Mark Yoseloff is wagering on the creativity of UNLV students, and it's paying off for all involved.
Yoseloff is the former chairman and CEO of SHFL Entertainment, Inc., a top global gaming supplier. He recently partnered with the university to establish the Center for Gaming Innovation at UNLV, whose primary goal is to support student designers seeking to develop next-generation gaming technologies.
It's a move calculated to keep America's gaming mecca ahead of the competition, with a safe side bet that a mutually beneficial relationship between UNLV faculty and gaming industry leaders will produce valuable payouts.
Priority one, Yoseloff says, is ensuring that Las Vegas doesn't lose its innovation edge.
Although there has been a dramatic proliferation of gaming throughout the world, Nevada has, for many years, been the center of new product creation," says Yoseloff, who holds a doctorate in mathematics from Princeton. "This is extremely important to the Nevada economy. Although gambling may take place in many jurisdictions, creating and manufacturing gaming products in Nevada represents important revenue and jobs for our state.
Yoseloff is helping ensure the industry maintains its edge, and he has even put up his own earnings to help make this happen.
"During Governor Sandoval's 2013 State of the State Address, he talked about the need for Nevada to remain the intellectual property capital of the world for gaming," says Yoseloff. "Having worked in this field for many years, and knowing that many of the new ideas in gaming have come from young creative minds, I began to formulate a plan to harness that creativity. This ultimately became the Center for Gaming Innovation at UNLV. As far as I know, there is no other such program in the gaming field."
The center, which is located in UNLV's International Gaming Institute in the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration, was launched last year with a course in gaming commercialization. Yoseloff taught the course through the college's gaming management concentration, though the class itself is open to students from all disciplines. Local game creators and industry and legal experts also participated as guest speakers.
Seventeen students, both undergraduate and graduate, signed on for the program's first semester. Among them was doctoral student Dan Sahl.
Sahl, whose dissertation research explores video game-like elements in slot machines, says the class was the most distinctive one he's ever taken.
"One of the things I took away was a better appreciation of the value of creative and innovative ideas," he says. "Any good university course will make you think, but this was the only class I've ever taken where equal time and consideration were spent learning and navigating the process of protecting and commercializing my intellectual property.
"We spent a lot of time discussing our ideas and trying out different game configurations in the gaming lab. The opportunity to receive both criticism and advice from Dr. Yoseloff and other industry experts was a key part of the development process."
Sahl credits his advisor, the International Gaming Institute's Executive Director Bo Bernhard, with recommending he enroll. For his part, Bernhard says steering students toward Yoseloff's program was an easy call.
"I've now been in university classrooms for nearly 25 years, and I've never sensed a positive, collaborative energy like I felt when I had the privilege of observing Mark teach that class," says Bernhard. "These students are creating and innovating in a manner that all of us, as teachers, can learn from. I know that I've taken lessons learned from that class into my own teaching, as I now actively seek ways to get students to work in teams on challenging, real-world problems like those associated with intellectual property in new games."
"Being a mentor and teacher in this program has been extremely rewarding," says Yoseloff. "I don't believe that it is possible to teach someone to be creative. What I do believe is that it is possible to teach creative people to harness and direct their creativity. This has been my approach in the program, and I am very happy with the results."
Those results speak for themselves. "My hope is that my students become important contributors in this regard; thus far, I am both surprised and very pleased. My first class produced 12 patentable ideas. In addition, one new company has already been started as the result of the sale of one of these patents."
Yoseloff says the most important point for new inventors to know is that they must closely guard their intellectual property. "Discussing their ideas without the proper legal safeguards can damage their later ability to patent and protect what is theirs," he says. "Early in our program there is a discussion of copyrights, trademarks, and patents, just for this purpose."
The program is focused on real-world outcomes, in this case bringing game ideas from the classroom to a casino floor or online gaming platform. Yoseloff, who spent a career designing technically advanced casino games for resorts and the web, is an ideal mentor. He is also well-connected and isn't shy about using his contacts.
Yoseloff has enlisted a roster of gaming-industry superstars to guide program participants in areas such as the commercialization of ideas, the patent process, and effective business methods. "Las Vegas has a creative edge in that most of the world's gaming experts are right here," he says.
He notes that gaming companies are looking for employees who understand the intersection of their industry with math, psychology, business, and sociology. These are the employees who will bring new ideas to the market. Starting with students learning the patent process for casino games seems to be a logical first step.
The Center for Gaming Innovation is supported by the state's Knowledge Fund, which promotes research in sectors Nevada has targeted for economic growth. The objective of the grant is to maintain Las Vegas' role as the global "intellectual capital" of gaming.
Based on the success of the first course, UNLV is continuing the program. The revamped class will include dedicated sections on innovation in the areas of entertainment, security, and productivity.
Yoseloff knows that even the students who do not have their proprietary games purchased will benefit. In fact, as his former student Sahl explains, failure is often the first step towards success.
"You could go home, consider what the professor and fellow students liked and didn't like about your idea, and then return the next week to present a better product," Sahl says.
Exactly right, says Yoseloff, adding that those who are equipped to make these "better products" are sure bets to do well after they graduate.
"Technology is driving the gaming industry like never before, and the program is designed to give students the tools they need to perform and succeed in a competitive business."
-- Robyn Campbell-Ouchida