Slot Summit – Ethan Tower: Convergence makes life more difficult

GSA-ethantowerEthan Tower, Protocol Director at the Gaming Standards Association, is speaking next month at the Slot Summit Europe in Bucharest. Tower will be speaking on the subject of ‘Next Generation Protocols – What Changes Can We Expect?’. Here he gives SBC News a taster of what’s on the agenda.

You are currently updating the G2S and S2S protocol. What challenges does that provide?

GSA releases new versions of its protocols every three years. This is a release year for G2S and S2S. The new versions will include various extensions and clarifications, expanding the range of functionality supported by the protocols and making them easier to implement. For example, support for mystery progressives and progressive displays is being added. Some redundant and unnecessary features have been removed, but, for the most part, the existing functionality remains unchanged and will be backward compatible with previous versions.

The most exciting part of the release is a new message transport. Since G2S and S2S were introduced 8 years ago, transport technology has evolved and improved significantly. We want to take advantage of those improvements. In the new release, we will be introducing a WebSocket-based transport for G2S and S2S. We will also be introducing a binary encoding methodology – EXI. These additions will help decrease bandwidth requirements and reduce message latency, making the protocols more efficient and easier to operate. The current SOAP transport will still be supported for the foreseeable future, but, at some point, we hope that it can be deprecated.

How can the industry help you with progress?

We certainly appreciate all the support that we currently get from the industry – both technical and financial. GSA is a member-driven organisation. It is the member companies that really drive the protocols. The more participation we have in GSA, the better we can meet the needs of the industry.

So, participation is the number one way individual companies can help GSA. The other way is through adoption and implementation. Standards tend to feed upon themselves. As more companies adopt and implement standards, the standards become more prevalent, causing other companies to adopt and implement them. It is like a snowball rolling down a hill, getting bigger all the time. Operators can help by asking for standards-based products, giving the snowball a little extra push.

What are the advantages to SAS and G2S?

It is hard to compare SAS and G2S. They are very different technologies. SAS is a serial-based protocol. It requires interface boards and supplemental functionality on those boards to deliver the features that operators demand. G2S is a network-based protocol. There are no interface boards. All of the supplemental functionality found in SAS interface boards is either embedded in the gaming machines or supplied by host systems. With G2S, the gaming machines supply the bulk of the advanced functionality, communicating directly over high-speed networks to host systems. With SAS, the gaming machines provide a very basic set of functionality, communicating to interface boards over low-speed serial connections. The interface boards provide most of the advanced functionality.

In the end, if you work on it hard enough, much of the functionality that you can get directly through G2S, you can get through SAS, but only when SAS is combined with an interface board. Thus, the range of functionality depends mostly on the capabilities of the interface board, not SAS. That functionality will vary from supplier to supplier. In fact, many suppliers have been working very hard to duplicate G2S functionality in their interface boards. This has been great for operators because it has brought advanced G2S functionality to legacy gaming machines.  However, there are things that can be done with G2S that simply cannot be done with SAS and interface boards. For example, software download and remote configuration cannot be done through SAS and interface boards. It can only be achieved with G2S and high-speed network connections directly to the gaming machine.

As the online slot sector converges with the land-based – does that make your job easier?

No. In fact it makes it more difficult. The online sector already has high-speed networks in place. They are already doing many of the things that were envisioned for land-based gaming with G2S. At the moment, they are innovating faster than the land-based sector. This creates many challenges.

First, simply trying to establish standards. The online sector is the new frontier. There is no roadmap for suppliers or regulators to follow. They are charting their own courses. Often, in very different directions. The online reporting requirements in Italy and France are an excellent example of this. Games have to be highly customized for the jurisdiction, making standardization very difficult.

Second, integration of online operations with land-based operations. For example, sharing player accounts between online and land-based operations, combining player tacking information for a comprehensive view of the player, and linking online games and land-based games to the same progressive jackpots. This is a very important topic. In many jurisdictions, operators are running both land-based and online operations. Players want a seamless experience. Regulators want uniform player protection policies. Standard protocols can help solve these problems.

How do you approach the integration of games developed by a third party into the system?

Integration of third-party games and progressives servers with iGaming platforms was one of the first problems that we have tackled for the online sector. In the early days, platform suppliers provided their own games. There was no need for integration with third parties. However, that started to change a few years ago. Platform operators wanted access to games from third-party suppliers. They didn’t want to be limited to the games offered by a single supplier. This led to the development of the Third-Party Game Interface.

The Third-Party Game Interface provides a standard API that can be used to integrate remote game servers, progressive jackpot servers, and iGaming platforms. The interface includes standard methods for launching games on remote game servers, establishing game sessions, processing wagers and wins, making contributions to progressive jackpots, and managing jackpot awards. It also includes methods for coordinating revenue reporting across servers, assuring that all servers report the same results for specific accounting periods. And, it clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of each server. We’re hoping to release the protocol this fall.

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Ethan Tower, Protocol Director at the Gaming Standards Association,

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