Lights, slots, and booth babes, what else could you ask for? This year I was given the opportunity to travel to London to attend ICE 2020. For those of you who don't know, ICE is an annual expo that's held annually in London, showing off new games and technology primarily for the online betting industry. Since I've been writing for Casino Listings, I've always been keen to check out the show, as we're always treated to press releases on new games and tech.
Needless to say, I was geeked when I got the go-ahead to book a flight to the show. I flew out of my hub in Michigan, and after about 8 hours flying, I landed at London Heathrow to head on my way into the ExCeL convention center in London. Below you'll find my thoughts on the show, including what I think the big things coming this year (and next) will be.
I knew ICE was the biggest show for the online gambling industry, but I had no idea how big it actually was. The expo center is huge, measuring over 1,500 feet in length, and there were two full sides to the show featuring virtually every facet of the industry. Game developers, payment processors, signage companies, and even button designers were present. If you can imagine it in regards to something online betting, it was present.
By the ICE literature, there were more than 600 different companies showing their wares. A bunch of them were software groups, and I got the chance to see big boys like Microgaming, Evolution Gaming, NetEnt, and Ganapati. Some of these booths were massive themselves, with dozens of games being put on display.
Needless to say, the show is massive and you could spend hours checking out the nitty-gritty of different games.
While the major game developers take up the majority of the floor space, the real highlight for me was seeing some smaller developers that I'd either never heard of, or only experienced briefly. These developers seem to have something to prove, and they're pushing the limits in terms of putting out slots or table games that are appealing and have new features.
Among the developers I was impressed with were Mascot Gaming, Genesis, Evoplay, Dreamtech Gaming, and NetGame Entertainment. These groups all have established games, and hopefully will be expanding the distribution of their titles. Of particular note was MMA Legends by NetGame and Jungle Jam by Radi8 (a Genesis brand). I've got a list of some of the best games that I got to try, and I'll be adding an article on that in the next few days.
There have been a lot of headaches recently in regard to the UK and Swedish markets, with regulations that have seen promotions and advertising severely restricted for operators. This has caused many of these casinos to leave those lucrative markets, and sights are shifting eastward. At ICE, we saw a lot of focus shifting toward Asia and India, as the markets have a huge population as well as a growing technological presence.
Companies like Super Spade Gaming are catering toward the Indian market with their live dealer games, bringing titles like Teen Patti and Andar Bahar to their library for Indian punters. Games like Dragon Tiger and Baccarat are also in their library, catering toward those in Asia that seek the personal touch of a real dealer. Other groups like RTG are also focusing on the region, with a rep telling me that some of their new slot releases won't even be offered to casinos in Western territories.
Slot machines are cool, but they don't really appeal to younger audiences. Those who grew up with video games often think slots are boring, as they offer no interactivity or glitz. Developers are listening, and they're trying to make games look like video games that are popular. One game I saw had a knight running down a castle corridor, running into a slew of enemies that he fought. The player's payout was dependent on the number of enemies and the type of enemy killed during each encounter.
Another game I saw looked like an over the top real-time strategy game like the old Warcraft or Command & Conquer games of my youth. The game sees your army fighting off against a wave of different enemies, once again paying out depending on your squad's success. It was bright and looked great, but I instantly noticed something "off" about the games.
The thing I noticed was that the games have zero skill element. These games are essentially still slot machines, but with a different skin on them. You're essentially placing your bet and hitting the spin button, but instead of reels, you're just getting a different visual result. It's a surefire way to lure in younger players, but I don't see how anyone is going to stay with these games if there's no input required from the player.
The casino industry is naturally glitzy. Lights, loud sounds, and attractive personnel all serve as ways to lure people to the casino's products. This same rule also applies to the industry trade shows, as these providers are fighting with dozens of other companies to get you to their booth. This led to me seeing some awesome sights, including women in Catwoman suits, Playboy Bunnies, a fashion show, and even sprinting legend Usain Bolt on the show floor. It was pretty cool to see all of this going on, but I was particularly drawn to the bright screens that were bigger than the side of my house.
There's not a doubt in my mind this show's electric bill had to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollar range for three days.
I had a great time at ICE. Getting to travel to London for the first time was an awesome experience, and attending the show let me get some cool insights on the betting industry moving forward.
I really don't like the "video gamification" of slots, but I think it's interesting to see the Eastern markets opening up, both in terms of targeting and software. It'll be cool to see some of these ideas coming to pass this year, and I wonder what will be coming next year and beyond.