Close your eyes and picture a casino. The chances are that, along with all the roulette and blackjack tables, you also see lines and lines of slots games with lights flashing enticingly, emitting beeps and snatches of music and being played by people over a certain age.
And while casinos welcome these players and rely heavily on the slots for their profits – it’s estimated that 66% of the money that a casino makes comes from the machines – they would like to attract a younger crowd. The feeling is that games like roulette and blackjack just won’t do it for the millennials they’re after, but that the slots might just manage it as long as there are a few modifications on the way.
Up until now, casinos have found that the standard slots game tends to leave the younger players distinctly underwhelmed with the experience, so the industry as a whole put its thinking caps on to decide what would appeal. The answer, they hope, is the skills-based slots machine. In most respects this is like the same basic machine that has changed very little since it was invented well over a century ago, the skills-based version is a great deal more interactive.
So instead of just pumping in credits, players also have to use an element of skill. This takes the form of a bonus round that could be anything from answering some tricky quiz questions to competing in a racing game.
Putting players in control
There’s some solid logic behind the introduction of these games and one of the theories it’s based on is that it’s the sheer randomness of standard slots games that puts younger players off. After all, we’re talking about a group of people who have been taught to believe in taking responsibility for their actions and being able to influence the world around them.
This belief has also been strongly reinforced by the video games that they’ve been brought up on, so it makes perfect sense to introduce an element of these in order to make slots more appealing.
It also seems like a perfect coming together of two worlds that have started to feed off each other long before this moment. For example, game developers are known to have been looking into the techniques that slots designers use to maintain interest in the game. Meanwhile, the latter has already been taking many of their cues from video games including the use of narrative storylines and special bonus rounds.
One part of the slots industry, however, that has really embraced skills-based are online casinos. By recognizing that a younger demographic loves a challenge, there’s an amazing range of more stimulating skills-based slots to be found online. Some of these slots can be hard to master, so you should read this guide produced by expert gambling author John Grochowski, which will ensure you know exactly how to win at slots.
While it would be very convenient for land-based casinos to be able to simply swap their standard machines for skills-based ones it’s not that simple. As a standard slots machine is programmed to deliver what’s called an RTP, or a Return To Player. This is a percentage that represents the amount of money that it pays out as winnings over a set period of time. Now, this isn’t the amount that an individual player can expect to win. Some will come away with less, others will win more, like when they strike it lucky with a big jackpot. But what is certain is that over its lifetime a machine with an RTP of 92% will pay out exactly that much in winnings. Casinos can be sure of this because it’s programmed into the software that controls the machine.
But, when you start to introduce an element of skill into the mix and allow players to have an active role in winning, the RTP becomes much harder, if not impossible, to calculate. And as a business that relies very heavily on being able to predict fairly precisely how much money it will make on any given game or activity, this is potentially an issue.
There’s also the question of just how much skill will be needed to play successfully on these machines. Make it too easy and it becomes pointless, make it too hard and it’s going to put players off. One option that has been trialed has been to give the choice of being able to opt-out of the skills-based part of the game if players do decide the task is just too hard for them.
The further concern comes over the legislation of these machines. Gambling is generally overseen by official regulators whose job it is to ensure that players are treated fairly and that operators obey the rules. For example, in the UK the governing body is called The Gambling Commission and they have different regulations for games that rely on skill and which give players the chance to win prizes. This could well lead to some administrative headaches for casino operators when they have both standard and skills-based machines on their premises.
The signs are promising.
It’s looking good for casinos with a younger demographic engaging with the more challenging slot games.
Despite these concerns, there have been some very encouraging early signs for casinos that have introduced their first skills-based slots. Players have been reported to be typically in their mid-thirties compared with the over-fifties more commonly found playing on the slots.
There had also been a worry that the longer time it takes to play skills-based slots compared with the seven seconds between bets on a standard machine might hit profits. But it seems that players are either staying on the machines for longer or choosing higher stakes as the revenue has remained roughly the same.
Looking to the future, expect to see many more skills-based slots popping up, with the trend set to take both land-based and online casinos by storm.