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Best of Gary Trask
A hands-on look at skill-based casino games10 October 2016
LAS VEGAS – Maybe I should stick to the blackjack table and sportsbook.
That's what immediately entered my mind at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas after a rather embarrassing 45-second introduction to Danger Arena, the world's first skill-based video gambling machine, which will debut on casino floors in Atlantic City this fall.
Even though I have never proclaimed myself to be a competent "gamer," my first crack at GameCo's new first-person action video game, where skill and the number of robots you kill determines player payout, was an epic disaster.
"How many did I get?" I sheepishly asked GameCo CEO Blaine Graboyes without taking my eyes off the screen as my session came to a dismal end.
"Um, just one," Graboyes said softly. "But that's OK. Looks like you're more of what we call a 'casual' gamer."
While Graboyes was being nice about it and letting me off easy, he was also speaking the truth. Playing Danger Arena isn't rocket science. Even a "casual" gamer like yours truly will be able to get the hang of it quickly enough and get to the point where I could kill at least six Danger Bots in one session, the minimum for turning a slight profit. Who knows? Maybe with enough reps, I'll be cashing in for 25 times my original wager by taking out 10 bots?
Either way, no matter what generation you may be from or what your level of skill may be, Danger Arena is entertaining and engaging; a totally different experience than a slot machine.
And that's precisely what GameCo is shooting for (pun intended).
"It's a real video game with a gambling element; that's what we're most excited about," said Graboyes, a 20-year digital entertainment veteran who has produced over 4,000 projects for renowned clients such as Disney, Warner Bros., Blizzard Entertainment, War Gaming, DreamWorks, Mattel and Sony Pictures. "The game is full of action. It has a fun and enticing narrative. It's exciting. So whether you win money or lose, you've just had fun playing a real video game."
Now, before you call your favorite hardcore gamer friend and plan a trip to A.C. later this month with the expectation of coming home with suitcases of cash, remember: This is a casino game with a minimum bet of 50 cents and max of $20 per game. There is still an element of chance and risk, so even the most skilled player will experience difficulty.
Danger Arena, and the other action, sports and racing games GameCo plans to roll out as soon as Q1 next year, has over 10,000 game maps, each with different levels of "achievability."
Graboyes compares it to blackjack. Even a very skilled blackjack player is going to run into situations or hands that can't be beat.
"But the more skilled player will get the highest payout more often," Graboyes explained matter-of-factly.
The 43-year-old Graboyes helped launch GameCo just two years ago. It was just a year ago that it completed the first stage of a $3.25 million fundraising campaign, securing investments from a variety of prominent technology, finance and gaming companies and executives. In the last 12 months, the company has built the games and gone through compliance, and is now ready to bring them to casinos.
In addition to the launch at Caesars Atlantic City, Harrah's Resort Atlantic City and Bally's - Atlantic City this fall, Graboyes said that the VGMs will "quickly roll out" in other properties. He's hopeful to be in Connecticut at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino by the end of this year and in Nevada casinos in early 2017.
While Graboyes admitted that kind of rapid pace is "unheard of," he said it shouldn't be surprising. There has been what he called a "mismatch in the entertainment experience," since the typical gamer doesn't play slot machines.
"I've been an entrepreneur for 25 years and I've never had a solution to an actual problem that was so clear cut," he added. "Gamers are stereotyped. People still think we are teenagers sitting in our parents' basement eating Doritos and drinking Mountain Dew. And while there's nothing wrong with that, we've evolved and we're looking for more refined experiences.
"No one is better at delivering that VIP experience than casinos. And at the end of the day, that's what GameCo is all about. It's about creating a VIP experience for this vastly underserved audience."
Make that underserved and oversized. Graboyes explained that they did a four-part test to identify the potential audience for skill-based casino games, asking the following questions: Are you 21 years of age or older? Are you in the top percentage of household income? Do you play video games? Do you visit casinos?
They found that 9 million millennials check all four boxes, along with 8 million Gen Xers and 6 million Baby Boomers, for a total of 23 million.
"In addition to that substantial market, the casinos agree that these games will also draw a ton of new gamers," Graboyes added. "It's a massive opportunity for the casino to attract a whole new audience, who in turn will stay in the hotel, spend money at the bars and restaurants, and gamble in other areas."
As for Danger Arena, Graboyes said their studies have found that the average bet will be between $4 and $5. It features the first controller designed for a casino environment, and the game provides a quick tutorial before an actual session begins, in order to give the player a feel for the action and ensure the controller is working.
He said the casinos love the three-position carousel because they are truly "plug in and play."
"All they need to do is pull out a slot machine and replace it with our unit," he said. "It's totally turnkey."
In Atlantic City this fall, there will be seven three-position carousels for a total of 21 positions. But as far as Graboyes is concerned, this is just the beginning.
"Casinos don't lack for space," he said with a confident grin. "Five or 10 years from now, I don't see why half of all casinos floors wouldn't be filled with skill-based video games. That's a realistic goal. We're just getting started."
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