Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Wart's Opinion - An Interesting Experiment

There is an interesting experiment going on in the no-download (aka "Instant Play", typically Adobe Flash) Casino software world.  This experiment is being conducted by 2 software companies of which I am aware - NetEntertainment and BetSoft.  My best guesstimate is that it started about a year and a half ago, maybe two.

The experiment boils down to a single thing - huge file sizes.  As with any container, the larger the size the more you can put in there.  So, with these huge files comes a lot of game play goodies - high quality (and especially high resolution) graphics, entertaining and extensive animation, intro movies, all sorts of sound files, etc.  In other words, lots of bells and whistles.

Why do I refer to this as an experiment?  As far as game play goes, I believe that you will need to see the difference to understand the difference.  A good example, as of this date August 25 2012, is the most recent NetEnt slot named Beach.  You can see it here:  NetEnt Beach Slot Link

Aspects of the experiment:

1.  These files can take quite some time to download.  Obviously this depends on your pipe (and their pipe), but in my experience with this game (and others of this type - see link below) I'd say that they are pushing the limits of the "instant play" definition.  (Compare the load time of any of the Galewind Software games.)

2.  NetEnt's web site has a page which displays most of their games.  (Even this web page can take awhile to download.)  Clicking on a game graphic loads the game.  I can give my personal experience with the game links on this page.

It is not uncommon (a quarter of the time, maybe more) for me to click a game graphic, be entertained by watching the Flash "glowing dot" download status bar crawl its way across my screen, only to reach its termination point and ... nothing.  I'll wait a minute ... more nothing.  This is a load failure rate of 25% here people!

Why is this true?  I don't know.  As a user, I shouldn't have to know - I shouldn't care.  All I should know is that I clicked on a button and I should be playing a game.  (I can say that this problem appears more frequently if I use Internet Explorer, Firefox and/or Opera.  It occurs less frequently when I use Google Chrome.)

3.  In general I think that my initial impressions of these types of games are very positive.  The graphics are stunning, and the animation is entertaining.  After awhile, however, all of that seems to fade.  I don't know exactly when - 20 games, 200 games, what have you.  But when it does happens I find myself just wanting to get back to a "slot machine".

4.  This aspect is a little more technical.  My laptop's hard drive is about 120 GB.  My Firefox cache is about 1 GB.  My IE cache is 252 MB.  I don't know what my Chrome or Opera cache is, and right now I'm too lazy to find out.

My IE cache is obviously an issue (I've asked other people, and the 252 MB setting appears to be the default.  I could be wrong here.), so lets discuss the ramifications of the interface between these new Flash game files and my IE cache size.  (I emphasize the default cache setting because I'd guess that 95% of the browsing population doesn't know what a "browser cache" is, where it is, why it is, or how to change it if they even wanted to.)

I've checked - these new game files are coming in at between 6 MB and 10 MB.  They also have some pretty huge support files - global handlers, generic client-side stuff, movies, etc., etc.  So, for the sake of a number, let's settle on 10 MB per game.

With 10 MB a game and a 250 MB cache we've got room for 25 games.  If we download game 26, this then overwrites game 1 in the cache.

BUT ...

The cache is shared globally.  Every web site you visit writes to, and consumes part of, the same cache.  So, if you've filled your cache with games, then move onto another web site from which you download a 125 KB graphic file, it also overwrites game 1 in the cache.

So, you can do the math.  Play some games here, play some other games there, do some browsing here, do some more browsing there.  It is apparent that cache control is a significant issue for these new games.

OK, great, it's an issue.  Is that a problem?

It is a problem, and it applies to both the Player and the Casino.

For the Player - if you've downloaded a game file but it has been wiped from your cache then you need to download it again.  A small pain in the ass given the lengthy download times, but a major pain in the ass given the 25% load failure rate.

For the Casino - One of the major costs of operating an online Casino is associated with how much internet pipe volume they've used to send information to their customers.  Because they need to operate their servers out of an "Approved and Certified" server farm, a Casino pays a lot of money to send that eCommerce data across the wires - a lot more money than just a GoDaddy web site running off a shared server.

The size of the information required to play a game (Deal/Draw, Hit/Stand. Roll. Spin, etc.) is very small - maybe 1 or 2 KB.  So if the game file is cached then game play is cheap.

But if the Casino finds that they need to send 10 MB game files again and again to the same players over and over - well, that transfer load begins to build up pretty quickly over the month.  And if they find that a significant number of these types of games are played by "low rollers" (a penny a line on a 20-line slot for a bet of 20 cents), and the slot's RTP is 95% or north thereof, well, the Casino may find that they are actually losing money on these types of transactions.

Thus the title of this post - this is all an interesting experiment.  As I said above, it has been a year and a half.  So, what are the preliminary results?


Based on what I read at Casinomeister concerning player’s impressions of these types of games, the response is on the whole not positive.  I find many comments that match my own personal response - an initial "Wow", followed by some period of game play, and then the desire to just go back and play a "regular slot".

I also find comments concerning the download failure rate, as well as game play failures - the game hangs, the server hangs, something hangs.

Obviously I have no access to the Administration systems for any Casinos running these games.  There is, however, a very interesting report available at the Sports Interaction (SIA) Casino's home page.  Follow this link.  (NOTE:  PDF)

SIA runs 3 different Casinos (Playtech, BetSoft, and "something else"), and which one you get depends on what country the server identifies you as coming in from.  For me this is the US, so I get their BetSoft Casino.  The URL above is provided as a TST link on the US Casino's home page.

There is 1 Note concerning this report - the time span is for 3 months.  There is 1 Surprise concerning this report - it provides the total bet volume per game.  (Here is a link to a typical RTP report from TST.)  Personally, I think this SIA report was prepared by TST for internal (inside BetSoft) use only, and somebody blew it and made it public.

Anyway, on to the actual data.  First of all, you would expect that, since this Casino is their US facing product, and the US is generally regarded as the land of milk and honey for online Casinos, the bet volume for this product would be really significant for that reason only.  A quick scan of the "Cash Played" column with a reminder to divide by 3, and the monthly numbers are not really significant.

I know enough about online Casino bet volumes to realize that the number 1 game in this list, The Slot Father, at about $100,000 a month for a US-facing product, is NOT a significant performer.  And the other games in the list are even worse, most significantly worse.

I didn't do the math, but the gross profit contained within this report is pretty grim.

Now, one is left to wonder - is US traffic into SIA not that big?  Is SIA's US Casino not well promoted?  Etc., etc.  Or is it the BetSoft product?


BOTTOM LINE

As with all things relating to online Casinos, if conclusions are required then they are going to have a pretty large error bar.

Based on what I've seen, both in the sources referenced above and a few other snippets from here and there, I'd conclude that the jury is still out on whether this Great Experiment is a success or a failure.

But, I'd put my line bet down on the Don't Pass.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Terms & Conditions Watch: Betfred (UPDATED)


UPDATE: In grand, piece-of-shit online casino fashion, the terms and conditions for Betfred are scattered around the website, making finding them difficult. Betfred has another page of T&C's, loaded with all of the insane, would-never-stand-up-in-court terms that we've come to know and love in other online casinos. Betfred is among the worst.

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Betfred had some of the weirdest T&C's that I've ever seen written down.
  • When opening an account, customers are required to choose their own username and password.
Ummm. Yes? Would you also like to specify that money is required to gamble? Oh, you would? Ok.
  • The minimum account deposit is £5 or equivalent, and you can only bet up to the amount available within your account.
The minium deposit thing I understand. That's good information to have. I don't think that it should be hidden in T&C's, but it does make sense. The second part, though, silly.
  • You agree to deposit monies by our accepted deposit methods to an account with us in accordance with our procedures against which you shall be able to use our services.
That's not really an agreement. It's more of a requirement. A customer can't really demand something that a company can't do.
  • When a bet is placed and accepted, the corresponding amount is charged against the customer's deposit account.
When a bet is placed, the bet will be placed. That's what this says. Would they like to wander down the pedantic rabbit hole a bit more and tell people what will happen when they click their mouse?
  • We reserve the right to propose a different stake size or price for the selection on any bet.
What?! "We know that you want to bet five dollars, but we think ten would be better."
  •  A bet is deemed to be valid only following confirmation of acceptance, and the bet being logged on our server. This acceptance is demonstrated with the generation of a Bet Identification Number.
Seriously, specifying the details of your game design doesn't help the customer in any way. Why are you saying this?
  • If you have cleared your balance to zero, in order to place any further bets you will be required to transfer the minimum deposit into your account.
Again, they are specifying that if a player runs out of money, they have to stop playing. This anally pedantic to an extreme degree.
  • WE DO NOT WARRANT THAT THE SOFTWARE WILL BE NON-INFRINGING OR THAT THE OPERATION OF THE SOFTWARE WILL BE ERROR FREE OR UNINTERRUPTED OR THAT ANY DEFECTS IN THE SOFTWARE WILL BE CORRECTED, OR THAT THE SOFTWARE OR THE SERVERS ARE VIRUS-FREE.
First, just simply saying that they don't guarantee that the software doesn't infringe doesn't defend a company when they are actually infringing. That's why law suits work. The last part is something that I have seen in a number of casino's T&C's and I find it disturbing. Essentially, they are saying "just because our stupidity infected you with a virus and may have cost you a great deal of money does not make it our fault." I would love to see that tested in court.
  • You hereby acknowledge that it is not in our control how the Software is used by you. You load and use the Software at your own risk and in no event shall we be liable to you for any direct, consequential, incidental or special damage or loss of any kind (except personal injury or death resulting from our negligence).
This is a continuation of the previous term that just blows my mind. Death? What the hell could an online casino do that results in death? And why is that the only result that isn't covered by their disavowal of responsibility?
  • You may not use the Online Casino for any commercial use or on behalf of another person. Any use of the Online Casino by you is for own private purposes only.
I've seen this at many casinos and still don't fully understand what it means? What the hell is commercial use of an online casino that is not "private"?
  • You acknowledge that our random number generator will determine the outcome of the games played on the Online Casino and you accept the outcomes of all such games.
I love how casinos seem to think that just putting up T&C's absolves them from basic legal requirements. Just because people say that the casino is fair doesn't mean that it is.
  • You will not commit any acts or display any conduct that damages our reputation or our software provider or any other related service providers.
I guess this means that I wouldn't be allowed, since I'm blogging about how much they suck.
  • In the event of any dispute regarding a wager or winnings, our decision will be final and binding.
This is actually the only term that they needed. What we say goes, no matter what.

One thing going for Betfred is their lack of robot exclusion and pattern betting exclusions. They should be recognized for this. See update above for why this was struck.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Wart's Opinion - Mirror Neurons & Casinos

One possible answer to your 4-part question "Why Aren't Online Casinos Dominating":

Over the past couple of years I've been reading occasional articles in New Scientist about mirror neurons.  The references typically arise in the context of answering the question "Where does human empathy come from?"  (Search on "mirror neurons and empathy" if the topic interests you.)

What struck me after reading a recent article was "mirror neurons and casinos".

The Wiki article on mirror neurons starts with the definition:  "A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another."

For years I have been reading posts from people that play in both land-based (aka "Brick & Mortar" or B&M) casinos and online Casinos.  They frequently state that online casino games (Blackjack for instance) are rigged because they have fewer wins, or fewer Blackjacks, or fewer "good things" at online casinos than they do at B&M Casinos.

Online casinos have always known that they simply can't provide to the player any of the "goodies" typical for a B&M Casino - awe inspiring architecture, drinks, food, live entertainment, the "sights & sounds" and the excitement that this induces.  They offset this with bonuses, higher RTPs, and as much "sights and sounds" as they can squeeze into a file that ultimately needs to be downloaded through an internet connection.

But this "mirror neurons" thing perhaps introduces a whole new category.

I can see a way for B&M Casinos to exploit this, but I just can't see it happening in online casinos.

In a way it is already happening at B&M casinos.  A B&M Blackjack table, for instance, typically supports 7 players.  If all 7 seats are filled, the probability that someone is going to get Blackjack (that is, 21 on the deal) is 6 times greater than if there is only one seat filled.  If mirror neurons are indeed firing, then each of the players at the table "experiences" that other player's Blackjack.

The same goes for table poker games - all players get to "experience" any other player's Royal Flush, Straight Flush, Full House, etc.

And finally, it also goes for slots.

We've all heard what may or may not be true - B&M casinos put loose slots at the entrance, and at the ends of the rows, so that the more frequent wins will entice players to enter the casino (or the row).  This "mirror neuron" theory tells them that they should put some loose slots in the middle of the rows, so that the middle 5 players will experience the wins of the center player.

Given that slot rows are typically back-to-back, they’d only need to have one loose slot, and get a “neuron hit” from 10 people.  1 loose slot, 9 tight slots, 10 satisfied customers.  Not a bad ratio.

Again, this is another one of "those things" which online Casinos will never be able to exploit in the psychology of playing casino games.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Terms & Conditions Watch: ClubUSA Casino


Today in our Hall of Shame, ClubUSA Casino, which won the award for best affiliate program from Casinomeister. Why a website that started as a player advocate would have an award for affiliates is beyond me, but no matter. Onward to the terms & conditions!
The Player fully accepts and agrees that CWCUSD random number generator software will determine the outcome of the Games.
I've seen this at a number of casinos, most are lost to early-onset senility, and it's just as stupid here as at those earlier sites. This makes no sense and isn't the slightest bit defensible. Just imagine if this worked. Crooked companies everwhere could escape prosecution by saying "But, the customers agreed that we aren't crooked! It doesn't matter if we are or not!"
In the event of any dispute regarding a wager or winnings, the decision of CWCUSD shall be final and binding.
Here is ClubUSA admitting that they don't give a crap about any laws or regulations, thus negating the quasi-legal status of their T&C's.
In cases where players are participating in strategies or patterns of play that CWCUSD in its sole discretion deems to be abusive we reserve the right, prior to closing the account, to deduct any processing costs associated with the account from the value of the final payment.
This is a pattern betting exclusion. They mas well say "anyone suspected of using voodoo to win shall have their account closed." It makes just as much sense. What this term actually says is "if we don't like that you are winning, we shall kick you out." Apparently, ClubUSA thinks that it is Las Vegas in the 1960's.
All Bonuses will be given only once per household, business address, IP address and/or per account, as per our terms of use. If a duplicate account is opened it will be closed and all bonuses and winnings will be considered void.
This term could also apply to entire apartment complexes that connect via a single connection. All this does is reveal that the current bonus structure is an abysmal mutant of a marketing strategy and should be abandoned.
All bonuses carry a wagering requirement that is to be completed on a specific selection of games. Any wagers made on games that are excluded from the wagering requirement before the wagering requirement is completed will result in the bonus and any winnings being void. The player must be aware of and accept these terms and conditions before playing the bonus.
Accidentally play the wrong game? Too bad! This kind of restriction should be included within the software. It should automatically prevent players from doing the wrong thing. This is either bad software, or they are purposely hoping that players will mess up so they don't have to pay out. Either option is bad. Door number one, they are incompetent. Door number two, they are evil.

The one thing that I can say about ClubUSA is that they don't have a robot exclusion policy. That's good.