The Pac Man ReturnethBy Ken Adams, CDC Gaming ReportsSeptember 29, 2017 at 7:41 pmThe 1980s popular icon, Pac Man is coming to Las Vegas. On display for the first time as a gambling device at G2E, Pac Man is bringing hope to the casino industry. The industry needs a new generation of slot players and can possibly Pac Man help. It might bring in gamblers who will respond to the skill-based games of their youth in a way they do not to conventional slot machines. Pac Man was a national sensation when it hit gaming arcades in the 1980s. Its appeal went across age, gender and social-economic barriers. At five or six, my niece loved playing Pac Man; she was not very good at it and I was no better. We played in a small arcade in a nearby grocery store. Each game cost a quarter, but we played so poorly that my bankroll of four quarters was gone very quickly. Win or lose, my niece always wanted to go back again. Pac Man was part of the first wave of arcade video games and by 1983 there were 25,000 arcades generating $7.7 billion in annual revenues. That year, video gaming in arcades was the most popular form of entertainment in the country ahead of music which generated $4 billion and films $3 billion.The video games that came afterwards were played primarily at home on consoles, not in an arcade. The home computer games lead to a crash of the arcade video gaming industry; the collapse began the year after that seven billion dollar peak. In the time since, the technology has improved video games beyond recognition and with the improvements the player base and attendant revenues have grown dramatically. The top selling games of all times are Tetris, 495 million units, Minecraft 107 million, Wii Sports, 82 million and Grand Theft Auto V, 70 million units. Today’s video games can still be played on a home console, but far more popular ways to play are on a computer, mobile phone or internet connected device. Video gaming has come a long way from Pac Man, but for casinos it might just be back to future with Pac Man.Slot machines with random number generators provide the lion’s share of the revenue in all but the most elite of casino resorts. The player base is aging, but skill based games could bring in a replacement base. Slot machines in which the player’s skill plays a role along with the randomly generated results of traditional games are now legal in some states. However, thus far those games that have been trialed have been underwhelming. Last year at G2E, I walked the floor for hours looking at the skill-based games that were being touted as the savior of casino gaming. I did not find much that was exciting or seemed to have much chance of commercial success. Most of the games I saw were reworkings of skill games that had been popular in other eras. I could not see much that was interesting or entertaining in them, nor anything that was going to attract a new generation of gamblers to casinos. And that of course is the core issue – a new generation of gamblers. The need to attract new players will only increase as baby boomers drop out of sight. There may still be one thin generation behind the boomers that is willing to play the slot machines of today, but after they pass on, casinos will be faced with a serious challenge. Will Pac Man do the trick and bring in that next generation of gamblers? I am not the one to say; the people who liked to play Pac Man 30 years ago will be the ones to make that determination. The challenge for the game designers will be the same as it is for the creators of game show and board game slot machines, creating games that deliver on the promise of the theme. Pac Man and every other slot machine must first attract the eye of the player. And then, and this is where the rubber hits the road, it has to deliver an emotional experience that replicates the original game. To be successful, a 21st century Pac Man has to recreate the feelings in the player of the 20th century version. A thing much easier said than done. Everything has changed since Pac Man came out, including the players. My niece is approaching 40 today. There are very few things that she loved to do when she was a little girl that she still wants to do today; and that includes playing Pac Man.It is certain that this year the designers and manufacturers of games will have learned from last year’s game experience and will be bringing better offerings to G2E 2017. Still, the solution to the new player dilemma may not be found in this year’s games either; it may take more than one or two years to find the magic key to hearts of a new group of gamblers. However, I believe as naively as I did last year that skill based games will be fundamental in that process. It is a process; the slot machines we see today are very different from those when I began working in a casino. The constantly evolving technology has driven changes in slot machines over the years. The evolution of technology and customer preferences will drive the development of skill based games also. Pac Man may not be the one that changes the game, but it will make its contribution, if only as a lesson in what does work.