Why Macau casinos should tweak their game.

Recently I was invited to an event in Japan where everyone had to wear a mask and a similar costume (be it of minimal nature). Apart from size, there were little distinguishing characteristics to separate one person from another, with minimal speaking there was no way of telling who was who.

At first, this seemed like a fun and interesting concept, the anonymity could allow all sorts of mischief. But with nothing separating you from the crowd, there was nothing to catch your attention, nothing made a memorable impact, and after a while, everyone just blended into one. When everything starts to look the same its hard to find anything that would make you go “WOW”. As humans, we need to find any unique qualities about places and people to find them interesting or fun.

A few weeks ago, I experienced the same feeling while walking around the casinos on the Cotai Strip in Macau. If it wasn’t for the bright exteriors and obligatory selfie on the street to record the exterior of the casinos, I’d have nothing to remember them by. Expecting to see new and exciting products on all the gaming floors, I instead found myself soon walking onto the next venue within minutes. If I used my fingers to count the number of new or different products I saw, I would struggle to get past the ring finger. I was quite underwhelmed and felt a bit disappointed in what I saw. No big “WOW” factor, or anything that caught my attention, or anything that enticed me to stay or play.

Being an early adopter, I’m always interested in the latest craze and innovative products. Each time hoping to see something new and different. Maybe I just have high expectations, but when everything is just another copy of each other, it is hard to get excited about anything (Not dissimilar to my masked experience in Japan).

Like Eddie Murthy once said, “WE NEED EYE CATCHER”.

In all my years in hospitality, I’ve always believed there is a need for “The Eye catcher” or the “WOW” factors, I’m passionate about making a difference, something that will become the “talking point” and give you a competitive advantage. Most integrated resorts create something unique in their public areas, whether it is the Wynn Golden Tree or the Galaxy Diamond or the odd Volcano, so most of us already understand the “WOW” concept. However, when it comes to Macau’s gaming floors, this seems to be missing! Many venues plan destination areas or try to place product and signage in interesting ways but when the products all start looking so similar or overdone, it’s hard for them to stand out and get noticed.

So where has the “WOW” factor gone?

Creating and re-creating “WOW” factors will draw more attention to your products. Even when rules sometime slow the pace of change and innovation, it should not stop the innovative minds from getting creative.

In recent times, it would appear the newest mediums to create a “WOW” factor are LED walls and screens. As technology advances the price of this product is becoming more affordable, it has moved from the outside billboards, to become an innovative landscape inside the venues. If done correctly, it could become a moving wall of excitement.

Take Genting Highland Casino in Malaysia and The Star Casino in Sydney for examples, both properties have recently revamped their casino and resorts using LED walls, both creating unique content to help create a “WOW” factor that demands players attention.

LED walls are the marketing managers dream, the quality of the indoor product has become so good that venues can “WOW” their customers with 4K images, video and animations. Pitch size is getting smaller too, dropping below 1.5, meaning you can get higher quality images that won’t break your budget. For those who might be unfamiliar with the LED technology, the lower the pitch, the more detail in the picture can be viewed at close proximity, (as a rule of thumb, the pitch size could represent the distance in meters where you could stand and still appreciate the quality).

If you are investing your precious capital in LED screens for either marketing or gaming purposes, it’s important you can justify a good ROI. For a gaming product, this means you may want to drive additional traffic to your stadium games and increase revenue. Maybe even make a statement in the gaming area but please don’t dumb down the technology and make it blend into the background. Use the technology to entertain your players and guests, increase their overall satisfaction, improve their time on the device, and give yourself a competitive advantage. You could even create something totally new that may drive incremental revenue streams for your property, tapping into the new “millennials” player base. This elusive market is a major talking point inside many boardroom meetings (more on this in another article later).

Products like Interblock’s “Pulse Arena”, started scratching the surface and stepping outside the box a few years ago, adding “WOW” factors, social media feeds, and a party atmosphere to their stadium games. Though not suited to all markets it shows how you can attract new demographics and market segments to an old game, and finally bring some entertainment back into the gaming halls where it’s featured.

More locally, idNerd Studios launched X Stadium at last years Macau Gaming Show, this is a fully customizable solution that venues can use to create a unique “WOW” experience. Designed by millennial gamers with millennial gamers in mind, X Stadium can integrate to any stadium game system or gaming equipment and it has the ability to turn any display into a great marketing tool. Based on the game results the system turns trends into custom 3D animations, highlighting game trends and “hot” tables in an exciting and “eye-catching” way to entice, entertain and extend the playing time on the device. It simply brings more fun and appeal to the game and ultimately improve players satisfaction improving your bottom-line.

X stadium can help bring excitement or drive events at quieter times as well. Operators can create and schedule fun zones when you need them or build new player groups and even throw a party. idNerd is even adding a new promotional module (X Promo) for marketing promotions and tournaments, as well as developing interface options to tie in social media feeds, E-sport events and other features. They have a lot of innovation in the pipeline that’s for sure.

However, many of you may ask, are the players really looking for something different to excite them? The answer is simply, YES! Just take a look, have you ever noticed how many of them are also playing on their phones, while they sit at your stadium games? Some venues still insist on placing rows of static TV screens or spend millions for the best LED wall, only to break it down into small static squares displaying live camera feeds and hard to read scoreboards with no excitement. Are they out of touch with the market? Do they not understand their player’s needs? To be given 30 square meters of interactive space in front of a captured audience and then do nothing innovative with it, surely should be illegal. Even worse, splashing out for the best display and spending no money on the graphical content or drivers. This is like connecting an old VHS player to your 4K OLED TV. You may as well save our money.

Over the last 2 years, I have probably visited close to 100 casinos in over 2 dozen countries and I can honestly say the quality of Macau properties far exceed most. But our gaming floors full of homogenous product and “Me too” strategies, are certainly lacking the excitement and the “WOW” factors seen at many trade shows, so we shouldn’t get complacent. Electronic games revenue still struggles to get over 5% of the GGR market share in Macau, while the rest of the world is 10x this (Even if you exclude VIP baccarat its still only 13%). We are in the technology & entertainment business! We need to get creative, make a change to “ENTERTAIN” the masses and do something different. Players are changing and don’t want the same old thing, it’s getting BORING!! What will it take E-Sports? Skill-based? or just a creative mind to break out from the current status quo. Maybe just dare to different or just differentiate.

Now back to my Japan adventure. I left my masked event because of how boring that had become but what I love about Japan is their diverse culture and opposing forces on your senses. On one side it can be seen as polite, traditional and maybe sometimes monotone but then it will blow your mind with innovations and sometimes weird concepts, just to get your attention. With the potential Japanese casino market getting closer and closer to reality it will be interesting to see how the gaming “Entertainment” market will evolve. There are over 4 million pachinko machines being reinvented and installed here every year with new themes and styles. The future casinos will need to sharpen their creative sword in order to get a slice of the Japanese player attention. Like the old saying goes, “okyakusama wa kamisama desu”, (the customer is God), and they demand newer and different experiences every day to stay amused. Maybe the Japanese millennials’ are the reason the pachinko business has shrunk 40% since 1995. This once Japanese only tradition is now even embracing tourists as the younger Japanese search out other forms of entertainment. It takes a lot to impress the Japanese consumer, I wonder if the western casino companies will reinvent the wheel or provide the right “REACH” for these players. Time will tell but from my recent Macau adventure, they need to start thinking outside the box and bring some more innovation back onto the gaming floors. 

About the Author: Peter Johns is an accomplished gaming executive with over 25 years in senior management and operations. He has set up and opened electronic gaming floors in several major Macau projects. Currently, Peter is consulting on several land base and online casino projects throughout Asia Europe and Africa. He is a keen follower of technology and the millennial generation and is passionate about change and creating a difference. 

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