Skill-based slot developer Next Gaming has taken its partnership with video game maker Taito to another level by introducing an esports game this week on a mobile app.
After appearing on tradeshow floors, the 1994 Taito game ‘Bust-A-Move’ that Las Vegas-based Next Gaming turned into a skill-based gambling game will be introduced to casinos this year. However, an adapted version of the Next Gaming-developed title has already been launched on Celer Network’s mobile esports platform, CelerX, in the U.S. and Canada with plans to go international later this year.
The Bust-A-Move real-money tournament is the first mobile esports title from this joint collaboration. More games are expected to be released in the second half of 2020.
Unlike Next Gaming’s casino slot, which mixes skill and chance, this is 100% skill-based real-money competition on a mobile device.
Players can wager money when testing their skills against others. The game comes complete with leaderboards, regular tournaments, and the ability to directly challenge other players in head-to-head competitions.
With mobile game revenue expected to surpass $100 billion in 2020, Next wanted to bring versions of their skill-based games to a larger audience.
“In spite of all this chaos (in the casino gaming industry with the coronavirus), we have some pretty good upside going,” Next CEO Mike Darley said. “This is a big move for us to get in the eSports world. With casinos closing down and an increase in esports and mobile gaming applications, fortunately, we were entering that market before the pandemic and fast-tracking already into mobile sports.”
Though it’s early in the first week, Darley said the initial numbers are promising, with a ranking in the top 50 among thousands of games downloaded on the platform.
“It’s like putting a new slot machine in the casino,” Darley said. “People see it and we’re confident it’s going to have legs. But it’s the first week.”
Darley said when they began their partnership with Taito for casino games, it was always on their mind to branch into esports mobile apps and online casinos. Taito is protective of its brand, so the company showed its trust in Next Gaming by expanding the partnership that provides diversification and additional revenue as the casino industry recovers from COVID-19, he said.
“That way, we can have a crossover, especially with Bust-A-Move,” Darley said. “It’s a real-money skill-based game. No random number generator is why it can be in 37 states in the U.S. and Canada and hopefully soon, based on its performance, internationally. When you go into a casino and play Bust-A-Move, you can come out and still wager real money on our platform. That was our idea all along. Not only can you play real money — and we haven’t triggered this yet — but you can earn rewards to drive people into the various casinos.”
Darley said that as they were looking for opportunities to generate revenue and approached Taito about licensing for a mobile app, CelerX executives approached them at G2E about their skill-based games.
“It all kind of came together,” Darley said. “G2E spurred the conversation with CelerX on their mobile platform, and we had talked to Taito about getting their game on a mobile esports platform for real money. The way it transpired is we had graphic assets we use for our casino games. We used some of those assets in the way the game worked mechanically and utilized it for a game in CelerX’s platform. We worked hard to put it all together.”
As for revenue potential, Darley described it as a casino poker game, where the house gets a cut. He said the speed of getting a game to market on a mobile app is faster than going through the casino market, which is slowed by all the regulations. In the end, it depends on the acceptance of the game.
“We want it to be a good portion of our portfolio, so we have both mobile and brick-and-mortar casino games of our titles,” Darley said. “I think everybody (in the skill-based industry) is looking at that because when you’re looking at the growth of esports, this is a combination of both.”
With the talk of states expanding iGaming, Darley said that will be a positive for Next Gaming down the road.
“We’re just being smart and cautious about entering into the esports and iGaming markets,” Darley said. “We know it’s profitable. Doing too many things at once isn’t prudent for us, because we’re a smaller company. Two things at a time — casinos, then esports. If we can drive revenue within the casinos and from our slot machines to our application on mobile esports (and visa versa), that is pretty good for now. We’re trying to be as versatile as possible in the gaming space.”
Next Gaming was set to introduce the first version of its arcade-style games to Las Vegas casinos in early 2020, but that schedule was pushed back by the coronavirus and going through the BMM Testlabs certification process. The games were recently certified for Oklahoma, New Mexico, and California, and field trials are set to begin in Nevada. “I think within 30 to 60 days, we’re going to be in Oklahoma and Nevada,” Darley said.
Their games include Arkanoid, Bust-A-Move, Space Invaders, and Next Gaming’s original ZForce.
In Las Vegas, the games will be placed at Binions downtown and Boyd Gaming’s Cannery in North Las Vegas, adjacent to the slot maker’s headquarters.