Since its invention in New York in the 1890s, the concept of a pokie machine has remained generally unchanged. Now, however, faced with an ageing user base and an inability to crack the younger generations, game developers are starting to adapt their machines. The result is a new generation of new ‘skill-based’ games.
“For casinos, the trend of slots revenue and usage going down while their average customer age is going up has been steady for years,” said Darion Lowenstein, chief marketing officer at Gamblit, a manufacturer of skill-based games. “People under 50 generally grew up with video games and being rewarded for skill and interactivity. These trends will continue until new forms of gaming that the target demographic actually enjoys are put onto the floor.”
Gamblit products are now installed at 25 locations across the USA and now gambling regulators in Australia have received the first applications from game developer Wymac to roll out these machines in Victoria and New South Wales. The games are more similar in nature to video games, with similar controls and payouts determined on the ability of the player, as well as chance.
“But the proposition is about the same — sit down and play,” said industry consultant Neil Spencer, the former head of gaming at Crown Resorts. “There will need to be an investment in a product that moves away from being a robot bolted to a bench with a chair in front of it.”
One of Wymac’s machines, the PopShots Witches Coven, rewards players for the number of bubbles they pop during special mini-games.
“The higher your score, the higher your multipliers in the free games,” the description reads. “Avoid the chickens and pop your multiplier bubbles to maximise your score. The “Pop Clock” counts up during paid games as you land special clock symbols, with each precious second giving you more chances to land a higher score in the Pop Shots Feature.”
“There will always be a challenge between what the industry might want to do because they believe it’s going to make the machine more profitable and what governments might have a reluctance to do because of their concerns for problem gambling,” said David Ford, Queensland’s gaming commissioner. “But every regulator would be willing to have a robust discussion.”
When the applications for skill-based games were lodged in September, Liquor & Gaming NSW cautioned that there was a “lack of research on the potential risks of skill-based gaming” and looked to commission studies of their own. “We need to better understand issues such as risks around illusion of control and game returns for players with varying skills before any decisions are made on skills-based electronic gaming machine applications,” a spokesperson said.