Friday, May 21, 2010 | 3 a.m.
Who will be the slot machine players of the future when Baby Boomers sail into the sunset?
It should be no surprise that slot manufacturers already are starting to ask that question and have even made a few guesses about who they’ll be marketing to and what the next generation of slot machine is going to look like.
International Game Technology and UNR’s Engineering College conducted the “Emerging Technologies in Games and Gaming” symposium at UNR recently, providing a few theories about the future.
Chris Satchell, chief technology officer and executive vice president for game platforms and development at IGT, gave some of his observations about what the future holds and IGT’s Andrew Kertesz, Bally Technologies’ Walt Eisele, Gametech’s Patrick Crawford and UNR gaming analyst Bill Eadington added their views.
The bottom line is that Baby Boomers, the demographic sweet spot for spending in the casino, aren’t going to live forever and when they start dying, the casino industry needs to be ready to provide gaming devices that younger generations want to spend their time and money on.
So far, the industry has given the issue a brief glance, mainly because it’s focusing more on treading water in the recession than figuring out how to design a slot floor that will appeal to Generations X, Y and Z.
Satchell, one IGT’s Las Vegas-based executives and the former chief technology officer for Microsoft’s Xbox 360, said it’s remarkable how similar the development of video games has paralleled slot manufacturing.
“It’s like they’re siblings, but they’re not twins,” Satchell said of the two game systems.
And for that reason, Satchell expects the slot machines of the future to look a lot more like the video games of today. That’s actually a good strategy, he said, because if casinos expect the players of tomorrow to spend money on slots, they’d better put players in their comfort zones by offering features they enjoy in the video games they play.
How far that goes will depend a lot on how well Xbox-style games morph into slots and how much latitude industry regulators will give to the game creators.
Satchell said it’s important for game creators in both the video game and slot machine worlds to learn from each other and that means understanding some of their key differences.
Video games have complex content production and large teams that develop intricate games for years. Production isn’t as complicated for slots and the development teams are much smaller and move much faster to get games to the market.
Video games have story lines and dazzling graphics. Most slots focus more on the end result and a payoff will keep a player’s interest more than a storyline. The graphics aren’t as sparkling, but some of the newer releases are pretty good.
To pique the interest of Gen X and Y players, slot manufacturers need to consider what those players like in their video games, he said. But that could conflict with existing regulations, which require that chance and not skill determine who wins and who loses.
Video game players thrive in environments in which they advance to higher levels that require greater skill.
Satchell acknowledged that video poker requires a certain amount of skill to play well and gaming industry regulators recently approved a slot machine game concept for players to use skill to reap greater rewards in bonus play. But players still must rely on chance to get to that bonus round.
“Regulators are starting to open their eyes to new ideas about chance and skill,” Eisele said. “Most of their focus has been on security and the integrity of the game, so if game designers can achieve that, I think they’ll look closer at skill-based games.”
Panelists also noted that game-playing is more of a social experience for next-generation players with social interaction that is occurring in “FarmVille” and “Mafia Wars,” both created by Zynga and played on the Facebook social networking site.
In “FarmVille,” players manage a farm by planting, growing and harvesting virtual crops while in “Mafia Wars,” players increase their status by engaging in a variety of make-believe criminal activities.
Crawford said to be successful, game developers may need to adapt the games they see on Facebook to gambling games rather turn a casino game into a richer video experience.
Eisele said he also believes the parallel path of video and casino games is similar to how the movie industry has evolved and if that’s true, Las Vegas casinos may have something to worry about. He noted that move theaters used to be palaces, like Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Pantages in Hollywood. Eventually, people began seeing movies in multiplexes in the malls and, finally, on their own television screens with movies delivered over the Internet.
Las Vegas has built some fantastic gaming palaces, but casino gambling has found its way to nearly every state thanks to agreements with Indian tribes across the nation. The next logical step, he said, could be the legalization of Internet gambling and some lawmakers are already looking at some of the revenue that could be driven by licensing and taxing online gaming.
The best hope for bricks-and-mortar casinos is to have a strong online presence to attract the Gen X and Gen Y crowd that socialize and communicate online on a regular basis, he said.
Southwest heads southeast
Southwest Airlines, McCarran International Airport’s busiest carrier, has announced two new destinations, Charleston and Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., with flights beginning there next year.
South Carolina lawmakers have been looking into offering Southwest subsidies to fly into the state, but the airline said it would begin flying there regardless of whether subsidy legislation is approved.
The airline plans to announce start dates, schedules, fares and destinations at a later date. Las Vegas is always one of the most popular nonstop destinations for cities on the Southwest route map, but there’s no indication that the airline will offer nonstop flights between Las Vegas and either Charleston or Greenville-Spartanburg.
First train set
You’ve heard about high-speed and low-speed rail systems between Las Vegas and Los Angeles in the works with most of the recent slow train news coming out of the courtroom.
But the first train company to deliver a rolling stock announcement was Las Vegas Railway Express, developers of the proposed X Train.
In a news release, X Train Chairman and CEO Michael Barron said an agreement has been signed with Transportation Management Services to acquire its first set of passenger railcars. The company didn’t release terms of the deal, including the price.
Barron said the company expects to complete the initial refurbishments of the train set by the fourth quarter and it will serve as an operating prototype and model for future cars.
Company officials have said they hope that by mid-2011 they’ll start the 5 1/2-hour runs on existing Union Pacific tracks between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. That, of course, assumes that legal issues raised by developers of the rival Z-Train are resolved.
The two train companies have sued each other over issues related to the origination of the plan.
Developers of the Z-Train, meanwhile, have hired a former Amtrak executive, Jack Pearson, to be the company’s acquisition, design and rebuilding officer.
Pearson, formerly the superintendent of operations in Chicago, was responsible for the operation and dispatch of more than 400 trains a day during his 35-year career with Amtrak.
Treasure Island’s new Oleksandra Spa & Salon has received the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences Restaurants’ International Five Star Diamond Award.
The award recognizes excellence in hospitality, gastronomy, attitude, quality, cleanliness and service. An anonymous inspector is assigned to review the property and conduct an evaluation.
The spa at the 3,000-room property joins the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo and the Madison in Washington on the list of spas winning the designation.
The spa is named for Oleksandra Nikolayenko Ruffin, the Ukrainian beauty queen who is married to Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin.