Online casinos have enjoyed an explosion in popularity in the last couple of decades, since the first of their kind emerged in the mid 90s. At the time, the novelty value of gambling for real money on a remote casino was a major part of their appeal, attracting both gambling fanatics and tech enthusiasts alike for the sheer thrill of trying something new. But as technologies improved, gamblers quickly realised that playing online was significantly more convenient on the whole, and thus, a multi-billion dollar industry was born.
Fast forward to today, and the casino industry is in ruder health than ever before. Players from around the world regularly log-on to take part in the favourite games, hoping to win real money prizes from casino classics like roulette and blackjack, through to online slots with huge progressive jackpots. But with the next casino only ever a click away, casino operators have very little choice but to constantly innovate and refresh their offering, to stay both relevant and competitive.
The move towards skill based games has been pronounced in online casinos in recent years, with games coming into focus that marry the best elements of video gaming with the higher levels of engagement and entertainment that comes from betting. But how might this generally impact on the online casino industry?
When you look at a traditional slot machine, it’s hard to argue there’s any element of skill involved. For the most part, you choose your stake, tell the machine when to spin, and hope that good fortune is smiling down on you. This has carried over from offline arcade style machines to the online casino market, where slots – one of the most popular forms of online gambling in the world – are pretty close analogues of their offline counterparts.
Of course, online slots are much better on the whole, with impressive graphics, bonus rounds, features and animations that put more traditional slot games to shame. But even slots are succumbing to the allure of skill-based gaming, as casinos push forward to find more, innovative ways of boosting player engagement.
The trouble slots developers have is in capturing attention and retaining it. Because slots have a built in house edge set at machine or game level, they need people to play their games, and to continue to play their games, in order to make any money. As soon as skill based elements are introduced, engagement naturally skyrockets – players want to improve their score, or to compete with friends. The element of competition, combined with the challenge of skill based gambling makes this a particularly attractive model for players – win win, as far as the industry is concerned.
But there’s also another key reason slots are getting the skill-based treatment – compliance. The US is a notoriously awkward market for gambling operators, with restrictive laws designed to pretty much disrupt the industry stateside – in stark contrast to the position across most of the rest of the developed world, where gambling is welcomed as a legitimate entertainment pursuit.
Skill-based gaming circumvents some of the objections to gambling at state level, and states like Ohio and Nevada have already been incredibly receptive to the idea – a concept which could open up the huge, but historically restricted, US gambling market. With millions of potential players just waiting for compliant games to come along, the impetus has never been stronger to create slots games with a greater degree of skill involved.
Another key challenge in the online gaming industry has been attracting millennials to online casinos. While millennials are not averse to gambling by any means, they seem to be less inclined to head to casinos as their first port of call, instead preferring the likes of sports betting. It’s been widely argued that this is down to the skill and challenge element of sports betting, a factor reflected in the growing popularity of video games within the millennial demographic. Some have even suggested that cross-sells from sportsbooks into online casinos may be amongst the most effective ways to engage these crowds.
Of course, making games more challenging by introducing skill components could well be another way of bridging this gap. With millennials so obviously keen to engage in skill based gaming in other formats, casinos are already leveraging the opportunity to attract these new demographics by investing in skill based games of their own.
There’s no denying that casinos are making the move towards skill based games, with some casinos now even putting this at the heart of their pitch to customers. But will skill based gaming come to dominate the online gambling environment? Probably not. Traditional casino games will always find their audience, and when you consider the likes of roulette have been enjoyed for centuries, that’s unlikely to change any time soon.
In reality, it’s most likely that skill based gambling games will grow to be a standalone genre in their own right, complementary to the market for traditional online casino gamings. That does mean, however, the casinos have a new avenue to pursue for potential growth, and new opportunities for growing their brands in the near future.
PartyCasino is operated by LC International Limited who are licensed and regulated in Great Britain by the Gambling Commission under account number 54743.