I had the surprising pleasure to visit London and see the latest up and coming trends in the gaming industry at ICE 2016. Not the game industry – gaming industry. This means betting, slot machines and the like. Now, games and gaming are very close to each other as terms, so I’ll try to keep my wits about the distinction when discussing how the two do relate and could relate. Because the two can be easily considered as cousins and both can benefit from each other in many ways, I chose stories & skills and social gaming as my main points to avoid this post from turning into an essay.
Coming from the game industry it was fun to recognise familiar brands, like Frogger, turned into slot machines and pay notice to how the Walking Dead brand (comic book turned TV series turned games) conquers in all aspects of games and gaming from the amazing Telltale series to the NextGames mobile game and into slot machines with a special Michonne bonus that made me smile. With the gaming industry and the game industry intertwined so closely in regards of brands and the purpose to entertain, it is amazing that the actual game content of the two are not more closely linked. Naturally there are some limitations, like the nature of luck and odds in gaming and the strong element of story and skills in games.
Stories & Skills
In fact, stories is one of the most interesting facets that could be introduced into the gaming industry. Stories tend to bring an element of skill with them; you need to make the right actions to see the story unravel. Particularly with games that are based on luck, like slots, a story and a skill element form an interesting addition. Not necessarily with the core game mechanic of the reels but, for example, in regards to bonus games. Inserting a skill element helps building a stronger story into slot games. Immersive stories are one of the elements that capture gamers and make them return to a game again and again, the same can be adapted to slot games.
I’m not claiming that there is absolutely no skill element in slots. For example, you need to understand what the single symbols and the combination of symbols mean. What I mean by bringing a story and a skill element from games into gaming is that the choices a player makes have an impact on the return rate of the game. Again, this might feel like going against the grain of some gaming aspects but bringing some of the hooks from games into gaming would introduce the industry to new types of players and gamers.
Another element that brings gamers back to a game again and again and what works as a great insert into the gaming world is social gaming. Especially with MMOs the social element is extra strong, with the game not being only a game, it’s the thing you do while you hang out with your friends. Much the same when a group of people gather around race tracks in excitement over whether the horse or hound you bet on wins.
When thinking about the same type of social layer in virtual gaming I only came up with the virtual bingo hall of Veikkaus that has a chat. For me, the chat feels like an additional layer to the game and it is not an integral part of the gaming experience. You can choose not to talk with others if you don’t want to and the nature of the game does not require a social element – it works just as fine without it. With a little help from my friends I found another domestic example of social gaming: Neighbours (Naapurit), also from Veikkaus. The basic idea of the game is that if one person from a geographical area wins, all the people who played in that area win, too. I like the idea of the game, it’s fun and urges us not-so-social Finns to interact with each other. But you don’t really have to know our neighbours to win or to play. Knowing someone or forming a group and then playing Neighbours together does not increase your chances to win.
In my search of social interaction, I then turned my attention from one popular Finnish gaming past time (Veikkaus and Lottery are near synonyms here) to another: slot machines. Slot machines inherently gather people to one place – a casino (or if you’re in Finland, any local news agency or super market). There are a lot of opportunities to use social aspects in the game mechanics of slots. And, in fact, there were some elements of social interaction seen at ICE 2016 but it was concentrated on playing against other players. Being from LudoCraft, and having been influenced by our history in collaborative gaming, I was left wanting for games where you work towards a common goal (kind of like in Neighbours) and then share the winnings. Or play against each other in teams where the winning team gets to share the spoils of battle. Think poker. But in teams. A gaming experience where you can only blame yourself for losing and congratulate yourself for winning would open up a whole new audience to gaming. And, naturally, the house takes a small commission from the spoils of battle – otherwise it would be difficult to keep on with business.
I hope that gaming and games take a stronger step closer to each other – from distant cousins into kissing cousins. Of course within the limits of rules and regulations. I also hope, selfish as I am, that LudoCraft plays a role in making it happen. After all, we do have a long history in social gaming and we understand the element of stories and skill in motivating players.
Anne Ryynänen is the sales and marketing gal at LudoCraft. She’s also into social media and the like. She claims to be an avid hunter but has yet to get her hunting license. If you feel like following her, she goes by @pikkukapy on Twitter.