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Gamification and its Role in the Casino for the Operator and Player

By James Poole, VP Gaming Products, JOINGO
There are many terms which propel themselves into the vernacular at such a rapid pace that they become buzzwords bandied around meeting room tables without being challenged or fully understood. There is always a reluctance to be that person who is bold enough to ask what something means when they assume everyone else in the room already does. Gamification is just such a word. Many books and articles have been written about it, and yet still it is perceived by many as simply playing games to create a sticky product.
In the excellent book, Gamification by Design, by Gabe Zicherman and Christopher Cunningham they postulate that the red carpet used by the now-absorbed Continental airlines was a very early example of gamification. It enabled passengers of a certain status or cabin class to board the plane first via a small strip of red carpet. However, it was not the priority boarding that was new, that had always been the case, and it was the fact that that status was now being made more public, even aspirational. Passengers gained absolutely nothing from this other than a feel good factor. There is an innate human desire, it seems, to achieve goals. Casual gaming is a clear case in point, with millions of dollars being spent on credits for virtual slot machines which don’t have a cash-out button. There is no chance of a financial reward, and players are playing to open to new games and reach new levels just as much as they enjoy the wins and bonus rounds of the games themselves. I am sure many have found, like me, when explaining casual gaming to people previously unaware of the concept that they are met with incredulity than anyone would play a slot game without the chance of winning any money. There is a well understood mantra of that if something is being given away for free, there is a subconscious feeling that it has no value. However, it is what defines “for free” that is key. I am sure many readers have witnessed fast food restaurants handing out money-off vouchers in the street being ignored by people heading into that very same restaurant. The hungry customers saw no value in something being handed out for free. If, however, instead of handing out $2 off coupon, passers-by were invited to spin a wheel, or pick a box etc., for a chance to win a coupon, especially with a significant top prize, however long the odds, any coupon given there would be perceived as being earned and almost be seen as waste of money not to use it. Take that one step further, and have a secondary chance of winning a prize having redeemed the coupon when purchasing a meal and customers now have a fear of missing out, FOMO, by not using it.
In my youth, I spent many stacks of coins in efforts to get my initials onto a high score table on an arcade game, and more recently have spent many hours clicking and collecting coins and other in-game currencies to unlock a new outfit for character, after all, isn’t life better knowing that you have unlocked the PB&J Brian in Family Guy: Quest for Stuff? However, there is a significant difference between achieving a high score on Galaxians and opening up a new slot game in a casual casino despite that fact that neither result in a tangible reward. An arcade game, or to not sound quite so old, Titanfall 2 on the PS4, requires a much more intense level of game play and interactivity than a slot game, the reward for the time spent is the immersive gameplay experience. Two seemingly similar products lumped into the group “games” are driven by quite different motivations.
The science of gamification is now mature with departments and companies dedicated to the analysis of gameplay activity to find that perfect point between players spending money and feeling they are being rewarded for making that purchase. App stores are full of games languishing where that calculation has proved to be wrong.
Casinos are taking note, arguably late to the table. This slow start could be considered strange as all casino games have an element of gamification, albeit with a far greater emphasis on the possibility of winning real money. It is unlikely that the slot machines in Vegas would take any money if the only prize was the ability to play another slot machine and be given a badge. However, there is a growing realisation that gamification is a tool in the drive to increase footfall and revenue. From the early days of “Reel ‘em In” to “The Walking Dead” and side-bar games from the like of IGT, some slot games themselves look more and more like video games. It is easy to say this is just a way of attracting the elusive millennial, but it is far more than that. When WMS released “Top Gun” the expectation was this would skew to a younger player and with its Bose surround sound seat and video game style fighter plane bonus rounds. However, the game proved just as popular with the more traditional players and soon other games adopted similar techniques, even to the point of moving chairs. When any industry or product is deciding on their gamification strategy, they need to take into account the percentage of their customers who would enjoy playing games. The gaming industry has a huge advantage here. It might sound obvious but, casino players like playing games.
Soon WMS added more and more features more traditionally thought of in the domain of video games. “Star Trek” allowed a player to create a profile and open new bonus rounds. When a player went to another casino and logged in with their player ID, that progress would still be there. This was true gamification. Not only were players playing for the chance to win cash, they played to open new levels. While there was no financial advantage in this progress, the drive to reach the next level was a significant driving force. In other games, there was the possibility of opening new levels or personalising an in-game character by playing casual games at home. As well-crafted as these were, this style of personalisation and level progress has not taken the casinos by storm. It is not obvious to a player on how, or even why, they should enter a name and password into a slot game. There would appear to be such an obvious solution to this problem; players have rewards club cards. Why can’t my progress on a slot game be saved via the rewards club? Apart from not addressing the issue of how to restore progress on a slot game in a casino from a different casino group the more fundamental issue is that there is little connectivity between the reward club account and game play activity, essentially the game does not know that I am playing a game just because I have my rewards club card inserted. This simple fact hampers the ability of saving a player’s progress.
Kiosk manufacturers, such as MGT and others, have also moved into to the world of gamification. When a player is eligible to receive a reward they are usually invited to play a simple picking game in order to do so. There is no increase in costs to the casino, but every reward, is felt as being earned, and thus of value. If a casino hands out tickets for a drawing to anyone and everyone a player is unlikely to change their plans to be on-property for the drawing. If a player feels they have earned the ticket, FOMO rises again.
The International Casino Exhibition, ICE, in London once again shows the difference between the US and much of the global market. In the US, the market is dominated by land-based casinos with smaller opportunities for online or mobile for-money gaming. However, globally, mobile and online gaming are ubiquitous, with mobile gaming taking prominence.
With the near ubiquitous use of smart phones, casinos now have the ability to interact with their patrons in ways they were not able to before. In app games can be used to encourage player activity in the casino and promote return visits when elsewhere. Challenges, consisting of goals, will reward patrons on completion. Offers can be awarded from mini games rather than just being given. In app games can be played at home in the casino’s app with prizes encouraging players to return to the casino to redeem. Players at a roulette table could be progressing through a side game on their phone based on the level of play at the table. Key to this is the instantaneous nature of this interaction. Patrons can be interacted with live; a casino can offer a patron the opportunity to take up spare inventory, such as show tickets or an extra night’s stay. Patrons can play games on their phone at home for a chance to win benefits for their next visit such as tickets to a draw or the ability to jump the line at the buffet.
Whatever happens in the US market, this move to mobile will be a huge drive towards more gamification, and those operators who embrace the opportunities to on-board new players and retain customer loyalty will be the winners.

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