You just lined up three diamonds.
Along with the traditional bells and whistles, the machine illuminates a small LCD and offers to snap your photo via the built in camera. If you accept, it will be posted to your Facebook account along with a message letting all your friends know just how lucky you are (with or without jackpot totals, based on your preference). The machine will have access to all of your social networking profiles, via your slot club account - you linked them via the club Web site.
As far as I know, no slot manufacturer has announced this sort of integration but I have to believe it's coming someday. It only seems natural as younger players, reared on video games and smart-phones, start to enter the eager marketing cross-hairs of the casino industry.
What Other Innovations Will We See?
I'd also expect more video type games that involve multiple coordinated players and network based achievements. Again, taking a cue from video games, these players are used to playing against their friends on networks like Xbox Live where they are able to achieve levels based on amount of play and skill. These achievements could move with you from machine to machine and maybe even casino to casino - imagine a sort of meta slot club for certain games that recognized your play no matter who owned the machine you were playing on. I think that some manufacturers have already talked about this sort of thing arriving soon.
Will we start to see significant games exclusive to a certain casino or multi-property corporation? Could we ever see a gaming company purchase a manufacturer in an effort to get exclusive access to the hottest games? This is not an uncommon pattern in video gaming, as manufacturers like Microsoft and Nintendo have purchased companies like Bungee and Rare in an effort to lock up the best titles as exclusives. What if you could only get Wheel of Fortune at Las Vegas Sands properties?
IGT's market cap is only $4.65B - not unsubstantial for the debt ridden gaming companies but not so high that it's outside the realm of possibility. Let's also not forget that Kazuo Okada is one of the major investors in Wynn Resorts - his company is a device manufacturer in Japan.
Come On, Most Slot Machines Really Are Pretty Boring
It's interesting to see what seems like the relatively slow pace of game innovation on the slot floor. In other industries, companies like Zynga have proven that there's a huge market for different types of social games (i.e. Farmville) that, if you explained them to someone before they became popular, you'd be laughed at because the idea sounds so dumb. My gut instinct is that while some of the traditional double-diamonds-with-cheese type games may continue to draw for some time, eventually these game makers will need to come up with something more compelling. I can tell you that generally speaking, I find slots a bore and not worth more than a few minutes while waiting for someone, etc...
How about a game where winning money is just part of the draw - something that has other compelling qualities as well? I'm not suggesting that we somehow turn Halo into a negative expectation slot machine but there's got to be some way to meld these two concepts so that they can start to look at the future.
One hurdle is regulation. In NRS 14.040, the "Minimum standards for gaming devices" states that games "must use a random selection process to determine the game outcome of each play of a game". That sounds like any game that uses skill is out but it's not quite that simple.
The Gaming Control Board's 'Technical Standards for Gaming Devices and On-Line Slot Systems' deals with extended features and bonus games, which *are* allowed to incorporate skill into the outcome, though they are severely limited in the amount they can contribute to the overall return to the player - no more than 4%.
"Oh, they tried skill based games and they didn't take off."
Yeah, you know what kinds of games they tried? Crap like Battleship. I can't imagine anything more boring. The recent 'Pong' slot machine also had a skill based bonus round. I give them nostalgia points and it's a little closer to what I'm talking about but still, it's a half-assed attempt at doing something interesting.
The regulation is extremely important - they ensure a fair game. That said though, they may need to be reviewed and expanded in coming years as consumers tastes change. It's not like games of skill aren't already wagered on daily in the casino - from poker to twenty one to the sports-book. Unfortunately, change will probably be a very slow process.
People spend a lot of discretionary income on other forms of game based entertainment ($20B on video games annually) - the casino game manufacturers should be working more aggressively to steal some of that market. Make casino games and specific 'gaming devices' a reason to go to a specific property, not just something to do once you've already arrived at the casino.
Will server based video slots in any way lower the barrier to entry for game creators? Again, regulation still stands as a significant obstacle but imagine if manufacturers like IGT could draw on talent from multiple, smaller game 'studios' that would then partner with a licensed manufacturer to bring their games to the market. This model has been very successful in other forms of entertainment production and potentially could result in an explosion of new and interesting ideas for gameplay.
I don't follow the gaming manufacturing industry as closely as I follow the hospitality side - any slot experts care to comment on the above? I'm specifically interested in folks that love slots AND love Facebook.