SWPs add value to venues not just through the pounds they take, but by influencing customer behaviour. And who those customers are can be surprising, as Jon Bruford reports.
To the untrained eye, SWP machines and AWP machines are similar in many ways, but they differ in two important respects: their customers, and how they are played. In terms of customer perception, an SWP is a bit of fun, a way to pass the time and a part of an evening’s entertainment.
That’s very different from the role of an AWP slot, for example, which to many customers represents solitary gambling, and to some may even be a temptation into problem gambling.
SWPs have no such stigma, as Mark Griffiths, professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University, explains: “With trivia machines, there have never been any documented cases of people having problems in terms of addiction. And because it is essentially a game of skill, it’s something where the more you play, the better you will become, in theory, giving you a greater chance of winning.”
That’s not to say people cannot be compulsive about playing them, though even when playing for the cash prize, the approach is different, as the customer needs to retain a large amount of information. Griffiths elaborates: “I’ve taken part in some radio documentaries in the past following people who are ‘trivia kings’ and know all the questions on all the machines, so they then go round various venues and take the money. Unlike AWP machines, where there is little to no skill involved at all, with SWPs the more you play the better you should get and the more you should win from it.”
From the supplier side, too, the difference is a simple one. Paul Slavin, development director at FatSpanner, told Euroslot that the key difference in how the SWP is played is very simple – it’s a social act, with a social goal: “AWPs are not really a social thing – usually AWP players are playing to win some money, that’s the key difference, it’s more of an individual pursuit. It’s not really a group activity. SWPs are more of a group thing, generally. We find most times there are at least two people playing a game together. It’s more about entertainment. Players tend to put a pound in each as part of a group then play it off; any money that’s won, because the prizes are generally relatively small, is often played again instead of taking the payout.”
All together now
This social aspect is key to whether your venue would be a suitable location for an SWP machine. Do you operate a site where groups of people gather? Do they have free time when they’re there? Griffiths at Nottingham Trent agrees broadly with Slavin’s assessment, saying: “When we have five or six people in a pub, we can all chip in together, and play a few games. It’s a very sociable activity. It’s rare that people play on their own and play for a long time. Usually it’s a way of killing time while you’re waiting for someone, or at half-time in the football or whatever.”
From his own social experience, Griffiths adds: “Purely anecdotally, trivia games are usually played by groups of males, sometimes with females as part of the group, but it’s a competitive skill-driven game that appeals to men more than women. That doesn’t preclude women from playing, it’s more that they would rather maybe sit and have a chat rather than cluster around a machine.” However, some research does contradict this generalisation, as we’ll see shortly.
The modern SWP, then, is not about cash prizes. It’s essentially about entertainment, and players understand and accept this. Says FatSpanner’s Slavin: “Since the HM Revenue & Customs crackdown a year or so ago, it has been made difficult for us to be able to award large prizes without really ruining the game for the majority of people. Therefore they have become more of an entertainment product now rather than a chance to win £10 or £20. The average prize on SWPs now is more like £5 or below. So people really gather round and play for fun; the majority of the time, those smaller wins are put back in and the credits are played off until they’re gone. The difference is between a 3.5-second spin on a Category C machine for £1 and a 50p game that could last five minutes on an SWP, or even longer. The average player might put in a couple of pounds each and they’re on then for 20 or 25 minutes.”
Pounds and pints
Value for money is a big part of SWPs’ success, then – but so are upsells, or incremental sales that derive from players’ participation in the game.
For example, if a customer is playing an AWP machine, they might put in, say, £8. Not an uncommon amount, and it means a decent profit for the venue if every player invests that kind of money. But it’s just one person, drinking one drink. If six people are clustered around a quiz machine, that’s six drinks, and they’ll be in the venue for a lot longer. As Slavin says, it’s the difference between a 3.5-second spin and a 20-minute game; the difference between a solitary pursuit or a night with your friends.
He explains further: “Pub owners are seeing a big relation between SWPs and wet sales. They don’t always look at the SWP as a massive money-making opportunity in itself, but they do know it brings people into the pub and helps keep them in there for longer; they can see the clear benefits.
“Speaking to a major retailer recently, we looked through their player research for both AWPs and SWPs. We looked at this to help us decide what our next offering might be, at what players might want. The research was encouraging, suggesting people would spend more and spend longer on the machines if the offering is right, with the greater understanding of the demographic that we got.
“The standard 18-to-25-or-30-year-old male demographic that we thought was our core player is actually in the minority; the largest single slice of machine players was 40-plus, believe it or not, and more female than we anticipated. It’s still male-dominated, but not by much. Now digital product is arriving, we find that women are playing a lot more. Similarly, we’ve noticed that women do not like playing analogue Category C machines, reel-based games, but they do like, and will play, a digital Category C machine. Women are also far more at home with a touchscreen offering, which works well for us.”
So the old theory about men being the players, women not bothering with machines, and even the age demographic have all been blown out of the water by FatSpanner’s recent findings, which should mean even greater successes with SWP installations for venues in the future. The age group discovery is a particularly welcome one as, when we last spoke to Slavin about SWP product, he told Euroslot about his firm’s recent ‘retro’ licences: “Some of our retro licensing like Rhubarb & Custard, Batfink, Roland Rat, has proved to be well-placed because the largest chunk of players will know those brands from their childhood.” Recognition is the main reason for licensing, and reinvigorating a dormant brand in this way is a far more affordable way for a supplier to operate than licensing a currently voguish brand – and if your clientele is in their late 30s or early 40s, it could be more effective too.
Part of the package
The perception of SWP machines is changing; they’re part of a complete package now, recognised as a valuable addition to a pub, something customers both like and expect to see. Slavin explains: “The retailers are telling us that they still see SWPs as a very important part of their complete offering. When someone comes into their pub, they’ve done so much research into what their customers want [sofa areas, seating areas, standing areas] that they are really delivering. The old days where the thinking was ‘the SWP is taking up the space where a table and chairs could be so it needs to earn what they would have earned’ are gone, as they understand that the SWP machine just being there makes a difference. It’s about moving with the times.”
SWP product has certainly moved with the times, as it has had to, thanks to increased competition in consumer entertainment. The games are not just competing with the jukebox, TV, and AWP – they’re competing with our own mobile phones. Slavin concludes: “An SWP is an entertainment pod now, something that a player can go to and be entertained. It’s not just about the money these days; it’s giving them something above and beyond what they can get on their mobile phone. The competition for a customer’s time is getting harder and harder because customers have Twitter, Facebook etcetera. That leisure pound is what it’s all about, and we have to offer that player good value for money with our products to compete.”
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