There are few manufacturers equipped to arrive at the Global Gaming Expo with a slot featuring country music legend Dolly Parton, another featuring the CSI TV drama franchise, yet another featuring the over-the-edge cartoon Family Guy, and yet others featuring TV, movies, a wealth of proprietary video slot themes and stepper themes, video poker, networked apps and play-for-fun systems—and have still other stuff that can’t fit in one paragraph.
In fact, there may be only one manufacturer that can do all that—International Game Technology.
The main reason IGT can do all that is simple: Despite fluctuations in share price, market share and general demand for slot products in the industry, the company’s research and development efforts have never been reduced one iota.
“We invest more as a company in R&D than any other company in this industry,” says Joe Sigrist, IGT’s vice president of product management, “and we’re investing heavily in all types of games.” Not just any games, he adds—games with high earning power. “It’s all about performance,” he says. “From a game perspective, we continue to come out with incredibly high-performing games. On the player side, it’s all about coming out with games people love.”
Creating popular games on a consistent basis requires the efforts of game studios that are remarkably diverse in game styles—and development teams. “An important part of our game lineup this year, and our overall strategy, is localization of our game content and math for various markets around the world,” says Staci Columbo Alonso, IGT’s vice president of global marketing and chief marketing officer. “We’ve learned a lot about emerging markets, and we’ve learned you can’t introduce a successful game in a regional market (without research).
“We’ve done a lot over the past year to make sure we have teams on the ground, with design studios in the various markets. It goes beyond the theme.”
While game design is about more than the theme, the themes IGT will bring to the trade show are sure to turn a lot of heads. “For the games you’re going to see at G2E, we’re investing across all segments,” says Alonso. “We’ve placed a lot of focus on the themes and attractiveness of MegaJackpots games; we’ve got interesting new titles. We’ve very focused on continuing to add new games to the Center Stage portfolio. At the same time, in our Core Games segment, you’ll see a combination of new titles and updates that will continue franchises—brands that we acquired through licensing, but also brands that we created ourselves.”
Dreaming of Dolly
The licensed brand that is creating the most buzz with IGT officials as G2E approaches is not a leased/participation game or a MegaJackpots wide-area progressive, but one of a group of core, for-sale video slots that promise to pump new life into that segment.
“Dolly Parton” is a masterful nod to the “Queen of Country Music,” combining photos and videos of Parton at every stage of her career with her inimitable hit music to provide an experience that immerses the country music fan in the artist’s performances.
There are 10 complete Dolly Parton songs loaded into the base game, and unlike other music slots, the player isn’t stuck listening to one or two songs during the reel-spinning. A “Player Jukebox” feature allows you to pick one of the 10 songs that will play during the reel-spinning, and change it whenever you like.
There are several random bonuses and four regular picking and free-spin bonus features calling on various stages of Parton’s career. Each comes with its own audio and video clips. For instance, “Classic Dolly” will get you video and pictures from the 1960s and 1970s.
Parton’s butterfly trademark is also all over the game. Butterfly symbols randomly float onto the screen to turn symbols wild or into other symbols for special “Bonus Boost” wins, and the butterfly figures into several other bonuses in one way or another. Some bonus feature occurs every 15 spins, so there is constant action.
“Dolly Parton is the for-sale license that’s going to take properties like the South Point in Las Vegas and set them loose,” says Ryan Griffin, director of product management for IGT’s Core Games. “It is designed for a particular demographic, and our team did an absolutely outstanding job. This is the game I’m predicting to be the favorite of 2013.”
Dolly Parton heads up a Core Games group that promises to make as big a splash at this year’s trade show as the high-profile participation games. “I can sum up the Core group in one word—momentum,” says Griffin. “In 2010, we re-established ourselves as the performance leader in the industry with games like ‘Golden Goddess’ and ‘Lucky Larry 2.’ Last year, we kept it going with ‘Shadow of the Panther,’ ‘Midnight Eclipse’ and ‘Candy Bars,’ which is the No. 1 game in the industry today in the for-sale sector.”
Besides Dolly’s country music fest, one of the games expected to lead the Core group is the sequel to Candy Bars, “Take the Cake.” Like Candy Bars, the game targets the female demographic with bright, colorful animation—this time it’s cupcakes instead of candy bars—and stacked symbols in the primary game.
There also is a three-level progressive (“Snack Size,” “King Size” and “Giant Size” prizes) that features a dynamic paytable. The progressive reset amounts adjust according to the wager: the top jackpot starts at $300 at the cost-to-cover single credit per line; at three credits per line, it switches to $900; at the maximum 10 credits per line, the top jackpot rises to $3,000.
Other Core Games standouts range from straight video to traditional reels to hybrids using the MLD (for multi-layer display) technology that produces an authentic 3D effect in bonus events and in replicating mechanical reels. “From hybrid games to video, MLD is absolutely making a difference,” says Griffin. “For example, ‘Miss Red’ uses a clone math model, but the application of 3D just took it to a new level. When you go to G2E, you’ll see a number of MLD-exclusive games. Also, every one of our games has an MLD equivalent. Operators can see the incremental performance as players gravitate to the 3D presentations.”
One good example of this is “Firehouse Hounds,” a game with math that clones last year’s hit game “Cash Coaster.” In the bonus, the reels catch fire in a 3D display, as the cartoon dogs train hoses on the fires to turn symbols wild or award bonuses.
Other core games use MLD and program math to play to specific crowds. “We’re using market research to create specific games for specific target markets,” Griffin says. “Our core for-sale business is in a very good position because of our market research. We’re creating games players want, not games that an employee in some cubicle wants.”
Nowhere is this more evident than in the company’s Asian games, which are developed in a studio in Beijing, China. On “Money Idol,” a single button changes every bit of text on the face of the game to Chinese, even the royal symbols on the reels. The game is extremely volatile, with a free-spin bonus happening only once in 200 spins—only three spins, with huge potential rewards. The “baby money god” featured in the game plays to Asian cultures, Griffin says.
Other targeted Core group games are designed for Latin American audience—there will be a sequel to “Day of the Dead,” last year’s hit in the Latin American markets, with a Spanish language option—and games designed for Asian players in U.S. casinos, such as the large Philippine player base present at California’s Cache Creek.
The Core Games group also will include several new traditional reel-spinners designed for high denominations. Games like “Western Stars” add picking and free-spin bonuses to the traditional single-line, three-reel format, and there also is a version of the Dolly Parton game on a five-reel mechanical base, with traditional stepper features like nudging wild symbols that form entire wild reels.
“We will host a new family of single-line and five-line mechanical slots,” Griffin says. “The genre is absolutely due for a refresh, and we have a 95 percent market share in that area.”
Finally, as usual, IGT will arrive at G2E with new entries for its industry-leading video poker collection. “Keno Draw Poker,” designed for the tavern market, combines single-hand draw poker with a four-card keno game. “Hyper Bonus Poker” is a Triple Play Poker game that places multipliers on random hands, multiplying wins for all three hands.
“Ultimate Aces” awards a random multiplier for all three hands any time an Ace is dealt. In “Texas Hold’em Fold Up,” the player pays an ante to see other players’ folded cards, offering an idea of the player’s odds for the next move.
Reel Skill, Community Play
IGT’s Core group of slots is augmented by a remarkable collection of games that tread new ground in the skill-based slot area and in the genre of community play.
The company is launching two new games in the “Reel Edge” series, which debuted last year with “Centipede.” According to Sigrist, “Tulley’s Treasure Hunt” and “Blood Life Legends” incorporate lessons learned with the first games in the series—the bonus rounds are faster-paced, for one thing, than the arcade-styled Centipede.
The bonus rounds in the two new Reel Life games are 3D journeys through themed worlds depicted on a horizontal 32-inch portrait screen that almost resembles a movie screen. Tulley’s Treasure Hunt—which uses the MLD technology to create its 3D images—involves “Tulley the Turtle,” who is sent on an underwater journey through caves to pick up various treasures.
In the bonus, the player uses a joystick to guide the turtle on its journey, moving the title character around as it swims to capture coins, treasure chests and other objects in a very Nintendo-like sequence. Repeated bonus rounds improve the player’s skill at negotiating the bonus—a fact that portends well for repeat play of the game.
“Blood Life Legends” applies the same concept to a sequel of the first “Blood Life” game. Where the first had an arcade-style screen, this one has the player assuming the role of a bat as it flies through catacombs and tombs—again, grabbing objects along the way.
In the community play category, represented in what IGT calls the “Connected Series,” the games feature a communal play style that is “cooperative” rather than competitive among players. “Instead of players vs. players, it’s all players vs. the house,” says Griffin.
For example, in “Hot Roll Community,” a reprise of IGT’s popular dice game, everyone gets to roll the integral dice in the bonus round, with credits won going to the entire bank. The bonus continues until every qualified player on the bank rolls a “7.”
Another new cooperative community game is “Wyland,” based on the work of the prominent marine life artist (known by his last name alone). In one bonus, players get to “paint” one of Wyland’s works to completion. In the community bonus, both players on a two-game setup select fish for bonus events, and each player’s fish awards credits to both players.
A portion of all proceeds from the Wyland slot, incidentally, is donated to the Wyland Foundation, dedicated to marine wildlife education and preservation.
The Big Brands
IGT’s new MegaJackpots games and other recurring-revenue titles this year include some bold new titles, as well as renewals of some of the company’s strongest licensed-brand franchises.
Front-and-center is the movie-style “Center Stage” series, which, with its 103-inch monitor (70 inches in the smaller version), gave players initial themes like “American Idol” and “The Dark Knight.” This year’s entries for the Center Stage format include the first Center Stage version of one of IGT’s most popular brands—“Sex and the City: Out On The Town.”
The game takes the culture of the popular HBO series to the big screen, using the same styles of bonuses that have made the stand-alone versions of the theme wildly popular. Players select one of the show’s five main characters—the four single women, plus “Mr. Big,” the love interest of main character Carrie—at the start, and the individual game switches to colors, sounds and icons representing that character.
In the bonus rounds (again hosted by actor Chris Noth, who plays Mr. Big in the show), various “night out” sequences involving all the characters earn bonuses when a certain character goes into a nightclub, catches a cab or shops for shoes. The amounts of some of the bonus awards depend on which character was selected at the start. Other bonuses are the same types of shopping, fashion and nightlife-themed events that can be found in the stand-alone versions.
Also coming to the Center Stage format is a new version of the series of IGT games based on the Star Wars films. “Star Wars Trilogy” is the first game in the series based on all three films in the original trilogy, Star Wars (A New Hope), The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. In the bonus, each player pilots a ship through a planetary trench in an epic star battle, gathering bonus credits until getting hit—all players earn credits related to each individual player’s bonus.
The other big Center Stage entry this year is “Judge Judy,” which puts the players in front of the reality-show judge in her courtroom. The judge’s sarcastic remarks and admonishments of people before her are all present, and come out in reaction to various game events.
Stand-alone MegaJackpots games will host a variety of branded themes, including some of the most hilarious sequences ever placed in a slot machine in “Family Guy,” based on the irreverent, over-the-edge Fox cartoon series. Jokes and clips from all 11 seasons of the show are used in a chorus of gags. Each of the gags is a bonus designed to award money, but the journey is what players will remember—particularly fans of the show’s nearly-R-rated humor.
Another comedy winner is “Beverly Hillbillies Millionaire Mile,” the first new version of that brand since IGT’s successful Beverly Hillbillies game released more than a decade ago. In the new version, which employs MLD in a video slot, Max Baer Jr. supplied all the voice-overs, reprising his role as Jethro in the popular 1960s sitcom about hillbillies moving to Beverly Hills.
This is the first Beverly Hillbillies slot to use actual video clips from the show itself, to frame a multitude of bonus events.
Another big event in the MegaJackpots series is “CSI,” a three-in-one slot based on the forensic crime series franchise on CBS. The player gets to choose which version of the show the slot will reflect—one touch switches the game between the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami and CSI: New York. All reel symbols, screen icons and bonuses instantly change when the new version of the series is picked.
The bonuses, as one might imagine, all involve solving crimes by picking out clues. Some of them are a bit grisly—you pick a wound on a corpse or a pool of blood—but it is a perfect representation of what made the TV shows some of the most successful CBS has ever aired.
Other standouts in the video MegaJackpots space include “American Idol Encore,” a stand-alone version of the performance-reality show slot containing a lot of the same kinds of features that made the Center Stage version one of IGT’s most popular games. The game features the three-dimensional “Reel Wheel,” a back-lit wheel that revolves and spins inside a recessed chamber in the top box. In the main bonus, the player picks one of the Idol contestants, and then selects microphones on the screen to advance the contestant to the next level, the ultimate goal being to have the contestant survive to be the next “American Idol” for the top bonus.
In addition to games in every genre, IGT will devote a section of its booth at G2E to a variety of systems solutions, from new versions of its sbX server-based system to networked applications designed for slots connected both via servers and via the IGT Advantage casino management system.
New applications for networked slots in IGT’s “Intelligent Bonusing” suite include “Game Pulse,” which uses a player’s historical play data to suggest new games when the player inserts a card in one game. It’s a variation on the Amazon “If you ordered this, you make like this” suggestions, only applied to slot players based on their historical play.
“Team Challenge” allows the operator to split carded players on the floor into teams for an impromptu competition—a side game chosen by the casino, involving card-cutting, video bowling or any variety of other games—with bonuses to the winning “team.” The casino can determine how to divide the floor into teams.
“Auction Auction” allows the operator to offer merchandise prizes on which players can “bid” using their club points, as a side game right at the machine. “Tournament Manager” automates the classic tournament. Any number of other random bonusing events can be designed by the operator using IGT’s bonus engines.
IGT also will display its variety of new content channels, from play-for-free games through its DoubleDown Casino to new games for online and mobile applications.
According to Javier Saenz, vice president of product management for network systems, IGT’s booth will include a “mini-casino” showcasing all the system possibilities for a casino floor—there will be bonuses running, tournaments going on, and auctions using mobile devices and server-based game downloads. “We’re bringing together the entire experience for the player right on the show floor with the mini-casino concept,” Saenz says. “Behind the scenes, we will show the products driving them.”
“We do systems not as separate from our games, but as an extension to our games,” says Sigrist. “That has been a critical transition for us.” Adds Alonso, “We’ll deliver on those expectations at this show, and tell that story visually.”
That story, and a whole lot more.