Game inventors

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The question most asked when returning home from this year’s Global Gaming Expo was, “How was the show?”

It was nice to see many of my clients and friends whom I only get to see when I’m in Las Vegas. I also look forward to seeing the creative new games. Sometimes it might be a variation of a game I’ve seen in the past that has been tweaked or something brand new.

Sometimes, I look at it and figure this has a shot or walk away trying hard not to laugh. Even this last category is preferable to what this year’s show had in store – which was virtually no new faces.

The big boys were all there – Shuffle Master, Galaxy Gaming, DEQ and Prime Table Games (Derek Webb, inventor of Three Card Poker). After that, there were about four other booths from table game inventors. I’d rather see someone try and fail then not try at all.

After all, maybe one in 100 games that gets a trial in a casino actually succeeds. This means there have been a lot more failures than successes. So, the only way to get to the success is to fail a lot!

As Roger Snow, Executive VP at Shuffle Master likes to remind me – nobody has had more failures than he has in the industry. Of course, he has also had more successes than anybody else.

I realize there is a recession going on and that booths at G2E are hardly cheap. Usually I’ll see several people who invented a game handing out information sheets while hanging around other booths, but  I didn’t see any of that this year.

C’mon folks! Where is all that creativity? There is a lot of money to be made in table games! In case you don’t know where to get started, I’ll give you a few pointers. While it is virtually impossible to predict a game’s success, it is not so hard to predict a game’s failure. Simply put, some things just give your game little chance to survive.

To begin with, make sure your game utilizes items that are relatively easy to acquire. If you plan on using a 65-card deck by adding a fifth suit, make sure these are printed up in abundance and a reasonable cost.

If the casinos are paying 25 cents for a deck of cards now, they’re not likely to later spend $25 and even more if each casino wants its own logo on the back. Also make sure you haven’t made a casino’s shufflers obsolete by using an oversized deck. More than likely, your game will be discarded before the casinos dump their shufflers.

At G2E, I saw a game loosely based on backgammon that was played on a miniature craps table. The game was fun (although I’m not sure a casino crowd would play), but what is the impact to the casino of a game played on this highly specialized table?

How much does each table cost beyond the cost of the game itself? If it is larger than a blackjack table, but smaller than a craps table, what does this do to the casino floor itself? These can all be critical components of a game’s success.

Once you’ve overcome these obstacles, the next all important feature is the math. Most people focus on the payback, but that is one of the easiest components to tweak. Yet it’s only of medium importance.

Obviously, you can’t have a table game pay back 85 percent, nor can it pay 102. You probably want it between 98 and 99.5, but that is still a large range. Factors to consider are the complexity of the strategy and the size of the average wager relative to the table minimum.

Ultimate Texas Hold’em can offer a payback over 99 percent because the average wager is so high and the complexity of strategy even higher. Three Card Poker’s payback must be lower as the average wager is lower and the strategy as rudimentary as it gets.

There is so much more than payback that must be considered when talking about the math. Somehow the game must strike a balance so the overall house edge goes to the casino, yet players feel they can win in the short run.

You also need to decide how volatile the game will be. Do people win only even money on their wagers or will there be some way to reward them for a rare hand. Can this be done with a side bet or by building it into the base game? What’s the fold rate and how about qualifying?

One of the common mistakes I see inventors make is copying a successful game. Three Card Poker isn’t successful because the fold rate is X and qualifying rate Y. These numbers must fall into some range or the math will fall apart. And, tradeoffs can always be made.

Finally, the game must be fun to play. Play hundreds of hands. Is there some suspense? Do you want to keep playing?

It doesn’t help if you take all the elements of all the successful games and create a brand new game that isn’t fun. Each color of the rainbow is beautiful in its own right, but throw them all together and you still have black.

I expect to see you all at next year’s show with a whole new collection of games!

About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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