Synergy Blue TooBuddy Frank, CDC Gaming Reports · November 5, 2018 at 1:56 pmThe trendy thing to say in the gaming industry for the last decade or two is that “we’re in the entertainment business, not just the casino business.” But if that’s true, how come we’re not buying the most entertaining games? Obviously, I’m talking here about skill-based products. Proof that these games are the most entertaining was made clear at G2E 2018, where most of the cheering and yelling heard was not coming from the enclosed Scientific Games booth, nor the dragons snaking through Aristocrat’s, nor even from the celebrities appearing at IGT’s. If you had a meter that could measure the excitement levels in the Sands Expo Center, there’s no doubt that the highest readings would have been at Gamblit, Game Co., Next Gaming and Synergy Blue. Ironically, this loud buzz was generated by the very gaming professionals who will just as quickly tell you that these skill-based games don’t work. Something’s out of whack. Or maybe we’re just barely on the wrong side of a tipping point that could realign our future. If that tipping point is influenced only by volume, 2019 may be the fulcrum year. Gamblit has been leading the pack when it comes to creating the best G2E party atmosphere, just as they have for the last two shows, with hits like Pac Man. But they are not alone; the competition is right behind them and coming up hard. GameCo is a near peer with Gamblit and is also big in the branding game with Terminator 2 (T2) and Nothing but Net 2, while Next Gaming has Asteroids and a stable of three others.One of the newest players this year was Synergy Blue. They initially joined the skill space last year, rolling out Safari Match, the racing game Lucky Karts, and a few others. But their booth exploded this year with 19 titles, including a whopping 15 new games. Their player input devices ranged from touch screens and track balls to joysticks, handguns and steering wheels. They truly had something for everyone.Synergy Blue is not really new to gaming, having been in business since 2013 as a behind-the-scenes supplier delivering system components and software for the major slot manufacturers. Now, though, they’re working on their own products. CEO Georg Washington says this explosion of skill-based titles has been enabled by the creation of his team’s proprietary HAWG (Hybrid Arcade Wager-based Gaming) system. The HAWG system, he says, makes such development much easier to do. Washington also uses another non-word that seems to have been adopted by numerous suppliers: “gamification.” The new verb – and the HAWG system – is meant to explain the process of converting popular board games or video games to monetary casino devices or EGMs.There were some great examples of this in the Synergy booth, like Mahjong. Mobile players have spent countless hours playing this game on PCs, iPhones and Androids. Synergy’s take on this popular, but ancient, Chinese tile game mimics the mobile device versions. However, on their hi-def platform, it was fun to play on the bigger casino screen. So there is no doubt that both this classic game and the video version based on it are hits; the question is, can the game be monetized?I played Lucked & Loaded myself several times and watched a Synergy Blue technician play more than a dozen times. These games weren’t gaffed for G2E, yet the tech won (which in this context means finishing with a positive credit score) about seven out of 12 tries. I had two wins out of five attempts. That seems about right for a casino game. It produced a profit for the house, yet provided enough entertainment and wins to encourage more time-on-device.Synergy has been developing many of these games at their headquarters in Palm Desert, California and testing them in a live environment at Augustine Casino in nearby Coachella. Washington says that field trials have demonstrated revenue potential and have also “given us valuable information about our machines in the real world.” He says that certain machines such as Lucky Karts and Star Horizon have shown real potential with millennials but that he saw “people of all ages playing (them) and having fun.”One of Synergy’s first games, introduced last year, was Safari Match. Based on their trial runs at Augustine, and the lessons learned from them, they have now developed a modified version called Candy Ca$h which is one of several “level achievement” games. These games award credits based on how well a player completes the previous level; Angry Bird players are well aware of this type of mechanic. This sort of reward mechanism is extremely popular in video games, but casino operators have been cautious about the potential of these “persistence-type” bonus schemes. In the past, advantage players have been known to harass inexperienced players, bullying their way onto games as levels are achieved. Synergy Blue thinks they’ve found a solution by allowing players to save their level advances to their loyalty or rewards card. The game returns to its base level once the player’s card is removed, and returns to earned levels when the rightful owner resumes play with his/her card.One other reason for optimism about Synergy Blue is that they have inked a number of cooperative agreements for game content and distribution. They’ve used their HAWG engine to port over games from mobile developer Orbital Knight, meaning that they can now tap into Orbital’s built-in fan base of 17 million players, across all platforms, who enjoy titles like Kickerinho, Star Horizon, Dolphy Dash and Candy Patrol.As Oct. 2018 was ending, Synergy Blue announced a new distribution arrangement with Reel Games to make their games available in Florida and on Caribbean-based cruise ships. Washington calls the agreement, “Another step towards the adoption and proliferation of skill-based games in all casino markets.”Again, even though no skill-based game has yet made it big on a bricks-and-mortar casino floor, Synergy Blue’s aggressive presence in this space moves us a giant step closer to that happening. If it does, maybe the gossip about who could acquire Caesars Entertainment should include Dave & Buster’s.