Recipe for creating a new game

Sep 5, 2005 1:52 AM

There is little doubt that there is big bucks in inventing a casino game. If the rental fee for a table is $1,500 per month and you’ve got 100 tables out there, you ”˜re looking at $150,000 per month in revenue.

So, for games like Three Card Poker with hundreds of tables out there all over the world, it doesn’t take a computer to figure out that someone is making a nice living from this game.

Rumor has it that the patent for the multi-play video poker that can be found in almost every casino on the planet is worth several hundred million dollars. Not a bad return on someone’s investment.

If only it were that simple. Come up with an idea, pitch it to the casino and start counting your money. It’s almost as simple as playing a Megabucks slot machine.

The reality is, that, for every successful casino game, there are probably two or three dozen games that make it to the casino, but don’t survive. For each that made it there are dozens that died along the way.

This means that for every successful game, there are 150 to perhaps a thousand game ideas that never made it.

Besides writing about gaming, I consult for inventors trying to develop new games. One of the first questions I invariably hear is, "Do you think my game will become a hit?"

Generally speaking, my response is that all I can tell is whether or not the game has any fatal flaws in it. No one has yet figured out exactly what the formula is for a successful game.

There are certain concepts that must exist in almost every game to give it a shot, but after that, I simply don’t think there are any guarantees.

One of the "givens" is that the player has to have a chance to win in the short run. Several months ago, an inventor brought a game to me telling me that he showed his game to his friends and played it with them. They loved it so much, and he cleaned up on them. He was paying even money on a wager that had about a 25% chance of winning.

From a math perspective, it’s no wonder he was cleaning up. Imagine if the casinos paid 10-1 for picking the correct number (out of 38) at roulette!

So, one of the first steps in figuring out if your game has a chance is having a mathematical analysis performed. Someone like myself will analyze the game; determine what the right strategy is, and help the inventor develop a paytable that strikes the right balance between house advantage and giving the player a fighting chance to win.

Many inventors make the mistake of just assuming the only thing that matters is the overall payback to the player or the house advantage to the casino. In reality, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The casinos also want to know how much the average player is going to wager per hand. The casino would rather have a game with a 1% house advantage in which the betting structure forces the player to bet two units, than to have a game with 1.5% house advantage in which the Player only bets one unit per hand.

From the player’s perspective, it’s important to know the win frequency, which can affect the volatility of the game. If I invent a game where the player is going to win 98 times his wager once in 100 hands, I’ve created a 1% house advantage game, but it’s not likely going to succeed.

No player wants to go 99 hands without a win. To analyze this, I’ve created what I call (and have sometimes referred to in my column) as a "session simulator." It simulates hundreds of thousands of 100-hand sessions by the player to give an idea of how often the player can expect to win or lose in such a session and an idea of how big of a win or loss he can expect.

One inventor brought me his paytable for a bonus side bet for his game. The overall payback of the side bet seemed about right, but when we put it through this simulation, we found that the chances of the player winning at the Side bet was very low compared to other games.

He had put a very large payout on getting a royal flush. So, if you hit a royal you went home very happy, but beyond that, a winning session only occurred about 30% of the time.

Most other side bets (Pair Plus, Aces Up, etc”¦) have a win frequency in the high 30% range. Most table games have a win frequency in the low 40% area.

Next week, I’ll be at the G2E in Las Vegas, scouting out new games. Some of these will already be on a casino floor somewhere for a trial. Most will only go that far. A few will be around for several years, and a couple of them might become huge successes.

At last year’s show, there were two games on display that I had done consulting work for. This year, I anticipate that there will be at least five or six. Next week, I’ll preview at least a couple of them.