After a period of decline, the UK pub market appears to have found firmer footing, but there is still work to be done to smooth over investment disparity, comments Electrocoin’s Kevin Weir.
Coinslot: What is the state of the pub market in 2019? What trends do you expect to see as the year continues?
Kevin Weir: “It is pleasing to see the pub market stabilising. After many years of declining numbers, the latest data suggests that we have turned the corner.
Whilst it is clear that the major retailers continue to expand their portfolio of branded pubs, it is interesting to see them developing venues that ‘appear’ to be not part of a chain and portray themselves as free houses, whilst adhering to a proven formula that is common across this unbranded ‘brand’.
“It appears as though the majority of investment continues to go into food led brands, however there are signs that entrepreneurs are investing in game-led venues that bring together groups of people to have fun.
The majority of these appear to be in business districts and attract the ‘office crowd’. Any expansion into other geographic areas would be similar to the last major successful games brand, Mr Q’s which I had the pleasure of being part of before the turn of the century.”
CS: What specific challenges currently face the pub market e.g. lack of cashless payments, overall decline of pubs, etc, and how do think these challenges can be overcome?
KW: “Cashless is a little bit of a hot potato at present. Whilst it is inevitably the way forward, it has to be worth doing from everybody’s point of view. The process has to be clean and uncomplicated and customers have to trust it, particularly when it comes to AWP’s.
From data that I have seen, there is little evidence that income is rising from cashless and until the costs are covered, the expansion may be slow, but it will come.
“The decline of pubs is another matter. As stated previously, the numbers are levelling off, however there appears to be wider gap than ever between the style of outlet that has had considerable investment, particularly food-led outlets, and the local leasehold/tenancy that is sadly lacking investment and just about ticking over.
These pubs at the bottom of the barrel rely on inspired management to make them stand out, however I am not sure that there are enough enlightened entrepreneurs out there willing to invest.”
CS: Do both digital and analogue Cat C machines remain viable for the market, and in what situations does the latter perform as well as or better than the former?
KW: “There has to be a question mark over the future of analogue machines in pubs. The simple fact that there are very few new mechanical machines being manufactured tells its own story.
Whilst there are still some loyal players who like analogue, it is clear that they play digital as well and as the portfolio of games on the digital platform continues to expand, the decline of analogue is likely to be hastened.
The need for low rent/share machines in some of the lower income outlets will also be met from the digital stock as it ages or via conversions which we offer with our Monte Carlo brand.”
CS: Have there been any recent Cat C products/features that have impressed you? What do you want to see more of from manufacturers when it comes to Cat C?
KW: “There have been one or two new games that have caught my eye recently and they both use humour to keep the player interested.
This is music to my ears, as a great number of people lose sight of the meaning of AWP ‘Amusement’ should be at the heart of the game and I am delighted to see more of this recently.
“I welcome this innovation, particularly when we have seen a number of games that are clearly just re-works of another successful game but without the underlying balanced programme that made the original game successful.
Players soon get a feel for the game and see through the glossy artwork very quickly. Whilst we have re-used our Bar X brand on a number of our games on the Monte Carlo platform, they all play distinctly differently to one another.”
CS: Do you think the current stakes and prizes on Cat C are appropriate considering market changes since their implementation? If not, what changes would you like to see?
KW: “This issue can be looked at from different perspectives. Whilst a headline Jackpot is clearly attractive, the game still has to deliver a good experience to the player.
Core players are very aware of a machines capability and will tell you that the move to £100 jackpot was in fact a £10 decline. With the £100 jackpot, only one repeat is possible whilst the £70 jackpot allowed for two repeats.
“Equally players are very aware of the balance between stake and prize. The quality of the playing experience can suffer considerably as the ratio gets stretched.
There have previously been uplifts in jackpot where the ratio between stake and prize increased greatly and some previously successful manufactures clearly struggled to give the player a ‘good game’ and value for money, enabling other manufacturers who got to grips with the issue more quickly to take a chunk of the market.
This is why it is essential that retailers should have a mix of manufacturers machines on their estate, ensuring whichever designer gets the balance right, they have the product in place for their customers.