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Skill game genre continues to gain ground8 November 2007
The market is maturing and the number of games available is expanding. Toss in the fact that it's both legal and safe for U.S. players to participate and is there really any surprise that the skill game genre is one of the hottest trends in online gaming?
Certainly not to Ian Ross, the founder and director of Doolallys.com who added the skill game option to his portal Web site last week.
"It's just a natural progression for the site," explains Ross, the 35-year-old Scotland native who started his company in 2003. "There seems to be a whole new market developing around skill games, which are appealing to a different type of player than the normal casino or poker player."
Skill games differ from casino games, bingo or poker because they are not considered "games of chance." The outcome of the games center on the players' skill and/or knowledge of a certain contest or subject, which opens the door for U.S. players to compete without legal consequences.
But while the stakes are relatively lower than casino games, there is indeed a wager of some sort involved when it comes to skill games, an aspect that Michael Haines, managing director of SkillGround, feels is vital to the genre's bursting popularity.
"Let's face it," says Haines. "Inevitably, guys always want to make things more interesting by putting something at stake. And that's what skill gaming is all about. It's players who really believe in their skill and who get a rush out of winning, no matter how big or little the stakes may be."
In August, Haines' company launched a video golf game called UTour Golf, which he hopes is going to redefine the skill game industry. Within the first two months of its release, UTour hosted 250,000 golf matches and saw nearly one-million holes played. Last month, SkillGround signed a "white label" affiliate deal with Sportingbet.
"It has clearly dominated play on our site and it's pretty much taking the business along with it," said Haines, 44, whose site (www.skillground.com) also offers Kung Fu, LA Street Racing, War Path and Close Quarters Conflict, but typically sees UTour hosting 100 times the players on a daily basis. "We're pulling players from three different verticals. We pull in the golfer, of course. We pull in the casual gamer, who likes to play video games but has been shutout of the multi-player experience and then we have the gamblers. We found that poker players and UTour golfers are cut from the same cloth. So really, UTour is the perfect type of game for that demographic."
Another key to the success of UTour and SkillGround's forthcoming ToCA Race Driver 3, as well as most every other skill game, is the fact that they are generally very easy to play.
"The play mechanics are very simple," says Haines, who is also a managing partner of SkillGround's Dublin-based parent company, Groove Games Limited. "You can learn how to play these games in a matter of moments. Whereas a fighting game may require you to learn a dozen different combinations of key strokes, UTour really only requires you to hit the space bar three times. Players want a game that they can get in and out of quickly and have fun without having to spend a mass amount of hours to get good enough to compete."
Greg Gomez, the affiliate manager for Wager Junction, agrees. The company's skill game brand, www.kingsolomons.tv, has a wide selection of games that all bring a familiarity and simplicity to its audience.
"We offer a variety of games that people can really indentify with," says Gomez, 36, who lives in London. "We offer the kind of games that you grew up playing, like backgammon, chess and gin rummy. Then we have the pub-type games like pool, except the players don't have to go out of the house to the local pub. They can play right from their home.
"I think people are starting to get put off by the hard sell of casino games and poker," he continues. "I think people just want to log on and have some fun for 10 minutes and not feel that pressure that you can sometimes feel when playing poker."
Trivia games have also become a big part of the skill game landscape. Ross' Doolallys site features www.triviaonnet.com, a multi-player trivia tournament site that has been a huge hit in the short time it has been available, acquiring more than 10,000 members in just a few weeks. More than half of those members have come from Israel, according to Alexa.
"Who doesn't like a quiz?" asks Ross. "It's that type of thinking that makes the skill game genre so exciting. What we've found is that our skill gamers aren't necessarily gamblers, but they also don't mind tossing five dollars down to partake in a tournament that allows them to match their wits with someone else. It's a fixed amount of money right from the start and I think these players feel that their destiny is in their own hands because they're playing something that they're comfortable and familiar with."
To make a player "comfortable," the skill game sites must make it attractive for all levels of players to compete. To that end, SkillGround developed a special Skill Rating system that allows players of equal ability to find each other in the game lobby.
"It's not much fun to go online and get your butt kicked," Haines says with a laugh. "We knew step one was setting up a fair and safe environment for our players. Without that, the game is over before it even gets started. It's our highest priority."
Despite the recent run of popularity with skill games, the numbers are still small compared to those of the millions of people who play poker online on a daily basis. Can skill games ever gain the same piece of the market as casinos? The answer for now seems to be "not likely," but that doesn't mean there isn't loads of potential still out there for skill game sites.
"I don't see it growing to the extent of a poker room or something comparable to that, but it's still a great niche market to be in," Gomez says. "It has a softer touch to it that a lot of people are looking for these days. I think people just want to have fun."
"It's an area with a ton of promise," says Haines, whose market base for UTour is found mostly in the U.K. and the U.S. "It's going to continue to evolve and continue to become more popular. We really feel like we're just scratching the surface. There's so much more that can be done and that's what makes it so exciting to be a part of."
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