Developing online casino games has become one of the biggest areas of the game dev market in recent years. A big part of this is due to the expansion of online gambling across the globe. It’s no longer a niche hobby only accessible to a select few people, it’s one of the most popular forms of gaming on the planet right now.
So, if this is such a big area of gaming, how exactly does casino game development work?
Just like any video game development process, casino games go through a design phase first. This is usually a paper and pen design of how the game will work. Here the developers will create new features and try to work out how they will work within the framework of the game itself.
With video slots there tends to be a little bit more flexibility in terms of designing innovative features. This is because there aren’t any hard and fast rules about what the games have to do. For a game such as Blackjack, where there are rules that have to be followed, it’s not such an easy task to be innovative.
Once the basic premise of the game has been planned out, the developers will move onto implementing it on a computer.
This is where the real work starts. The first thing that has to be taken into account is the development environment. Different developers will use different environments. However, what has become quite standard with a lot of casino game development is the use of HTML5. Part of the reason for this is that HTML5 is compatible with most platforms. So, by using HTML5 a developer is able to create a game that can be used on desktop and mobile platforms without the need to carry out a conversion.
Most developers will create the game with stand-in graphics at first. These are poor quality images that are just used as placeholders while the engine for the game is created. This is usually the hardest aspect of creating the game, especially for slot games, as the mathematics behind the game will have to be carefully tweaked to ensure that the game plays fairly.
Once the game engine has been created, then artists will start to create the graphics. These are often referred to as assets. The assets will then be added to the game file and will appear in conjunction with the engine.
This can often be the bane of a developer’s life. The testing phase is carried out for a number of reasons. Firstly, any bugs need to be found and then fixed. For example, it wouldn’t be a very good Blackjack game if whenever you beat the dealer, instead of giving you a payout, it gave the dealer double your stake. Any bugs will be found during the testing stage and then sent back to the developers to fix.
Secondly, the statistics that underpin the game will need to be worked out. With a video slot game this is done by spinning the reels a large amount of times. It might give the game 10,000 credits and then spin the reels 10,000 times at a credit per spin. Once this has been done there will be enough information to work out what the RTP and variance of the game is.
The testing phase can often be one of the longest aspects of the initial development of a game. Especially if a lot of bugs are found. Once the game has been thoroughly tested then it is time for it to be released.
There are two main ways that a game can be used by casinos. The first is through land based casinos and it actually covers two different ways of using the machine. It’s a common belief that land based casinos rent their machines from the game developers and publishers. However, the truth tells a slightly different story. In actual fact, 85% of the game machines in land based casinos in the US are owned by the casino.
Part of the reason for this is that modern technology has allowed for a lot more flexibility. So, while in the past a machine had a single game on it and that was that, modern technology means that a casino can own the machine but then load different games onto it over a server. This allows for new games to be added to machines as soon as they are released, without any delays.
With this system the revenue for the machine tends to be split between the casino and the developer. There may be licensors involved in the transaction as well. An example of this would be if a game had a major brand behind it as the theme. Game of Thrones could be one possibility. In this scenario, the casino would have to pay a fee to the owner of the GoT license and then split revenue with the game developer.
Of course, some machines are just leased outright. This gives the casino the ability to return the machine if it’s not hitting the revenue targets that it expects. Leased machines tend to have higher levels of revenue split as well, which is another reason why casinos tend to steer clear of them.
Online casinos approach things from a different perspective. Because they aren’t limited in terms of space, they don’t have to worry about a game not bringing in huge amounts of revenue. They can just have the game on the site and from there it will just be played as and when players feel like it. It does mean that the casinos don’t own any of the game “machines” that feature on their sites though.
What will usually take place is that the casino will sign a licensing deal with a provider and from there the game will appear on their site. Any revenue from the game will be split between the licensor, developer and casino. Revenue splits can be anywhere between 30/30/40 to 10/10/80. It depends on the popularity of the game, how high profile the casino is and how high profile the developer is.
While it might seem as though online casinos get a harsher end of the stick, it’s important to remember that online casinos are able to offer a significantly higher number of games and have the potential to serve significantly higher numbers of players. On top of this, the running costs are much lower, so profit margins are a lot higher.
Of course, the world of casino gaming doesn’t stand still. It has had to move with the times in order to keep up with the outside world. One of the biggest innovations that has come along in recent years is the introduction of live dealer casino games. These are actually standard table games, but with an added twist. They feature a live video stream with a real life dealer who takes players through proceedings. These have then evolved into offering more game show style games, such as Mega Ball and Dream Catcher. Creating these games is slightly different to standard casino games.
With a standard casino game, once it has been developed it’s just a case of sending it off to the casinos to be played. With a live dealer game it requires constant input from the developer. So, the software is developed in the same way as with a standard casino game initially, but then things change. The game has a studio where all of the live footage is recorded. Because it is live though, it means that the presenter and studio have to be active while players are online. This does make them more expensive to produce and run.
They do require faster internet connections as well, because the game streams constantly as it is being played. While it might not offer prizes on a par with some other casino games, it does provide a more immersive and fun experience. Companies such as NetEnt and Evolution Gaming have dedicated studios to these games, which is why they are recognized as the market leaders for live dealer games.
These have been around for a long time in land based casinos. They are essentially a casino game where a small portion of every wager goes towards a large overall prize. These are linked by a network and can create some incredible payouts.
In the online casino world companies such as NetEnt, Microgaming and Playtech all have high quality progressive jackpots available. In order to work the casinos have to be connected to the internet. This makes sure that every wager from every player in the world will pay in a small portion towards the jackpot. The games are developed with this in mind, so have more complex code in place. It means that while they might not offer as much in terms of gameplay, they offer much larger prizes.
Some developers have links to certain casinos. This means that when they develop a game it might only be available at a single casino, or a small group of casinos. When this happens it will usually just be a small period of exclusivity. The main reason for this is that it would be an issue for the developer if they limited the number of players who can play their game for a long period of time.
Once the exclusivity period is over the game will be available at all sites that have a licensing agreement with the developer.
Future of Casino Gaming?
There’s a lot of talk about what’s going to come next with casino gaming. A lot of people thought that live dealer gaming was the pinnacle, however with the advent of blockchain development it’s likely that there is another place to go. This looks to be the next area that will see games moving forwards. One of the big advantages to using blockchain gaming is it opens up new avenues of compatibility.
So, it means there could well be an entirely online casino that uses virtual reality in the future. While it might not be within the next couple of years, it’s definitely on the horizon.