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Networks and standards and servers – oh, my!

Many of the gaming technology terms bandied about these days revolve around an idea of high-speed gaming, which may or may not be the standards-based, high-speed gaming that we here at RadBlue have dedicated ourselves. But what really differentiates “networked gaming” from “server-based gaming” from “gaming standards”? Perhaps some definitions are in order:

Networked Gaming

Networked Gaming (n.): Open-standard gaming protocols, running over an Ethernet connection, that facilitate standardized communication between EGMs, servers and peripheral devices.

Some may take exception with that definition. I was reading an article the other day that claimed networked gaming had been around for the last 15 years. To which I responded with a resounding: “Er?” As it turns out, the article was referring to central determination (Class II) gaming.

Strictly speaking, all central determination systems are networked. And, as a point of fact, most central determination systems are now run over an Ethernet network. But it’s not really a good example of what’s happening with the open standard, high-speed technology effort that will push gaming technology into the future because it only has one piece of the equation: Ethernet. Here’s an example:

Using an Ethernet network, company A communicates really effectively between company A’s EGMs and servers.

That’s great, but . . .

Using an Ethernet network and open standards, company A now communicates really effectively between the EGMs and servers for companies A (your slot system), B (your player management system), C (your cool bonusing applications) and D (your totally amazing augmented reality games). Now, you’ve got technology – regardless of the vendor – that you can easily leverage across your entire slot floor.

What matters in this scenario are things like innovation, quality, ROI and vendor responsiveness because interoperability, extensibility and flexibility are already there.

Open StandardsGaming Standards Association

Open Standards (n.): A technical standard that gifts rights of use to the public and can be implemented royalty free. There are three open standards for the gaming technology industry: the Gaming Device Standard (GDS), Game To System (G2S) protocol and System To System (S2S) protocol. All three standards are maintained by the Gaming Standards Association (GSA), which has a membership comprised of gaming vendors, operators, test laboratories and regulators.

What’s the catch? While using an open standard is one thing, implementing an open standard is quite another. Since the goal of open standards is interoperability, GSA has quite sensibly set up a certification program for vendors implementing GSA standards. Certification ensures that whatever the technology is, it will play nice with what’s on your floor. Independent test labs, such as BMM, GLI and Eclipse, are already participating in the certification program. Manufacturers can even set up their own test labs, as long as the labs are accredited.

Server-Based Gaming

Server-Based Gaming (n.): 1. EGMs that receive information from a central host server. There are two basic types of server-based gaming:

  1. system-based: EGMs receive game content and results from a host server (for example, central determination games).
  2. system-supported: EGM is responsible for game play and outcomes, but things like game configuration, game updates and media are downloaded from a host server.

Depending on the implementation, server-based gaming may or may not require an Ethernet connection, and may or may not use open standards.

Go forth, knowledgeable consumer

So, what questions should you be asking vendors as you navigate the latest technology offerings at G2E this year?

Does the product conform to one of the Gaming Standards Association’s open standard protocols? Is it GSA-certified? If not, is there a timeline for certification?

You will hear many arguments as to why you shouldn’t worry you’re pretty little head about open standards, but remember: the real difference between proprietary protocols and open protocols is choice, flexibility and innovation.

Open standards are essential to realizing the full benefits of an Ethernet-based networked slot floor (and, in case you were wondering, the G2S protocol includes a class for central determination as well as download). And in all honesty, some vendors may not want you to really understand your options (Do you blame them?). It’s up to you to be an informed consumer.

What other questions do you have about networked gaming? What issues are you encountering as you talk to your vendors about implementing open standards in their technology?

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