How to solve an uncomfortable problem. Victor H. Royer
As a consultant to the gaming industry, I help my clients with many situations. For Wall Street, and other financial houses, I provide key perspectives on the industry as a whole, as well as individual items as such are requested. For casino operators, I help them understand what’s actually happening on the casino floor, from the guest’s perspective. For gaming equipment manufacturers, I help them understand what the players actually want, and why. And how to maximize the reach and appeal of their games and products.
In my capacity as a consultant, I produce not only operational and efficiency profiles of casino resorts, but also several reports for gaming manufacturers. These focus on players’ preferences, and range from the hardware design, to the ergonomics of the products, to the software and game components. Although these reports are always confidential in their detail and applicability to each client, nevertheless there are many generalities that can be culled from them.
Here in this article, I will explore some of the interesting aspects of information that I was able to obtain from several thousand subjects. Here, the focus will be on Slant Top Slot Designs, specifically on the hardware cabinetry design of the machine that holds the game – also including the newest models like Wave and Arc, and their similar counterparts.
Although many of the players who play these slant top slot designs may not be able to explain their preferences in quantifiable terms, nonetheless there are enough similarities in the language and expressions they use, and in the way and manner they speak about these machines, that leads me to the conclusions as here provided.
Players are almost evenly divided between those that like these slant top designs, and those that hate them. There doesn’t seem to be any “middle”. Players are distinctly divided into the two groups of “yes”, and “no”.
Those players who like the slant top designs say that they like them because they are more like a table, and seem easier to use.
Players who hate them, say that they hate them for precisely the same reasons that the other players like them, but also add that they like the uprights better because on those they can put their feet up on the cabinet, lean back, and relax while playing the machines. This is not possible on slant top designs, and these players therefore claim that because of this such slant tops are just too uncomfortable to play for any length of time.
This applies even more specifically to the newest machines, like Wave and Arc, which usually have fixed seating in front of them, and this forces players to have to sit too far back to comfortably play them. At the same time, these designs are also forcing players to stay “stuffed in” underneath the “lip” of these games, where it gets hot and unpleasant.
So, players who hate these slant top designs, cite all of these as examples why these models and designs are so horribly uncomfortable that they can’t stay and play them for any extended periods of time – even though they normally would like to.
Players also don’t like it when the casinos crowd slant tops together, so much so that people fall on top of each other trying to navigate between them. This isn’t really a manufacturing problem, but the manufacturers can help by making their slant top slot designs wider by about 4” total. That two inch space on either side will go a long way toward making the actual use of these machines more player friendly, and cause less player perceived “congestion” between machines and players.
This is actually a real problem, particularly in casinos that stack machines in close proximity to maximize floor space. At busy times, it is the machines that are blamed for the congestion, and the players are often alienated from the machine, instead of being angered at the casino’s placement of the machines. Nevertheless, this negativity in player perception will be felt by the manufacturers of the machines and the games in them, because most players will simply not realize that their displeasure has little to do with the machine and game, but everything to do with the way the casinos placed them.
Some slant top slot designs have a padded area at the front which protrudes upward, making “bumps” and “lumps” in the padding in front (like some of the Interblock games, particularly those of the latest designs, where this is a very major issue for players under real casino playing conditions).
Designs like these are very bad, because it leaves corner areas into which dirt falls, cigarette butts are placed, ashes mount, and there isn’t enough room to put a drink, or anything else. Drinks tip over on these corners, causing spills, machine malfunctions, and great distress to the players – and the employees who have to clean it up and get the machine working again.
Any machine that is made this way should be remodeled immediately, because this is the most useless configuration ever perpetrated upon the hapless casino customer. The initial idea may be good, but the real-world usage of these machines means that the exact opposite was achieved – instead of player comfort, player discomfort was caused. And the same applies to many slant top slot designs that have already been re-worked, but whose designers still put components – like ticket printers and currency validators – on the lip of the machine, where players put their stuff.
The best slant top designs have smooth surfaces, with no ridges, or anything which is high, protruding, or has any kind of interference with operation, ability to lean forward, place drinks, hold ashtrays, or anything that could be a tipping hazard, or in some way interfere with ease of operation, cleaning, and maintenance.
If padding is used, this should be form-fitted so that it doesn’t rise above the plain of the machine’s deck, lip, or screen, nor should the screen itself be reset inside a hollow, but be flat, or covered flat, with smooth surfaces throughout.
Part of the perceived problem with these slant top designs seems to be lack of forethought about the actual in-casino use of this equipment. Machines get dirty and have to be cleaned. People playing the machines bring “stuff” along with them, and they need room to put this “stuff” on the front of the machine. Since slant tops don’t have a cabinet ontop of which they stand – like the uprights – they also don’t have spaces between machines where people can put their “stuff”.
In addition, casino personnel also have to be able to get to these machine when they must, and to do this they always have to ask the players to move their “stuff”, and this is often a very huge problem. Simply put, many such machines just aren’t player-friendly in their basic design concept – seemingly ignoring the actual uses to which they will be put by their users (the players in the casino).
But by far the greatest problem with these slant top designs is the awful fixed seating that often accompanies these machines. A large percentage of casino slot players absolutely hate this, so much so that many will refuse to play these slant top designs altogether because of it.
Having fixed seating in front of any machine is to cause players so much anguish and discomfort as to render the game decidedly off-putting, whatever it may be. Fixed and non-adjustable seating in front of gaming machines is among the most frequently cited complaint about slant top designs from all slot players everywhere – alongside with short chairs that are too low when used in front of uprights.
Why anyone would do this is befuddling to everybody, except those who made them that way, or so it seems. While I realize that manufacturers cannot control the seating that casinos put in front of their machines – unless the manufacturer supplied this fixed seating as part of the machine and cabinet – at no time should any slant top, or any slot machine, be supplied, made, or even equipped with these torture devices.
By their very nature, machines with fixed seating have to be configured to accommodate really fat people, and while the majority of Americans may now be statistically overweight, this doesn’t mean that the rest of the world’s slot players need be so compromised by a problem that’s easily solved by simply having a free-standing chair with these slant top designs, so that each player can put the chair where they want it to be.
The final item for this article has to do with player fatigue. This is particularly relevant to slant top designs that contain video poker, either as a stand-alone game, or as part of a multi-game platform. The design of the cabinetry requires the players to lean forward, at an angle of about 20-25 degrees from that which would be considered as correct posture for a sitting position. This is specifically accentuated on machines that have a button deck requiring constant player participation, as is the case in video poker. Even if these slant tops have free-standing good seating in front of them, the fact remains that the button deck on these machines is often located too far away from where the player can sit, even if the player’s stomach is pressed against the front lip of the machine. Additionally, the button decks on these machines are generally ergonomically awful, and often quite unresponsive to commands.
The outcome of all of this is that the customer – the casino player upon whom both the casino and the game’s manufacturer rely for profitability – tires easily. Players on machines of this kind fatigue at a rate of about three times that of uprights, according to our numbers over the past decade.
Although many players of these slant top designs may not consciously realize this during their play, after only a short time they nevertheless leave the game, often complaining of backaches, particularly in the small of the back. It so happens that the designs of these slant tops requires the players to sit at the angle I mentioned earlier, and this places huge stress levels upon the muscles that hold the spine and hips and lower back and abdomen.
This is precisely where the juncture of nerves is the highest, and the solidity of the human body the weakest. The sciatic nerve runs directly through this juncture, and such a posture as is required of players of these slant tops directly results in inflammation of this nerve, as well as muscular fatigue. This quickly rises to the upper back areas, to shoulders, and eventually to the forearms, hands and fingers. Repetitious activity, such as the frequent pressing of buttons required during play on video poker slant tops, accelerates and exacerbates this process.
The ultimate outcome is that the player leaves the game far sooner than he or she would have otherwise, and at a rate of about three times as soon as they normally leave more comfortable uprights.
Such frequent player fatigue leads to player attrition at a rate higher than necessary. A simple redesign of the controls will solve this issue, and both the casinos and the game’s manufacturers will benefit by the increased play that these machines will thus generate.
The point of all of this is that sometimes the reasons why a machine or game is underperforming have little to do with the game itself, and a lot more to do with the box it’s in, and how that box is designed, and then actually placed, and used, in the real world of the actual casino.
Victor H Royer is President of Gaming Services & Research. He is a 33 year veteran of Las Vegas gaming, a 26 year consultant to the gaming industry, author of 47 books, and more than 4,000 articles on casino games and gaming. In addition he has researched and authored over 300 industry reports on the subject of player preferences, marketing, player development and customer relations. He can be reached at: DrVHR@aol.com