As the US igaming market continues with its impressive growth, land-based content adapted for online use is one of the driving forces behind casinos enjoying strong engagement with new and existing players. We caught up with four industry developers to find out more about the process and how the omni-channel approach will evolve over the coming year
Brett Jackson, Creative Director at SG Digital
Robb Vecchio, Managing Director of Jogo Global US
Courtney Honer, Key Account Sales Manager at Greentube
Doug Fallon, Director of Group Content at Bragg Gaming
How do you identify the right land-based title and adapt if for online use? How simple is the process?
Brett Jackson (BJ): It is a process we are well-versed in at Scientific Games. There are many land-based titles that we have adapted successfully for the online market in the US, with Dancing Drums Explosion most recently following in the footsteps of Coin Combo Marvelous Mouse, 5 Treasures and 88 Fortunes. That said, it is far from simple to execute successfully. A key aspect is bringing the same level of presentation online, which is difficult given that EGMs can hold up to 4GB of local storage – where online you need to download the game OTA and operators are asking for games to be less than 20 MB. We are exploring animation techniques using tools like Spline to radically decrease size with little to no visible impact. The betting behaviour of online players is different too, with lower min bets for example. We need to rework the math to have it make sense for the online player without diluting or changing the fundamental feel of the game. The strong performance we are seeing with games like 88 Fortunes, Coin Combo Marvelous Mouse and Dancing Drums Explosion tells us, we have faithfully captured the appeal and ‘mojo’ of the original games.
Robb Vecchio (RV): Right now the demand for land-based inspired content in the igaming space is huge. Some of the bigger firms have the technology to make this possible, but a lot of the small to medium sized companies don’t have the capabilities in place to meet the existing demand. From a technical perspective, we hold the secret sauce that bridges a land-based title to the online space. Some of the larger suppliers have the capabilities, but we’re nimbler and more agile to create a bespoke solution that benefits partners. That can either be the adaptation of an existing land-based title or creating a cross-platform and omnichannel network that brings this content to a wider audience. We’re seeing a growing number of land-based players that are eager to log onto their mobile device or desktop computer to play their favourite casino games once they’ve left a casino venue. Several land-based operators are switching their marketing strategies to actively promote titles that are available to play in the online environment too. That bodes well for the future in terms of brand recognition and player loyalty, boosting revenues.
Courtney Honer (CH): The identification of the right land-based title relies a lot on experience and data. Based on information about target groups, preferred game themes (fruit or themed), game mathematics (RTP and features) and volatility, game suppliers can adapt their content to specific demographics and player types. Adapting these titles for online play is again highly dependent on the player types that are playing games online. We have experienced that while branded game content seems to be very popular in the US land-based market, the online market requires game types focusing on mathematics and features. These factors are crucial in the process of adapting games digitally.
Doug Fallon (DF): Typically, we would look to take top performers from land-based into online but we have also done the opposite and taken top online games and adapted them for the land-based market. The process isn’t simple though as there are many factors that come into play. Assets for games in land-based can run several gigabytes in size and we need to reduce that to just a few megabytes for online titles. Land-based assets are designed for the specific cabinet monitor configuration and processor capabilities while online requirements will include landscape, portrait and support for a variety of devices and screen types. The math models often need to be adapted when converting land-based titles as their bet structures are quite different and focused on bet multipliers and denomination which can impact certain parts of the math with progressive sizes and frequencies. Online often uses a different approach around total bet size and different types of jackpot scaling so we find adjustments are definitely required between land-based and online games.
With the influx of land-based inspired content in the US igaming space right now, is there less demand for new and original content? How will this impact future innovation?
RV: A lot of the online space is occupied by brands that have a heritage in the land-based market, and of course their customers will have naturally followed, so the content being offered needs to be familiar to these players. At present, player taste in the US igaming market is very different to Europe. However, I think over time that will change and operators will become less reliant on casino machine titles for their digital offering. I also believe we’ll see more crosspollination between US and European gaming companies, particularly with European inspired content appearing in new machines on the casino floors. That will be driven by the experience that online players will have had and land-based casinos looking to replicate that in their own venues. The more exposure that players have to European style games that we know are popular with a huge audience, the more likely they will become a bigger part of an online operator’s offering over the coming years.
DF: There is a mix of land-based titles as well as land-based inspired games that obviously have game mechanics that resonate with US online players. Land-based slot games do have about 75 years of history and learnings, and we are certainly seeing some of the knowledge transfer into the online space. When looking at the top performing titles there is plenty of diversity in game mechanics and many original online titles that are popular. It’s important to note that market influences and player preferences can greatly affect game performance as US players typically are used to a very different experience than European players. Even within the US player segment, there can certainly be regional differences of particular game styles resonating more. Not everyone that plays online plays in land-based casinos, so there will always be room for new and original content. Online generally has a lower cost to design and build which opens up the possibility to innovate with new ideas and get quick feedback on player acceptance.
CH: Similarly to our experience in Europe, we expect that even though land-based inspired game content is pushing into online, players will still be interested in innovative and original game content. There is a natural generational change in players happening every 15-20 years and this current generation change always requires innovation. This will lead to very interesting game concepts being developed in the future, potentially further bringing different gaming worlds together.
BJ: There has to be a balance. Clearly, there is a strong demand for high-quality adaptations of those land-based titles that players know and love within the US. It would be remiss of us not to give players familiar, enjoyable experiences in the digital space. That isn’t to say that there is a lack of innovation running through both our land-based and online titles, and our studios are able to trial new themes and mechanics digitally and then transfer them to the land-based environment, hopefully to attract new types of players. We have the huge benefit of being global and seeing early trends in other markets that can be adapted to the US market. We also still see strong demand for our original igaming content in the US.
As more players head into the online environment to play their favourite casino games, how does this impact the omni-channel experience? How can technology improve the approach?
CH: Creating a true omni-channel experience will be necessary to keep your players within your walls. This will require the deployment of innovative technologies and will lead from synchronized cross-channel game launches through to full blown 360-degree gaming solutions. At Greentube, we started the development of an omni-channel product offering 10 years ago. The now available server-based gaming solution Plurius™completes a 360-degree product offering as it unites online, mobile and land-based gaming within Greentube’s gaming platform. Players share the same gaming experience over all devices and benefit from a seamless device-change solution, enabling them to take game sessions to any device and continue to play at any time. Therefore, further technological improvements on gaming machines and Software Development Kits will be crucial in creating a sustainable game experience and performance.
BJ: We are constantly examining ways in which we can improve the end-to-end experience for players. If a player is in a casino enjoying 88 Fortunes and wants to carry on with that experience when they are on the move or at home, then the challenge for us is to make that journey as seamless as possible. Along with tools like Spline, we are looking at new audio technology that allows the original music and audio mixes from the land based games to be deployed digitally as well. Another element we are examining is linking jackpots from the land-based world to the digital realm and again, this is a technological challenge. The closer we can marry the land-based and online experiences for players, the better, and there is still an awful lot left to come in this regard. Ultimately we have a responsibility both to our players and to the great content that SG has developed over many years. We are working hard to enable players to enjoy the games they love whenever and wherever they choose to play.
RV: Gaming, like other lifestyles, has moved closer to the mobile device. Despite footfall remaining high in the various casino venues I’ve visited in recent months, the number of machines on the floor has reduced by up to 40% in some cases. Fortunately, we have the technology in our RGS that can deliver content to both channels. Even if land-based operations reduce in size, they will still require fresh content and it’s important that the industry still delivers this to players who enjoy heading to a venue. Ultimately, we want to capture the next generation of gamers who take to their mobile devices after leaving a venue, providing them with the same titles so they can enjoy the same experience outside of the premises. For operators, the key challenge is to convert them to the online channel and increase the wallet size.
DF: Omni-channel is certainly a hot topic amongst operators today, as they do operate in both land-based and online environments. There is an advantage to promote content across both channels simultaneously to cross-sell their product offerings. The land-based and online experience can be quite different to the player though as certain environmental factors cannot be replicated. Playing your favorite land-based title online is a key selling point as land-based casinos do have limited floor space and your favorite title may be removed but with online it can stay there forever. Conversely, popular online titles can be brought to the land-based space which may offer a lower cost of risk of performance as they can be tested online rather quickly. The online market has introduced a new player base and we know that not all play within a brick-and-mortar casino, so perhaps the omni-channel marketing could drive them to visit the casino to play the ‘real thing’, but many will be happy to try out new innovative games that appear regularly in the online casino.