By Ian Crosby, Sales and Marketing Director
The day-to-day challenges being faced by any gaming operation are becoming increasingly tough. This calls for such establishments to make a considerable financial commitment into the procurement of new and innovative products that will attract more visitors and simultaneously raise efficiency levels. The following article will look at the role of touch interaction in improving profitability and enhancing the whole gaming experience.
Players frequenting gaming venues now expect a broader range of game options which are both feature-packed and highly responsive. If a gaming venue is to compete with its rivals, it therefore needs to deploy hardware which is compelling enough to draw the crowds, as well as being offered in units that are aesthetically pleasing. In addition to increasing footfall, the management of these venues, whether they are casinos, arcades or bars, have to look at ways to lower their running costs and deal with various possible security threats.
Gaming venue management needs to be certain that the longevity of the machines it has purchased will not be compromised. Any downtime caused by some part of these machines becoming faulty will have a negative impact on the business. This means that manufacturers of gaming hardware must ensure their products are constructed from components that not only offer the performance needed, but are highly reliable, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
The migration to touch
Games continue to become more complex, and are played at faster rates. They must support rich, colourful graphics, and have more intuitive user interfaces. With design of the gaming equipment likely to have a major effect on the frequency with which it is used by customers, this also needs to be taken in to account.
Touch has now become the preferred method of control for gaming machines, much as it is for portable consumer electronics goods such as smartphones and MP3 players. It has the potential to meet all of these requirements. It promises slot machines that are no longer dependent on mechanical switches or levers, which require regular maintenance. It also increases the flexibility and productivity of table top games. With touchscreens now becoming highly desirable for gaming machine designs, manufacturers have to give serious consideration to how these should be implemented, and what type of technology will be employed.
Though there are a number of different touch technologies that can be utilised, the suitability of many of them for gaming applications is questionable. To be a success in this sector, the touch sensing mechanism needs to be able to cope with exacting demands.
The touchscreen specified must be accurate and reactive, but also have a very high degree of reliability. Operators must avoid any break in the running of these gaming machines, including repair downtime, if they are to maximise the return on investment in these assets.
Though popular in other spheres, front-facing touch technologies, such as resistive or surface capacitive have limitations that are underlined within the gaming environment. As the active areas of these sensors are on the outer surface of the display assembly, they are exposed to the outside world. This exposes them to damage from impact, scratches from jewellery or watches, drink spillages, dirt build up, or harsh cleaning fluids.
Alternative touch solutions founded on infrared (IR) or surface acoustic wave (SAW) technologies also have major drawbacks. These require bezel structures to house the sensor elements. Bezels not only spoil the design concept, preventing the creation of sleek, smooth-fronted units, but also make them harder to clean. Over time, dirt and grease can congregate in their recesses, affecting the performance of the touchscreen. These sensors are also prone to drift, which calls for periodic recalibration to be carried out.
The emergence of sensor technology based on projective capacitance has proved a far more favourable route for gaming machine manufacturers to follow when looking to add touch functionality. The durable and robust sensor mechanism used here is highly optimised for gaming purposes.
Projected Capacitive Technology
The proprietary Projected Capacitive Technology (PCT™) developed by Zytronic has allowed projective capacitive sensing to be applied to displays with much larger form factors (up to 100 inch diagonals), opening up the application areas that can benefit touch interaction. The resilience of this technology has led to its widespread adoption in heavy duty application areas, from public information kiosks to interactive digital signage systems, from point-of-sales units to industrial controls.
The PCT™ sensing structure consists of an intricate matrix of 10μm diameter capacitor elements. These are embedded into a laminated substrate material, which can then be placed behind a thick protective overlay. The touch controller, which is connected to the sensor array, picks up changes in the field produced by capacitor elements and accurately pinpoints the position of the touch event. Because the capacitor matrix does not come into contact with the external environment, it is not left vulnerable to the various other types of wear and tear found in gaming applications that can shorten the operational lifespan of touchscreens based on front-facing sensor mechanisms.
The electric field generated is strong enough to accurately sense from behind overlays over 20mm in thickness. The sensor matrix is almost invisible to the naked eye when the display is active, so it in no way inhibits player enjoyment. It permits the creation of eye-catching glass-fronted designs which do not require bezels, as is the case with IR and SAW touchscreen technologies. The assembly can thus be wiped clean quickly and easily. PCT™ is also completely drift free. As a result it does not require costly recalibration work.
Adoption of PCT™
Zytronic has engaged with several gaming machine manufacturers. A 10.4 inch version of the company’s PCT™-based ZYBRID® customisable touch sensor has been integrated into the i-Table™ electronic card table offering, from Shuffle Master. The i-Table has six networked, touch-enabled player displays, plus an additional dealer station, embedded in a full-size gaming table. This allows it to benefit from the enhanced functionality offered by an electronic betting interface (with automation improving game security, accuracy and speed), while still having the human interaction offered by a live dealer. It can quickly switch between a portfolio of different card games; Blackjack, Baccarat, Three Card Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold'em, allowing greater versatility for the gaming operation. This combination of electronic operation with the look and feel of a traditional gaming table results in a more conducive environment for players, but with all the benefits of automation.
By using an electronic rather than a traditional card table, it is estimated that venues will witness a 30% increase in the number of rounds played per hour, allowing the table to generate greater revenue. It also means that less dealer training and fewer staff are required. In addition, this removes the possibility of dealing errors, chip theft, dealer/player collusion, or any sort of card manipulation, all of which can seriously threaten turnover. It means that operational expenses can be kept in check while still guarding against cheating and theft. As a result the venue will be able to pull in greater revenue from each of its tables. i-Tables have been installed in major gaming venues across North America, including Las Vegas, San Diego, and Delaware.
Zytronic has also collaborated with Scandinavian games machine manufacturer ACE Interactive on the development of its Indago™ video lottery system. For Indago, ACE Interactive wanted a dual screen arrangement with a smooth, one piece, seamless, glass-fronted panel. The transfer of visual data is taken care of by the upper screen, with the lower touch-enabled screen (thanks to its ZYBRID® sensor) allowing selection of a variety of different game options. In order to achieve a smooth, continuous glass frontage, it was vital to dispense with the need for a bezel or framework around the touchscreen’s active area.
To meet ACE Interactive’s requirement for a complete glass front panel (6mm thick and thermally toughened) with integrated touchscreen to be provided as a single, engineered component, called for a combination of glass manufacturing and touchscreen competencies. These units are now being used by several European lottery operators.
In conclusion, touchcreen technology will allow gaming manufacturers to liberate themselves from the inflexible mechanically based designs of the past and create more exciting and imaginative products. By specifying an appropriate sensor technology it is possible to gain major competitive advantages, while still dealing with the demands of the often harsh gaming environment.