Content King: International Game Technology

IGT arrives at G2E with a collection that shows it has no intention of relinquishing its market leadership

Amid all the speculation over what will become of leading slot manufacturer International Game Technology after next year’s expected closing of its acquisition by GTECH, one fact has been underplayed by many:

In the sole consideration of an entire library of slot machine content, there is still no one better than IGT.

Through all the board of director challenges, surges in competition and uncertainty in the market, the R&D machine built long ago by IGT has just kept on churning, with dozens of new concepts every year joining reinventions and improvements of classic games.

More of those reinventions appear this year with the G2E debut of something that has been rare in the slot market: a major platform release in the mechanical reel-spinning genre. In this case, it is the next generation of what has been IGT’s most stalwart product, the workhorse S2000 line of mechanical stepper slots.

IGT is using many of the most familiar S2000 games to help launch S3000, the company’s next generation of reel-spinners and its next workhorse series. Around 30 iconic brands will accompany 24 new reel-spinning games designed specifically for S3000 in what IGT officials predict will fuel a rejuvenation of the reel-spinning genre in casinos.

“To reference Mark Twain, I think reports of the death of the mechanical reel player were highly exaggerated,” says Joe Sigrist, vice president of product management at IGT. “And I think our investment in S3000, and bringing over games that are iconic into that cabinet along with new games, speaks to the fact there is still a percentage of the floor—let’s call it a third—that is definitely a mechanical reel section, that hasn’t had innovation in a while, and is primed for a refresh.”

Ryan Griffin, director of core product management at IGT, adds that the S2000 series still has some 90,000 units in the field, representing an enormous potential block of sales. “We’ve been working on this platform for four years,” Griffin says, “and it is creating a new paradigm. This is going to be a special time for the industry.”

Griffin acknowledges that players of those 90,000 units are fiercely loyal to that particular cabinet style. How do they know players will go for the new format?

For one thing, they asked them. IGT brought in players whose history showed them to be stalwart stepper players, and had them play their favorite IGT reel-spinning games in both S2000 and S3000 versions. “The players were all hard-core Double Diamond players—all loyal high-denomination players,” explains Dennis K. Meade, the legendary IGT inventor and game designer behind many of the slot-maker’s most iconic stepper games. “All of them preferred the S3000.”

Mead, by the way, is the other reason IGT officials expect to crack a good portion of those 90,000 replacement game orders. The holder of numerous patents on technology used in the S2000, Mead—who was the lead designer on classic games including Double Diamond, Red, White & Blue and Wild Cherry—was instrumental in the development of S3000.

The designer, who knows every detail of S2000 better than perhaps anyone on the planet, painstakingly pored over every detail of S3000 to update the platform without changing its essential appeal or familiarity. Reel symbols are bright and back-lit, but are instantly recognizable. The button panel is nearly identical—except for the inclusion of “Bet Up” and “Bet Down” buttons, which Mead says makes it easier for the player to alter wagers.

Volume and brightness controls offer additional player comfort, he says. The platform includes a state-of-the-art sound system, and banked machines can be synched up to deliver an attention-grabbing light and music show.

When the work was done, Mead placed those diehard stepper fans in front of a classic, familiar S2000 Double Diamond and the S3000 version, identical in features and program math, but modernized. Players went for the new version every time.

Griffin says that in addition to new games, IGT can bring 100 existing trademarks forward to S3000. “This is the most advanced stepper format in the market, combined with those trademarks,” he says.

Sigrist says that in addition to updating classics and creating new stepper games, IGT’s product development team is using the launch of S3000 to reprise an iconic brand, the “Quartermania” wide-area progressive three-reel quarter slots. “That’s an example of a game that people remember lovingly,” Sigrist says. “But on that cabinet, and with features like video celebrations, for us it is evidence of what we have in our portfolio that we can really leverage on the gambling side.”

IGT’s first 50 new S3000 games will include classic three-reel games; new three-reel, single-line games; and first-to-market five-reel multi-line games.

The lineup includes classics Double Diamond, Double Gold, Wild Cherry, Super Times Pay and others. New games include “Red Hot Tamales” and “Triple Gold.”

S3000 is part of a refocus on “the roots of gambling,” according to Sigrist. “We’re excited to bring out a new cabinet that’s tailored exactly for mechanical reel players but also brings that exciting newness to mechanical reel games.”

Building the Core

The new mechanical reel platform is the biggest story this year for IGT’s Core Games division, but it’s certainly not the only one. New content is spread over numerous innovative game series and game families.

“I know everyone says that,” says Griffin, “but what you’re going to see at the show is really a host of new games, more than we’ve done historically. There is an unprecedented number of new game families featuring innovative new game mechanics.”

Griffin, like Sigrist, says the focus has been “going back to our roots” on the core side. “What I mean by that is that we are going back to growing our portfolio offering of true gambling games. We still own the entertainment space, but we’re moving toward high volatility.” On tap for G2E launch are new versions of IGT classic core video slots including “Wolf Run” and “Enchanted Unicorn.”

“We’re bringing those games players have been loyal to for years back with new mechanics,” says Griffin, “new games that are more rewarding experiences, not only in the bonus but in the base games as well—more true gambling games.”

Many of those games are in a series called the “Dynasty Edition,” building upon the cross-platform content from Wolf Run, Siberian Storm and Treasure of Troy. The series merges original game features and math with enhanced characteristics, such as amplified bonus content, pace and visuals.

Wolf Run and Enchanted Unicorn are also used as the first base games in the new series “Hot Roulette,” which combines the themes with bonus content that gives players a touch-screen game of roulette in the top box. It’s a follow-up to the successful “Hot Roll” feature offering a bonus dice game for core video base games.

Griffin says the bonus roulette wheel is a “fair-chance wheel,” not weighted to favor any particular number. An entertaining feature has the player either “throw” the roulette ball to the top screen or “pick it up” and “drop” it on the wheel.

“Hot 21” applies the same bonus concept to a game of blackjack, which plays out in that entry of the Dynasty Series.

“King Reels” is an innovative reel configuration displaying a total of 90 paylines—30 in the base game and 60 on the top box. The two themes launching the series are “Turquoise Princess” and “Farmer’s Daughter,” featuring classic comical farmer’s-daughter gags in funny animation with goofy cartoon music.

“Tokidoki” brings the famous Japanese lifestyle brand to the slot floor with a game featuring the brand’s most beloved characters, including Moofia, Donutella & Her Sweet Friends, UnicornO, Cactus Friends and Punkstar. In what Griffin calls a “hardcore gambler game,” the slot features a 1,024-ways-to-win setup.

In addition to individual core games, IGT will launch several new game series, each featuring an innovative play mechanic. The “Mega Free Games” series features bonus triggers yielding up to a maximum of 450 free games, with a twist—the player is given a volatility choice from several free-spin/multiplier combinations.

Titles like “Panda Park” and “Fortune Trader” offer free-spin sets with 2X, 4X, 8X or 16X multipliers. Players can choose a straight credit award instead of sitting through hundreds of free games, but unlike other games of this nature, the player can change his mind mid-course—at any time during the spins, the player can stop and take a credit award that approximates the likely range of awards in the remaining spins.

Another new game series is “Hot Poker Dice.” This series adds a progressive bonus to classic titles like Super Times Pay and Triple Double Diamond, involving a roll of virtual dice bearing card faces, to form a three-card poker hand. Credit awards are returned for poker hands of 10-high or greater, with the top progressive won through a three-card royal flush and a secondary progressive for three of a kind.

The dice results are random from a 52-card electronic deck, re-shuffled for each bonus, and the awards accumulate—the bonus rolls continue until a 9-high or lower hand ends the event.

The Big Brands

Of course, no IGT trade show collection would be complete without the launch of a few big branded slot games. None is bigger than this year’s group of two games launching the “Ellen” series, designed to capitalize on the culture of comedian Ellen DeGeneris’ wildly popular daytime talk show.

The two base games—“The Ellen DeGeneres Show Featuring Ellen’s Dance Party” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show Featuring 12 Days of Giveaways”—use the impressive CrystalCore 42 cabinet to mine the most popular features of the hit daytime show.

The CrystalCore, used to great effect on last year’s “Avatar” games, features a 42-inch vertical touch-screen LCD monitor that provides a good canvass to recreate the audience frenzy that always happens on DeGeneres’ show, including a funny sequence in which Ellen does her famous audience dance through a cheering studio crowd, collecting bonus awards for the player along the way.

Video clips and voice-overs are used to create a number of other clever bonuses as well, from the “12 Days of Giveaways” title bonus to a “Wheel of Riches” spinning bonus.

The show’s familiar theme song plays during the reel-spinning, and DeGeneres herself provided original voice-over work for the games.

“From an excitement standpoint, Ellen is a big brand,” says Sigrist. “Her popularity now is at the top of the charts, not only for what she’s done with her incredibly popular show, but also what she did at the Oscars with the selfie, and what she means to current pop culture in general.

“It fits a demographic that is somewhat new, but also one that is increasingly going to casinos. And we’re hitting Ellen at the top of her popularity.”

Ellen’s not the only big brand that will benefit from the CrystalCore treatment. “Wheel of Fortune” gets a new take on the cabinet with “Wheel of Fortune Jackpot Paradise.” The game, in IGT’s “Out of the Blue” brand group, “sweeps players away to a tropical oasis where graphics are pristine and payouts are plentiful,” according to a company statement.

Jackpot Paradise features a touch-screen interface and interactive bonus rounds. The five-reel game introduces a playful symbol set including kiwis, coconuts, beaches and bananas. Unique to this game, the top progressive is awarded from one of the game’s bonuses, the “Jackpot Pick Bonus.”

A final branded slot on the CrystalCore cabinet represents the first dedicated theme for IGT’s Powerbucks multi-state commercial wide-area progressive link. Called “Powerhits,” the game—fully converged for play on land, online and for mobile wager online where allowed—provides compelling visuals, and a built-in incentive for max bets. With every wager below max bet, the player is shown where he missed wins because of the lower bet. 

IGT recently added Nevada to its Powerbucks network, joining New Jersey and South Dakota in contributing to the multi-state jackpot. “That’s huge,” says Sigrist. “We have more machines in Nevada we can connect to the network than in any other jurisdiction.

“Being able to link that with the other jurisdictions we have continues to add to the liquidity, and what we’re really after—which is to really make the jackpot as big as possible, and hit as frequently as possible. And the greater the number of machines on any one link, the more likely that will happen.”

Among other branded games, Wheel of Fortune also gets a new look in “Wheel of Fortune Ultra Wheels,” which features a novel game-play setup—no reels, just four wheels on a screen with a multiplier in the middle. “Wheels instead of reels in a four-up game—that’s bringing innovation to Wheel of Fortune in a way that brings the granddaddy of all slot themes and takes it forward,” says Sigrist.

Other big branded games to be launched at G2E include “Harley-Davidson: The Open Road” and “Ghostbusters: Back in Business.” The Harley-themed game is video slot with 3D “Enhanced Content”—a 3D motorcycle tire spins to accumulate multipliers; the roar of the Harley engine blares through the sound system. It is being launched with two base games.

The new Ghostbusters game places the famously successful theme in IGT’s MultiPLAY format, with four reel sets spinning simultaneously, on the Center Stage movie-style community setup.

Skill and Poker

All the slot games as usual, are accompanied by a collection of IGT’s industry-leading video poker, plus one other series involving games of skill—the Reel Edge series.

Reel Edge gained popularity originally with “Tulley’s Treasure Tunnel,” a video slot with a joystick-based video-game bonus that was a replica of a home video game, with physical dexterity and hand/eye coordination leading to success in a 3D video journey.

This year, IGT adds to Reel Edge with “Race Ace,” designed around what Griffin says is the most popular video game ever. When the bonus round is triggered, as with the other games in the series, the player is given the option of a chance-based free-spin round or a 100 percent-skill-based bonus. In this case, the skill-based bonus is a virtual car race, with the player using the joystick and spin button (the accelerator) to navigate his car around the others on the screen. The bonus corresponds to where the player’s car places in the race.

Heading up the lineup of video poker games is “All Star Poker III,” the evolution of top-performing All Star II, as well as “Game Star,” a new bundle game set with unique game mechanics available in six new single-hand poker games and a multi-hand stud poker theme.

Operator-configurable pay schedules are available for 11 poker themes, with an improved processor that enables players to switch between games almost instantaneously.

New single video poker titles include “Super Times Pay Mega Progressive,” designed for the Powerbucks interstate wide-area progressive with a top jackpot returned for a natural royal flush; and “Rack ‘Em Up Poker,” which features bonus payouts for landing the same hand repeatedly.

IGT also will show Game King 8.3, the next generation of the most popular video poker multi-game platform in the industry. Slated for release in 2015, the setup includes new video poker games plus a few new slot and blackjack games. The new platform includes a minimum bet configuration for the lower denominations.

As usual, IGT’s remarkable lineup of new slot and video poker games will be accompanied by a complete display of innovation from the company’s systems division, which will stage an elaborate, interactive systems demonstration. The company will feature the latest versions of several innovations including sbX 4.4, Advantage 9.2, Casinolink and a series of applications that complement both Advantage and Casinolink.

Among the systems launches is a new package of “Intelligent Bonusing” software modules. “Intelligent Rewards” brings a swipe-and-win kiosk application to the slot machine’s Service Window. “Mobile Intelligent Offers,” to be launched in 2015, provides an engine with built-in intelligence that automatically sends out offers in conjunction with each player’s history.

IGT also will display its “On Demand Suite,” a number of software products such as Beverage On Demand, which allows customers to order drinks from a menu based on their prior drink preferences; a new “Mobile Host” system; a number of cashless payment solutions; and “Tournament Manager,” which allows casinos to remotely enable and configure slot tournaments on the fly.

Sigrist says this year’s G2E lineup “really is evidence of the approach we’ve been taking over the last year-plus in game development, with a very strong focus on the roots of gambling and slot play. The lineup shows the breadth of our portfolio, and of our focus, which has been on hitting all the right player demographics.”

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.