Both land based and online casinos all over the world are facing a similar shared problem. How do they attract the ‘millennial’ player? That generation of young adults who: grew up with the awesome Spiderman and X-Men animated series; read The Preacher graphic novels; spent their Saturdays playing SNES and then shortly after Snake on their Nokia 5110 phones; can remember the dial tone for a US Robotics 56.6k dial up modem and Netscape Navigator was the browser of choice; embraced Eminem as a authentic rap artist; and can remember the feeling when you received a ‘poke’ from a hot girl (or guy) on ‘this new Facebook’ website.
Now for me ‘millennial’ is a phrase that is wrongly applied today. A lot of people think millennial covers everything from those that are turning of age today to 35 which actually spans two distinct generations. A millennial for me is actually someone exactly like me, someone who was born in the 80s and missed watching Aliens or Terminator 2 at the cinema (p.s. I tried… really hard, but my fake ID was shockingly bad) and by the time they understood the value of live music concerts instead of MTV, Michael Jackson was a very different person (quite literally). To clarify and using the definition from Altavist- sorry Google, you probably turned 18 around 1998-2005.
The millennial generation is distinctly different from the generation that proceeds it, which I term ‘Yolopers’. This generation will regularly use phrases like ‘YOLO’ and ‘hashtag’ and walk around town wearing a second hand Supreme hoodie that they bought from eBay for 5 times the retail price, holding their necks at a permanent 90 degree angle looking at their iPhone. When you look at the current crop of iGaming products in the market there is nothing to attract Yolopers and a critical mass of that generation is lost until eSports or player versus player (PvP) betting products become well established and mainstream. But for millennials there is still hope for today’s products, as the millennial demographic has a significant amount of disposable cash, is used to seeing the betting brands in the mainstream; has a reasonable baseline of knowledge of sports betting, poker and casino; and is more willing to be pioneers for the eSports and PvP sectors. That said many online casinos and suppliers are still finding player acquisition a challenge because unlike previous generations, the gaming sector needs to offer millennial something more.
Even land based casino operators are struggling with this problem. This is more apparent in US where the millennial crowd are more interested in visiting casinos for the nightclubs, the bars, the entertainment, and the casino floor is an afterthought. Some chains like MGM have capitalised on this but when you look at the utilisation of floor space and the hedge/margin the operator expects from the casino this is still a big decline to the bottom line of the balance sheet.
It has been determined that when millennials go to a casino, 70% of them have no more than $100 in cash on them when they enter the casino. That kind of cash often doesn’t last long when one is gambling. And when the cash runs out and millennials turn to their credit cards to pay for their fun, gambling is no longer an option.
The small bankroll millennials enter a casino with places them at a disadvantage when it comes to gambling. For what little money they have, they don’t want to risk spending it on a game that they may walk away from broke. Add in the fact that most casino games simply aren’t appealing to this generation and casinos find themselves bending over backwards to encourage millennials to gamble.
Skill Based Casino Games
The solution that casinos have stumbled upon is incorporating millennial friendly games into their entertainment options. They are taking steps to offer millennials skill based casino games. Earlier in 2016 New Jersey and Nevada approved legislation that will allow their casinos to roll out skill-based games mimicking video games millennials enjoy, such as Angry Birds. The future plans for these states’ and other casinos is to incorporate games that are modelled after video games, including racing and shooting themed games.
Gamblit Gaming Chief Executive Eric Meyerhofer says that in the future casinos may even have games based on popular franchises such as Call of Duty. The plan is for casinos to create small and cozy areas of the gaming floor where these video game inspired casino games will be located.
According to MGM Resorts Vice President Tom Mikulich by the end of 2016 Las Vegas casinos are poised to add arcade and skill based type games to their floors in order to attract millennials. There are also plans for many of Las Vegas’s casinos to begin offering betting opportunities on video game tournaments.
Many casinos have begun makeovers of their gaming floors with the addition of movie and TV show themed games as well as plasma screen TVs. However, for all the improvements to the displays on the casino floor, technology is still catching up with what millennials are looking for in a gaming experience.
New legislation has made it possible for casinos to work together with slot machine manufacturers to devise games using features of the console and mobile games millennials enjoy.
iGaming software giant SG Gaming has already released two slot machine games with video game components that are currently found in many land based casinos. One is called Total Blast and the other one is a slot machine version of Skee-Ball. In both games, players can enter in their initials on the scoreboard and even show off their game standings on Facebook.
A new player in the casino industry, Gamblit Gambling is in the process of jointly producing a new game with an Australian company that develops mobile video games. Gamblit and Wicked Witch will launch a casino game version of Catapult King, a mobile game played 250,000 times a day all around the world.
One casino game that Gamblit has created takes the candy switching fun of mobile video game Candy Crush Saga and giving it more of a casino feel. The game is called Smoothie Blast and is strongly based on the mega popular mobile game. Millennials enjoy the interactive aspect of matching up brightly coloured fruits. Likewise I was at G2E Vegas last year when Gamblit announced Gamblit Poker™ which is a PvP poker game played on an interactive table. The game was great fun and offers a glimpse of one possible future merging nightlife and gambling.
While traction is high on landbased entertainment in the U.S, in the E.U where online slots are years ahead of the U.S. the U.K. is more concerned with the impact of e-sports betting, something that could appeal to millennials all over the world. In September of 2016 the U.K. Gambling Commission released a paper which discusses e-sports and the issues that they are causing when it comes to player protection and system regulation. The commission feels that e-sports betting must be regulated just as any other gambling game is.
Millennials in the U.K. are flocking to e-sports betting, in large part because of the tournaments it affords them the chance to participate in; this includes the League of Legends World Championship. Thanks to this and other player tournaments eSports had an estimated audience consisting of 160 million people in 2015. The grand total of the cash prizes awarded to tournament winners was more than $71 million.
E-sports betting numbers are up in the U.K. as a growing number of millennials are turning to their smartphones to place bets wherever and whenever they can. By 2014 alone 17.5% of millennials in the U.K. were already using their smartphones to participate in e-sports and even more are doing so now.
The fact that regulators are moving quick to lock down what they see an a growing unregulated sector presents an opportunity. Where there is growing demand, there is a need for supply.
Player versus Player (PvP)
Within the same consultation the U.K Gambling Commission also looked at PvP betting systems and, more specifically, PvP smartphone apps that are popping up. Like skill based gaming, PvP gaming is a cornerstone for the millennials gaming crowds. This generation practically invented online bragging. Online multiplayer, leaderboards, achievements, message boards, online trolling, multimedia calling and messaging, speed running etc… , It’s innate for someone to want to share and brag about their success, especially when it’s at the expense of someone else. This is the same principle that applies to online. It’s more interesting to play games against another person, and no better way to show your confidence in your ability than ‘putting you money where your mouth is’.
This has been a foundation in casual gaming over the last 5 years or so. More recently casual gaming products have started to introduce virtual casino betting. Popular games like Miniclip’s 8 Ball Pool and Playdemic’s beta Golf King! do a nice combination of skill based games and PvP betting and from all accounts such approaches are paying off in terms of player engagement. In the real-money sector we’re starting to see a number of cool looking applications coming to market which we will cover in a later article.
The problem at the moment is that the real-money apps do the gambling aspect really well, and the casual gaming apps do the gaming aspect well. There is not yet a strong product that mixes the two….but it can’t not far away.
Decent eSport products, PvP and land based skill games are still a year or so away. In the interim innovation is happening in online slots. Recent online slot machine games that include video game elements are Bonus Beans (Push Gaming), Cloud Quest (Play’N Go), Gemix(Play’N Go), Cool Jewels (SG/WMS) and Max Damage (MGS). Bonus Beans resembles video games such as Candy Crush Saga. With its bright colourful beans glowing on the screen Bonus Beans, as well as Cloud Quest and Gemix, includes the popular slot machine feature of free drops, in which several winning combinations can be made within a single spin. Players move through the levels of the game and the higher the level they play the more they get in terms of unlocks and achiements which appeals to another very popular trait of the millenial, the compleitonist. This is the kind of action millennials are looking for in their casino games.
Gemix looks similar to Candy Crush Saga but while Saga features many types of candy Gemix only features various coloured caramels. A square to the side of the game screen keeps track of players winnings. One of the game’s symbols has the ability to shoot of beams of light, something not seen in slot machines made for the older generations of gamblers.
Cool Jewels follows the same general pattern as the above mentioned games but keeps track of free games earned on one side of the screen and the amount of money players win for getting certain symbols on the other side of the screen. This makes the game feel more interactive and more like a video game than a slot machine. Max Damage has more of a Space Invaders video game feel to it and features the title character. The game is animated to resemble the video games millennials grew up on.
Some new online casinos are targeting millennials by offering interactive tournament experiences ontop of the existing standard slot know as slot tournaments. One online casino is Casumo, which runs a new Reel Race every half an hour, all day every day. The goal of the tournaments is for players to collect as many wins as they can before the 30 minutes is up. This goes back to the aspect of offering a PvP element on top of a traditionally single player experience.
Along with Casumo, Betat and Casino Heroes are some of the online casinos that have implemented a platform achievement system. There are few suppliers looking at this other than Yggdrasil so it falls to the casino operators to build their own gamification systems. The simple premises is that you earn achievements or badges for playing casino games, much like you would on Xbox or Playstation games, and these achievements can be displayed on your profile to other players as a way of bragging about how good you are. When you think about it with casino games, it’s more about how lucky or wealthy you are, but few people appreciate the difference.
It’s possible to tie this level of in-game gamification to a real-money payout but doing this outside of a single game has not yet been properly implemented. The principle being that achievements from past wins and gameplay can be cashed out or increase the payouts of future wins. At present this is tied to either a VIP program providing intangible or real world gifts, or some sort of delayed bonus system. There is still much work to be done here but it’s definitely being worked on by some smart players in the sector.
Online and land based casinos recognise the opportunity loss in declining player numbers in the millennial demographic. While speed to market for new innovation in the online sector is shorter than land based, every day that passes is highlighting the loss in the balance sheet. Many of the areas discussed above present strong opportunities for both land based and online sectors and at each expo (G2E, ICE, Casual Connect etc..) we see new innovation but ultimately the main problem is changing the mindset of the decision makers at the mainstream casinos. Cross-sell and bonusing may help matters in the very near terms but true innovation and differentiation should be the only long term strategy here.