Las Vegas-based Konami Gaming has been supplying slot machines in the U.S. for more than a dozen years. Halfway through that time, Konami hit on the formula that would catapult it toward the top of the market.
Konami of Japan, producer of many of the world’s most successful video amusement games, first entered the North American slot market via Australia, basically shipping games from its Australian market to the U.S., with decidedly mixed results. In the early 2000s, the company established game development in Las Vegas, and Konami Gaming began improving its market position.
But Konami’s watershed year was 2006. That’s when the company first introduced its K2V slot platform, spawning an entirely new generation of video products and creation of a stepper series called “Advantage,” followed by a radical hybrid series called “Advantage Revolution.” New video formats like “KonXion,” with its unique scatter-pay reel configuration, added to the company’s appeal with operators.
Meanwhile, the Konami Casino Management System—now called simply “Konami’s System”—became one of the fastest-growing system products in the casino market.
With the company gaining market share by leaps and bounds, Chief Operating Officer Steve Sutherland made the bold statement in 2008 that Konami’s goal was to reach “the podium”—a reference in that Olympic year to the podium on which the top three athletes in the world in a given sport stand. Konami would strive to be one of the top three slot-makers in the world.
Today, one Olympiad hence, Konami is closer than ever to that goal, and, while not yet one of the top three slot manufacturers, it is certainly in the top five. The reason is that the company has never given up on a successful product. For example, even though it introduced a new slot platform, KP3, more than a year ago, Konami is still churning out new titles for the K2V operating system that was introduced half a dozen years ago.
The reason is that K2V is still earning big for operators. “Our focus has been to keep the momentum we’ve had going for the past few years,” comments Ross O’Hanley, Konami’s vice president of domestic game sales and marketing. “K2V was really what made Konami well-known in America and around the world, so we’re not going to shorten its lifespan. We look at it as a companion platform to KP3.”
O’Hanley says the company’s game developers currently design roughly half of their games on each of the two platforms. “As we get further on, we will lean more toward KP3, but we don’t want to artificially force customers out of K2V.”
The newer KP3 platform, though, is Konami’s format of the future. It’s got a more powerful processor, better high-definition graphic capabilities, “real-time 3D,” and in general, more of a toolbox to accomplish another of the company’s stated goals—to utilize the capabilities of its sister Japanese company Konami Digital Entertainment, which makes video games like “Metal Gear Solid,” in making slot machines with more entertaining features.
3D and Skill
The company is off to a great start in that effort, as this year’s collection of games at the Global Gaming Expo will show. The 3D capability of the KP3 platform will be on display with “Passport to Riches,” a game packed with bonus events and compelling animation.
The game has three different mystery bonus features, and one or another happens every 17 spins, on average. The game’s mascot, a dragon piloting an airplane, flies back and forth between the top and bottom screens in 3D animation, “hosting” bonuses that include a free-spin round on a set of bonus reels in the top box, or wild symbols being added to the base-game reels.
Other games using the 3D graphic capabilities include “Pride of Egypt” and “Solstice Celebration.” Both games feature enhanced graphics on the reels and symbols, and both include a new “Copy and Paste” feature, in which symbols appearing on the first reel “copy” and “paste” onto at least one other reel, forming stacked symbols and stacked wilds, or triggering the free-game bonus.
New game mechanics such as these will share the G2E stage with new skill games. Konami first launched a skill factor in last year’s “Jackpot Island,” utilizing a pinball-style bonus with real flippers on the sides of the machine. This year, that same cabinet is used for “Glacier Ridge Riches,” released this summer, and “Olympus Fortune,” which will be launched at G2E.
The skill bonus on these games plays out more like a Nintendo game, with the player launching a ball into a 3D maze of stone, through obstacles like a spoked wheel, to capture bonuses lined up as they would be on a home video game. According to the manufacturer, the pressure and aim of your launch of the ball can affect how many bonus credits you “catch” with that ball.
The main difference between the two titles is the theme—one has an arctic/penguin theme; the other has Greek mythology. The skill bonus is basically the same, but O’Hanley says the quality of the skill bonus in the two new games has the benefit of improvements made over the first-generation Jackpot Island.
O’Hanley says the KP3 platform “gives us so much more capability” in creating skill games, and predicts that they will be increasingly popular with players. “It takes a while to change the mindset of some from free-spin bonuses,” he says, “but the games have done well, and as we get more of them out there, it’s only going to get better.”
The KP3 video platform also will be the basis of two new games in Konami’s hit “Advantage Revolution” hybrid platform, both additions to the inaugural game series in the platform, “Rock Around The Clock.”
New Rock Around the Clock titles include “Tutti Lutti” and “Bebop a Loota.” According to O’Hanley, the new games feature improved volatility in the bonus rounds, and in multipliers earned for those rounds. “The games are more volatile in terms of the multipliers available to players,” says O’Hanley. “The difference in bonus-round multipliers really gives incentive to bet up. The more they bet, the better chance they have of getting a higher multiplier.”
O’Hanley also notes that Konami has added new rock-and-roll songs to the game’s soundtrack, to complement the title song by Bill Haley and the Comets—“original music, ’50s style, recorded internally,” he says.
Konami also will be launching several new progressive products on the KP3 platform. Two links to be launched at the show are “Rapid Hit Fever” and “Jackpot Streams.” Both are four-level linked progressives. The Rapid Hit Fever link is a clone of Konami’s popular “QuickStrike” stand-alone progressive, with mystery “Major” and “Mini” progressives.
Jackpot Streams is another mystery progressive. To qualify for the progressive, the player must place the “Jackpot Chance Bet.” From 10 credits to 50 credits can be wagered on this proposition, and the higher the bet, the greater the chance of triggering the progressive. One spin is awarded on nine reel sets, and the result is bonus credits, multipliers, or one of the progressives.
Another four-level KP3 linked progressive at the show will be “Dragon’s Victory,” a clone of the popular “Pirate’s Loot.” In the mystery progressive bonus round, the player selects from 12 pearls to unveil colored dragon symbols corresponding to the four progressives. Players match three dragons to win one of the progressives.
The original “QuickStrike” game also will be displayed at the show, in a new and improved KP3 version.
Finally, Konami will show the perfected version of “Fortune Chaser,” an eight-level progressive slot previewed at last year’s G2E. The revised game, ready to go into the field in November, will be one of the company’s featured slots this year.
Fortune Chaser’s central feature is a common game board on an LCD display over a bank of machines. Players collect tokens through game play that they use to roll a die to move their “ship” across the game board. When the player’s ship lands on an island, it triggers a mini-game for the two progressive jackpots displayed on that island. The progressives are “found” by picking squares on a grid of the location. When one player fails to find a jackpot, those squares are out of play—making it easier for the next player to hit the progressive.
One of Konami’s biggest success stories has been its Advantage stepper series. Large, colored reels, uniquely styled cabinets with track lighting in a mirrored 3D effect, and light displays changing with game events have made both Advantage game groups—Advantage 5 for five-reel and Advantage 3 of three-reel—some of the most successful reel-spinners in the business.
This year, a new look is brought to the Advantage 5 group in the form of the “Dynamic 5” cabinet, a slant-top designed for the five-reel stepper product. The steppers feature two-part reels—a second physical transparent layer on the reels transforms them into bonus reels, wild reels or other features normally found only in video or transparent video overlays on reels.
“Dragon’s Reward” uses the effect to transform reels into wild reels in free-spin mode. This game also has a “skill-stop” feature that allows players to watch for the bonus symbol and stop the reel to trigger the bonus event.
“Dynamic 7s” uses the Dynamic 5 cabinet in an “Xtra Rewards” lineup of mystery bonus features. In the free-spin bonus round, all the symbols on the reels become 7s (thanks to the two-part reels). The player collects 7s to move up a ladder display in the top box toward progressive jackpots. Konami also will display a clone of Dynamic 7s called “Gates of Fortune.”
In all, Konami will bring dozens of games on both the K2V and KP3 platforms to G2E, as well as a new multi-game platform called “Selexion.” Designed for high-occupancy casinos or jurisdictions where the number of games is limited (such as the new Illinois VLT market), Selexion scrolls through a menu of individual games in attract mode—instead of remaining on the last game played—and allows the player to switch to a separate game instantly by touching its logo.
Konami’s System also will be highlighted at the show, where the company will unveil the system’s new “Synkros” networking product and a new multi-themed, multi-level floor-wide bonusing product that will work on any manufacturer’s games.
“As competition gets tougher, we’re making sure we have good diversity in the pipeline to meet our customers’ needs,” O’Hanley says. “We’re going to continue to focus on what our customers tell us they need most for their floors. To be one of the top three manufacturers is still our goal and our belief, and as a growing company we’ll continue to add resources with that goal in mind.”