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A few weeks back, shortly after the Global Gaming Expo, I wrote a column that gave my thoughts about the latest fad, skill-based games. I made it clear when I wrote that column I was writing more as a layperson than an expert. Table games and video poker are my areas of expertise. What I know about skill-based games is limited to what I’ve seen at the G2E and the little bit I’ve read.

To recap, I’m a bit hesitant to declare skill-based gaming is really the future of the casino and/or it is the solution to the millennial problem – how to get millennials into the casino. This column is a follow up.

Blaine Graboyes is the CEO and founder of a company called GameCo. Many would consider them to be a company that develops skill-based games, but they refer to themselves as the video game casino company. Essentially, they feel they are taking concepts from popular video games and finding ways to modify them to fit into the casino model.

In my column from several weeks ago, I described two or three different types of skill-based games. The first were the ones that are some form of skill but the players are playing head to head. Clearly, these don’t fit that mold.

The second are some sort of virtual reality game. Nope, not those either. These fit the “space invaders” mold, where skill can affect the outcome of the game and control how much money the player can win.

My question about these types of games has always been how do you make the game challenging and fair for both the expert and the novice? While an expert blackjack player will do better than a novice, the spread is likely to be several percent in payback.

In a game that involves physical skill of a sort, I can see that spread being far bigger. How can you make sure the game pays the minimum of 75% (in Las Vegas) and yet doesn’t afford an expert the opportunity to get over 100% in the long run?

I thank Blaine for answering these questions for me, at least where their games are concerned. He showed me two of his games. The first was called Steve Aoki’s Neon Dream and plays a little like Subway Surfers. Using a joystick, you control a “runner” whose goal is to collect coins while avoiding barriers. The goal is to collect as many coins as possible. If you run into one of the barriers, you lose the ability to collect coins for a few seconds.

The second game was called Poseidon’s Deep Sea Saga, which resembles a Bubble Burst game (for oldtimers this would be Bust A Move!). Here you are given one  minute to collect as many special gems as you can. The more you collect, the more you get paid.

One of the first things Blaine told me is the skill level does not change from one game to the next. The game, while using a random feature to determine the exact location of the coins or special gems, does not get harder from one game to the next. Due to the nature of a random number generator, it might appear to get a little harder or easier, but this is not the intent.

So, if the game doesn’t change the difficulty from one game to the next, what stops an “expert” from winning the maximum amount each time?

Well, this is where the luck aspect of the game comes in. In each of these games, the random number generator will pick essentially a maximum win for the player. So, in the case of Deep Sea Saga, the maximum number of special gems is 10. But, in some games it might only be 7 or 8.

Thus, an expert player can still only win as much as the maximum number of gems allowed in that game. So, an expert player is not winning the theoretical maximum every game, but might be winning the theoretical maximum for that specific game, which may be well below the overall maximum.

But what happens to make sure an absolutely awful player can still get to 75%? Well, in one respect – absolutely nothing. In theory, I could play blackjack and just keep on hitting every hand until I bust. But, GameCo does have a mechanism that makes sure 75% of the total wager is still returned to the player.

Each of their games incorporates a random progressive. It is not based on how well you do in a particular game. Simply playing the game at a particular denomination gives the player a chance to win that jackpot. When a player plays a game poorly a percentage of his wager is added to the jackpot meters. So, while a particular player may not achieve the 75%, the shortfall will eventually go to some player.

One of the issues I raised to Blaine is that each of their games can last up to a minute. This is 60 hands per hour compared to hundreds per hour for a slot machine. How can they compete? He was fully aware of this “limitation” and they are constantly working to find ways to speed up the game and bring it more in line with a slot machine. It may never get down to a few seconds per game, but they are working to get it closer.

This line of questioning led to one of the key parts of our discussion. They are fully aware they are in uncharted waters. They spend a lot of time and energy getting feedback about their games in a variety of ways and are constantly looking to tweak and enhance their games to meet the needs of the casinos and the players.

I was very impressed by my hour long tour and conversation. I’m not ready to say I’m 100% convinced this is the future of the casino, but I do believe an open-minded and nimble company can definitely make progress in this area. Over time, I hope to follow up with Blaine to see new generations of their video 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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