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Ten Commandments for Game Inventors
So, you noticed there are a lot of new table games in the casino that weren't there during your last visit. Surely you could come up with an idea for a casino game too and make millions from it. If I'm describing you, stop right there. Chances are your idea, the one you think will be the next Three Card Poker, not only stinks but has been tried before, and failed miserably. The business of inventing and marketing new casino games is fiercely competitive and only the very strongest survive.
I'm sure you're thinking at this point that you're smarter than the rest and still have what it takes. So, let me humor you with some specifics of what usually brings down new casino games. As an mathematical consultant to new game inventors, these are the top ten mistakes I've seen over and over for 15 years.
- Thou Shalt Keep it Simple
A good standard is that you should be able to teach a new player the rules in under thirty seconds. It slows down a game while the dealer explains the rules, players won't have the patience to learn something complicated, and the more complicated the game is, the more likely the dealer is to make errors. Side bets should be limited to one.
The more complicated a game, the more dealer errors there will be, which are a major reason many games fail. Usually a player will keep his mouth shut when an error favors him but conveniently alert the dealer when it would favor the casino. Casino management tends to put their worst dealers on new games, which aren't expected to make as much money, and are thus an easy mark when dealing a new game.
- Thou Shalt Covet Games that are Already Popular
Successful new table games take a game that is already popular and add a new twist to it. Namely poker, blackjack, and baccarat — in that order. I have seen many game inventors try to reinvent craps and roulette, but the number to have any kind of financial success, to my knowledge, is zero.
- Thou Shalt Keep the House Edge Under 5%
New game inventors frequently make the error of trying to butcher the player with a huge house edge. You can shear a sheep many times but slaughter it only once. The opposite also happens on occasion, where inventors wish to release a game with a player advantage, under the incorrect notion that player errors will swing the odds back towards the casino. No game with a player advantage will last long. Well-financed advantage players will take it down like cavemen hunting a mammoth.
- Thou Shalt Not Use Unfamiliar Equipment
If you're going to do a card game, it should use standard 52-card decks. Using a joker is ill-advised, except for pai gow poker variants. Dice should absolutely be the standard cubes. If you think using one of the other Euclidean solids would be a fresh idea instead of cubes, stop right there. That idea has crashed and burned many times already. Likewise, non-standard roulette wheels have been tried many times, and none of them have lasted long. Don't even get me started on such things as spinners and dreidels.
- Thou Shalt Not Combine Existing Games
Do not combine two or more popular games together. It has been tried many times, and never gone far. This is especially true of combining blackjack to poker. If you think you're the first to think of that, trust me, you're in the company of a lot of game inventors who struck out in three swings. Combining two different popular games in a casino has about the same chance of success as Wendy's would have of serving chili and a milkshake in the same cup.
- Thou Shalt Name Thy Game Well
Good names are easy to remember and contain words that are reminiscent of winning, excitement, and/or happiness.
- Thou Shalt Emphasize Winning
The layout, rule cards, and training of the dealers should emphasize the rules for winning, not losing. Any terminology unique to the game should also emphasize luck or money.
- Thou Shalt Remember Thy Casino Staff
For a game to make it, it must be liked by both players and dealers. Games should be easy for dealers to deal and floor supervisors to protect. For example, if you make a player against dealer game, and the dealer must divide his cards somehow, as in pai gow poker, the dealer "house way" strategy should balance simplicity and power, with the emphasis on simplicity.
- Thou Shalt Protect Thy Game from Advantage Play
Some very smart people make careers out of exploiting new casino games. You do not want to make it easy for them. To start, new games should be vetted for card counting, hole carding, and player collussion.
- Thou Shalt Not Skimp on Professional Help
An experienced mathematician and intellectual property attorney should be hired to thoroughly vet a game to ensure it holds water mathematically, will have market appeal, and to confirm the idea hasn't already been taken. If you can't afford the $10,000 to $20,000 this is likely to cost, then you're probably in the wrong business.
"Freedom of choice is what you've got.
Freedom from choice is what you want." — Devo
Many thanks to Eliot Jacobson who did not object to me putting my own spin on his idea. Please also visit his article The Elements of a Successful Carnival Game.
More Information about Inventing and Marketing New Casino Games
- Marketing New Casino Games by Michael Shackleford.
- GLOBAL GAMING EXPO 2006: Take My Game, Please by Benjamin Spillman of the Las Vegas Review Journal.
- Game Masters: Caribbean Stud, Three Card Poker, Let it Ride - New card games pop up in casinos every day. Meet the maverick inventors behind the latest gambling craze, from the August 2004 Playboy.
- Seeking a Place at the Gaming Table, from the May 10, 2009 Las Vegas Sun.
- Pitfalls of Provisional Patent Applications by Jon H. Muskin.
- For inexperienced game inventors, Contemporary Casino Table Game Design by Eliot Jacobson should be required reading. Eliot and I have seen all the mistakes that newcomers to the business make over and over. This books lays out in detail the usual flaws that destine most new games to failure, and how to avoid them. After reading this book you may be scared off from ever taking the leap into the business. Given the low odds of success, even with a good game, you probably would be right.
- Exerpt from the book Casino Game Design: from a cocktail napkin sketch to the casino floor (PDF 144k) by Dan Lubin. I don't know how to get the entire book.
- Dan Lubin interview. My interview with Dan Lubin, inventor of EZ Pai Gow, on the business of inventing and marketing new casino games.
- New Casino Games — the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Dr. Eliot Jacobson put together this montage of some of the casino games he has seen. It just goes to show that if you think you have the next Three Card Poker, then you have a lot of company.
- Geoff Hall — Table game inventor.
- Roger Snow — Director of table games at Shufflemaster.
- Eliot Jacobson — Gaming mathematician and consultant.
Written by: Michael Shackleford