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MGM Grand's LEVEL UP raises the bar for modern gaming

16 January 2017

Skill-based games are slowly but surely establishing themselves as the "new thing," waiting to change the face of the gaming industry.

Casinos are looking to integrate this new breed of gambling machine into their repertoire to entice young customers and to add a new spin to the traditional gaming floor. And if skill-based games are the new thing, on 29 December 2016, MGM Grand Hotel & Casino Las Vegas opened up the next new thing: LEVEL UP.

That's not to say that MGM Grand is a newcomer to the nongaming amenity scene, or averse to introducing new avenues of entertainment.

"Nongaming amenities have always been important for MGM Grand to provide a comprehensive experience for our guests. We are constantly looking to create new experiences," Justin Andrews, MGM Grand's vice president of national marketing told Casino City.

In the last year alone, MGM Grand opened several nongaming venues, like Japanese restaurant Morimoto, brought to you by chef Masaharu Morimoto of Iron Chef fame; Topgolf, a four-level entertainment palace featuring more than just golf; and Losers, a Country-themed bar and lounge.

But LEVEL UP is a newer breed of attraction. As the market skews toward gaming atmospheres that are distinctly more social than the solitary slot machine days of yore, higher-ups are recognizing the value in engaging customers with skill-based games.

Wedged between Hakkasan Nightclub and the MGM Grand Race and Sportsbook, LEVEL UP aims to attract those ever-elusive millennials, who tend to travel in groups and aren't inclined to sit at a slot machine, silently pressing the same button over and over.

Referred to on the website as an "adult playground," LEVEL UP features pool tables, foosball and ping pong, in addition to more unique offerings such as QuadAir Hockey, Sigma Derby and an indoor laser golf course with an augmented reality component. Games will be switched out as new technology becomes available, keeping guests on their toes and giving them a reason to return.

"LEVEL UP is intended to evolve over time and showcase new technology and skill-based games as they come to market," says Andrews.

The atmosphere is decidedly hip, a vibe that is reflected in the Live Lucky Bar with its 24 craft beers, specialty cocktail menu and live deejay.

But none of this materialized as the result of a lucky guess.

"Through numerous iterations, countless hours of research, and focus groups, we created a concept that combines new gaming technology with traditional bar and arcade games in a more rustic atmosphere featuring eclectic artwork by local artists," says Andrews.

Games and environment are considered equally important at LEVEL UP, a balance that may be lacking in other venues. It's not enough to simply place shiny objects haphazardly on the casino floor, says Andrews — a welcoming gaming environment must be designed.

And LEVEL UP has certainly been as successful as its nongaming siblings. Guests — millennials in particular — and employees alike have been pleased with the smorgasbord.

"Employees are excited to be a part of this one-of-a-kind venue, and guests are pleased with how different and thoughtfully executed the concept was upon opening," says Andrews. "While the space welcomes and caters to anyone looking for a new type of gaming experience, it does skew slightly younger than the average casino guest."

LEVEL UP, according to Facebook, has been rated a near-perfect 4.7 stars by visitors. And the comments are effusive, highlighting the welcoming atmosphere and array of state-of-the-art tech. (In particular, people go wild for the world's biggest PAC-MAN machine.)

But are skill-based games here to stay? Survey says yes.

"We think games with an element of skill have a long-term place in the market," says Andrews. "Newer skill-based games that layer in graphics, sounds, physical dexterity, or more strategic decision-making will appeal to younger generations that grew up playing video games and internet social gaming.

"With all of that in mind, there are many companies taking a lot of different approaches. How they execute on the game mechanics and experience will be critical, so it will be interesting to watch it all play out as these products are released in the market."
Abby Messick

Abby served as an associate editor for the Casino City editorial team for three years, between 2015 and 2018.
Abby Messick
Abby served as an associate editor for the Casino City editorial team for three years, between 2015 and 2018.