Atronic's new corporate structure brings new R&D muscle
The Atronic Group is a different company than it was last year.
After making remarkable strides in the slot-manufacturing sector within a brief 15-year period, Germany’s Gauselmann Group, which purchased Atronic in 1993 when it was a small Austrian producer of artsy video slots, went back to the amusement-with-prizes business on which it had made its original fortune. Atronic this year became part of GTECH Holdings Corporation, the Rhode Island-based lottery giant that also owns Canada’s Spielo VLT supplier.
The new corporate structure that comes with the acquisition, though, does not change the formula for success in the international slot market employed by the Atronic Group. The U.S. arm of the company, Atronic Americas, is in the process of moving from its longtime home in Scottsdale, Arizona, to a new headquarters location in Las Vegas.
Atronic will maintain its slot business as the casino slot division of GTECH, with Spielo retaining its video lottery role in Canada. However, the technology from the lottery side in the form of both the parent company and Spielo will be tapped regularly by the casino slot division, which will maintain its R&D centers in Arizona, in Graz, Austria (home to both slot development and Atronic Systems), and in Melbourne, Australia.
The company also will continue to employ some third-party game design—mainly from Arizona’s Games4You, the company formed by former CEO Michael Gauselmann and Jason Stage, who for years headed up R&D at Atronic Americas.
“Our new corporate identity will emphasize the strengths of Atronic, Spielo and GTECH,” says Michael Brennan, product marketing manager for Atronic. “We are keeping each brand in its traditional area. Spielo’s strength is in its video lottery base; Atronic will remain the commercial casino brand. However, the new structure will provide increased access to financial support, greater resource identity and a broad R&D portfolio.”
Time to Shine
With the corporate structure in place, the combined R&D resources at Atronic’s disposal will begin to take form in a flood of new game content, and new game formats.
One of these new formats to begin rolling out next year comes from Atronic’s new sister company, Spielo. Called “prodiGi Vu,” it is a new wide-screen video slot format with a 22-inch screen, an enhanced, five-speaker sound system, and even an optional remote control with a spin button to make it easy for players to participate in tournaments.
The new format comes with a new computer platform called “sensys.”
“It is more powerful, and it can handle enhanced graphics and sound,” says Brennan. “It’s the next step technologically. Any content can be imported from all of our current platforms, or to any platform. Our development teams eventually will be able to work on any platform.”
“Spielo had a platform; we had a platform,” adds Colleen Nelson, Atronic market and product analyst. “In GLI jurisdictions, where the prodiGi cabinet is out, people want that cabinet, but our content. There will be parallel development on both formats for the next couple of years, and we’ll have teams creating interchangeable developments until we get the two platforms down the same path.”
Atronic will display games on 40 prodiGi Vu cabinets at G2E, containing Spielo game content. Among the top Spielo games to be launched at the show is “Jewelly,” a multi-game unit with various base games all carrying a common set of bonus events. The player will qualify for the random bonus events by making an extra ante wager. All of the bonuses involve the series’ title animated jewel character.
Meanwhile, Atronic has improved its own “e-motion” dual-screen video platform. At G2E, the slot-maker will officially launch “e2motion,” which Brennan calls a “bigger and badder” version of the ergonomic cabinet and video platform. The monitor has been bumped up from 17 inches to 19 inches, the sound system has been upgraded and the player tracking unit can now support a 7-inch LCD display. A cushioned wrist rest and other ergonomic improvements also have been made.
The Harmony slant-top also has been improved, with a second video screen replacing the former glass topper—a setup that will allow the slant to be used in networked gaming setups.
Finally, Atronic will release a new version of the Passion Deluxe Super Top cabinet, the giant, neon-trimmed reel-spinning format released last year as the three-reel, dollar version of “Deal Or No Deal.” This format places a tall top box on Konami’s “Advantage 5” reel-spinning format, which Games4You licensed from that manufacturer to create this format for Atronic.
Atronic is launching a five-reel version of the cabinet this year, in new versions of the classic Atronic video slots “Sphinx” and “Xanadu.”
“Particularly in the West, we found a lot of interest in a five-reel version of the format,” Brennan says. “The three-reel version is a very good niche product—it does well in end-cap units, with a self-merchandising top box. We’re going to parlay that with Xanadu and Sphinx in five-reel setups. We’re focusing on recurring revenue and strong, recognizable brands.”
Speaking of recognizable brands, Atronic is exploiting the success of its series of slots based on the game show Deal Or No Deal with several new takes on the game to be launched at G2E.
All of them have the familiar “Briefcase Bonus,” in which the player is shown the amounts available behind closed briefcases, chooses one, and reveals the contents of several others before being made an offer by the “Bank” that is based on the prizes still available as the player’s possible bonus. The player picks “Deal” to take the offer or “No Deal” to reveal the contents of more briefcases—eventually taking one of the offers or eliminating all but one briefcase.
Players love this bonus because of the pure gambler’s adrenaline rush it produces. Thus, it remains in all the new versions, along with new features specific to each game.
“This is our most recognizable brand,” says Brennan. “We’re trying to leverage it and create some experiences with it. We’ve put new versions out there and gotten responses from players; and we’ve used what the players said to improve the product.”
“Deal Or No Deal: The Experience” incorporates a side-bet feature. For an extra wager, windows open in one reel spot on the first reel and another on the fifth. Regardless of other results on the reels, if those two windows line up, it becomes a second way to trigger the Briefcase Bonus.
The Experience also incorporates a progressive bonus feature. High and low progressive jackpots increment during normal play, and when the “Experience Bonus” is triggered, the player is given an offer of a guaranteed bonus right between the high and low jackpots. If he picks “No Deal,” he is awarded one or the other. It’s a 50/50 proposition; players have just as much chance at the high prize as the low one.
“We market-tested this product, then we tweaked it and enhanced it to make sure it succeeds,” says Brennan.
“Deal Or No Deal: The Banker’s Wheel” is another new version of the game-show slot that incorporates, for the first time, a mechanical bonus wheel, similar to the wheel on the TV show. In this case, the wheel determines a multiplier that applies to the total bet.
“Everybody loves a wheel, and it is something they have on the TV show,” says Brennan, who adds that there will be optional progressive versions in Atronic’s Rapid Link wide-area progressive series, with a frequent top jackpot resetting at $50,000.
On the back burner, according to Brennan, is yet another Deal Or No Deal game—it doesn’t have a name yet, but it does have an intriguing gimmick: It’s an all-bonus game. There are no reels at all. The main game uses a wheel instead of reels and paylines. There are two buttons—“Spin/Stop” for the wheel and “Deal/No Deal” for the bonus. You spin the wheel every play, trying to land on one of the spots that triggers the Briefcase Bonus. Every time you don’t trigger the bonus, the values inside the briefcases go up.
Brennan says a communal-style version of DOND also will be displayed at G2E. “We perceive this as being our biggest attraction at the show,” he says. “There will be five large LCD screens representing the briefcases (a-la IGT’s eBay). It’s a huge merchandising feature, and we’ve gotten very positive feedback on it from our corporate accounts.”
Joining the hot “Deal” series in Atronic’s G2E lineup will be several totally new game concepts. “Tree Of Riches,” to appear in casinos early next year, is Atronic’s first community-style game. It is a six-machine bank with a giant overhead LCD screen for a common bonus round.
Each player on the bank is represented in the bonus by an animated bird. (You’re either Happy, Sneaky, Crazy, Dreamy, Smarty or Lovey.) In the bonus round, the birds fly around a money tree depicted on the large overhead video screen, plucking dollar bills. Each dollar increments the corresponding player’s bonus, but a gold dollar gets the player into the next round. If at least one player’s bird keeps snatching gold dollars, there can be a total of six rounds of dollar-snatching—an eventuality Brennan says is sure to instill a good deal of camaraderie and excitement on the bank.
There will be no shortage of new game concepts in the standard Atronic “e-motion” dual-screen video platform. “Fisherman’s Cash” features an animated bass-fishing tournament, with the prize for the biggest fish being a progressive jackpot. You pick a fisherman and watch the tournament. This is helped out by an innovative dynamic-button feature—in the bonus, the wagering buttons switch to images of the fisherman characters.
This game also has five unique fishing-themed bonus features, for which you qualify with your wager—one coin per line qualifies the player for one of the random bonuses; five coins per line qualifies him for all five. Several of the bonuses can hit at the same time—including, theoretically, all five.
“This is the first game really targeted at one area that can have some mass appeal,” says Brennan. “The theme and characters are based on Minnesota, but fishing has mass appeal, so it will easily transfer to different markets.”
Other new games include “The Three Stooges,” still in the design phase at press time. This will be the first game theme to recall the legendary comedy team since Shuffle Master released a Stooges game nearly decade ago.
The Atronic Stooges video slot will be a three-level progressive. You guessed it—there will be a Moe Progressive, a Larry Progressive and a Curly Progressive. Lots of clips from classic Stooges shorts will accompany reel images like pies, football helmets, stethoscopes—each reel icon is related to a Stooge short; the game will run the appropriate film clip when one of them forms a winning combination.
“Our concept is to use as much of this license as possible in creating the game,” Brennan says. “We’re bringing a lot of the video into the game, which will be available in stand-alone or linked progressive versions.”
Also in the design phase at press time was “Stargate SG-1,” based on the popular science fiction TV series. A 52-inch plasma video display simulates the “Stargate” from the show, which is a portal through which the characters traverse time and space. Several bonus features will relate to various aspects of the TV show.
Finally, Atronic’s G2E showcase will include an updated version of its giant slot machine. The “Titan 2” cabinet is an updated version of Atronic’s giant slot that’s been in casinos since 1998. The bonus-only DOND game will be available in this giant format, as well as giant versions of “Sphinx” and other Atronic core games.
All the new games will be accompanied by displays of new networked gaming technology including “TournaMaster,” which allows operators to instantly switch slot machines on the floor between standard and tournament mode.
Atronic will no doubt be launching many more innovations in the coming years, as the advanced technology of the three companies that are now part of GTECH come together to form a new industry powerhouse.