As COVID-19 upends society and the economy, focus has turned to how we will emerge and evolve as we attempt to return to normalcy. There are several critical aspects of the global gaming market that are set to change forever. The industry needs to act upon these now to optimize in the post-COVID market.
In both retail and online, the industry has remained with the tried and true from a product and experience perspective for many years. The land-based industry has been in a low-growth phase around the world amid limited product innovation. In many jurisdictions, machines were removed to maximize floor average in a slot-dependent market where the average slot player ages year after year. The online industry entered a phase of slower growth and regulatory changes in Europe, moderate growth in emerging markets and continued growth in gray markets such as key Asian territories.
Today and in the future we are presented with a different reality.
Although open, Macao casinos are ghost towns due to travel restrictions and persistent fear. Checking patrons’ temperatures, deactivating every second slot and vigilantly cleaning every surface give us glimpses of what is likely to come. Some industry reports suggest the fourth quarter as the return to semi-normalcy for Macao properties. A Q4 Macao partial recovery could correspond to a Q1 2021 partial recovery in North America. Given the potential for an impending global recession, this would represent a massive and unprecedented decline in business.
In parallel, the relationship between iGaming casino games and online sports betting — fundamental in Europe — has been slow to materialize in the United States. Now that sports betting has been decimated, the U.S. industry’s only true growth engine is idling.
So, where are we heading? Following are key elements for the industry to consider as reality unfolds:
— The business will veer younger. We are entering a period where the younger generation — Gen X and millennials — will be first to return to land-based properties on a sustained basis, with older generations reticent or unable to return. The experiences these younger customers demand will need to evolve differently from previous generations if the industry wants to be successful. This shift from older to younger signals a period of sustained technology-driven innovation featuring new and different customers and a flow of distinct experiences. Similar to iGaming, the industry will need to figure out how to use or obtain data and optimize its management.
— Casinos will change physically. The makeup of properties will evolve, as will the form factor of products. Even with the easing of distancing rules, the concept of tightly placed slots could disappear. People will expect space between them, and the placement of gaming machines will have to provide for this while also supporting human interaction. Safety will be paramount, with the touching of buttons, cards and other surfaces requiring rethought. Suppliers will need to work with operators and players to specify, build and launch differentiated products and experiences that meet customers’ new demands.
— Traditional metrics will evolve. Casino operators will have to get comfortable measuring performance differently than the current metrics of win per unit and floor average. Any decrease in the number of machines per square foot will necessitate industry innovation in consideration of this potentially lower productivity yield factor. Such an evolution could usher in a search for gaming products that outperform slots economically but that are still licensable and fun for the player. Casinos should consider moving to a model that reflects the return on investment of new customer acquisition and lifetime value.
— Regulation could change to support innovation. Innovative technology-based companies and their investors may not be able to help the industry solve its problems at the necessary pace unless there is some rationalization of regulatory and licensing regimes to facilitate greater investment. In light of this, regulators and lawmakers will need to consider how to evolve processes and associated costs to facilitate increased investment in innovation without diminishing consumer and jurisdictional protections. Jurisdictions that optimize around regulation and the needs of their gaming enterprises will benefit the most.
— Retail-online convergence will gather steam. There is a case to be made for a coming together between retail and online of some games and experiences at the customer level. Brands and experiences online will resemble the live versions in casinos and vice versa, and powerful player/loyalty databases — consisting of Gen X and millennial customers — will support such convergence.
Now is the time for industry participants to plot the evolution of the gaming sector and optimize outcomes. As we look toward a new normal, it is critical to begin strategizing around how things will change, what businesses and customers will demand and how to execute successfully on the other side.
— Robert Montgomery is an entrepreneur, investor and chairman of GameCo, a Las Vegas-based company providing video games and gamers to casino operators.