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AGS rides high with the Starwall and its premium titles as it matures into an omni-channel supplier


Shutdowns, pandemic restrictions and the rest of the challenges the industry has experienced over the past two years have not altered the upward course of Las Vegas-based AGS. That course has been the drive to fully develop the supplier’s three main divisions—slots, table products and, most recently, a fast-evolving interactive division.

The table products division has gotten a big boost with the introduction of side-bet progressive systems like the STAX Progressive product, which adds a must-hit-by progressive to table games, and more recently, Bonus Spin Xtreme, a progressive side bet system that enables casino operators to link all table games on the casino floor to the same jackpot pool. The inclusion of a single progressive winner plus a bonus prize for everyone participating at a given table has been described by many as a game-changer for the pit.

The other two divisions are inextricably linked. The success of the interactive division has come from a continuing effort to port the most popular land-based slot titles for online casinos—using a proprietary remote game server that cuts out the need for a third party.

The same goes for the company’s recent move into the historical horse racing market, with popular AGS titles consistently converted for HHR use via a partnership with Exacta Systems.

But the biggest push on the slot side for AGS has been the rollout of the remarkable Starwall merchandising display, and the concurrent introduction on that format of premium games on the Orion Portrait cabinet—the company calls the overall platform “Starwall x Orion.”

Starwall is a giant video backdrop display for Orion Portrait cabinets that frames Orion games in a 4K video display of adjacent LED panels. The game-synchronized video canvas—measuring 8.5 feet tall by 5 feet deep—displays the theme, colors and features of the game content. It is available in multiple different configurations.

At this year’s Global Gaming Expo, the company will display a new format for the Starwall that addresses today’s social distancing concerns while promoting a comfortable, more private play experience. “We’ll be showing a six-game Starwall setup in what we call the football shape,” says Steve Walther, AGS vice president of product management, slots.

“It actually enables a little bit more space, still taking into consideration some of the social distancing norms. We have two additional configurations that we’ve launched—the 45-degree variation and the 22.5-degree football. It actually moves the games out a little bit, and adds some additional space for players. It gives them 5 feet of distance between each seat to allow them to have a little bit more breathing room.”

The Starwall product was launched concurrently with the new Orion Curve cabinet, which highlights 4K graphics on a 49-inch curved portrait-style monitor. AGS recently debuted an Orion Curve Premium platform, which is designed for 4-pods and 5-pods of Orion Curve games, merchandised with a 360-degree video display and theme-specific illuminated wedge spacers, along with premium game content just for that package.

Both products have been hits with players, and AGS has used the combination of the two to introduce lease-only premium experiences for players.

“With the Starwall merchandising and the Orion Curve premium package, those video displays attract people with awesome-looking graphics,” says Walther. “The Starwall captures people’s attention and vision when they walk by. They find a cute character. They want to engage with the cute character, and we deliver with the game below it, with that character interacting throughout the game. There’s really an identification with the character while they play.”

Bringing the Best

The successful rollout of the Orion Curve Premium and the Starwall x Orion family of games has shifted the emphasis to filling these platforms with new content. “Our focus is on allowing our customers to take advantage of the investments they’ve made in AGS products, and the opportunity to make additional investments in the newer products that we have coming out, to expand their presence of AGS on the floor,” Walther says.

The first introduction on the new Orion Curve Premium cabinet gives a clear indication that AGS already has a head start on this goal. One of the biggest hits over the past year for AGS has been Rakin’ Bacon! Deluxe. The debut family on the Orion Curve Premium, it is an extension of one of the company’s most popular games with a wealth of new features for the Starwall x Orion setup.

Rakin’ Bacon! Deluxe—with launch games Golden Blessings and Pirate Plunder—adds interactivity to the familiar piggy-bank character—for instance, the piggy reacts with an “oink” if the player touches it on the screen. “Boost” symbols grow the prizes in the Jackpot Pick Bonus. In the free-game bonus, symbols land to expand the reels up to a maximum of seven rows, which results in 16,807 ways to win on each spin.

At G2E, the company will launch a new premium title for the Starwall x Orion setup called Prize Stacks. The launch titles, Tiki Jungle and its companion theme, Tiki Shores, combine a cascading wins feature with expanding reels.

The main feature is triggered when tiki symbols stacked on the first four reels combine with a gold tiki symbol on the fifth reel. The tikis turn into cash-on-reels symbols, and the player is awarded the credit values. The values then cascade down to be replaced with other symbols, paying with each cascade until they exit the screen at the bottom.

The cash-on-reels symbols are joined by symbols corresponding to each of four progressive jackpots.

Randomly during the 30-line primary game, the main tiki character will jump on screen to expand the reels. “The bigger the stack, the more that value multiplies as it goes down the screen,” says Walther. In the free-game feature, the reels automatically grow one row with each spin, up to seven rows high. “The bigger the reels, the bigger the stacks,” Walther says. “As the reels expand, you get more pay lines and more opportunities for pays. This is meant to be entertaining and fun, but it still has that nice, volatile kick that AGS is known for.”

AGS also is bringing exclusive content to G2E for its new in-line football configuration with the Orion Curve Premium platform. Vegas Gold is a player-selectable multi-denomination game that includes a hold-and-spin feature and a three-reel multiplier reel that spins to award a multiplier of up to 10X on each reel.

Also featured for this configuration are the new multi-denom Mega Boost games Wheel Charge and Wheel Charred. Featuring a six-level jackpot, these games offer an upgradable boosting wheel, cash-on-reels, and a free games bonus, framed by clever animated characters that dance around the Mega Boost Wheel.

Another Starwall x Orion offering to be unveiled at G2E will be the Epic Reels game family of Japanese-themed games, Musha and Mouko, which include a hold-and-win feature, free games, multipliers, and a dual-wheel bonus, including a credit wheel and a jackpot wheel, which awards the Grand, Major, or static jackpots with multipliers added.

Orion Standouts

In addition to those games created for the Starwall x Orion and Orion Curve Premium cabinets, the collection of Orion cabinets will be showcased at G2E in the form of a number of stand-alone, for-sale games.

One of the standouts is a new game series called Bubble Mania, with launch titles Potion Pays and Hai Long. Both the witch-themed Potion Pays and the dragon-themed Hai Long include a persistent-state feature in which bubbles with cash-on-reels values appear from the bottom of the reel array and float upward with each spin.

In addition to credits, the bubbles can award one of two progressive jackpots. If they land on a trigger symbol—a crystal ball in Potion Pays or a pearl in Hai Long—they pay the indicated credit amount. The bubbles can randomly grow to cover more reel spots—even the entire reel array, virtually guaranteeing a payoff.

But the heart of these games, arguably, is what happens in the bonus features. In the primary game, randomly, bubbles appear over reel symbols to award a credit amount or one of the progressives. In the free-spin round, the reels expand up to seven rows—meaning the bubbles have much more real estate on which to rise upward across the reel array, and more chances at awards.

What could be the most fun is a feature called the Bubble Pick Bonus. This is an interactive touchscreen event in which a fast-paced succession of bubbles—large and small, bearing credit amounts and the occasional jackpot—fly up the screen, and the player touches as many as possible to accumulate awards.

“There’s a lot to this game,” says Walther. “With the persistent state, if you see that big bubble, it’s more likely you’re going to want to continue to play. It’s got the interactive touch bonus where you’re popping bubbles to win prizes. It’s got expanding reels, cash-on-reels—a number of features that are popular in the market today, all rolled into one.”

Another standout for sale on the Orion Curve is the Coin Bonanza family of games, launched with the games Lucky O’Reilly and God of Gold.

Lucky O’Reilly places a fun Irish theme on a five-by-five, 50-line array. The main Coin Bonanza bonus is a mystery feature that can appear at the start of any spin in either the primary game or on free spins. The feature drops a random number of cash-on-reels coin symbols to the reel array and pays the accumulated total of adjacent symbols.

There are retriggering free games and three levels of progressive jackpot, each won with line combinations.

God of Gold can trigger the three levels of progressive jackpot through the Coin Bonanza cash-on-reels feature.

Other new games are featured on both the Orion Upright and Orion Slant dual-screen formats. Two of the cleverest are Cluck Cluck Cash and Meow Meow Madness; both offer a new twist to the cash-on-reels play mechanic and entertaining characters to keep players smiling.

Cluck Cluck Cash features a comical chicken character in the top screen that grows taller and fatter as wild bonus symbols are collected in the primary game, until it randomly bursts to let loose a coin shower of bonus credits. There is a hold-and-win feature in which five initial spins are awarded, and players collect prize symbols including instant-win credit amounts and multipliers, and a new spin is added for each cash-on-reels symbol that lands on the screen.

During the free games, all royal symbols are removed, leaving only high-paying symbols and bonus symbols. Meow Meow Madness adds a karaoke feature to the free games. The central cute kitty character puts the lyrics at the bottom of the screen—“Meow.. meow… meow,” naturally.

Both games have a hilarious jackpot pick-em bonus with the chance to win multiple jackpots.

The Orion Slant includes the Top Ca$h family, with the games Golden Boat and Lucky Nuggets. Both include cash-on-reels, up to 100X credit multipliers, progressives, and up to eight free games. Also on this cabinet is the new player-selectable multi-denom Money Charge Boosted games Prosperous Lion and Mighty Wolf, which feature an enhanced version of AGS’ Money Charge Jackpots feature and an upgraded hold-and-spin boost bonus.

The parade of new games will mostly be available to operators by the end of the year, according to Walther.

New Horizons

Among the most recent developments on the slot side for AGS is the company’s move into the historical horse racing market. In partnership with platform supplier Exacta Systems, the company has already ported content for HHR games in Kentucky that includes Rakin’ Bacon!, Tiger Lord, Peacock Beauty and others on the Orion Portrait cabinet. At G2E, the company will introduce the HHR games Golden Blessings and Dragon Tao.

The company also will make the Orion Curve available to the HHR market, according to Walther. “HHR has been strong for us,” he says. “You’ll see HHR games at G2E.” Walther adds that the majority of AGS’ new premium and for-sale content will be available for both the Class II and Class III markets.

Meanwhile, the company continues to port its top games for online gaming sites, where its most popular land-based titles have been reprising their success.

“You’ll see an interactive display at G2E,” says Walther. “We’re finding there’s a strong resonance between the land-based style of game and the online games. So some of the best-performing games online are also in land-based—for example, Capital Gains, one of our strong dual-screen games and part of the original Money Charged Jackpot series, is a top performer for us online globally.”

The remarkable variety of AGS content has been possible thanks to a diverse group of game developers who often collaborate with each other. “That’s an area where AGS has really put some focus over the last few years—diversifying its developer group to appeal to diverse gaming audiences,” Walther says.

The result, of course, is an ever-growing variety of new game content for all the company’s product groups—and an ever-growing game library for all types of players.

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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