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Back in Action: Aristocrat Technologies

Aristocrat completes its mission to revive North American sales while launching unique new game-play styles

Back in Action: Aristocrat Technologies

Last year, Aristocrat Technologies wowed the industry with its largest-to-date collection of new games at G2E. The 2010 trade show marked the zenith of an effort to create a new parade of popular games for North America, which Nick Khin, president of Aristocrat Americas, identified as the key to increasing market share and ship share for the manufacturer.

That effort continues this year with a remarkable collection of new games that represent completion of the plan that Aristocrat Leisure Ltd. CEO Jamie Odell in 2009 called his “business transformation strategy.”

“In ship share, looking back to 2008, we were getting approximately a 12 percent share of the overall market compared to the three other publicly listed manufacturers in the U.S.,” Khin says. “In 2009, we managed to grow that to 14 percent, and last year to 15 percent. Our goal this year is to retain our sizable chunk of video sales—that’s obviously our core product—and, with the release of our new Hybrid Stepper product, we hope to grow our share more.”

The Hybrid Stepper heads a huge collection of new product Aristocrat has on tap for G2E (carrying the slogan, “We create the world’s greatest gaming experience, every day”), and it is emblematic of a renewed focus on innovation at Aristocrat, which will see several new game styles added to a group of play mechanics that has already been lauded—and copied—across the industry.

The new game lineup will maximize the potential of new cabinet styles on the GEN7X platform such as the sleek 31.5-inch vertical Vervehd, the versatile Viridian Widescreen, and premium configurations in the attention-grabbing Feature Top Box upright.

Active Reels

This year, though, the new styles of games and play mechanics start with the technology of the Viridian Hybrid Stepper system. There are five mechanical reels with a transparent video-screen overlay, but what makes it different from other hybrids of this style is a third display device between the reels and the video screen Aristocrat calls the “Shutters.”

“Active Reel Technology,” as it is called, allows the display to shut off any or all of the mechanical reels from view while video plays on the outer LCD screen. To the player, a five-reel mechanical game can become a three-reel game for the bonus, with animation right next to the reels. Numerous other possible scenarios are being explored to create video-style bonus events on mechanical-reel games.

“The underlying technology leap-frogs the opposition,” says Dallas Orchard, vice president of gaming operations for Aristocrat Technologies. “Our competitors can turn (reel-spinning) games into video product, but it’s all or nothing. We’ve got individual windows for each reel. We can block off windows to take a five-reel game to a three-reel game, go into full-screen video mode, or block certain reels.”

“It gives us a lot of flexibility in terms of game features, and the way the features are presented to the players,” adds Khin. “We will be able to reach out to traditional stepper players and current video players with this hybrid style of game.”

The Viridian Hybrid product is being launched simultaneously in several Aristocrat product categories. From the Gaming Operations group come two new “Zorro”-themed games, and other Viridian Hybrid games are being launched in new product categories “Winning Wishes,” “Ultra Spin” and “Stormin’ Jackpots.”

The two new Zorro games—“Zorro: The Legend Returns” and “Zorro: The Mask and the Rose”—are hybrids in the “Feature Top Box” format. Both are three-level progressives with five different common bonus features.

Games in the “Winning Wishes” series, including “Persian Prize,”  “Pixie Riches” and “Tahitian Treasures,” are combinations of the Hyperlink four-level progressive and the “Bonus Bank” series, in which a player’s ante wager activates several game-specific bonus rounds, which alternate at random.

All of the games have a common “Lamp Bonus,” which prompts the player to pick a lamp to reveal either a game-specific bonus or one of the four progressive jackpots. If the progressive is matched, the player selects coins from a new screen to unlock one or more of the progressive prizes.

The screen switches from reels to all video for this event, but the three primary games feature a common multiplier or wild reels on random spins. A “Scatter Save” feature freezes bonus reels and grants a second chance at landing the Lamp Bonus. (All the bonuses are hosted by a comical genie character.)

“Ultra Spin,” launching in the Viridian Hybrid with “Diamond Destiny” and “Ruby Saloon,” is a series of Bonus Bank games using free spins as the main bonus event, with a four-level progressive triggered either in the primary game or a bonus event. “Ultra Spins” collect gems that correspond to each progressive jackpot.

These games also feature a “Pick A Door” bonus in which the player touches the screen to unlock vault doors in a display hiding the mechanical reels.

The “Stormin’ Jackpots” series, launching with the game “Indigo Cove,” features games with several bonus features that can be configured either as non-progressive or as a stand-alone progressive. Players are challenged to collect storm symbols for progressive or credit awards.

Brand Identities

The Viridian Hybrid format is one of many different game styles Aristocrat is using to launch new licensed-brand games for its Gaming Operations Division. One of the main goals in Aristocrat’s turnaround strategy, recurring-revenue games have been a prime factor in the company’s rising market share.

“Our goal was to expand our product categories within Gaming Operations,” says Orchard, “with our extremely popular proprietary brands, plus new licenses. ‘Tarzan Lord of the Jungle’ is the No. 1 game in the marketplace in most jurisdictions, and on the proprietary side, ‘Cashman Fever’ is putting up extremely good numbers.”

A new “Tarzan” link will be launched at G2E—banks of four to six machines with a complete signage package—as will the second Tarzan game, “Tarzan: The Adventures Return,” to provide “support for a game that’s peaking in the field, something we promised the market,” says Orchard.

Orchard says what has kept Tarzan at the top of the market is the frequency of its jackpot—a product of customer feedback during the game’s development. “Others are advertising million-dollar jackpots that never hit, but with more of the payback percentage devoted to it,” he says. “Ours, for 150 credits, has already hit three times in six months. We think it’s very affordable to players, and we’re seeing a lot of play at max-bet.”

A second game for the same progressive link as Tarzan is Aristocrat’s other G2E highlight in gaming operations—“Mission: Impossible,” the first of what will be a series of slots based on the 1996 film directed by Brian DePalma and starring Tom Cruise. Although Cruise declined to participate or have his image represented on the game, other stars of the movie did take part—notably, Jon Voigt and Ving Rhames, who provided voice-over for the audio.

 Approved by GLI in late July, “Mission” will share the $250,000 top wide-area progressive on the Tarzan link, but the game itself is a four-level progressive on the Vervehd cabinet, with high-quality graphics and sound, and six animated bonus events taken from many of the film’s action sequences. Orchard says a second base game for the series will be released in the second quarter of 2012.

Other recurring-revenue titles to be launched at the show include “JAWS: Bounty Hunter,” the third entry in the popular series based on the 1970s shark-attack films, in the Feature Top Box group with Aristocrat’s version of the popular “sound chair” adding to the experience; “Godard: Monster Boogie,” a follow-up to one of the most popular early games to be released in the Vervehd cabinet, with all artwork by famous artist Michael Godard; and “The Mummy,” a Feature Top Box stand-alone progressive game based on the Mummy films that began in 1999.

Home-Grown Brands

All of the licensed brands are joined by reprisals of proprietary brands that have been Aristocrat’s bread and butter over the years. At the forefront of these is “Cash Express Gold Class,” a revival of the wildly popular original Cash Express game in the ground-breaking Hyperlink series.

In addition to the random bonus games that lead to one of four Hyperlink jackpots plus a top wide-area prize, the new version of Cash Express—featuring the familiar animated train sequence with modern technology boosting the power—includes multiplier wheel features, with high-frequency base games, bonus and jackpot features.

“The original Cash Express still has 2,000 units in the field, pressing 10 years of age,” Orchard notes. “This version adds a great cabinet (the tower is shaped like the smokestack of a steam locomotive), and true to the original brand, it will have the exclusive ‘Super Spins’ bonus feature.” The new Cash Express is launching with 12 base games to be introduced through next year.

Another product of extensive customer research is “Crazy Taxi,” a community-style game that was prototyped at G2E 2010, but which has undergone extensive rework since. The game package, with a theme licensed from SEGA, features a community race of wild-eyed taxi drivers through the city in a 3D sequence played out on a 70-inch main LCD monitor framed by two portrait-style side LCDs.

The recurring-revenue collection will be rounded out with popular titles launched over the previous year, including tower-box games like “Reel Tall Tales” and “Stuntman Sam,” and a couple of surprises: launches of new games kept under wraps until now, including “Sherlock Holmes,” a game on Vervehd based on the blockbuster 2009 film; and the premier of a “Superman” game, in both the Vervehd and Viridian Hybrid Stepper formats—one version based on the 1970s films starring Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel, and an animated version based on the classic comic-book hero.

New Classics

All that’s new with Aristocrat this year is accompanied by all that has been successful in the past. For individual games, that means a return to the classics.

In fact, at least eight classic Aristocrat titles—games like “Trick or Treat” and “Queen of the Nile”—will be revamped and re-released on the Viridian Widescreen and other advanced platforms.

“We’ve had a lot of requests from customers to bring those really good old Aristocrat brands, in the MKVI series and sometimes even MKV, back to life in the new Viridian Widescreen format,” says Khin. “We have done that in eight to 10 new games that will be available and approved on the new Viridian WS cabinet.”

The other sure thing for Aristocrat is that the slot-maker will be launching new game styles and new play mechanics at G2E. Heading them up is “Reel Tubes,” in which the reels are basically 3D test tubes that can spin any given way, not just vertically. Activated through an ante wager, the feature enables scatter-pay wins in all directions. It will be displayed on base games “Mad Professors” and “Touch of Magic” at G2E.

Other new play styles include “Mega Pay,” in which the reel-set multiplies to two sets of reels for free-spin bonuses, to be shown on five titles at the show; “Remix,” a shuffle feature in which all the symbols on the screen are rearranged at random and re-evaluated for wins, to be shown on four games in various categories; “Win Your Way,” in which players choose their own volatility for their game; and “Drag ‘N Drop,” which lets players use the touch-screen feature to actually drag multiplier symbols to new positions to adjust the volatility of the bonus round. The latter is shown on the game “Imperial House.”

The other constant at Aristocrat is the systems division, which will be on full display at G2E with new features for the popular Oasis 360 casino management system, such as “nRich,” a new form of bonusing engine that focuses on dynamically rewarding individual players;  “nVision,” a powerful business intelligence tool that delivers the most advanced data reporting possible; and “nCompass,” a single solution that delivers video or animated content, provides state-of-the-art touch-screen interactivity and displays player points earned in a day (or points earned based on tier ranking.)

Also launching at G2E is the Aristocrat Live Network—ALIVE—the infrastructure driving Aristocrat’s version of networked gaming. ALIVE powers Aristocrat’s games across a number of distribution channels, from Class III casinos to internet gaming. At G2E, the company will debut its G2S-based floor management solution along with a downloadable game library loaded with the most popular titles.

“We’ve been true to our word in terms of investing in R&D,” says Khin, “and we’re seeing it pay off. I think the market’s going to remain tough in 2012, and we are prepared for that. However, having said that, there are a number of new jurisdictions and new casinos opening up next year that should benefit us. And we’re excited about that.”

From a product standpoint, Aristocrat is ready for anything.

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.