second is at least some of them put one player directly against others.

With 15-plus years of experience analyzing games professionally, I feel comfortable calling myself an expert, not only in the math of the games, but in the overall design. I’ve been involved in creating numerous successful games – and even more unsuccessful ones. When it comes to skill-based games, I can only rely on my general gaming experience and certainly do not hold myself out to be an expert. So, what I write here about skill-based games is a bit more of an opinion piece from someone between expert and layperson.

So, I’ll put it right out there. I have my doubts about this new generation of skill-based games. I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve spoken to many other people who have been around casinos for a long time who feel the same way. Now, this doesn’t mean they won’t work. I’m just not convinced this is the answer to the question that skill-based gaming is meant to answer.

There seems to be a general thought that skill-based gaming is what will bring the millenials to the casino. I happen to have a millennial son. A couple of weeks ago, he came out to Las Vegas with some friends and I had a chance to talk to them. Not one seemed interested in playing skill-based games for money. They love their Nintendo Switches and they love to play games. They might even like to wager against one another in these, but sit in a casino for hours at a time wagering on them doesn’t seem to be their thing.

In fact, sitting in a casino wagering on much of anything doesn’t seem to interest them. They’d like to play a “social” game (i.e. craps?) for an hour or two (at most) and then head over to a bar or dance club. At the casino, they won’t want to lose more than maybe $100. But, they’ll have no problem running up a tab in the bar for 2x-3x that amount.

This goes against what most casinos have done for decades – keep the customer in the casino. There are no windows and no clocks. The casinos will need to learn that profits are profits and if you make $100 from a bottle of vodka it can be just as profitable as taking the customer for $100 at the craps table.

Now, it is possible the skill-based games are not directed only at millennials. But, here I see some problems as well. The first is that my experience shows me most players don’t want to sit down at a table and play against their buddies. The exception to this is the poker room, but I don’t know how many times people sit down with three or four friends to play in the poker room. There have been a variety of attempts at a “pot” bet at a table game where the highest hand among the players wins the pot (consisting of wagers from the rest of the players).

It doesn’t take long for the players to realize the money is essentially moving around the table and the casino is taking a small cut each time. In the end, as a group, they have lost money to the casino no matter what happens. Players want to :beat the casino,” not each other.

An example of this type of game on display was from Gamblit. They have a blackjack-based game and a Three Card Poker-based game. I found both games to be enjoyable, but I think I’d rather play them at my local Dave and Busters than I would for real money in a casino. A combination of poker skills (reading hands quickly) and physical skill (pressing the plunger to claim a card) is required. But I won’t want to sit with my wife (or buddies) and play as all that will happen is our money will go round and round and get smaller each time (as I described earlier).

The other skill-based game is a single player game. With these games, I’ve wondered how is the balance struck between an expert at the physical skill and a novice? These types of games can be video arcade like (Space Invaders or Pac-Man) or virtual reality like (you play a cop and need to shoot bad guys and not bystanders).

How can the manufacturers know someone who was in special forces won’t play this type of game and be able to win every time? And, if there are methods to make sure this doesn’t happen, how do they still make it “fair” for someone like me who has no clue how to shoot a gun and to make matters worse I’m a right-handed person who is left-eyed dominant, which makes shooting a gun that much more challenging.

As a novice, I would all but expect to lose. But, if they must make sure there is still a house advantage for an expert, how do they keep the payback reasonable for the guy in the middle? I have not gotten a clear answer on this question yet.

Time will tell if this new type of skill-based games is accepted into the casinos. There is little doubt the casinos are ready to give them a try as many already have. At this time next year, we may have a clearer answer as to whether or not there are profits to be made from them.