G2S: How to Get There from Here

For about the last 10 years, industry experts and electronic gaming machine (EGM) manufacturers have been discussing a brave new world in which you can easily change the games that are available to your slot players in the EGMs on your floor, right from your desk. They also talk about reconfiguring the games, downloading software, and occasionally even providing a glimpse of a magical future world in which you’ll be able to do all sorts of fascinating things, most of which your customers will (hopefully) love, making your casino the most popular one in town. But over the years, we’ve all become a bit tired of hearing about this future, which always seems to be an elusive two to five years away.

At Radical Blue Gaming, we’ve worked closely with the Gaming Standards Association (GSA) as well as gaming vendors, regulators and test labs for the last six years. We are steeped in the G2S protocol and have watched its progress closely. With that in mind, I thought that I would share our view of the state of the industry, discuss a few key concepts and provide some guidance on how migration might occur on your floor.

You Are Here
In a nutshell, here’s the current state of affairs:

Game and system manufacturers are working hard to implement the new G2S protocol in their games. By doing so, they will be able to innovate at a much faster rate than in the environment that is currently available in most casinos. Since EGMs will be connecting to many different systems, and systems will be connecting to many different EGMs, manufacturers are now advocating for the GSA certification program. This program will allow them to complete their G2S implementation once, correctly, and then deploy fearlessly anywhere in the world (yes, G2S is a global phenomenon).

This year, casinos are starting to stick their collective toe into the G2S pool. The Seminoles in Florida were one of the earliest adopters, using an early version of G2S to add player services to their Class II floor. In Las Vegas, ARIA was the first casino to open with a G2S floor last December. The Cosmopolitan, also in Las Vegas, will be opening soon with a G2S floor as well. The first sites are now behind us.

Throughout the United States, casinos in many jurisdictions are converting a bank or two as a networked gaming sandbox to see how G2S might enhance their operations.

In wide-area network environments, such as in Illinois, and lottery operations worldwide, such as in Canada and Sweden, a G2S network is a perfect way to add new features to the aging dial-up networks currently in place.

So, if you haven’t already, you’ll soon have to start making decisions about adding G2S to your world—measuring its potential against other capital improvements and making sure that the decisions you make will give your property excellent positioning in the years to come.

Take the Highway, Not the Back Road
In addition to the leading features of download and remote EGM configuration, one of the biggest benefits that G2S brings to the casino is the ability for the EGM to easily communicate with multiple servers over a G2S network. Here is a quick review of some key points to consider when determining how hard (or easy) it will be for any well-built G2S host to interact with the G2S EGMs that will be in your environment.

Does the EGM (or SMIB) speak G2S correctly? G2S version 1.0.3 is the most widely deployed version of G2S, so this is what your EGMs and systems should be using. Interoperability (the ability for the EGM to converse correctly with one or more G2S hosts) depends on both development teams implementing the protocol in the same way.

The best way to ensure the protocol has been implemented in a standard manner is to insist on certification. If certification is not reasonable, RadBlue can easily perform a G2S assessment (using our industry-standard G2S test tools) to determine how well G2S has been implemented by the EGM, how many hosts are supported, which G2S functionality is supported, and which of the events and meters defined by the protocol are available from the EGM.

Six Hosts
In the G2S model, the EGM has a list of “registered hosts” that it connects to when it starts up (the length of this list determines how many hosts an EGM can talk to at one time). The registered host list can almost always be managed through an operator interface in the EGM and, if we’re lucky, it can also be modified remotely using the G2S commConfig (communication configuration) class.

How an additional host gets added is not nearly as important as making sure the EGM is capable of talking to more than one host through G2S. Many EGMs these days are built with a SAS port to talk to the traditional slot floor management system and have G2S capability limited to one conversation with a single G2S host.

Since G2S is a TCP/IP-based protocol, one physical network connection is all that is ever needed (just like the network connection on your PC). However, because of limited resources in their current platforms, many EGMs are only able to communicate with a single G2S host. Imagine if your browser could only talk to a single website (remember AOL and its single interface to the web?).
To accommodate innovation, the EGM must be able to talk to multiple hosts. The protocol accommodates as many hosts as required. I recommend a minimum of six hosts to accommodate a download server, regulatory server, marketing server, slot performance server and a couple for future innovations.

Guest Access
In many circles, there is concern about the many powerful capabilities of G2S. If you plan to add your own server to the G2S network, how can you be absolutely sure the gaming floor won’t inadvertently be disrupted by some errant command that shuts down the EGM or renders it unplayable?

The solution to this issue is already in the protocol. When a new G2S host is configured in the EGM, the configuration indicates whether the new host has read-only or update access to each of the G2S functions supported by the EGM. You just need to ensure that the new G2S host has read-only access to all functions. Then, the EGM’s security mechanisms will protect us from ourselves.

Meter Access
Though a host may only have read-only access to the EGM, it will be able to request any of the G2S meters supported by the EGM and will also be able to set subscriptions to get automatic periodic updates of selected meters for trend analysis, etc. The meter set described by G2S is very extensive. A quick G2S assessment of the EGM will enable you to determine which of the vast set of G2S meters are currently supported by each model of EGM.

Event Access
Each G2S host also gets an event subscription that is used to get real-time updates of significant activities or events from the EGM. The Supported Events List, available through G2S, allows a host to discover exactly which events are supported by each EGM. The host can then use this list to create some interesting applications that take advantage of those events.

From experience, I would caution you not get too over-enthusiastic in the beginning and inadvertently overload your network. The beauty of G2S event subscriptions is that they can be changed on the fly, so you can continuously refine your event (or meter) subscription until you are receiving exactly the data that you need, when you need it.

Here’s a Map (So You Don’t Get Lost)
At present, most casino floors employ a slot floor network model similar to the one shown in the drawing below. This model has several significant challenges to the rapid development and deployment of a cool new feature.

In your first steps toward a G2S open networked gaming environment, you will be able to run leading applications such as code download and remote configuration and your existing slot floor network (with all of its proprietary protocols) will continue to function perfectly.

As your G2S network matures and your team becomes comfortable with the new environment, you’ll add new applications that take advantage of the high-speed network (making you glad that you insisted on your EGMs being able to communicate with six hosts).

The road has been long, but your destination is in sight. Hopefully, this article has given you some ideas for discussion. G2S enables a high-speed environment that will start with G2S applications (dynamic tournaments, progressives and bonusing applications) and later take advantage of some of the fascinating Internet technologies we all enjoy. But don’t turn on the cruise control just yet—it’s up to you, the consumer, to ensure that your network environment is open, standard and ready for the future of gaming.

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