Aristocrat Technologies: Bouncing Back
New U.S. leadership and innovative game concepts propel Aristocrat toward turnaround
Aristocrat Technologies is at a crossroads, and it’s up to Nick Khin to guide the slot-maker to the right path. Most observers feel he’s up to the task.
Khin, who recently took over as president of the U.S. subsidiary of Australian slot manufacturing giant Aristocrat Leisure Industries, inherited a problem that most have pinpointed as the main reason the slot-maker’s stock spiraled downward during the past year—flat sales in U.S. casinos.
Khin built up a stellar reputation while heading up Aristocrat’s operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, where his two-year tenure brought record revenues (up more than 50 percent) and profitability (up 140 percent), not to mention a significant increase in market share.
Aristocrat is hoping he can work the same magic in the U.S., where he replaced Tim Parrott in September as president of the Aristocrat Technologies subsidiary. Investors would appear to be in his corner—Aristocrat’s shares rose 19 cents on the Australian Stock Exchange after the announcement of Khin’s appointment.
He also will have a lot of help from product designers and engineers. This year’s lineup of new slot games for G2E is one of the manufacturer’s most extensive in years, and not only capitalizes on the great game styles introduced earlier this decade—Hyperlink multiple progressives, the Reel Power scatter-pay format, Bonus Bank ante-wager games, Standalone Progressives—but will launch several completely new product categories as well.
For Aristocrat’s proven game styles, there will be a variety of new looks, thanks to innovative hardware and new video formats. For instance, the MavSlim and MavStepper slim cabinets were joined two years ago by the Crown slant-top, and last year by newest hardware, the server-ready Viridian cabinet, along with the new Gen7 video platform.
This year, Aristocrat capitalizes on all the new formats with a flood of new game content.
“Viridian and Gen7, which won the (Global Gaming Business) Gaming & Technology Award last year, has added a lot of new features that create a point of difference on casino floors, and really set us apart,” says Doug Fallon, Aristocrat’s director of marketing. “The performance of Gen7 has been up to 246 percent over MKVI (the former video format), even with the same games loaded in. With Viridian approved in most markets, our focus is now on content.”
Sean Evans, the company’s vice president of sales, adds that the formats themselves are being improved upon. This year’s G2E will host the launch of the Viridian RFX Stepper (RFX stands for “reel effects”), a reel-spinning version of the dual-screen video format that places back-lit spinning reels beneath a giant LCD video screen. What is really unique about this format is that, in addition to the 16-by-9-inch LCD video screen above the reels, used as a dynamic scorecard and for bonus animation, there is a touch-screen video interface below the mechanical reels.
The inaugural game in this format, called “Big Ride,” carries a bull-riding rodeo theme. Other games include “5 Koi” and “5 Dragons,” both five-reel games; and a classic three-reel slot called “Love Bites.” That one comes in “his” and “hers” versions.
The Reel Power format, in which players buy reels and all wins are paid as scatters, also will be super-charged this year, with a new version called “Super Reel Power.” This is a five-by-five setup—five rows of five symbols each, resulting in a total of 3,125 possible winning combinations on each spin.
Aristocrat also is introducing new games in its “Power Pay” series. These are video slots that offer extra bonus features with an ante wager. New for the G2E show is “Show Me The Game,” in which the ante wager improves the free-spin bonus. Without the ante, triggering symbols launch 10 free spins with jackpots tripled. The extra wager increases that feature to 15 free spins with jackpots multiplied by eight. This game, as well as “Wild Stallion, “Lucky 88” and others in both the MKVI and Gen7 formats, also features an increased return percentage with the ante wager.
“Power Pay tells people that for an extra bet, you get extra benefits,” says Evans. “We know players have embraced the ante bet going all the way back to Cashman in late 2000. We want to push a little extra back to the players in return for that ante bet, and operators like it because it pushes up the average bet.”
Other new takes on established formats will include a showcase of new multi-player electronic table games from Interblock, the Slovenian auto-roulette manufacturer half-owned by Aristocrat; and PokerTek, the North Carolina firm whose “PokerPro” electronic multi-player poker tables Aristocrat distributes outside the U.S.
The improvements on familiar formats will be joined by a few completely new ideas from Aristocrat. There will be games in higher denominations than the manufacturer has been known for, including the first Aristocrat mechanical bonus slot. “Hit the Heights” is an imposing new game that takes proven Aristocrat multi-line video slots and adds a mechanical, arcade-style top-box bonus device. There are three base games with this one, and each has a bonus feature that interacts with a wheel bonus in a giant top box.
Another new game style is “Players World By Demand.” This series, launched earlier this year with new versions being displayed at G2E, places four proven games under a single umbrella in a multi-game, multi-denomination format.
This first multi-game unit from Aristocrat features three player-selectable denominations—higher than you may think at quarters, 50 cents and dollars. The four games reside on one game chip, and the player can change games by touching one button. The entire game, including the top box, changes when you select a new game.
Aristocrat is launching an impressive collection of new progressive slots in both reel and video platforms, and in several different game styles.
Perhaps the most high-profile of these is a potential blockbuster using a licensed brand—“Jaws,” a multiple-mystery progressive slot along the lines of Hyperlink, but carrying the theme of the legendary film.
The four-level progressive video slot is placed in a themed version of the Viridian cabinet. The two large video screens are framed in an aqua color, giving the whole cabinet an underwater look. The top screen displays the famous cinematic shark, baring its teeth toward the player. On top is a buoy that moves when the player hits a jackpot.
The base games sit in a bank of four with an aquatic display and overhead LCD video screen on which the bonus round plays out. “We’ve never gone this far into theming a machine physically,” says Fallon. That design is dynamic according to what is happening in the slot game. For instance, the trim of the cabinet turns from blue to red when the player goes into the mystery bonus feature leading to one of four progressive jackpots. It’s a very visible cue that the bonus round is arriving—a cue that will generate excitement in the bank, says Evans.
The progressive bonus round, played out as the top video screen displays a lost-at-sea scene (the player is waiting for a ship to rescue him before the shark puts him on the menu), is only one of the special features of this game. Mystery bonus awards and free spins crop up randomly during play, and there are standard free-spin bonuses as part of the base games. “This is big for us,” says Evans. “It will dominate our booth at the G2E show.”
Another new branded progressive, called “Pick A Box,” carries the theme of the 1950s Australian game show of the same name. It is a four-level progressive with a touch-screen bonus feature that leads to one of the progressive jackpots.
Other new progressives from Aristocrat include “Mega Millioni$er,” a bank of four base games in penny denomination with a progressive jackpot starting at $1 million; and “Fa Fa Fa Fortune King,” with a high-frequency jackpot starting at $150,000 and programmed to hit at around $250,000. The company also will release several new games in its Double Standalone Progressive and Triple Standalone Progressive groups. That includes a new Double Standalone version of “The Sopranos,” and another new Double Standalone called “Jackpot Royale.”
Some of Aristocrat’s new progressives feature both video and reel-spinning base games in the same bank, linked to the same jackpot—a first for the manufacturer.
Finally, Aristocrat will showcase server-based technology including its Download Configuration Manager, a joint-venture project with Bally that features one server with downloads of game content to both Aristocrat and Bally terminals. The “TruServe” Class III server-based platform is set for testing in Iowa in the first quarter of 2009. The system will incorporate third-party content in the Viridian cabinet.
In all, Aristocrat will showcase some 200 games at G2E, including 21 completely new game concepts. The impressive lineup can be seen as re-establishing the fact that Aristocrat has been one of the great innovators in slots during this decade.
The company’s G2E lineup shows promise that the company will recapture its role as one of the market leaders in the U.S., as well as its other core worldwide markets, as the industry approaches its next decade.