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Millennials, Human-Centered Design, and a faltering casino industry

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Millennials are changing everything, but perhaps no business is having a harder time adjusting than the casino industry. Hundreds of thousands of square feet filled with slots and poker machines are sitting idle in casinos around America. And casino executives are flummoxed about what to do.

By Bob Cooney

bob cooney vrMillennials don’t play machines. They still go to Vegas, and they still go to casinos. But they’re spending their money at mega-nightclubs like Hakkasan and Omnia. Both of which grossed over $100 million in sales last year by featuring headliners like Calvin Harris and Tiesto. Meanwhile billions in assets are being under-utilized because few of the affected business truly understand Human-Centered Design, and the underlying motivations, values, and innate needs of the Millennial market.

Lots has been written about what Millennials do and don’t do. They don’t go to malls, they go to fewer movies. They’re rebelling against zoos and aquariums that keep captive mammals. And they don’t like to gamble.

Frantic experiments rarely hit home for the casino industry

Casinos are feeling the pressure of declining gaming revenue and are scrambling for solutions. Nevada recently passed legislation making skill-based gaming legal in casinos, hoping that giving the players a sense of agency over the outcome might get them to engage. Manufacturers have trotted out a number of different games, but as of yet, none of them are catching on.

MGM just opened the 30,000 square foot E-Sports Arena at Luxor hoping take advantage of the exploding competitive PC-gaming trend. Recently, IGT installed a skill-based virtual reality archery game at The Orleans in Vegas, seemingly combining all the modern buzzwords the casino industry is hoping will save them: virtual reality, skill-based gaming, and e-sports, into an attraction that wildly misses the bullseye. In order to play, you first must sign up for the slot players club. Since millennials don’t play slots, this is a significant friction point. Then to exacerbate that problem, the “prize” is awarded in slot dollars.  My sources tell me that Boyd Gaming has handcuffed the test, and IGT acknowledges that this is an experiment. Apparently, they’re hoping to inform future product initiatives from their learning.

mgm arena men vr equipment casino industryThe casino industry’s approach has been like going into the kitchen and randomly grabbing spices and chucking them into a pot hoping to make a gourmet meal. Proper chefs take the time to learn everything about how the ingredients work together. More importantly, they take the time to learn what their guests actually like to eat.

Random experimentation vs. Human-Centered Design

Over the last five years I have been studying the practice of Human-Centered Design as a framework to create products and experiences that resonate with Millennial audiences. I began this while I was COO of Buzztime, when we engaged an agency to help conduct ethnographic research into Millennial behavior at restaurants. It continued with my work at Zero Latency, as we looked for ways we could turn a really popular game into a Millennial destination attraction. I‘ve become fascinated at how companies like Top Golf, which is crushing it in Vegas at the MGM Grand, turned something as “lame” as a golf-driving range into a cultural Millennial phenomenon.

It took Top Golf over a decade to come up with their current formula after experimenting with a range of different concepts to varying degrees of success. I have no idea if Top Golf used Human-Centered Design, but if I had to place a bet I’d certainly place my chips on the Don’t Pass line. And that’s the problem with the current approach by the casino industry. Random experimentation might lead to success at some point, but it wastes valuable time and resources.

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How it works, and who it’s working for

Human-Centered Design starts with deep research into the values of the customer, unearthing latent needs. Product and experience designers can then use these to develop innovations that deeply resonate with customers. Millennial values are dramatically different than those of prior generations. Yet those responsible in the casino industry are mostly Boomers with some scattered GenXers . It’s just hard to see from their perspective, so savvy Boomer execs are hiring Millennials to solve the problem. One immediate problem is that while they might have been born between 1980 and 1996, the Millennials willing to work in the gambling industry don’t necessarily share the values of the wider Millennial market.

The best way to come up with products and experiences that will resonate deeply with Millennials is through Human-Centered Design. Disney, Nike, and Starbucks have known this for years. It’s time for the casino industry to cash in too. The stakes are high, and the company that places chips on this strategy tilts the odds strongly in their favor.

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To learn how Human Centered Innovation can help you create experiences your customers will love, download the whitepaper Innovating for Millennials – A Human Centered Approach for Location-Based Entertainment.

This is the first article in an ongoing series I am writing for Blooloop. It is about the convergence of new technology and the Millennial mindset as it relates to other location-based entertainment businesses like zoos, aquariums and others. If you want to get in touch to continue the discussion, you can reach me

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Bob Cooney

Bob Cooney is a pioneer in virtual immersive entertainment and one of the world's top VR consultants. He launched the first successful laser tag company and has created immersive experiences based upon blockbuster IP like Stargate and Marvel’s X-Men. Bob has mentored over a dozen successful virtual reality companies since 2015 and is an international speaker and moderator.

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