Punters are typically a demographic that skews strongly toward the middle and late stages of life. We know that people who show no real interest in gambling while young often develop interest in it in their later years, but since the dawn of the casino industry it has been difficult to get young adults to consistently lay their money down.
Casinos both online and offline have been scratching their heads over this issue for some time. It's not that they're lacking for business, as young people turn into older gamblers every day. The gaming industry would love to be able to tap into that pool of Millennial and Gen Z money that appears to not care all that much for wagering, however.
One thing that younger adults do love, however, is video games. In particular, their embrace of pay-as-you-go mobile phone games has turned heads in the casino gaming industry. Game designers have been working feverishly to figure out how to replicate the appeal of these types of games within a gambling framework. The big issue is the application of skill to the game. Younger players want games that require skill, so casino game designers have to figure out a way to implement that without losing the house edge.
Skill-based casino games of this nature are still in their nascent stage, with the first efforts only appearing in the last two or three years or so. There have been a variety of early efforts, but one of the big early trends has been to get younger players interested in playing a standard video slot (the house's most profitable game category) by adding a skill-based bonus round to it.
We'll take a closer look at some of these skill-based video slots in today's post.
Race Ace (IGT)
IGT's Race Ace is a fairly standard five-reel slot until you reach the bonus round, then it becomes something very akin to the popular Mario Kart games. You race a cartoon character through a track trying to beat computer-controlled racers, with a minimum guaranteed bonus amount that multiplies depending on where you place at the end. Familiar Mario Kart elements are present on the track, such as speed boosts you can steer into and a force field you can use to slow down other racers.
There are actually two different racing bonus rounds that players can reach in Race Ace. The Cash Cup is the Mario Kart-like race, controlled by a joystick attached to the cabinet in brick-and-mortar casinos. There is also the Top Speed mystery feature, which simply has players press a button as fast as possible to earn a bonus multiplier during a quick solo sprint on the track.
Also from IGT, Centipede follows the Race Ace pattern of a five-reel base slot that you enter a skill-based bonus round from. The difference here is the classic arcade game license, used for both the reel symbols and the bonus round. As with Race Ace, a joystick is attached to the live cabinets and you fire by pressing the "credit" button.
In keeping with the classic arcade game, you get three lives and can progress through a series of levels. The centipede gets extremely fast starting with the second level, however, turning the bonus round into a true test of arcade skill. The player's bonus is based on their final score.
Space Invaders (Scientific Games)
Scientific Games was quick to follow Centipede with a very similar slot based on the classic Space Invaders. The unique thing about this 60-line slot is that it incorporates a three-tiered progressive jackpot, though the arcade bonus game has nothing to do with winning it.
Collect 50 of the spaceship symbols as you play to get into the bonus round, which is a fairly straightforward game of Space Invaders. The big difference is that you only get a fixed number of shots, so you don't want to fire at will. Instead, the smart strategy is to try to quickly wipe out entire columns of monsters (to get the bigger bonus multipliers for the ones at the top) and wait for that infamous UFO to make its way across the top of the screen.
Pac-Man Battle Casino (Gamblit)
This one is particularly interesting because it's essentially a slot game bonus round done totally in reverse. You start each round of play by spinning for a prize right off the bat. After that, two to four players engage in a competitive game of Pac-Man (based on the arcade game Pac-Man Battle Royale) in an attempt to win the prize pot.
Gamblit's intriguing TriStation consoles pack a bunch of different games with skill rounds into one compact unit. All of the games are based on popular mobile phone games. These include Into The Dead (a zombie shooter), Catapult King (a bit like Angry Birds), Lucky Words (a riff on Words With Friends), Smoothie Blast (a Candy Crush clone) and Slice of Cake (a Fruit Ninja clone).
Line 'em Up (Guru Games)
Line 'em Up is a slot concept that is being developed and shopped by a team of students from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (which is home to one of the largest gaming research centers in the world). It's a very interesting idea, and one we expect to see online casinos adopting before long.
The game plays out on a 4x4 grid. You spin the reels like you would with any other slot, but you are also given a random number of "moves" with each spin that allow you to swap symbol locations around to create winning pay lines for yourself. Though this might sound like too potent of an ability for a casino game, the students estimate that the house retains a 3.5% edge against a skilled player and a 6% edge against an unskilled player.
Skill-Based Slots Online?
Online casinos have been somewhat slow to adopt skill-based video slots. Some of that is due to concerns over the ability to maintain a house edge once skill becomes involved, and in some jurisdictions the addition of the skill element can complicate compliance with local regulations.
We expect to see an explosion of skill-based games online before long, however. They have drawn plenty of attention in land-based casinos; the only thing stopping their expansion there is limited floor space. While players are spending lots of time at them, casinos are not seeing as much money from that time due to the length of the skill rounds. That is not an issue with online properties, of course. And with younger adults already turning to the internet for their gaming fix, skill-based slots seem like a natural fit.