about creating more choice for the player; it’s the app store of the gaming industry. Consumers like choice and they like new content.
“But it’s not just the end gaming experience of
playing the game that SBG is affecting. By thinking of the software and hardware as separate components that can be combined in different ways, forward- thinking operators are opening up to new gaming formats. We’ve been encouraging our customers to see the advantages of being able to select the widest range of content and combine it with the format that works best in the chosen venue, be it a slant-top terminal, a more modern bar-style format or a flexible handheld tablet. The days of one fixed gaming solution are over and SBG fits perfectly with the modern era of choice and flexibility.”
On the other hand… However, while no-one seriously disputes the
merits of the SBG concept, not all are convinced that it is going to take over the gaming world just yet, while others raise worries over the practicalities of implementation.
Certainly, and despite high-profile installations like Aria, the economic times may not be right for sweeping overhauls of every gaming floor. Not only is there the cost of the games themselves; there may also be the substantial undertaking of wiring the
The 1-2-3 of SBG M
ostly applied to slots and sometimes to digital table games too, server- based gaming means that the game
runs on a central server computer rather than on the individual machine which the player is using. It’s a bit like using a Website: you see the Web pages on your own PC, but they’re actually hosted on a server somewhere else, and most if not all of the jobs the Website can do for you (calculating a currency conversion, say) are performed on that remote server.
What are the benefits? Just as the Website can be automatically altered in an instant for all its viewers – or customised for a single user – so SBG allows for the games available on each cabinet to be changed at any time. That’s useful not only for upgrades but also to fine- tune the mix of games to suit changing customer demographics on different days or at different times.
With all the intelligence residing on the
server rather than in the cabinet, SBG provides powerful opportunities for
casino with a data network to link the slots to the server.
Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs’ annual survey of
casino slot managers in the U.S. found that most were just not in a position to invest in new games, and believed that full adoption of SBG was four years away. (It’s worth noting, though, that such reluctance isn’t mirrored everywhere worldwide; and that for operators launching new casinos, the cost-benefit equation of SBG is quite different from that faced by those who already have non-SBG slots in place and can merely postpone replacing them for a few years.)
Part of the reason for the U.S. slot managers’
hesitance may be the problem of scale. Buying in one or two server-based games is unlikely to make any practical difference to the customer experience or to the bottom line; indeed, WMS Gaming’s VP for network gaming, Mark Pace, has estimated that at least 20 per cent of the games on a floor must be server-based before any appreciable results will be felt. That means that any move to SBG necessitates a large investment.
Some vendors, however, suggest that the obstacles
are overstated. “The whole casino gaming landscape has dramatically changed since last year,” according to BetStone’s Turrini. “It has forced casino operators to seriously re-evaluate their spending and planning
customising the gaming experience. For example, a player can leave one cabinet, move to another, insert a card that identifies them, and find that it knows all their gaming preferences. They could even spread the same gaming session over several machines.
It lets players compete with others in the same casino or over a wider area, and facilitates progressive jackpots that involve everyone. It allows customers to play more than one game simultaneously if they wish – a practice that’s popular with younger gamblers, already familiar with juggling multiple digital devices.
And it lets the same game be distributed
through several channels: not just cabinets, but handheld devices, phones, and Websites too (always, of course, providing the regulators approve). For example, a recent pact linking BetStone with Microgaming and Spin3 will allow operators to run land-based, online and mobile games on the same platform. The buzzword is “multichannel”, and it is a plus not only for casino operators but for game
developers too – for instance, IGT reuses game content created for server-based slots in other products such as video lottery terminals.
From a management point of view, the
centralisation of SBG also improves monitoring, security and recording.
As Aristocrat CEO Jamie Odell has put it, SBG “combines dynamic game control, multi- vendor content, floor management and configuration into a single solution”.
Some people also classify downloadable
games as a form of SBG. In this case, the game software is sent from the server to the individual gaming machine, and runs there. Although this does bring some of the benefits of the fully-fledged SBG approach, it’s not true SBG: it’s really just a slicker means of distributing games around the casino floor without having to physically upgrade each cabinet. It doesn’t permit most of the enhancements to gameplay and management that true SBG makes possible.
34 SEPTEMBER 2010
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