This year, GGB’s annual Global Games archipelago turns 21, old enough to sit down and play the games it has dutifully covered over that span. And while the products and people have changed consistently over the years, few companies have undergone a transformation like the one Aruze Gaming experienced in 2023.
Before the start of the year, much of the previous 18 or so months had been wrought with controversy, chiefly centered around the company’s founder and sole shareholder, Kazuo Okada, and his high-profile escapades throughout the Philippines that included back-and-forth court orders and armed uprisings at his Okada Manila resort.
Then in January, the pressure ratcheted up to a new level when a garnishment judgment against Okada allowed the U.S.-based law firm Bartlit Beck LLP—which represented the Japanese mogul personally in multi-year proceedings against former Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn—to collect some $50 million in fees.
As a result, Aruze then announced that it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in an effort to “seek financial restructuring in the wake of a recent garnishment judgment against Aruze resulting from a separate judgment against Aruze’s shareholder,” according to a statement released February 1.
At the time, CEO Yugo Kinoshita called the filing a “critical business strategy we were forced to make,” but was sure to note that the move had “no reflection on the health of Aruze.” Rather, Kinoshita vowed that the brand would endure, and promised that Aruze had the ability to “emerge as an even stronger company.”
It wasn’t long before those promises began to manifest.
Just a few months later, on July 17, the news broke that Empire Technological Group, dba Play Synergy, had acquired all of the company’s assets with the exception of its electronic table game (ETG) library, which was diverted to Interblock Gaming. The new coalition represented a much-needed reset—or perhaps rebirth—of Aruze.
On August 1, Play Synergy brass went before the Nevada Gaming Commission and were approved for the requisite manufacturer and distributor gaming licenses, a critical first step in the brand’s new journey.
“Aruze, Play Synergy, and all other stakeholders in the process have worked exceptionally well together to provide the vast majority of Aruze team members with new employment opportunities,” Frank Feng, president of Play Synergy, said in a statement after the licenses were granted. “This along with interest from others in the industry has had the result of minimizing the disruption to those impacted and their families.”
So now that the dust has (somewhat) settled, where do things stand in the lead-up to G2E? The short answer: busy.
“Aruze’s business closed in August on Play Synergy’s acquisition of all Aruze brand electronic gaming machines, intellectual property, trademarks and iGaming assets,” the company said in a statement provided to GGB.
Play Synergy subsequently changed its business-facing name to Aruze Gaming Global.
“We have now transitioned to a new, larger facility headquartered in Las Vegas, have hired over 250 new staff, including Aruze R&D, and are planning a large roadmap of great new innovative content in gaming. G2E will be our big unveiling, and will showcase the all-new Aruze brand and content.”
With regard to the games themselves, the second coming of Aruze will look to combine all of the company’s previous catalog along with that of Play Synergy, under one roof. The company confirmed to GGB that moving forward, all products “will be branded under the newly formed ‘Aruze Gaming Global’ moniker,” and added that the “entire Aruze library of content will be available to customers,” in addition to the content that was already under development.
For years, Aruze’s Muso cabinet line has been the bedrock of its hardware offerings, and in the immediate future it plans to continue deploying the Muso 55, Muso 43 and Muso Triple 32 in addition to Play Synergy’s Speed dual-screen and HyperSpeed portrait cabinets.
In the wake of the recent transformation, one of the biggest questions being asked around the industry was the fate of Aruze’s Activ-Play line, which are the arcade-style, novelty-type slot games that had quickly become fan favorites for their creativity and originality.
This included the 2011 release Paradise Fishing, in which players tugged on a joystick to simulate “fishing” for bonus rewards, as well as the recent additions Go Go Claw and Wacky Gator, real-money versions of an arcade claw machine and whack-a-mole machine. And lest we forget Rock Paper Scissors, perhaps the simplest and most recognizable concept of all.
At the time of publication last year, the first 100 or so machines had just been deployed, with great initial feedback from operators. The machines were also flocked by interested onlookers for much of last year’s G2E.
The exact fate of Activ-Play is unknown at this time, but when asked, the company provided the following:
“The Aruze legacy is steeped in innovative new technologies. Play Synergy’s history included many new technologies as well, such as skill-based-style games from the Synergy Blue studios. The merger of many innovative plans and designs will result in an all-new legacy of products from Aruze Gaming Global.”
A trip to the Aruze website homepage currently greets visitors with traffic cones and high-visibility equipment along with the promise, “Big Changes Coming!” The succinct nature reinforces the theme that the process is just beginning, with a lot more left to come.
In a heavily regulated industry such as gaming, big change does not come often, or at least not this quickly. Not only that, but as talking heads continue to pound the table to drum up fear of recession, soft landings or no landings at all, Aruze’s gamble looks like just that—a big opportunity coupled with an equally large risk.
The first and perhaps most important milestone for the new Aruze experiment is G2E, the perfect place to make a splash, and all eyes will certainly be trained on the revamped version of the longstanding and storied brand. Regardless of how things play out, however, the company is happy to have been presented with the opportunity, and is thankful for the conversations surrounding it.
“There has been tremendous buzz throughout the industry as this is an unprecedented event,” Aruze’s statement concluded. “We have received amazing support in the industry and are very grateful. As both Play Synergy and Aruze shared the same customer base, there is a lot of energy and excitement behind what’s coming from the new Aruze company.”