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November 17, 2018

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Skill-based games in the spotlight at Global Gaming Expo

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A screenshot from “Into the Dead,” one of the skill-based games targeted for Las Vegas casino floors early next year.

Those who are adept at avoiding zombies improve their chances to win in one of the skill-based games expected to be introduced on Las Vegas casino floors early next year.

Games of chance continue to dominate casino action, but games in which skill plays a factor, an effort to draw younger players into casinos, will get a lot of attention at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E), Sept. 27-29, at the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

One of the games is the popular “Into the Dead,” California-based Gamblit Gaming’s partnership with PikPok, which has had more than 60 million downloads since it was launched in 2012 by PikPok.

“You’re running through a field of zombies, trying to stay alive and running as far as you can run,” said Eric Meyerhofer, Gamblit Gaming’s CEO. “Run 1,000 yards and make it through two corn fields. Those are super scary and high risk because of the visibility. You can only run left or right so far — it’s an avoidance game and you don’t have constant weapons available, so you gotta half-run and half-shoot to try to clear.”

Accomplish one mission and the player gets back double what was wagered, Meyerhofer said of the game’s initial setup. Accomplish three missions and the player gets back five times the wager. “If you accomplish three missions, you get between 10 times and 100 times your wager, depending on mission factors and bonus prize awarding.”

Competing the “gamblified” mission requires some dexterity, acuity and concentration — a sharp contrast to the traditionally passive slot machine experience.

“We generally try to design for an optimal player 99 RTP,” Meyerhofer said. The RTP, or return-to-player percentage, is the long-term expected payback percentage from all wagers on a slot machine. “When we play-test these, they settle out where the players like them and it’s a good hold for the house. It’s probably running from 90-92 RTP.  … You can’t just run the thing over and over and clean [up]. If you’re really good and play a lot, you’re going to have a pretty good shot at a nice jackpot along the way.”

Designing games that are simple to understand, intuitive to play, yet entertaining enough to retain players is the challenge Gamblit and other companies in the industry face.

Meyerhofer compares players’ decision-making process to a flow chart with a sequence of questions about fairness and fun. Arcade or entertainment games, for example, frequently don’t get through the first decision to be made: fairness. “Does this wager prop feel feel fair? Do I understand it? If you get through that, then people will go on to enjoy the mechanics of the game, and that’s the fun part. I have no doubt we can deliver on that,” Meyerhofer says.

Caesars Entertainment is among the first operators to agree to place Gamblit’s machines in Nevada in field trials, pending regulatory approval. After the field trial, Caesars anticipates placing 125 Gamblit gaming positions into multiple Nevada properties, according to a Sept. 7 news release. Caesars and Gamblit hope to introduce more than 100 positions into additional markets beginning in early 2017 and expand the presence of these games across the Caesars network, the release said.

Meyerhofer said Gamblit’s booth at the G2E would showcase how casinos could design a distinctive experience for a congregation of skill-based games.

“You don’t want to just take one of these games and throw it out in the middle of the slots. It really requires more an experience-based area,” Meyerhofer said. “So at G2E, you’ll get the feel of what we’re getting at. Games and signage really need to come together in a concentration so you can lure in the customers because it’s interesting, fun and different.”

In a move to encourage the casino industry to make slots more like video games that millennials have grown up playing, the Nevada Legislature opened the door for skill-based games in 2015. Regulations approved by the Nevada Gaming commission later that year create three distinct game categories: traditional chance-based games; skill games, where a player’s abilities largely govern the outcome; and hybrid games, where a combination of skill and chance affect the result.

In 2014, millennials made up 27 percent of all visitors to Las Vegas, but only 63 percent of them actually gambled, compared to 78 percent of baby boomers and 68 percent of Generation X visitors, according to a 2015 report on the Las Vegas market by the consulting company HVS.

“Skill-based gaming is something that may attract those who aren't engaged by traditional casino gaming,” said David G. Schwartz, director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research. “Casinos have only become a national industry by innovating, so this kind of experimentation is both expected and welcome.”

Skill-based games could potentially become an estimated $80 billion market, G2E officials said.

Among the other high-profile seminar topics at G2E this year are casinos’ investment in eSports, the effect of November elections on gaming, and innovations in iGaming, table games and slots.

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