Mike Darley, CEO of Next Gaming, remains more optimistic than ever about a big future for skill-based gaming in the casino business.
While competitors have retreated in recent years, Next Gaming, the only remaining manufacturer dedicated to promoting and designing skill-based games, is unveiling new solutions that will increase the popularity of slot machines and bring them to more casinos nationally and internationally, Darley said.
Next Gaming is currently installing a new program at Binion’s Gambling Hall in downtown Las Vegas, where they currently have skill-based Asteroids, Arkanoid, Bust-a-Move, and Zforce. The Las Vegas-based company is installing the same rides with upgrades at the Four Queens Hotel, also located downtown.
Darley said Next Gaming’s improvements to its games make it easier to play, by offering in-game instructions, while adjusting the pay tables to provide more wins in the easy to normal range.
“We remain committed to making these games popular among a wide range of demographics,” Darley said. “We’ve learned from traditional slot players that this is an unusual experience for them. The changes we’ve made to the games are important, because they help our players better understand how to play and enjoy them.
When Next Gaming first designed the games, Darley said they knew a group of aspiring players were skilled and wanted to play at a higher level. They also learned that when people were introduced to the game, they mostly played at easy to normal, which was their skill level at the beginning.
“For these players, we have adjusted accounts to reward them more frequently and provide them with higher payouts,” Darley said. “This allows them to spend more time in the game and enjoy the multiple levels.”
Darley said one reason he’s optimistic about the future of skill-based gaming is based on the Ticket In and Ticket Out technology that was introduced to the slot machine industry in the 1990s.
“When Tito was introduced, it was interesting. The habits of the players were so ingrained, they wanted to touch the coins, put them in a bucket and carry them to the cashier,” Darley said. “When they accepted Tito, it became very easy. I see the same relationship there. The traditional gambling player is used to pressing a button and getting the same result all the time. Our games are different. It is interactive, dynamic and has an element of skill. Just by the reaction of the guests, it would take some creative design tweaks, which is what we did, spreading it out to the population and making it a more acceptable group of players to play it. We still believe that the younger demographic coming to the casinos will be attracted to them. That’s why we’re still sticking with it.”
Darley said younger gamblers, between the ages of 25 and 45, are more accepting of a different gaming experience than older players. This is the lesson of on-device analytics.
Next Gaming’s slot themes have a long history of play in arcades worldwide and enjoy built-in popularity with thousands of players. Additionally, Darley said those who play online games are more receptive to skill-based gambling.
“The casinos we’ve had conversations with continue to be excited about these games and we’re being very strategic with future placements to make sure they perform well,” Darley said.
Darley said they will evaluate the data after the adjustments to see how well players accept them, but he expects it to be positive. “One issue everyone has had is that performance has not met the expectations of traditional slot machines, but we expect to get close to that.”
In addition to gaming modifications and introductions at Four Queens, Next Gaming is also introducing a new video game, Mayan Thunder, which is installed at both hotels. The two casinos also have a Next Gaming set of Grumpy Cat and Sunken Fortunes video reels.
Darley said additional games are in development.
Next Gaming is also pursuing gaming apps for its video games and is launching Terracotta Warrior and Katana Warrior in partnership with Probability Gaming and ZULU Limited, a Maltese gaming studio and platform, serving an international market including Latin America, Belgium, France and Croatia. And Bosnia. This version is scheduled to be released in the first quarter of 2024. These titles will also be installed for casino play later in the year.
“This part is important to us,” Darley said. “Igaming continues to grow, both domestically and internationally, and we will work with our team to bring it to those markets.”
Additionally, Next Gaming is pursuing gaming applications with several partners for Atari and Taito’s skill-based portfolio. Real money apps, social gaming and playing tournaments are all options, Darley said.
“The strength of these two brands is tremendous. This is one of the things that motivates our potential partners to collaborate with us. We continue to maximize the value of the Atari and Taito portfolios, both in the casino and online applications.
“We believe that the gaming experience is broader and that it is easier to control online in terms of introducing and changing games in the regulatory environment,” Darley said. “I think if you’re playing Asteroids or one of our other games online on a phone or other electronic device, that might attract you to the casino or vice versa, because you now have an affinity for the game.”