RNG: Rex Reckoning the Next Generation

A  woman plays on a bingo machine

Bingo: Having a flutter in the town of Shorter in Alabama. (ABC News: Kim Landers)

That dang RNG

By rexdstock1

Don’t be fooled:  Ken Adams is no Luddite.  He calls himself a ‘dinosaur’ when it comes to things technological, but the only thing prehistoric I have noticed about Ken is that he does not have a cell phone.   And, that lack of a cell phone was a personal choice made by Ken.  He seems to get by just fine not bound by the wireless shackles most of us oddly crave.  Dinosaurs, I’ve been led to believe, are extinct;  Mr. Ken Adams is not–he’s alive and well, and even talking about a Second Life…

About 11 years ago, when I was being introduced to the third CEO in three years at Aristocrat, one of the consultants brought in to ensure a bumpy transition (despite their otherwise claims) asked me what I thought “the next big thing” in slot machines was, and I said, “Community Gaming.”

This consultant was a lifelong employee of NCR (as in cash registers), and he asked me to explain what I meant by ‘community gaming’, and I began to tell him about my first exposure to community gaming in the slot world was this electronic blackjack table we had on the second-floor of Fitzgerald’s Hotel Casino (extinct), how that device seemed to be very popular, and what a ruse it was that blackjack players preferred to play with live dealers…

His cell phone rang, he said he needed to take the call, and we never finished that conversation.  Two months later I was working for Innovative Gaming Corporation of America (IGCA), a company that had electronic table games (blackjack, roulette, craps) along with a PC-based stand-alone slot machine whose platform was written in LINUX.

Okay, maybe the part about the consultant taking the cell phone call never really happened.  But the conversation about ‘the next big thing’ in slots did.  And I distinctly remember the look on the consultant’s face when I alluded to community gaming–a look I knew oh so well…the same look I used to be faced with whenever I grew a set and asked a girl to dance at those awkward school dances, the look that says, “Are you nuts?” and “What stinks?”  all in the same motion…

Are electronic table games a community game?  Not really.  And, this is due to the fact each station (where the player sits) comes with its own Random Number Generator ((RNG), so it is always about human vs. machine, instead of what hundreds of thousands Koreans (and others worldwide) witness in StarCraft, human vs. human…

And, while there is a community aspect to having a group of people sitting around and playing in one game (as is the illusion with electronic blackjack), that type of community interaction is dependent on the players desire to be sociable while gaming, and, in theory, one could have a community of 6 playing an electronic blackjack game and those six could be oblivious to one another without impacting the game performance one bit.

What’s the other great community gaming slot machine?  Derby!  You know, that big ol’ machine where players bet on which mechanical horse is going to win.  Who didn’t like this game?  If there were a way to speed that game up a little, and the average wager per player could be increased, I believe casinos would have at least one of these on their floor, perhaps a ratio of 1 machine for every 2000 slot machines… I just made that number up, but it kind of sounds good, doesn’t it?

So, how do we casino gaming experts convert those StarCraft players into casino gaming players?  Number one:  lose the casino gaming expert title… There are very few such critters, and the whole premise can be limiting in terms of thinking in new ways.  Second, the game must be available online just as it is found in the casino, or vice versa.  Design folks can figure that stuff out.

Next, we have to do like we did with Class II Gaming:  we must convert symbols.  In Class II we disguise B 11 (there’s a joke about this being the favorite bingo number called by Father Mahoney, but I really shouldn’t go there) as another symbol–say a guy who gets stabbed during a car-heist, or a Monster with a bad Sci Fi name eating an earthling–and, above all, we need all of these things to appear to be player manipulated.  For any of you who participated in the early days of getting games approved for North Carolina, the notion of “skill and dexterity” has to make you laugh, or maybe cry, as the definitions of skill and/or dexterity were stretched mighty thin back in those most interesting days…

Uh oh.  There’s the problem.  If the outcome needs to be finite then how do we program in things such as a player’s ability to aim and pull a trigger, throw a knife, or disrobe a hottie?

Shoot.  Even when we try to get away from that RNG thing, we still cannot escape–not even through the legal backdoor of current Class II machines.  And, if we acknowledge the fact that true skill and dexterity is what drives so many to play these games, including games like Guitar Hero, do we naturally come to realize this is the main ingredient that keeps the two types of gaming (casino and non) from being readily blended and commercialized?

Okay, how about this:  Casinos embrace that there is all this activity going on with games like StarCraft, and they find ways to host these events, with preliminary rounds and entry in the casino event done online.  Think of a modified World Series of Poker concept.  I would have such a group at my casino also entered into a free video poker tournament, and a free blackjack tournament both live and electronic while they were at my casino playing their other games…

Then we can only hope that these gamers migrate to become our kind of gamer.   While some older folks like myself have tried to jump into the non-casino gaming, we generally get our butts kicked, and losing all the time is no fun. Non-casino gaming is a  young-person’s activity, one that relies on youthful vision, reaction, dexterity, and as they lose those skills, perhaps they will then move on to our type of gaming.  Perhaps not.

Problem is, that’s just wishful thinking:  that non-gamers naturally become gamers just because those activities reside on some computer…  What proof do we have that this is the natural order of things?  Like American Exceptionalism–that thing that keeps us from believing we can lose at baseball in the Olympics  [how can we lose?  we invented the game!]–Casino Exceptionalism is a myth.  Not all folks become casino patrons just  because they age, and we cannot claim customers as ours as soon as they turn a certain age (unless that age is 21).

Or we could go the route of the dinosaurs, step into our own version of the La Brea Tar Pits, and become extinct.  I think we are already on a path toward “endangered specie”.  Activities like StarCraft have advantages that we cannot compete with. Oh, and let’s not forget that little detail that Internet Gambling is still a crime around these parts.

Are games like StarCraft competition or are they complementary to casino gaming?  I think the latter.  Fix that dang RNG bugaboo and the prospects of the two types of gaming intertwining to make each bigger might just happen.  Heck, since we might have to abandon some rules on who gets and keeps a gaming license (see Ken’s great series on China), perhaps we can figure out a way to fudge around some other “rules”…


1 Response to “RNG: Rex Reckoning the Next Generation”

  1. 1 Ken Adams April 20, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    There is a way around the random number generator – peer to peer wagering and wagering on the outcome of other players competing against each other; the first is simply poker or the way we flipped coins and bet as children; the second is sports betting. Both will and do work at many levels. The peer to peer event wagering is becoming significant in Europe and Australia. Not yet as big as internet poker, but growing rapidly.

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