Last year, Ainsworth Game Technology was focused on riding the success of what has been one of the highest-earning game groups in the company’s history, the QuickSpin series. Begun in 2017 with the release of Super Hot 7s and Super Charged 7s, QuickSpin games have consistently resided among the top-earning slots in industry surveys.
QuickSpin games, which center around a frequent wheel bonus event, have multiplied as their popularity has increased—no less than 10 entries in the series were displayed at the 2019 Global Gaming Expo, including a MultiPlay version of Super Charged 7s that allows players to spin on up to four reel sets.
While the wheel game took off, Ainsworth refined its other specialty—traditional-style, high-denomination slot games. The QuickSpin series was augmented with higher-denomination entries to go with the low-volatility penny games in the market.
Ainsworth, only a few years removed from establishment of its Las Vegas U.S. headquarters and acquisition of a Class II studio in South Carolina, was definitely on a roll by the time the Covid-19 crisis shut down the industry.
But the company’s business plan, at least as far as game development, hasn’t missed a beat.
“Before the shutdown, our IT processes were in a good place to do the transition, so we weren’t caught too off guard,” comments Cody Herrick, Ainsworth’s director of game design. “(Microsoft) Teams was in place, and everybody knew how to use the program properly. Once we sat at our desktops at home as opposed to our desktops in the office, not too much changed.”
“We work with customers and vendors and media the same way we do internally,” adds Mike Trask, the company’s director of product marketing and strategy. “Like most businesses, not just in gaming but everywhere, we’ve rapidly pivoted to working remotely. I haven’t even seen a hiccup in terms of work flow.”
A-STAR is Born
That goes not only for development of games, but of the hardware on which those games reside. One of the most promising of Ainsworth’s developments this year is a new cabinet Trask says was “literally on a truck out behind our building” for a trip to San Diego and official launch at the National Indian Gaming Association’s planned Indian Gaming Tradeshow in March when that event was called off due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The cabinet ultimately destined for a softer launch a couple of months later is called the A-STAR Curve, a sleek 13-foot cabinet featuring a 43-inch floating infinity monitor under a 27-inch high-definition topper, with dynamic LED lighting and a state-of-the-art LCD button deck. It is the first Ainsworth cabinet to launch in North America since 2017.
“We’ve focused the bulk of development efforts on the A-STAR Curve,” Trask says. The cabinet was launched with five exclusive games, starting with new versions of the first two hits in the QuickSpin series, Super Charged 7s Classic and Red Hot 7s Classic. “We also launched MegaChoice Superstar on the A-STAR Curve,” says Trask. “It’s a multi-game package that includes two legacy QuickSpin titles along with three of our top-performing high-denom titles.”
Over the summer, those and two other games, Vault of Riches and Path to Wealth, debuted on the A-STAR Curve. Developed in partnership with a prominent third-party developer, the games add a variety of game-play experiences to the tried-and-true Ainsworth hits.
Vault of Riches is a five-reel game featuring a bonus vault over reel symbols based on the portraits of presidents and Founding Fathers on cash bills.
During the base game, a magnifying glass floats over the reels, randomly landing on spaces to award multipliers, free spins and wild symbols. A vault symbol on the center reel presents the vault door as a wheel bonus—the player spins to potentially unlock the vault to display a progressive picking bonus that awards one of four progressives. In two separate free-game bonus rounds, the magnifying glass becomes larger to cover more potential wins.
Path of Wealth is an Asian-style, 243-ways-to-win game featuring colorful high-resolution graphics. Above the reels is a horizontally situated board game around which the player travels during free-spin rounds, collecting credits, wild symbols and extra free games. One spot on the board triggers a progressive round, in which players move around a separate board to trigger one of the jackpots.
The third-party games augment the familiar hits such as Super Charged 7s Classic, the simple, three-reel offering with multiplying wild symbols and the frequent wheel bonus; and Red Hot 7s Classic, with its multiple “7” combinations and giant progressive bonus wheel.
“The legacy games included are really our bread and butter, our top-performing games,” says Trask, “along with a pair of titles developed in partnership with a third-party developer that has extensive experience in the gaming industry. With those five, we have a great mix of product to go to market with this cabinet.”
Building on Success
New games to come from Ainsworth over the next year will include iterations of the company’s best, including QuickSpin games in both low-volatility penny titles and high-denomination three-reel games, as well as others employing persistent-style bonuses and classic three-reel, high-denomination, high-volatility entries.
“We have a pair of three-reel QuickSpin games that have come out performing phenomenally well in some major casino locations,” Trask says, “and we have a pair of more classic penny-style—I’d call them mid-high volatility titles—that have some pretty engaging play mechanics on them. They look tremendous, they provide a great player experience, and they’re going to draw people to those new cabinets, and hopefully keep them engaged.”
Persistent-style bonuses have been launched in games like Super Lit Vegas, a QuickSpin variation that incorporates a seven-spin persistent cycle. During primary game play, the player collects orb symbols. On the seventh spin, all orbs change to wheel symbols, and eight or more orbs trigger the wheel.
“As you saw a year ago, we’ve put a heavy focus on our QuickSpin brand,” says Trask, “employing the strongest mechanics, wheel features and persistent features.” Counting Class II titles, he says QuickSpin is now found in more than a dozen iterations.
“QuickSpin has been our top-performing product for two years running; they’re the type of game being nominated for top slot game of the year by Eilers & Krejcik Gaming,” Trask says. “They routinely show up on Eilers-Fantini top 25 lists. We’re really proud of the work we’ve done with them.
“Cody and his team developed Super Charged 7s almost three years ago, and they just did a tremendous job of putting together a very easy-to-understand, simple game that is going to draw gamblers to it because they understand how it works, we give them value for their investment, and it’s fun to play.”
“We’ve been lucky enough with our team here having a lot of experience in how to manage a brand like that,” adds Herrick, “and I think we’ve done a very good job of it through games like Super Lit Vegas, which offers a persistent state, to now, a pair of three-reel, high-denom games that all play on this tremendously well-received brand.”
The higher-denomination three-reel offering is an area in which Ainsworth will continue to excel, whether or not a wheel is included, Herrick says. “I think we’ve always had a strong showing in high-denom. Some of our mystery progressive games—Thunder Cash, Mustang Money II, Eagle Bucks—have been on the market close to 10 years, and have performed to the top of some of the reports the whole time.
“So, we continued that vein of games, but then looked at what else in the market in that high-denom quarter product could fill out the whole floor. And that’s where the Super Charged 7s Classic and Red Hot 7s Classic came from. It is a core, more traditional stepper-style product that would work on a main floor.”
“Ainsworth’s history of high-denom tends to be in that dollar, $2, $5, 10-line and 20-line product,” says Trask. “This is a little different. When you look at a 25-cent, nine-line game, the average bet on that is going to be more of a mid-denom player.”
As the industry begins to re-emerge after the Covid-19 shutdowns, Ainsworth’s strategy is proving its worth. “In the first post-Covid overview of game performance in the U.S., Ainsworth had 20 percent of the top 25 high-denom titles,” says Trask. “We’re very proud of our high-denom heritage. That said, I also caution people that Super Charged 7s Classic and Red Hot 7s Classic are high-denom games by nature of them being a 25-cent, 50-cent or dollar game. They will compete in high-denom areas, but there’s plenty of locations on a casino floor where a dollar five-line game is going to play phenomenal, whether or not in a traditional dollar section.”
Expect the variety of games using the tried-and-true mechanics to continue. Among those to watch in the coming year will be Lucky Empress, a 243-ways game with a persistent-style bonus that Trask calls a “stone cold lock” to be a new hit. In the primary game, the player collects tokens, which can be cashed in for wilds and progressive jackpots.
Another new offering is Galaca, Ainsworth’s latest venture with video game giant Bandai Namco Entertainment. Based on the iconic arcade game, the new slot features cascading reels and a bonus that collects credits for shooting down enemy ships.
Finally, the company partnered with comedian George Lopez to create George Lopez Neighborhood Tour, a branded game featuring the performer’s comedy against a backdrop of a mariachi band, flaming wild symbols and other attractions. Lopez, who was involved in the development of the slot from the start, provided all the voice-overs for the game, which also—naturally—includes a wheel bonus.
As the industry emerges from the Covid-19 crisis, Ainsworth’s product library continues to expand. Growth areas include Class II gaming, historical horse racing and the Washington state Tribal Lottery System, or TLS. “We continue to look for means of expansion in Class II gaming and historical horse racing—which we launched with nearly1,000 games a year ago,” says Trask, referring to the company’s contract with Churchill Downs, which opened its Derby City VLT facility with nearly 1,000 Ainsworth titles. Historical horse racing, or HHR games, translate data from historical horse races into slot results, displayed with all the popular player features.
“We also maintain licenses and have a TLS product in Washington, and a few months ago we purchased the assets of MTD, which has a route business very focused in the keno/poker market,” Trask says.
The other element of expansion brought on by the pandemic has been a move into online gaming in the U.S. In July, Ainsworth announced an agreement with ROAR Digital LLC, a leading sports betting and gaming group, to place 20 exclusive Ainsworth games on Party Casino iGaming sites in New Jersey.
Ainsworth titles including Rumble Rumble, The Enforcer, Roaring Reels, Twice the Money, Eagle Bucks and Thunder Cash are in a period of exclusivity across Party Casino sites which also include the BetMGM and Borgata gaming brands.
Herrick says Ainsworth games are now live on four New Jersey sites, as well as Mexico’s real-money Mustang Money Casino, a site operated by the supplier.
In the end, Ainsworth is continuing to roll, even as the industry slowly crawls out of its pandemic-induced time-out. “Certainly, casinos’ capital is very tight,” says Trask. “That said, we’ve managed to put out a significant number of A-STAR cabinets in the last 30 days. We are very creative with how we approach lease deals, finance deals and so forth, and we feel we have one of the best, if not the best product, that’s come out in this era, in these summer months.
“So, we’re hopeful and optimistic about the future, and we continue to have a variety of different markets that we are gaining success in.”