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Design of the Times

The slot cabinet is the player's introduction to a slot machine. As such, its design is just as important as that of the game itself

Design of the Times

The design process typically begins with listening to the needs of casino operators, slot technicians and customers, all of whom play an important role in a cabinet’s end result.

“We try not to focus on what’s important to us,” says Bally Technologies Vice President of Marketing Dan Savage. “We literally pull operators in a room in focus groups and ask them that exact question: ‘What are you looking for in a cabinet? Are you looking for an eye-attracter that’s going to get people to sit down? Are you looking for compelling content in the inside of it? Are you focused on ergonomics? Serviceability? Are you looking for efficiency of electronics?’ Our statement is, ‘The hardware will always get people to sit, or should get people to sit. The software has to keep them there.'”

After conducting focus groups and sifting through the data collected by the company’s marketing department and development team, a slot cabinet designer begins to search for inspiration. For some, like Norm Wurz, vice president of hardware for WMS Gaming, design cues can come from the most unlikely of places.

“Design inspiration comes from several areas including the players’ unique tastes and cultural trends, everyday items such as appliance designs or automotive designs, things with which consumers have become comfortable and enjoy provide a tremendous amount of insight into the player’s expectation,” Wurz says. “We are not afraid to pick up cues and explore ideas from anywhere. Similar to fashion designers, we monitor consumer trends and continue to watch what’s hot.”

Walking through any casino floor will quickly reveal the latest trends in cabinet design: wide screens, sound packages, lighting effects, plush seating and ergonomic details are a common theme throughout today’s slot cabinets, which are designed to not only attract players but also to make their playing experiences as comfortable as possible.

Ross O’Hanley, senior director of marketing for Konami Gaming, says his team gleans design inspiration from Konami Corporation’s Japanese business.

“A lot of the things originally done in Japan through Konami Digital Entertainment were for the amusement market, which is very different, but it incorporates players being entertained and playing a game for fun as opposed to playing a game and trying to be entertained but also trying to win money,” O’Hanley says. “What they started with in Japan was the opportunity to bring players back based on the entertainment and excitement without any kind of financial possibility. We thought if they were able to develop this great player retention using lighting effects for the arcade business, it might carry over very well into the gaming business, and it has.”

Konami’s latest cabinet, the Podium, utilizes the trends of today in its design, with dual 22-inch LCD displays, 360-degree surround lighting, ergonomic button panel and a variety of other features. O’Hanley says the focus group sessions Konami conducted at the beginning of the design process with industrial design partner Stuart Karten Design indicated that players were not only seeking the latest and greatest in technological features, but also design details that would enhance their gaming experience.

“We’re offering our customers what we a call a shelf and a no-shelf version,” O’Hanley says. “What we learned from our dealings with Stuart Karten Design is that many players in their focus group, when asked what they liked and what they didn’t like about slots, a lot of females in particular didn’t like that they didn’t have a place to put their purse when they were playing a slot machine. So we have one version of the Podium that has a small, convenient shelf for a person to put a purse or a lucky charm or whatever else they want to put on a slot machine, and we’ve got another version that has more of a traditional slant. It’s great having options, obviously, for the customer.”

Built to Last
Technological innovations have made slot cabinet design more sophisticated and interesting, but also more challenging, due to the minimum five-year shelf life that slot cabinets are expected to have on a casino floor. With every year bringing new innovations, cabinet manufacturers are finding themselves designing well into the future to ensure that their cabinets will fill
casino operators’ long-term needs.

While Cadillac Jack is fairly new to the world of slot cabinet design, Chief Architect David Harris says the company designed its new Genesis cabinet to be as technologically advanced as possible.

“We are designing this to be used well into the future,” Harris says. “One of the key points that we used when we were first looking at this design was to look at expandability and adaptability. Basically, it can be put on a fully networked floor. We see this moving into the future five years or seven years, something to that effect. One thing you can never fully gauge is how much technology will change over the next five years, but the thought process, the thinking that we put into this cabinet, was that it would be around for many, many years. The cabinet itself won’t be available until the first quarter of 2010, so I would expect it to move us into 2015 or 2017, depending on what future technological innovations happen.”

Atronic and Spielo have years of experience designing cabinets for long-term use. Cindy Hovey, director of product management for Spielo (which is represented by Atronic in the U.S. market), says the company first began designing cabinets for lottery corporations, which typically purchased all of their cabinets in one lump, rather than staggering purchases like commercial gaming properties in the United States do. The lottery cabinets were expected to last for a minimum of seven years, so Hovey says Spielo is accustomed to designing for long-term use.

“We design all our cabinets, and we have for years and we’re still designing them this way, for a three- to five-year sales life and a seven-year parts and replacement warranty-type life,” Hovey says. “Even though slot operators and casino operators want them to last longer, the challenge that we’re facing is in the area of peripherals and components, because those lives are getting shorter and shorter. If you look at an issue like LCDs, selecting a size and an LCD that you use in a cabinet is very tricky because those are changing out year by year by year.

Hovey said cabinet manufacturers face the challenge of choosing the right peripherals and components, because their lifecycle can be shorter than that of the hardware. She cites LCDs as an example of a peripheral that’s been evolving on an almost yearly basis-in part because LCD technology is driven by high-volume consumer television sales.

“What we do is to try and get that three- to five-year sales life, and the seven-year operating life for the cabinet is to really work with the peripheral and component manufacturers and understand their timeline and their product evolution and build the right components into the cabinet at the beginning to ensure we get that long life. That’s a struggle. If you pick the wrong size LCD, it’s here today and gone tomorrow, because LCDs are driven by TV sales, because that’s where all the money is.”

Though keeping up with technology is the most challenging aspect of designing slot cabinets, Hovey says Spielo/Atronic’s cabinets, including their newest release, the prodiGi Vu, have exceeded casino operators’ expectations.

The Future Is Now
The demand for new technology is also being affected by customers’ increasing awareness of casinos’ environmental impact. Gaming operators are building new properties to strive for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, and are making their energy concerns known to gaming equipment suppliers-including slot cabinet manufacturers.

WMS Gaming’s Wurz says energy efficiency was one important element on his mind when creating the new Bluebird2 cabinet, but the extent of his environmental concerns are largely dependent on what the consumer wants from a cabinet.

“It’s a trick thing to do and requires creative balance; ensuring the delivery of the performance that customers expect and the experience that the player desires from these products-dual LCD panels and a graphics card that can deliver 3D and a CPU that provide an unbelievable graphic and design experience. To deliver on these expectations certainly requires some power and we have to be efficient,” Wurz says. “It is important for us as designers to be energy-efficient while at the same time ensuring the return on the operators’ investment. Asking the customer if they would be willing to accept a bit more horsepower if they knew the product was going to perform? That’s what I mean by creative balance. Creating a design that emphasizes what is most important to the player and most efficient and cost-effective for the operator. Rest assured, we’re always looking to be more efficient for our customers.”

Efficiency is also a concern for Cole Kepro International, which customizes its designs according to what its customers request. The company’s latest cabinet, the Evolver, can also be outwardly customized in order to maintain a modern appearance further in the cabinet’s life.

“The benefit of the Evolver product is it has the ability to change the aesthetic look of the cabinet on the outside while leaving everything else the same,” says Cole Kepro COO Stan Banks. “The Evolver cabinet was designed so that it could be a particular look today and a new look tomorrow-the same cabinet, but with different color concepts, sidings and aesthetics.”

Cabinet customization may become more prevalent as the future of cabinet design appears on the horizon. Cole Kepro’s Dirk Haton, vice president of product development, says he thinks slot cabinets will have to become “smarter” machines-just like every other piece of equipment in today’s world.

“It’s going to be more downloadable games,” Haton predicts. “There will be less bill validator acceptance and ticket out. A lot of it’s going to be smart card. A lot of the markets are going to that. The monetary interface is going to be very limited. The coin went away a few years ago for the most part. We have some products that we sell that’s just smart card, a card reader, and there’s no bills in and no ticket out. That seems to be some of the evolution.”

From eliminating cash and potentially TITO technology altogether to enhancing graphics and widening screens, such as the 23-inch display on Multimedia Games’ new slot cabinet, the Player HD, it seems slot cabinets are becoming more grandiose as time passes.

“The cabinets tend to be moving toward more versatility in terms of preparing for server-based gaming and more flexibility,” says Mick Roemer, senior vice president of sales for Multimedia Games. “Most of the new innovations have come from trying to think about how we make the game much more flexible and configurable, either on a stand-alone basis or on a server-based basis.”

In an effort to diversify casino demographics, Bally Technologies has designed a cabinet that will appeal to a new type of gambler: the couple. The company’s new DualVision cabinet has a love seat to entice pairs to play Bally’s games, and also enables couples to pool their cash and bet together on one game.

“Instead of a couple walking in a casino door and separating and saying, ‘I’ll meet you in the car in two hours,’ we want to keep them together,” says Bally Technologies’ Savage. “We want to have them enjoy a gambling experience on the same type cabinet. DualVision’s all about trying to get a new demographic profile onto the casino floor, and it’s our effort to try and make that a compelling game experience.

“There’s a great avenue on that cabinet for competitive play. If you could have a cabinet which two people sit at together, and if you could imagine a game like Battleship, where the screen is separated with a privacy filter, and two people play against each other for a bankroll, that’s what the younger generation is doing today on Xbox, Wii and Playstation. Of course you’ve got to get that through compliance, but we now have a hardware cabinet where we can put that into focus groups and test that also.”

Bally will be testing its DualVision cabinets at select resorts on the Las Vegas Strip later this year. The company will also be displaying its new Alpha Pro Series cabinets at G2E this month.   

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