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Downloadable Slot Games18 October 2005
Sometimes technology creates solutions and problems at the same time. So it seems with downloadable slot games, one of the hot areas of focus at the recent Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas.
Nearly every major slot machine manufacturer was showing downloadable, server-based games, each with its own wrinkle. IGT, Aristocrat, IGT, WMS --- all the familiar names you see on machines in casinos. The biggest exception was Atronic, but then Atronic is now a sister company to Spielo under the GTech corporate umbrella, and Spielo has been doing downloadable games for video lottery terminals for years.
Downloadable games give casinos the ability to change an old game --- or a bank of games, or the entire slot floor --- in seconds. I went behind the scenes at Aristocrat Gaming for a full demonstration.
A computer screen shows a diagram of the casino floor, or a section of it. The operator highlights a machine or machines to change, then uses pull down menus to choose a game theme, coin denomination, number of paylines and payback percentage. At a click of the mouse, it's done.
The full library of Aristocrat games would be available. That Peacock Magic game you see now might be Easter Island in 30 seconds. In the top box, instead of glass displaying the game logo, there's a video screen. That changes instantly, along with the game.
The potential is there to take it far beyond scrapping old amd games replacing them with the latest and greatest. The scenario an Aristocrat representative laid out for me is a casino that knows it has a good video poker crowd in the daytime, but needs more five-reel video slots and night. Then it can configure machines for more video poker by day, and in less than a minute have more video reels at night.
I watched as a full bank of machines changed from game to game, almost at once. A couple of machines had been set up in tournament mode. They waited for tournament time to be over before changing --- nothing changed until play completed.
It's fast and it's easy. Currently, to change a game, a gaming board agent must watch as evidence tape is broken, the old chip is removed, the new one inserted and re-sealed with evidence tape. On reel-spinning games, reel strips may be replaced. Finally, glass is replaced to display title and graphics of the new game. Hardware stays in place. It's just the game that's changed, not the machine.
It takes only a few minutes, but that's per machine. To change a bank of 12 machines, you're eating up most of an hour. With downloadable games, it can be done in 30 seconds.
So what's the problem?
Make that problems. There's expense, for one. Most casinos recently bought new hardware to adapt to ticket in, ticket out payouts. Are they ready to buy hardware to accommodate downloadable games so soon? And there are matters of intellectual property to sort out. Systems are very similar. Whose patents will hold? Who will be paying royalties to whom?
Then there's the matter of game security. State gaming boards are going to want to make sure the games are random, proper accounting procedures are in place, and that the software can't be tampered with before they approve such systems. Will casinos be downloading directly onto slot machines directly from the supplier, will the games have to be downloaded onto a casino server first for gaming board verification before going to the gaming floor, or perhaps will first downloads be onto a gaming board server, with casinos downloading from there? Will gaming boards require a dual password to log on for downloads, with one of the passwords belonging to a gaming board agent?
One issue that troubled me as I watched the demonstration concerned the setting of payback percentages. Remember how Aristocrat laid out the possibility of more video poker by day and more video slots by night? What if a casino decided to configure higher payback percentages in the daytime, with small crowds, and low payback percentages at night, when it knew the place would be packed? The process of changing chips is too time consuming to do that now, but it would be feasible with downloadable games.
There's a potential public relations problem there that casinos and gaming boards will have to work out. Players have asked for years if casinos do such things. Now it could be possible.
That capability isn't built into every system. On some systems, the random number generator remains on a chip housed in the machine. Only game themes are downloaded; it still takes a chip switch to change the math.
Mind you, downloadables are coming. Not this year, and maybe not next, but there are too many pluses for them not to happen at all. Every manufacturer says it is ready to adapt to regulations in different states. Temporary solutions are being considered, such as providing new games on CD-ROM until full regulatory approval has been granted.
The solution to the problem of getting new games to the floor fast seems to be there with downloadable, server-based games. Now we're just waiting on a few more solutions to new problems.
Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com
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Best of John Grochowski