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AGS continues R&D to advance products on all fronts—slots, tables and interactive gaming


Like many suppliers, AGS was on a roll before the Covid-19 crisis hit, with products like the Orion Curve and Orion Rise cabinets providing new formats for both established and new games, and the Starwall video wall, an amazing backdrop that creates an immersive feel for premium titles on AGS’ Orion Portrait platform, just entering the market to rave reviews.

Despite shutdowns, furloughs and that temporary halt in sales every supplier endured, AGS has managed to keep that momentum going. “We realized that with the disruption to business, we had a choice to make,” says AGS Executive Vice President Matt Reback. “While we had to furlough team members and go through the processes that the entire supplier market had to experience, we did continue to make investments in our R&D team, knowing we wanted to come out on the other side of the pandemic in a position of strength.

“Similarly, AGS has always stood out in our industry because of our renowned corporate culture, and we’ve worked very hard throughout the pandemic to keep that intact.”

“We’ve been working with the engineers full-throttle, developing our technology,” adds Jamie Abrahamson, senior director of table game content for AGS. “We have some exciting submissions going into the lab, and we

really have not had any disruption in our development queue.”

That means those new products that were on a roll before the crisis will continue to roll out, in all three of the AGS product divisions—slot products, where the company continues to build up the game libraries for all its diverse cabinet styles; table games, where a new progressive product stands to inject new life into the pit; and AGS Interactive, which continues to spread AGS content not only in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and developing U.S. jurisdictions, but around the world through its aggregation platform and key partnerships with both operators and third-party providers.

It also means 2020 will see the same kind of volume of new innovations and game styles as any given year. “We have studios around the world—in Sydney, Reno, Austin and Atlanta Metro—and those studios have all been developing product and continuing with hardware and content innovation through the pandemic,” says Reback.

According to Steve Walther, senior director of slot products for AGS, the top goal of that development on the slot side has been to increase the footprint of the Orion family of cabinets, and to increase the game libraries of the two newest Orion cabinets—the Orion Rise, which features a 55-inch 4K LCD flat-screen monitor atop a standard dual-screen base, and the premium Orion Curve, which highlights 4K graphics on a 49-inch curved portrait-style monitor.

And then there’s the Starwall, the giant, freestanding video backdrop display for Orion Portrait cabinets that frames three or six Orion games in a stunning 4K video display that mimics the theme, colors and features of the game content on the Orion Portrait games. Measuring 8.5 feet tall by 5 feet deep, the merchandising display can frame a three-pack along a wall or a freestanding two-sided six-pack bank of games.

The Orion Rise, launched last year, transforms the basic dual-screen Orion cabinet into a tower-style game, and the Orion Curve cabinet, which debuted early this year, is “a premium product, featuring game-themed wedges and a digital LED circular topper with packaging that can be either in a four-pod or five-pod configuration,” says Walther.

Orion Matures

Introduction of the Orion Rise and Orion Curve filled out the form factors AGS needs to host all styles of slot games, from the core dual-screen video slot to the larger-format variety. AGS has built a library of games in which each title is designed to exploit the strongest capabilities of a particular cabinet.

AGS also has been very successful in bringing its most popular titles into new formats, and that includes the inaugural games fronting the Starwall display.

“The Starwall is our first major foray into a total premium package, start to finish,” says Walther. “Before the pandemic, it was performing extremely well, and after casinos have started to reopen, it continues to perform extraordinarily well.”

The inaugural suite of games for Starwall began with new versions of player favorites presented on the Orion Portrait cabinet—Golden Wins Deluxe and Jade Wins Deluxe. That will soon be followed by Piggy Wins and Grand Ox Wins, which are evolutions of Golden Wins Deluxe and Jade Wins Deluxe, and then some different play styles with Golden Dragon, Phoenix Magic and Lucky Panda.

“We definitely have a depth of portfolio on this, and what’s so exciting about this platform for us is that not only does it leverage some great game content, but the attraction the package offers grabs people’s attention as they go by, and keeps their attention as they’re playing the game—because the content on the Starwall matches and mimics the game play,” Walther says.

“You’ll see these games banked according to the various themes and theme families, and it really creates an entertaining and immersive experience for people playing the games on the Starwall.”

He adds that the attraction definitely draws a crowd. “When you’re seeing them at the casinos where we have them now, they are certainly crowd-pleasers, because they stand out. Other suppliers offer LED displays, but this is a cinematic, immersive wall that the games basically fit into, so you feel a part of the package when you play the game.”

AGS went with high-performing themes for the first two Starwall games. Golden Wins Deluxe and Jade Wins Deluxe are new versions of the popular AGS titles featuring a wheel bonus that awards progressives, credit prizes, or a unique “coin grab” bonus that capitalizes on the 42-inch screen. Expanding reels are featured in a choose-your-volatility free-spin round.

According to Walther, the favored configuration is a six-pack with three of each title per side. The subsequent releases will fit neatly on a three-side panel utilizing the Starwall as well. Walther says Golden Dragon, a multi-level progressive game featuring expanding reels and a jackpot prize wheel, will be released by the end of 2020. During game play, the player collects credit prizes that accumulate at the bottom of the screen, won when the player lands a three-symbol-high dragon.

While there is a complete lineup of themes waiting in the wings for Starwall, Walther says there’s no hurry. “We’re still getting such good performance and penetration out of the existing two themes, Golden Wins Deluxe and Jade Wins Deluxe, that we’re really not in a rush to bring out more themes,” he says. “And we continue to grow our floor footprint with the first themes.

“We do have a ton of themes in development, and we’re rolling them out when it makes sense to expand the interest in this cabinet, when people are ready to double the number or triple the number of the Starwalls on their floor.”

Rise and Curve

The games AGS has designed to fill the libraries of its newest stand-alone cabinets, the Orion Rise and Orion Curve, are similarly tailored to make the most of what each display has to offer.

The Orion Rise is the tallest cabinet AGS has on the market, allowing a standard dual-screen base to host a variety of games that feature grand bonuses played out on the giant 55-inch flat-screen 4K monitor. One of the upcoming themes for the Orion Rise, Da Long Da Fa, is part of the Blazing Wheels game family.

Blazing Wheels covers that big screen with dual spinning prize wheels. When the bottom wheel is triggered, the player spins for a credit prize, a progressive jackpot or an “Upgrade” symbol. The latter triggers the top wheel, for larger credit prizes or a progressive.

“The top screen is designed to also help to attract a crowd,” Walther says. “Wheel bonus games always draw attention, but the dual wheel spin really attracts players. We anticipate this to build a strong brand following for the Rise when it launches later this year.”

In addition to Da Long Da Fa, the Orion Rise library includes Wheel Surge, Dragon’s Jackpots, and the soon-to-be-released Chili Grande.

Dragon’s Jackpots is centered around a 3D dragon character in sharp 4K animation. Upgrade symbols on the reels unlock jackpots that are available on each reel during a free-spin round.

With the Orion Curve Premium configuration, another AGS player favorite is reprised in Rakin’ Bacon! Deluxe. The popular golden pig character becomes an emperor in the “Golden Blessings” free-spin round, in which a special symbol causes the reel set to expand to as high as seven rows with a 2X multiplier. In “Pirate Plunder,” the pig becomes a pirate for a match-three progressive round. For the Deluxe version, a “Boost” icon has been added to the picking field that increases the values of the four progressives.

“This game can be placed in a four-pod or five-pod,” says Walther, “taking up roughly the same amount of space on the gaming floor—not only because space is at a premium, but also because pod configurations allow you to social-distance.”

The Curve was launched with Royal Phoenix and Sacred Dragon. Royal Phoenix features a hold-and-spin feature, in which wilds stay in place while the remaining reels spin for bigger wins. Sacred Dragon features expanding wilds and a persistent feature in which the player collects yin yang symbols, which transform into the top-paying dragon symbol.

Both games utilize the 49-inch 4K monitor for stunning 3D animation on the main game characters. “The contrast of the artwork and characters is second to none, and the animation on that platform just pops,” Walther says.

Also coming soon on the Orion Curve is the Reel Tower series, and its inaugural game Jack’s Riches. The player collects Jack’s “magic beans” in a bonus which grows the “beanstalk” with a new set of reels. Up to four new reels can be revealed and played simultaneously with symbols transforming into the top-paying “golden bean.”

Backing the Legacy

The new crop of games this year will not leave out the Orion Portrait, which carries several games—including the original Rakin’ Bacon! and Fu Nan Fu Nu—typically at or near the top of industry performance surveys. There also are several new games on tap for the core dual-screen cabinet.

Games launched over the summer on the Orion Portrait, which features a 42-inch touch-screen monitor, include Imperial 88 Tiger Lord and Peacock Beauty, which takes the hold-and-spin bonus to new levels with instant wins and multipliers. “Coins explode out of a jar for the pick’em bonus,” explains Walther. “We keep players engaged by having wilds in the pick’em bonus. If you have wilds with the Mini and Major, you get both jackpots. You have the opportunity to win and double whatever your prizes are or win everything in the hold-and-spin feature. It’s really a fun chase.”

There are other unique aspects to the hold-and-spin bonus, in which the player accumulates gold coins during a free-spin round, each collected symbol resetting the number of free spins to three.

Normally, the player would collect the credits for the accumulated coins when no coins appear for three spins, ending the feature. However, the feature in Imperial 88 includes a “Win Now” symbol that awards all accumulated bonus credits, keeping the coins in place to continue the feature—collecting again at the end of the bonus.

“Some of the key brands in the Orion family utilize our Xtreme Jackpots link,” Walther says. “Operators can link all Xtreme Jackpots together for a common prize pool. Rakin’ Bacon! is one of the more popular games on that link. Other extremely strong AGS links are Imperial 88 with Tiger Lord and Peacock Beauty. These are resonating well on our Orion Portrait cabinets, as are the Ultimate Choice Jackpot games Aztec Chief and Red Silk.”

Highlights in the dual-screen format include Pele Cash, Cai Shen Cash, 8 Riches and Dynasty Fortunes.

Pele Cash and Cai Shen Cash are sister games featuring unique stacking wild symbols. Dynasty Fortunes and 8 Riches offer beautiful Asian imagery and a scatter-based jackpot chase feature.

Table Tech

The big news from the table-game division of AGS this year is Bonus Spin Xtreme, a progressive system that can link all table games in a casino to one progressive jackpot pool. The patented technology places a display with three concentric wheels at each table and solves the challenge of how to offer a single jackpot winner on community-style table games.

“We’re very excited to introduce Bonus Spin Xtreme, which is the next generation of our Bonus Spin progressive platform,” says Abrahamson. “With our proprietary technology, we are now able to link all table games, even different games with different spin-triggering events, to the same jackpot pool, providing faster-incrementing jackpots and larger jackpot amounts.

“And operators only have to seed one jackpot as opposed to many throughout their various pits, which is a huge benefit and differentiator.”

Bonus Spin Xtreme employs a different spin triggering event for each table game—an RNG-selected number on the roulette table, any four-card tie in baccarat, a dealer bust totaling 26 in blackjack, and the five community cards in poker derivatives forming a three-of-a-kind or higher.

The community-based triggering events create excitement akin to that found at a craps table, since it means an initial award to every player at the table who has made the side bet. When the triggering event occurs, the inner wheel spins to award a Community Prize. The middle wheel then spins to pick one of the player positions, the “Hot Spot,” and the third wheel then spins to award that player the “Hot Spot Prize,” which consists of two progressive jackpots. There is also a smaller “must-hit-by” progressive.

“This solution is extremely innovative,” says Abrahamson. “Never before has a product linked the entire table game floor and provided a single jackpot in such a transparent way and in such an engaging way.”

Booming Interactive

The shutdown of casinos due to the Covid-19 pandemic, of course, did give a boost to one sector of the industry, online gaming. AGS has fully established its interactive division and was ready to fill the gaming void with new online placements of its most popular games.

The company entered the social gaming arena with its 2015 acquisition of Rocket Play and acquired the Gameiom aggregation platform in 2018. With its social gaming content in place on the B2C Lucky Play Casino, and content distributed to third-party social casinos via its remote gaming server (RGS), AGS entered the New Jersey iGaming market in 2019, and placed its first content in Pennsylvania this year.

In the U.S., sites featuring AGS content include Rush Street Interactive, Caesars, Golden Nugget, Mohegan Sun, Resorts, Harrah’s, 888, WSOP and Kindred in New Jersey. In Pennsylvania, AGS was first featured by Rush Street Interactive and Parx, with several submissions pending at press time, and an entry into Michigan slated for the fourth quarter or first quarter 2021, as soon as the regulator and operator go live.

Beyond the U.S., AGS has used its aggregation platform to go live with dozens of top operators around the world, featuring top games like Rakin’ Bacon!, Fu Nan Fu Nu, Longhorn Jackpots, Golden Wins, Capital Gains, Jade Wins and Pharaoh Sun.

“Our core strategy is making sure we take our award-winning and industry-leading content online,” says Reback, “and what we’re seeing is that consistently, games that do well in land-based casinos outperform games that are online only. There are a few home-run games that are digital only, but the games that are good land-based titles tend to do well if it’s a good application online. We’re seeing that whether it’s social or real-money gaming.”

The online surge adds to a still-growing land-based library AGS has managed to build up with a variety of content that maximizes the company’s innovative cabinetry.

Says Reback, “A depth of library, the number of cabinets in the field, and tons of themes to help casinos build their banks with AGS products will help casinos as they reopen during and following the pandemic.”

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.  

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