Concerto Performance

Konami Gaming hits its stride with increased R&D and a wealth of new game styles

Last year, the big news for slot manufacturer Konami Gaming, Inc. was the unveiling of its expanded Las Vegas headquarters, which doubled its size with an additional 200,000 square feet of space.

This year, the big news is how that enhanced R&D and manufacturing power is being used.

Konami is using the jump in capacity to double down on the variety of form factors and game styles the company is offering—much of it calling on the inherent strengths of the slot-maker’s legendary parent company, Tokyo-based Konami Holdings Corporation, to create new experiences for the gaming space. The increased capacity also has allowed Konami to offer its fast-growing content library within a collection of hardware that rivals anything in the industry.

“Our Las Vegas expansion has brought a strong increase in volume and momentum to our team in the U.S., which our team in Japan works to mirror and support,” says Yuji Taniguchi, Konami’s vice president, research and development, games. “Both teams feature top-tenured talent with ingenuity and expertise. The technology and development resources we have from our parent company in Japan are best-of-breed, and it’s our pleasure to bring those advancements to the casino gaming industry.”

Those advancements serve the dual purpose of bringing new game styles to the industry and building on the framework Konami already established in a game library which, over the past decade, has catapulted the company to its status as one of the top four suppliers of slot machines and systems worldwide. Steve Sutherland, Konami’s chief operating officer and executive vice president, says the increased capacity is already paying dividends.

“We’re already seeing the central benefit to our product pipeline,” Sutherland says. “As our core product offering has expanded to new formats, our team has the necessary development bandwidth to support each release with a stable, robust content library. We continue to maintain significant collaboration with our design studios in Japan, Australia and through key third-party relationships to maximize our creative potential for leading original products and to support exploration of further product sectors such as VLT, multi-station, and next-generation millennial/skill-based games.”

“Next-generation,” in fact, has been an ongoing theme for Konami over the past decade—a period marked by often-radical new game formats that have complemented a continuously improving core base of video slots in the KP3 and KP3+ platforms. “You see it in the market today through products like our Rapid Revolver hybrid machine, Titan 360 multi-station machine, and the SeleXion multi-game,” says Taniguchi. “We collaborate daily on details spanning hardware and software, with the end goal of bringing the industry’s next greatest developments to casinos.”

Concerto Collection

The expanded R&D capacity in Las Vegas has freed Konami’s engineers to design new form factors for Konami games—proven KP3 and KP3+ content featured in everything from core cabinets to the largest-format platforms.

The core cabinets are dubbed the Concerto Collection.

“Our new Concerto Collection is the most immediate example of Konami’s increased R&D capacity that you’ll see arriving at casinos around the globe over the next nine months,” Sutherland says. “With everything including slant, multi-game, tall single screen and curved single screen, we have a record volume of new cabinet formats—all with the signature elements popularized by the debut upright machine. Our customers have shown resounding enthusiasm for the new core product lineup, and our game designers are dedicated to delivering the original content needed to support success.”

The signature elements of the Concerto Collection are those that made the original Concerto video upright popular. “We’re now taking those proven elements—the sleek black finish, extra-large HD video screens, holographic side lighting, and top-performing Konami game content—to an array of video slot formats for a complete collection,” Sutherland says.

The Concerto Collection includes cabinet styles that are firsts for Konami, like the Concerto Crescent, the company’s first to use a 43-inch curved LCD monitor. It joins Concerto Stack, featuring a 43-inch cinematic portrait monitor; Concerto Slant, bringing the core Concerto elements to the slant-top format; and Concerto SeleXion, the newest version of the company’s well-regarded multi-game offering.

“The slant is a favorite for a number of core gambling audiences, and helps operators plan sightlines at the property,” Sutherland notes. “We’ve also brought our leading SeleXion multi-game technology to Concerto, featuring up to 10 different themes in a single upright or slant machine.”

Each will be launching with content designed to best utilize that particular form factor. “Crescent, in particular, will be the launching point for premium content like the Castlevania-themed slots we unveiled during G2E 2016, based on the iconic Konami video game series,” Sutherland says. “Each Concerto machine carries a unique role, to serve different needs on the floor.”

“Our team maintains a robust development pipeline, to ensure Konami’s customers have a great mix of the newest releases available,” adds Taniguchi. “Just considering the products we saw at G2E, Concerto Slant and Concerto SeleXion multi-game are already available; Concerto Crescent and Concerto Stack will arrive next summer; and in terms of the skill-based and multi-station concepts presented, we will likely begin navigating final products through approvals early next year, and targets for market release will stem from those results.

“The next-generation skill-based and multi-station concepts carry new hardware, game play mechanics, math and design, so they’ll be subject to extensive review.”

Tapping the Potential

While the Concerto Collection is poised to become the company’s defining game series, as Taniguchi notes, Konami’s increased production capacity has allowed the development of innovations in game styles at the heart of the newest trend in the slot supply sector—that of creating games that go beyond the traditional reels to appeal to new groups of players.

At the forefront of that trend are games that employ skill in the outcome, and games that offer social interaction—both factors that appeal to the millennial customers the casinos seek to lure to the slot floor.

Few could imagine a company better suited to fill both needs than Konami. Its Japan-based parent company, Konami Holdings Corporation, was in the business of making skill-based games and arcade-style amusement games long before it developed its first slot machine. Creator of legendary arcade and video skill-based hits from Metal Gear Solid to Frogger to Castlevania, the company has bided its time in waiting for the right moment to tap into that expertise—not to mention those legendary brands—for its casino slot business.

It’s clear that moment has arrived. Two years ago, regulators in both Nevada and New Jersey appealed to the slot sector for new game styles incorporating skill. Nevada passed what’s known as Senate Bill 9 to specifically authorize skill games. New Jersey wrote regulations into its existing law to accommodate skill, while Gaming Laboratories International declared skill to fall under its GLI 11 technical standards.

Konami was one of the manufacturers working with regulators to ease the approval of skill-based games under current regulations, prominently those setting minimums for return-to-player (RTP) percentages in slot games.

“Knowing its potential for driving new audiences to the casino floor, and hearing strong feedback from our customers to that effect, Konami recognized the importance of skill-based legislation, and early on we contributed in advising legislation,” says Taniguchi. “The primary factor was the challenge of balancing skill with chance. There must be some element of chance to ensure profitability and provide the property with the necessary payout ranges to carry the product. So, the recommended solution is that skill-based components should influence a player’s RTP range, and random components should provide balance therein to deliver the intended range.”

Manufacturers are now beginning to release games with variable payback percentages, and Konami is one of the suppliers at the forefront of the effort.

“As limited U.S. jurisdictions have legalized casino games with elements of skill, we’re actively exploring this emerging product sector,” Taniguchi says. “In order for us to develop, it was important to know we had legal markets to introduce the new skill-based concepts, and to have general guidelines for the regulatory framework by which these products would be evaluated. With both those items affirmed, Konami brought its first skill-based games to this year’s G2E Las Vegas show, with outstanding response from visitors.”

Those games included a new version of its Frogger game that actually plays like the legendary arcade game. Frogger: Get Hoppin’ allows players to apply the skills they learned in the arcades to win money in a casino game. Another skill game launched at G2E is Beat Square, utilizing skill to anticipate rhythms in music for higher payouts.

“In terms of executing video game play in a for-wager, skill-based environment, we now have available regulatory jurisdictions to support and explore that sector,” says Sutherland. “With standards and regulations finalized for markets like Nevada and New Jersey over the last year, we have the framework for bringing our technology to the space.

“In the coming months and years, we’ll see many different skill concepts from the industry. Some will be successful and some will not, so manufacturers including Konami will work to refine and innovate this sector to help operators reach new audiences. The market is hungry for these next-generation product types, and we’re excited to be a part of pioneering its development.”

Gathering ‘Round the Game

The other new game style that Konami has used its new R&D capacity to refine is the multi-station genre, which Konami entered three years ago with the release of the Titan 360 platform—eight individual slant-top slots around a central mechanical, arcade-style bonus unit. The inaugural game, Rise to Wealth, featured a large physical wheel into which balls were launched, falling into one of several slots to award a bonus prize or progressive.

This year, in addition to launching a second Titan 360 game in Dragon Orb Jackpots, Konami called once again on its amusement-game roots, adapting a Konami concept popular in Japanese amusement arcades to create Crystal Cyclone, another arcade-style game that launches balls into a giant roulette-like wheel for payoffs.

Sutherland says that while the Titan 360 was a hit, its size limited volume sales. “To this day, we hear from players and properties around the country about the attention (Titan 360) attracts, and the crowds that gather,” he says. “Due primarily to its size, it was a limited-release product with less than 30 units manufactured, but our casino customers are very interested in this high-entertainment, multi-station product niche, because the effect has a crossover appeal to traditional gamblers as well as new audiences.”

Crystal Cyclone features personal video slot stations around a central bonus arena that players access during random feature events. The machine can release as many as 60 balls around a slotted circular track with colorful light and high-impact sound. “It has even more collaborative effect because the bonuses can be simultaneous for all players,” Sutherland says. “Anyone who attended this year’s show can speak to the energy and attention this game creates.

“Konami has an emerging niche in multi-station development, with great customer demand. This style product is a huge attraction for a lot of properties.”

As is the other multi-player game Konami launched at G2E, a multi-station horse-racing game called Fortune Cup that brings the mini-track experience pioneered 30 years ago by the legendary Sigma Derby into the modern age. Fortune Cup combines digital components with intricate miniature race horses that move around the track much in the manner real horses do. Players are given wagering options that mirror the options at a real racetrack, from win, place and show wagers to trifectas and quinellas.

Sutherland says Fortune Cup is another example of how the slot-maker is tapping into the expertise of its Japanese parent company.

“Our Fortune Cup multi-station horse racing game has a level of mechanical and software ingenuity that can really only be produced by a company with our background through Konami Holdings Corporation,” he says. “Digital components of the game are powered by the Fox Engine, our company’s proprietary game development engine used in titles such as Pro Evolution Soccer and Metal Gear Solid.

“Individual player stations feature a robust betting structure and real-time interface. The mechanical horse racing track allows horse figures to move side-to-side and change direction on the course; and their actions are mirrored through LCD displays with pristine digital demonstration of the game as it occurs. Casinos have the flexibility to connect satellite terminals and displays for an arena participation environment. And similar to Crystal Cyclone, Fortune Cup undoubtedly achieves the shared community excitement that operators are looking to create.”

“Crystal Cyclone and Fortune Cup are our latest developments, and each exemplifies the development and engineering expertise we have available with our parent company,” adds Taniguchi. “We expect that these products will contribute to inviting new patrons to casino floors.”

Within from all these new form factors, if Konami’s enviable collection of content has one overriding characteristic, it is its reliance on proprietary themes.

“This has been our approach from the beginning,” comments Sutherland. “Licensed IP is an exciting part of our portfolio—games like Dungeons & Dragons, Frogger and Castlevania (the latter two Konami-owned brands) provide an excellent mix and variety to Konami’s offering, but it’s not a focus. Just because a company has a popular licensed brand doesn’t offer any assurance that it will become a profitable game for the casino or its supplier. Any new IP projects have been given heavy consideration and research, and that practice of responsible development will continue.”

System Strength

No discussion of the Konami library is complete without logging more innovation in the company’s highly regarded Synkros casino management system. One of the fastest-growing system products in the industry, Synkros is best known in for its reliability, marketing tools and robust data.

“Synkros has the core infrastructure to support leading-edge solutions for our customers across a variety of competitive markets,” says Sutherland. “Recent advancements have included Synkros Dashboards, which provides a visual breakdown of guest activity—from macro trends to the smallest spend details—to drive actionable intelligence insights across all areas of business. In addition, Synkros Offers Management expands the power of our marketing suite by making multiple loyalty offers available to players at a wide range of touchpoints.

“Tools like these help ensure that patrons feel connected and valued, and casinos, in turn, are able to target specific player behaviors—rewarding and engaging players accordingly.”

One significant addition to Synkros this year is a module developed in partnership with Acres 4.0, the innovative system company founded and led by industry legend John Acres. Synkros now includes the option to incorporate the Acres tool Kai, which uses mobile technology to improve customer service through alerts to the smartphones of employees from executives to front-line hosts.

“As a leading casino systems provider, we’re committed to empowering our Synkros customers with the flexibility to leverage best-of-breed third-party providers to meet their unique business needs,” Sutherland says. “That considered, earlier this year we launched a collaboration with Acres to give Synkros users optimal ability to leverage the Acres 4.0 Kai mobile solution. Through powerful data integrations with Synkros, casinos can use Kai’s intelligent mobile app platform to recognize player activity and efficiently dispatch an employee to welcome and assist customers in accordance with their circumstance, spend and personal preference—resulting in personalized service to drive player loyalty and business profits.

“The patron experience is obviously very integral to our sector, so it’s important our technology improves and reinforces service and hospitality initiatives—always strengthening interactions between the casino and its guests.”

With the new Las Vegas headquarters providing the basis for expansion of the product library everywhere from core games to Synkros, Sutherland says Konami Gaming will continue to utilize the unique identity of its parent and sister companies (Konami Digital Entertainment is the company’s world-renowned video game subsidiary) to gain ground using resources few, if any other companies can boast.

“Konami Holdings Corporation has a steep tradition of innovative entertainment and decade-long proven popularity,” says Sutherland. “We have tremendous mechanical, software and hardware engineering resources available through our parent company in Japan, with vast video game and arcade entertainment legacies spanning everything from Metal Gear Solid to Dance Dance Revolution. We maintain close collaboration with their team to leverage that longstanding infrastructure and innovation for the gambling space, and bring that technology to the casino properties around the world.”

Adds Taniguchi, “For Konami, myself and my team, each day we are focused on developing casino games for players around the world to enjoy. We want them to enjoy these games at a maximum number of places permitted by regulators, which for many jurisdictions would include online, social and/or iGaming. This is why our games are available at a variety of platforms through our remote gaming server (RGS) and other distribution channels, with the goal of empowering operators to grow their businesses with the content they need to reach today’s audiences.”

Taniguchi says Konami is focused on being a “strong, reliable and top-tier leader for the industry” for the near future. “Our games have long been recognized for quality, and we aim to maintain that commitment as we work diligently to bring our latest game lineup to market and explore new creative opportunities.”

Sutherland takes near-term goals one step further, taking aim at a goal he set out for the company when he used the Olympic reference to the Gold/Silver/Bronze “podium” to describe the company’s market-share goals—and to launch a new product brand of the same name:

“Our Konami team is focused on becoming one of the top three slot suppliers in the world,” Sutherland says. “All our efforts surround that goal, and we put it to action by equipping our casino customers with a diversity of proven games and technology to optimize their business.”

Frank Legato
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 recently published book on gaming, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying.  

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