Blaine Graboyes – GameCo – Why casinos should turn to gamers and not millennials

GameCo is set on making casino floors more fun. Rumour has it, it’s succeeding too. The New York and Vegas based company’s flagship product is its VGMs (or video game gambling machines) for land based casinos. 

Blaine Graboyes, GameCo

They went live in Atlantic City in November 2016 and they’ve a number more launches planned for this year. Their focus is on gamers, and they’ve different genres to suit different tastes. We spoke to GameCo CEO Blaine Graboyes about the VGMs, what their recent Gaming Laboratories International approval means and why they’re focused on attracting gamers rather than millennials.

Las Vegas is of course on the cards too, and it’s another reason that it’s exciting time for esports in the city with the likes of Millennial Esports’ venue, The Luxor transforming a huge space, and Unikrn acquiring Leet. 

Esports Insider: Catch us up, where is GameCo at and what have you been up to since last we spoke in Autumn of 2016?

Blaine: In November 2016, GameCo launched the first-ever skill-based Video Game Gambling Machines (VGMs) in Atlantic City.

After a successful launch at all three Caesars properties, we quickly expanded to Tropicana as well. We’re now expanding further in Atlantic City and have new launches upcoming in Connecticut, Florida, and many other jurisdictions. Response to the product has been tremendous with strong demand from casinos and positive feedback from players.

“We’ve shown that skill-based games can meet, or even beat, floor average at casinos with the right marketing and placement”

In fact, our surveys show that 84% of players would recommend the game to their friends. There’s no better marketing than social promotion amongst friends. Another major milestone was receiving our Gaming Laboratories International (GLI) approval for our platform and games in March 2017. This opens up a majority of the gaming markets in the United States and worldwide. Our original product strategy was to develop new video game gambling products under the existing GLI-11 standards. Achieving this goal was incredibly fulfilling for us and proves the ability to innovate in the casino industry.

Esports Insider: Which titles have proven the most popular to date in the casinos your VGMs have gone live in? And do you have much data on how long customers spend at them, their average spend etc.?

Blaine: GameCo currently has three games live in the market. Our first game, “Danger Arena”, is a first-person action game. We’ve recently released “Danger Arena Reloaded”, a new and improved version based on player feedback. This is perhaps the greatest advantage of being live – we get actual player comments and are able to quickly incorporate into our games. Our second game, “Pharaoh’s Secret Temple”, is a Match3 game which we produced in collaborate with Pirates Gold studios. It’s similar to games such as Candy Crush but with an Egyptian theme!

“Our surveys show that 84% of players would recommend the game to their friends. There’s no better marketing than social promotion amongst friends”

Our newest game is “Nothin’ but Net”, a basketball game in which players get 12 shots on basket to achieve the highest score and payout. As you’d expect, different games attract and retain different players. “Danger Arena” players tend to be male and 60% are under 40 years old. This is great news for the casino industry, where the average slot player has “aged” ten years in the last decade.

With “Pharaoh’s Secret Temple” we’re attracting more of a casual gamer (the average female gamer is 42 years old). And “Nothin’ but Net” is appealing to a wide audience, including sports enthusiasts. Appealing to all gamers is a key strategy for GameCo and we’re seeing this take hold with each new game.

As for VGM performance, we’re very happy with initial results. We’ve shown that skill-based games can meet, or even beat, floor average at casinos with the right marketing and placement. And we’ve also seen that we’re attracting “net new players” who would not normally play slot machines. This is driving incremental new revenue for casinos, which is critical to the ongoing viability of our industry.

Esports Insider: How have conversations with the regulators in the US progressed? What work have you been doing to this end?

Blaine: We’ve found gaming regulators to be strong partners in our process of bringing new products to the casino floor. Regulation is sometimes viewed as a “necessary evil” but we’ve experienced completely the opposite.

“We’re working on a new variety of new territories including Europe, South America, Canada, Caribbean, and Asia”

At GameCo, we’re strong supporters of regulation and believe that broad standards and strong enforcement create market opportunities. Looking at unregulated markets such as skins betting or daily fantasy shows the challenges faced due to a lack of regulatory oversight. Our GLI-11 approval was watershed, as this is the most widely accepted standard in the casino industry. We now have a clear path to market in gaming jurisdictions worldwide and working to continue leveraging our first-mover advantage.

A key strategy for GameCo was building on existing slot machine technologies and this has proven to be a key factor in our speed and agility. By implementing new content on accepted hardware and software, we’ve provided a “plug-and-play” replacement for slot machines that appeal to a new audience of Gamers.

Esports Insider: Next on the cards is Europe. What are the challenges here? Do you expect that this market will take to the same exact games in the same way as the North American player base has? How much have you considered variations in genre popularity from North America, to Europe and then to Asia?

Blaine: We’re working on a new variety of new territories including Europe, South America, Canada, Caribbean, and Asia.

“To date, we’ve announced deals with Terminator 2, Mission Impossible, Star Trek, and other massive brands with multi-generational appeal”

While each presents new challenges and opportunities, the process and standards are relatively similar. Again, our GLI-11 approval is massively helpful as this provides a basis for entering a majority of gaming jurisdictions. Considerations of genre, as well as game design and art styles, is important. We’re finding the ability to utilise most of our existing games and technology with changes that enhance the experience for each market.

For example, we’re currently launching with casinos in South America and our games seem to be a good match for the audience and only require translation of minor aspects of the instructions and gameplay. In Canada and Europe, we believe that our game library will have massive appeal given the similar interests of gamers in these territories.

As for Asia, we are working on some original games for the market as well as updates to existing games to better match the customers and their interests. This includes licensing new properties that are specific to Asia, including AAA video games.

Esports Insider: Do you see your game as the skilled disruptor to slots in casinos, as DFS is looking to be to sports betting? Do certain GameCo titles have a greater degree of skill than others?

Blaine: At GameCo, we think of our company and products as more evolutionary than revolutionary.

We’re expanding the universe of casino games from slots and table games to appeal to a mix of current customers and new players who may not play slots or other current games. We use existing slot machine technology such as bill acceptors and ticket printers and support universal standards such as the SAS protocol and player tracking systems. The innovation is in the content experience (video games!) and appealing to an audience of gamers who are looking for a place to gather, socialize, compete, and gamble.

Our thesis is that gamers are the largest underserved audience, sadly due to existing stereotypes of “kids in their parents’ basements.” And casinos are the experts in hospitality and have made multi-billion dollar investments in their infrastructure. Providing a “VIP Experience” for Gamers is central to our vision and philosophy.

“We believe the market is much bigger and we focus on appealing to all gamers. The average gamer is 35 years old and over-indexes for income and education. The success of stadium esports events shows that gamers are social and willing to spend”

As for the skill component of our games, all of our games include our patented method and system for managing Return To Player (RTP) – which is how much the machine will theoretically pay out over time.

Our games have similar economics for the casino as slot machines. This is essential as slots generate about 75% of casino revenues in most markets. And this revenue has been stagnant or declining over the past two decades, especially with commercial casinos. GameCo’s VGMs are a true skill gaming experience – the players’ score is their payout and winnings.

Esports Insider: Can you tell us some more about your brand licensing agreements, you’ve deals in place with Terminator and Star Trek for example?

Blaine: We’ve had good success working with entertainment and video game brands to bring these popular properties to the casino as skill-based games.

“GameCo expects to have a broad portfolio of games, including licensed properties, original games, and games co-developed with other game studios”

To date, we’ve announced deals with Terminator 2, Mission Impossible, Star Trek, and other massive brands with multi-generational appeal. Shortly, we will be announcing our first AAA video game partnerships as well as bringing some of the best classic video games to the casino. We want to appeal to all Gamers and believe that these well-known brands will provide instant recognition and achieve wide appeal on the casino floor.

GameCo expects to have a broad portfolio of games, including licensed properties, original games, and games co-developed with other game studios. However, it’s worth noting that GameCo does not produce any games internally. We provide the hardware and software platform for implementing video games in the casino. We work with outside developers to adapt their existing games or create new game experiences for our VGM.

Esports Insider: Does GameCo bring new players to casinos or does it transform and diversify the players they already have?

Blaine: The “Millennial” discussion has been top of mind in the casino industry for the past few years. But we believe the market is much bigger and we focus on appealing to all gamers.

The average gamer is 35 years old and over-indexes for income and education. They’re looking for a place to socialise with like-minded peers and meet new people. The success of stadium esports events shows that gamers are social and willing to spend – but they want to spend money on video games. Casinos are the perfect venue to provide an unparalleled experience to a wide audience of gamers.

“Our thesis is that gamers are the largest underserved audience, sadly due to existing stereotypes of ‘kids in their parents’ basements’.”

Based on our exit interviews with VGM players, we see that our games are definitely attracting a new audience that would not normally play slot machines. Generally, they’re at the casino to go to the nightclub, bar, or restaurant.

Now, with GameCo’s VGM, there’s a gaming experience that appeals to this underserved audience.