This year, Aristocrat Technologies Inc. takes another step forward in its continuing march to gain market share at the top of the slot market.
The company and its parent, Australia’s Aristocrat Leisure Limited, sit near the top of that market, with surging sales, high-profile brands, and analyst recognition of its slot games as outperforming all others in the market.
However, Matt Wilson, the company’s senior vice president of global gaming operations, says this only means there’s more work to do. “We’re still No. 3 in the North American gaming operations market,” he says, “and we aspire to be much bigger than that.”
This continuing march has been led by a variety of new cabinets and form factors—from the sleek Helix to the imposing Arc Single and Arc Double and giant Behemoth—used by Aristocrat’s R&D team to create completely new play experiences. This year will be no different, with Aristocrat displaying two completely new cabinet styles and the modification of a third into a completely new form factor as part of its G2E display.
“Our customers are probably expecting us to come with more of the same, but we’re dialing it up,” says Wilson. “In the gaming operations space, we’ll have three new pieces of hardware to demonstrate at the show.”
As important for Aristocrat’s expanding library is the fact that these new cabinets are usually linked to games designed specifically to take advantage of the new hardware features. “In terms of industrial design, for us, there is a symbiotic relationship between the cabinets and the games,” says Brooks Pierce, Aristocrat’s managing director for the Americas.
Rich Schneider, Aristocrat’s chief product officer, says the company’s engineers and game designers typically have created cabinet designs and simultaneously developed the games that will best fit those form factors. “We thought about what the player experiences are that we need to fill, by talking with our customers,” he says. “Then, we formulated product strategy, and the cabinets they need to be on. They came at about the same time.”
“Our recent success has really been this equation of content plus hardware equals great performance,” adds Wilson. “We introduced Helix two years ago. Then, we brought in Wonder Wheels, Behemoth, Arc Single, Arc Double… We felt like those cabinets were amplifiers for our great content.”
This year, Aristocrat looks to repeat that success by once again marrying innovative content to new cabinets.
“The Arc Double showed that the cabinet is really important,” says Schneider. At this year’s G2E, the company will launch two new cabinet styles to complement the now-iconic Arc Double, which, with its two 42-inch monitors curved toward the player, has come to be a dominant presence on casino floors.
“The success we’ve had with the Arc Double has been amazing—it really revolutionized gaming floors,” says Wilson. “When you walk on the floor now, it’s the first thing that jumps out at you, because it looks so vastly different. We wanted to continue that feeling with two new design concepts that would really stand out.”
The first, called “The Flame,” is a completely new take on the curved-monitor cabinet. There actually are two curves in this format, on which the vertical LCD monitor is formed in the shape of an “S,” with the bottom and top of the monitor both tilted toward the player. “It’s about creating different sight lines, different visuals and a very different form factor for our game designers to build games around,” Wilson says.
The second new cabinet, unnamed at press time, is a shorter and wider version of the Arc Double. While it is optimized for a single player, it is also designed to cater to two players at once.
“Walking the floor, our team saw lots of husbands and wives playing together, lots of friends playing together,” Wilson says. “We wanted to create a concept that would be a great experience if you play on your own, but also is large enough that two players could play at once.”
The new cabinet—which comes equipped with a “sound bench” and an optional setup with two spin buttons—will be launched at the show housing the new version of Game of Thrones and a game featuring Mariah Carey and her music.
“It’s all about creating the best hardware with the best licenses, and the best game design talent, and giving our customers access to all these elements,” Wilson says. “We seek to create different experiences on the floor, to keep players engaged and entertained.”
The new cabinets—as well as the Arc Double, Behemoth, Helix and other form factors that have boosted Aristocrat over the past few years—will serve as the vehicles to bring an entirely new group of brands to the slot floor. Those will include both internal Aristocrat brands—one of the company’s strengths over the years—and a bevy of new games based on films, music, television and other popular culture.
“We are very fortunate to have amazing brands that resonate with our customers,” says Schneider. “Most people know Buffalo, Five Dragons and other proprietary brands. We’re very fortunate to have that library. As long as we remain true to the customer and true to the brand, we don’t disappoint the player.”
However, entertainment-branded games have surged since Aristocrat CEO Jamie Odell announced a new commitment to gaming operations some six years ago.
“We broke the mold by taking on The Walking Dead,” says Wilson. “That game was a trend-setter, and it opened up the entire industry to a whole new group of licensed brands.”
“We have learned from watching competitors acquire licenses not to take brands for granted,” adds Pierce. “You would think a big, popular license should, naturally, do well; but, the brand is only one part of the equation, along with the cabinet and the game design talent, that can make a great game out of it. The landscape is littered with brands that should have done better but didn’t.”
Pierce cites Buffalo Grand and Game of Thrones—both launched at last year’s G2E on the Arc Double—as good examples of how Aristocrat has excelled at both proprietary and outside licensed brands.
“Buffalo Grand has done phenomenally well,” he says. “Game of Thrones has done phenomenally well. We just rolled out The Walking Dead II, and that is beating all of them.”
There are several branded games already in the product pipeline, with more to be announced at G2E. Aristocrat, in fact, is still seeing spectacular success with the big brands launched at last year’s show.
In-house brands like Buffalo will be joined in Aristocrat’s G2E lineup by a remarkable ensemble of licensed brands, as the company seeks to extend its gaming operations winning streak.
One of the strongest out of the gate is sure to be My Cousin Vinny, based on the 1992 comedy starring Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei in which a Brooklyn ambulance-chaser ends up defending his cousin against murder charges in Alabama.
The film My Cousin Vinny has a cult following; its fans know every scene inside out. According to Wilson, so do the game designers who created the slot. “They watched the movie a hundred times!” says Wilson. The game will include numerous clips of the movie’s funniest moments, woven into bonus events on the Arc Double cabinet, with a base game in the Extra Reel Power ways-to-win format.
“(The base game is) based on classic Aristocrat math models,” Wilson says. The game was designed by Aristocrat’s internal Studio 54, which also was responsible for Tarzan, The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy.
“The success we’ve had with Studio 54 is that they take the core gambler math that Aristocrat is known for and infuse it with licenses,” says Schneider. “That’s why the games generally last longer on gaming floors, and players are interested in playing them.”
Another popular film being brought to life on the Arc Double is The Big Lebowski, the 1998 comedy starring Jeff Bridges as Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, a laid-back, aging L.A. hippie and avid bowler who is assaulted when he is mistaken for a millionaire who shares his name.
Like Vinny, the Lebowski film has garnered a cult following, which has been used in creating the bonus sequences.
Other big branded games include Sharknado, based on the TV disaster film series about sharks set loose across flooded streets in Los Angeles; Downton Abby, based on the British period TV hit (previewed last year but refined and ready to release); and Tim McGraw, placing the songs and performances of the country star up on the Arc Double. Wilson says McGraw himself contributed to the game with the Aristocrat development team.
One of the proprietary-brand highlights this year is Fast Cash, a quick-hitting multi-site progressive. “We took a proprietary brand and created a multi-site progressive that hits very frequently,” explains Wilson. “Most MSPs have a million-dollar jackpot that rarely hits. Fast Cash has an average jackpot of $40,000, and we’re looking to have it hit every two or three days. It’s a very different concept than most MSP games in the marketplace.”
Video and Reels
The company’s line of core video games is joined this year by Aristocrat’s first line of stepper slots, made possible thanks to the company’s acquisition of Tennessee-based Class II supplier Video Gaming Technologies (VGT).
On the video side, the company will display new entries in all of its game groups. For-sale offerings include Wonder 4 Wonder Wheel, the new multi-play product Quick Fire Flaming Jackpots, and the new Spin It Grand, a four-level progressive family.
The launch of Aristocrat’s first stepper line has been in preparation since the company closed the VGT acquisition near the end of 2014. As Wilson says, with the acquisition, Aristocrat inherited a ready-made team of specialists in the design of stepper games.
“We feel we have the best stepper design talent in-house as a result of the acquisition of VGT,” says Wilson.
He also notes that steppers represent a great new opportunity for Aristocrat in gaming operations.
“We want to provide some competition in the stepper segment, and we want to apply the same rigor and design methodology we’ve applied to every other segment into which we’ve expanded—get the best talent in the segment, and give them the resources they need to be successful.”
Gaming operations won’t be the only area to benefit, as Aristocrat launches what will be its core stepper cabinet going forward. “Design for the cabinet was a collaborative effort of an amazing team,” says Pierce, who notes that Aristocrat will start taking orders for the new stepper series at the G2E show.
For Class II, the VGT division will show the new Ovation platform, which brings player-favorite Aristocrat content to the Class II space. VGT also will show high-denomination versions of its popular Mr. Moneybags, Hot Red Ruby, Lucky Ducky and Polar High Roller games, along with new Red Spin Lock Zone and Newton the Nudger products.
Core video and stepper product will be strong, but Wilson predicts the “product of the show” will be Dragon Link—the next generation of Lightning Link, the linked multiple progressive product from Aristocrat’s Australian team that has been a major hit in North America this year.
Lightning Link combines a highly innovative jackpot mechanic with a multiple progressive jackpot link that is triggered an average of every 100 spins, with the top Grand Jackpot hitting every 25 days on average.
North American players have flocked to Lightning Link, which has generated earnings for Aristocrat’s customers and garnered notice from industry analysts. According to Wilson, Lightning Link recently was recognized as the No. 1 game in the marketplace in the quarterly Eilers-Fantini Slot Survey—the first time in six years of the survey that the top game was not IGT’s Wheel of Fortune.
This year, the product evolves into Dragon Link, a multi-progressive link featured on a brightly lit carousel of games on the Arc Single cabinet, topped by a 360-degree, animated sign.
The basic video slot uses a frequently hitting four-level progressive jackpot, with the addition of a new top denomination—dollars.
One of the elements that made Lightning Link popular, Wilson says, was its multi-denomination configuration—penny, 2-cent, 5-cent and 10-cent denominations.
He says operators are universally positive at the prospect of the dollar denomination being added. “Customers are recognizing that it really has some great potential,” he says. “We’ve created a whole new dollar game, with a completely new math package. The dollar video segment is really under-invested in the U.S. market.”
Lightning Link will be launched at G2E with two dedicated base games.
The new games and form factors, as always, will be accompanied by a display of new system technology, featuring Aristocrat’s Oasis 360 Brand Connectivity Suite, which helps operators increase customer interaction with a range of integrated solutions and new marketing tools.
“Beyond typical CMS and player tracking, it’s about connecting the brand to the patron,” says Angelo Palmisano, vice president of system product for Aristocrat.
Other new systems launches, he says, will include mobile form tournaments and bonus modules as well as RTP that changes according to a player’s status within the enterprise.
Schneider says this year’s G2E represents nothing less than the transformation of Aristocrat as a supplier. “We were a great company that produced 90 games a year in the same segment—the low-denomination, high-volatility gambler’s game,” he says. “When we diversified our game portfolio, operators really valued having a library with much bigger flexibility.
“No matter where they go on their floor, Aristocrat is going to have a game in their portfolio to fit. Everything we do is for our customers. If they succeed, we succeed.”