By Craig Stapleton, product director of Advantech
The U.S. undoubtedly leads the way in global gaming; however, in order to continue this dominance over the established, multi-billion dollar casino industry, game engineers and developers must continuously work to enhance the individual experience for every player. To boost the overall profit margin, a casino would ideally have a player remain at one slot machine, sitting and playing for hours upon hours. Unfortunately, this traditional model is no longer as effective, with players today – and especially Millennial players – actively seeking out unique and engaging game play when choosing a slot machine. This group is more knowledgeable and experienced in the ever-evolving technological landscape, experienced with multimedia, advanced video game consoles and innumerable apps. It’s this simple fact that is now leading to a competitive landscape between casinos to attract and keep these players’ attention.
Given this increased demand for improved gaming and user experience, developers are now eagerly utilizing new tech to make slot machines more appealing. In order to improve the visuals of the games themselves, several casinos now incorporate even larger, curved screens – or even expand on the number of screens, with some using as many as five, for each game. Similarly, the widespread adoption of iGaming now allows slot machines to incorporate an internet-based version of the game to highlight cross-platform content, making the games accessible to players wherever they may be and on a wide variety of mobile devices.
Implementing these major adaptions is no easy job. In today’s rapidly evolving industry, game developers must work around numerous embedded hardware and design challenges, each of which slows the time-to-revenue of any given game and lessens the casino’s overall ability to compete in this extremely fast-paced marketplace. For example, the requirements for security and integrity of hardware within the casino gaming industry’s regulated market is a major challenge for developers. Likewise, the need for hardware to be durable and work for a long production life is a constant concern. With slot machines in particular, a common challenge is the building of a high-performing multimedia machine and embedded hardware that is designed to sustain 24/7 operation for maximum profits.
Gaming developers are looking to embedded hardware for its reliability, durability and long production life. Historically, embedded hardware typically meant lower levels of performance, especially in comparison to other consumer technology solutions readily available. Developing GPUs and CPUs that are high-performing, without sacrificing reliability and durability, has long been a major challenge for suppliers. Developers must work with experienced suppliers that specialize in such embedded gaming hardware elements to eliminate design risks and optimize overall game performance and longevity.
For example, a motherboard from Fry’s Electronics or Best Buy does not typically go through the same rigorous testing or is built to the same degree of reliability as embedded hardware. The choices for developers are numerous – between platforms, boards, modules and other general-purpose embedded components – and there are countless suppliers eager to sell this generic hardware. The problem with this approach stems from the fact that it invites additional design complexity and further expenses that may emerge in the development cycle. Working with a specialized suppler allows developers to utilize their experience, potentially avoiding these issues through recommended components that are specifically tailored to the regulated casino industry.
Security, and ensuring the successful meeting of regulatory compliance, are also major concerns for modern casinos. With the variance of regulations across different markets, both nationally and globally, this compliance can often be a complicated matter. Luckily, there are some general commonalities that span across these requirements, such as deficiencies in physical anti-tampering, secure boot controls, software integrity checking and encryption – all of which can typically disqualify a game through regulatory violation. Nonetheless, these very requirements can be addressed in the software and embedded processing layers, eliminating any unnecessary issues that may arise later.
Today, the manufacturers of slot machines and other casino games are focusing more on game content, rather than actual hardware development. Whereas hardware engineers in the past were the sole designers and developers of slot machine computer boards, now many manufacturers are using engineers to upgrade the overall look and feel of games with an emphasis on graphic displays. This is where embedded component suppliers emerge as necessities, taking on hardware design solutions and allowing those very manufacturers to create designs that are not only more compelling, but also keep users sitting and playing for increased amounts of time.As the market trends appear to dictate, a casino’s ultimate success will depend greatly on game developers’ ability to assess and surpass modern implementation obstacles. The effective use of the correct embedded hardware platform and experienced supplier support are fundamentally necessary in order to maintain a competitive edge for casinos, reducing time-to-market limitations and delivering visually stunning gaming systems in the process.