Serving games to the masses

The launch of the Gala Gaming Platform (GGP), the UK Gala Group’s server-based downloadable gaming platform, will be the largest planned roll out of server –based gaming worldwide. To date, the number of connected fixed odds betting terminals in licensed betting shops in the UK and in the skill gaming sector in pubs, is 25,000. GGP will, according to network provider, Inspired Broadcast Network, stretch to 100,000 terminals in the next five years. The vision is to see table top bingo positions, electronic roulette terminals, and casino slots. AWPs and Section 16/21 machines, replaced with a touch screen broadband terminal connected to a data centre (in other worlds Gala’s control-room in Nottingham), whereby data flows from machines to the server and back again in real-time.

  This flow of information will describe player behavior, incomes and game performance, allowing Gala to alter network prize and stake levels, send individual player messages and download new  games and functionality in real-time. And it’s a vision that’s already been accomplished in both licensed betting offices, with FOBTs, and in UK pubs, with SWP terminals. Describing the expansion of server-based gaming, Inspired Broadcast Network’s CEO, Luke Alvarez, told G3: “We’ve been working with Gala for over a year on the implementation of the Gala Gaming Platform. Having conducted extensive trials of the live bingo and live roulette product, we’ve seen substantial double and triple digit uplifts. Over the next quarter there’s a roll-out of AWPs and Section 16/21 games, with the casino slot games to follow in due course. ”

Although the initial numbers of GGP will be small, IBN already has 30,000 terminals connected to its server-based platform, and has a proven track-record to meet the ambitions of the Gala Group. “We have network in Benelux, Ireland, Holland, Italy and the UK,” stated Mr. Alvarez. “And so while our competitors run their tests with just a handful of terminals, one of the questions operators must ask of these network providers, is whether or not they have the proven technological ability to back-up their promises. The second question operators, looking to step into server-based gaming, must ask, concerns income uplift. Can the supplier prove server based terminals take more money?  IBN’s FOBTs, live roulette terminals, bingo and pub-skill gaming machines, have all substantially added double digits to the uplift on our network. What this boils down to is the robustness and quality of the hardware, and the subtlety of the content management provision. “The implementation of server-based gaming and its downloadable functions is highly complicated. Just talk to some of the UK bookmakers about the problems they ’ve encountered with other FOBT system suppliers, when attempting to manage content downloads across their estate. We have the proven ability to scale, change stake and prize across an enormous number of terminals. ”

     Asked to describe the future of server-based gaming across the whole of Europe, Mr.Alvarez is confident that were legislation allows the principle, the benefits will quickly shine through. “While implementation varies market by market, countries such as Italy have shown a willingness to embrace network gaming as part of the government mandate. Video Lottery Terminals offer a level of transparency that benefits both operators and government in the short and long-term. I believe that in the future we will see sectors of the gaming market lightly regulated in terms of downloadable content, in music and skill with prizes games for example; but with harder forms of gaming coming under stricter control. Governments fundamentally like server-based gaming as it constantly monitors incomes and taxation. Countries such as Norway and the Czech Republic are heading down the same route, with similar things happening in the Far East. Where legislation allows, the operator/ retailer is enthusiastically embracing server-based gaming because the benefits are economically compelling; thanks to continuous product updates, remote fixes over the wire and the considerable income uplifts. In the UK, we have a reasonably liberal gaming environment, where the regulators are not concerned with homologating every game, but instead concentrate on stakes and prizes. I believe that several markets are closely watching the changes taking place in the UK, with others ready to follow. ”

      Mr. Alvarez sees the adoption of this new technology as a straightforward step that’s already far more advanced in other sectors, but has yet to gain universal acceptance in the gaming industry. “A useful analogy to think about is the change from main-frame to desktop computing in the eighties, and from desktop PC to low band networking then to the rise of the Internet and broadband and web-services. Our industry is going through similar changes, though the gaming business remains five years out-of-step. In the early the nineties, everything within gaming went to video, with narrow networks adopted in the late 90s, where you had, for example, skill gaming networked golf tournaments. Most recently, server-based gaing in FOBTs and SWPs have set the standard, which is really just broadband gameplay in the gambling environment. It’s all part of a familiar mantra that we all live with as part of the technology adoption curve. You will always

“When Jennifer Lopez appeared wearing an iPod,
it pushed sales mass market. That was the iPod’s
seminal moment, there will be one for
 server-based gaming too. ”

have the early adopters of new technology, but then there’s chasm to bridge between the early adopters and the mass market, and a certain amount of time and expense to achieve that ‘seminal moment. ’  When Jennifer Lopez appeared wearing the latest iPod in her ‘Jenny from the Block’ video, it pushed sales of the iPod into the mass-market. That was a seminal moment for that technology, there will be one  for server-based gaming too. ” To speed this through to market, IBN recently announced the creation of a new casino division. It’s the company’s second attempt at creating a casino division and Mr. Alvarez makes the differences clear. “The Inspired Casino Division is the crystallization of the company structure, for press and external markets that was formalized at ATEI 2006. we have staked our position as being first and foremost a software company, which absolutely underscores everything we do in the provision of server-based gaming. To that extent it’s easy for us to move into new sectors, because while we need to learn the attributes of each sector, we’re not supplying content ourselves. We don’t have that experience in-house.

The sale of Maygay ended that part of our business and now we don’t have a single AWP developer in house. Our business is about leadership in platforms and networking, leaving the content   development to external sources. This enables us to move from sector to sector, which is very different from the business model of VIP Gaming Solutions (IBN’s   previous casino division), which was distributing physical product. But despite these future-gazing products and projects the sale of IBN’s parent, Leisure Link, looks imminent as its owners, the Henderson Group, placed the company on the market in January. “It’s absolutely going to be the same management team,” assures Mr. Alvarez. “We remain passionate about this business and see a long and substantial growth trajectory ahead of us. In terms of the sale process, we’re nearing the end of the process, but as a company, we’re just getting started. New investors will boost the growth prospects of the business and fund the next stage of expansion, both domestically and internationally beyond our core base. We’ve networked 20,000 games in UK, and now need the capital to grow. New investment is great news. ”