For the past few years, virtually every move made by gaming supplier AGS has been aimed at filling out the product portfolio in each of the company’s three divisions—slots, table games and interactive.
The company’s table-game division has hummed along with a collection of great progressive systems, from the STAX must-hit-by jackpots to the incomparable Bonus Spin Xtreme, which can link all tables in a property to one progressive jackpot.
Everything else the company does relies on one overriding factor—strong slot content. Game development in the company’s slot division is what feeds the success of the interactive division as games continue to port for online release—not to mention porting for release as historical horse racing titles through Exacta Systems.
The focus at AGS on the game development side has been on augmenting the company’s portfolio of products, according to Mark DeDeaux, AGS general manager and vice president, slots. “We’re really just starting to fill out our portfolio of products,” DeDeaux says. “Our expansion into premium games is probably one of the most notable developments—Orion Curve Premium games with Starwall, and with Rise, and a big focus is our entry into the high-denom video genre.”
That entry into the high-denom area begins with two games already in the field, Mega Diamond and Gold Inferno. Both are traditional three-reel games in video, offering the player the choice not only of denomination—they range from quarters to $5—but in the payline configuration. Players can choose a single payline, three lines, five lines or nine lines.
Everything about the games themselves is traditional, from the complete pay schedule above the reels to the familiar bar-symbol and multiple 7 combinations on the reels, to the way the games feel when one plays them.
“A lot of work went into making sure that the reels spin and the reels stop with just the right feeling to satisfy mechanical players, and the right balance of video add-on to where it’s not overwhelming or too flashy,” comments Steve Walther, AGS vice president of game development. “And there are things we can do with video on a three-reel that players will enjoy.”
That means animated coin-shower celebrations for big wins, symbols that glow in wins, anticipation of wins, flames around the screen as progressives “heat up,” and added watermarks to some of the symbols. For instance, Mega Diamond adds multipliers to certain 7 and bar symbols displaying 2X, 3X, 4X or 5X. Winning combinations including these sub-symbols are multiplied by any combination of the symbols—the multipliers multiply each other. For instance, the payout for a 7 combination including a 2X and a 3X multiplier will be multiplied by six.
The same applies to the wild multiplier symbols in Gold Inferno, and similar game mechanics will be featured in the two other high-denom video slots to be launched at the Global Gaming Expo, called Platinum 8X8X8X and 8X Crystal Bells. Walther notes that because of the extra multipliers and wilds, some of the line combinations in those games pay more than even the top progressive.
Walther adds that casino operators can alter the return percentage according to denomination, just as they do with traditional stepper slots—within the same game. This is another advantage of offering the games in video—as you increase your bet to the higher denominations, you will see more of the multipliers, diamonds and other top symbols appear on the reels, something that would not be possible with mechanical reels.
“We saw the high-denomination segment as an underserved segment of the market,” comments DeDeaux. “We recognize that three-reel video in high denominations is an emerging sector, and we want to come in and take it over, and put out some fantastic products.”
“When you’re changing bets and playing the game,” adds Walther, “you realize this resonates differently than most high-denom products out there. By the time G2E comes along, they’ll be quite pervasive in the market, hopefully performing as well as we anticipate and expect them to.”
The inaugural high-denom games are featured on the Orion Curve cabinet, with 4K graphics presented on a 49-inch curved portrait monitor. Walther notes that the setup of the games will give operators maximum flexibility in placing them.
“We could put these games inside a high-limit room, right outside of a high-limit room, banked in a mixed area where people have some mid-denoms or high-denoms—they package nicely,” he says. “We put a lot of time, energy and resources into these games. This was a long-term project. And the fruits of our labor played out in a number of of good products.”
New Cabinet, Full Library
While introducing a new product category in the high-denom games, AGS has spent the past year filling out its library in all other categories, including new games in every genre and new versions of some of its most popular games.
The company recently moved into a larger headquarters facility in Las Vegas, and has expanded its game development operation. “We’ve doubled our game development studios,” says DeDeaux. “We’ve got a new studio in Sydney and we’re opening a new studio in Arizona. We’re expanding our Austin studio. We’ve done a lot in terms of continuing to reinvest in R&D, not just on the game development side, but also on the engineering side and all of the other support areas of the business.”
“It’s not just about product,” adds Walther. “It’s also about our culture. Our leadership has established a fantastic culture that makes AGS an attractive place for people to want to come work. And that’s why we can invest in our people and grow these particular areas around the world and to produce some of the best content that’s available. We continue to have a pretty good record with how well our core product is doing versus the fair share on the casino floor. So that provides an excellent opportunity for our commercial side of the business to be able to present good options to our customer base.”
“Coming out of Covid and getting back to the new normal, we just had a record gaming ops quarter in Q2,” says DeDeaux, “so now we’re really amplifying and accelerating all the new products Steve’s team has been working on.”
That growing library of games will have a new form factor added to the current group of cabinets in the Orion family. Called Spectra, it is a 43-inch upright cabinet, to complement the 43-inch Orion Portrait, which is a slant-top.
“This is a new generation of cabinets,” says Walther. “The Orion Portrait has been out for almost six years, so it’s time for something new. This is our new platform to take advantage of new game features. We’ve talked about 3D in the past, but this is 3D with a bit more—there are some fun little things that we’re doing with Triple Coin Treasures, like a synchronized attract across the various different screens, taking advantage of the power of the new platform that we’ve put into the Spectra series. It’s got very attractive features to grab people from across the floor, and it’s got some of our greatest content built into it.”
He adds that the number of games that will be displayed on the Spectra UR43 cabinet “will show the breadth of our portfolio for the launch,” with games to be launched by the end of this year and well into next year.
That will include new versions of many of its most popular games. “We’re going to be showing some new brand extension games,” DeDeaux says. “It’s interesting to talk about ‘AGS classics,’ given the age of the business, but we’ve got some games we’re going to focus on that will revolve around classic AGS games.”
Some of those “classics” include the Imperial 88 family, which features a lock-and-re-spin bonus with a five-spin cycle. At G2E, the company will launch the Legends of Imperial 88 family, including Tiger Lord Gold and Peacock Beauty Gold.
“Imperial 88 has done so well for us,” Walther says. “This version takes the game and puts a new couple of twists to it, featuring additional bonus capabilities—easily recognizable as a brand extension.”
Then there’s the Triple Coin Treasures series. Themes like Long Bao Bao and Shamrock Fortune feature fun pots of gold that grow and potentially send a little dragon on Long Bao Bao or a leprechaun on Shamrock Fortune to the reels to upgrade symbols and award chances for one of four progressives.
All that content on the new Spectra UR43 will be on display at G2E, as well as on every version of the Orion cabinet, and in special presentations as with the Starwall merchandising package and the Rise large-format cabinet. The lineup will include new games launched in recent months as well as many launch games that will be available within the next six months. “We’re not doing any of the long-term, futuristic presentations,” Walther says. “We want products there that customers can buy.”
DeDeaux adds that AGS has handled supply-chain issues to the point where deliveries are not delayed.
“A lot of companies are struggling with supply chain, but we haven’t had our own struggles,” he says. “We’ve gotten into a position now where we can deliver products under normal lead-time scenarios.”
Some of the most recent releases that will be on display include new games from the Fa Cai San Xing family, which includes an interactive pick bonus feature where players can touch falling coins to reveal credit prizes. The titles in this series are sister games Fa Cai San Xing Tiger and Fa Cai San Xing Pig, both presented on the Orion Curve Premium.
The pick bonus feature in these titles is triggered when any wild symbol lands on the reels, and can award up to 18 picks. Each falling coin has a random credit prize between one and five multiplied by the total bet, that is revealed when touched. If an upgrade symbol is revealed, the coin will be replaced with a random credit prize between one and 100 multiplied by the total bet. The Wheel Bonus has 12 slices—credit awards, wilds, wild multipliers, free spins, and four progressive jackpots, the top resetting at $10,000.
Two games from the new Firestarter game family are Dragon Moon and Egyptian Diamond, also on the Orion Curve Premium. The Jackpot Wheel Bonus features six jackpot prizes with the top progressive resetting to $8,000. The Firestarter Bonus awards eight initial free spins on a five-by-eight prize grid above the reels.
New on the 55-inch Orion Rise cabinet is Cluck Cluck Cash Deluxe. The humorous growing chicken is reprised here in a game that features three bonuses–free spins, “hold-and-win,” and an interactive touch cash bonus.
On Starwall will be a new version of an enduring hit for AGS, River Dragons. As was done last year with Rakin’ Bacon! Deluxe, the Starwall treatment brings the game to life, its 4K graphics beamed to a display that includes 420 game-controlled LED lights that change color based on game events, music and sounds.
In the case of River Dragons Jade and Sapphire, players will see the familiar colorful dragons from the base game flying around the machines on the giant Starwall display.
“We think it’s a unique value proposition for customers to have a game like River Dragons both available on Starwall and on our Orion Curve Premium,” says DeDeaux. “For customers that have already made a commitment for Starwall, and want something new, or for somebody who’s looking for a second bank of Curve Premium outside of Rakin’ Bacon! Deluxe, we have this available.”
Tying it Together
The variety of slot offerings will, of course, share the AGS booth with the latest in table games, progressives and side bets from the table division, and demonstrations of online versions of AGS games from the interactive division. There also will be displays of new merchandising and hardware setups for the company’s Class II offerings, and for the growing library of games ported for the historical horse racing market.
“At G2E this year, we’re going to showcase Class II, HHR, Class III, and also the way we’re positioning our products to be available across all three markets,” DeDeaux says. “Probably 80-plus percent of the games we develop for Class III work across Class II and HHR as well. It shows the balance in our portfolio and our commitment to supporting all segments of the business.”
“What I like personally about what we’ve been doing is we’re having a lot of fun, making some really fun games,” adds Walther. “I’m looking forward to seeing how the customers respond—how our operators respond to the fun that we’re going to put on display at G2E.”