The product goals for 2020 at Everi Holdings’ slot games division are the same as they were in 2019, and the extraordinary events of this year have not changed that.
“What are we looking to accomplish?” asks Dean Ehrlich, executive vice president and games business leader. “We are increasing performance in every product category, maintaining our leadership position in high-denomination mechanical and TournEvent, and maximizing our customers’ ROI across product categories.”
Those business factors were soaring forward early this year when the Covid-19 pandemic put a hard pause on the industry, and Everi moved quickly to assure the interruption would not affect its product pipeline.
“The one thing that we didn’t want to do was put ourselves in harm’s way by not having enough of a robust development strategy,” says Ehrlich. “The good news is that we have a pretty significant runway, so coming out on the other side of this, we have a significant amount of new themes that have either been recently approved or are just getting there.”
While Everi went through the same process of cost-cutting and furloughs as its competitors, the focus remained on product development. “When it came time to bring everybody back (from furlough), we brought them back methodically,” says Everi President and COO Randy Taylor, “and made sure we had our product categories covered. Before that, the team did a great job. Artists and developers were taking their work home to keep the development process going.”
Everi’s three studios—the main R&D center in Austin, Texas, and game development studios in Chicago and Reno—have remained open and operational through the entire pandemic period. As a result, there only have been minor tweaks in the product roadmap, with volume down from the normal 80 annual game releases to around 60 for 2020, Ehrlich says.
The product roadmap had already been calibrated for efficiency. “If you’re going from 16 themes to 14 themes a year, those are just subtle tweaks (to the roadmap),” Ehrlich says. “When you’re down for a couple of months, you really look at the roadmap and make sure of two things: You’re taking care of customers. And you’re making sure that your product pipeline is where it needs to be.”
With casinos having reopened, Everi’s first order of business is to deliver the orders made before the shutdown, says David Lucchese, Everi’s executive vice president of sales, marketing and digital. “There were orders queuing when the shutdown happened,” Lucchese says. “As soon as we brought back key people, we wanted to protect those orders.”
Lucchese, in addition to overseeing sales and marketing, has steered Everi’s digital division to the point where it was able to thrive while brick-and-mortar casinos were idle. “During this time, on the digital side, we were staffed well to respond to anything that the operators wanted,” he says.
“We saw New Jersey pick up the pace on some approvals, and the more titles you get out, the more penetration you get. We already had good traction prior to the shutdown, so it just enhanced our numbers. And the phase that we’re in right now is where we’re taking the great progressive games out of Dean’s library and bringing those over. And that’s a huge breakthrough for us.”
The product library on which those interactive games rely continues to grow, as Everi strives to increase premium product, in particular, on the new cabinet styles launched over the past few years.
Those include the Empire MPX, Everi’s premium cabinet featuring a 43-inch flat-screen portrait monitor; the Empire DCX, a premium cabinet featuring dual curved 43-inch landscape-style LCD monitors; the Empire Arena, a banked product that features Everi’s E5527 cabinet (the numbers referring to a supersized 55-inch top monitor and 27-inch main game screen); and the new Empire Flex, a premium package featuring a 49-inch curved monitor, curved LED light bars and a high-quality sound system.
Add to these the unique Renegade 3600, its giant top reels spawning hits like Smokin’ Hot Stuff; premium linked products, and a complete lineup of standard core cabinets, and it’s easy to see how diverse the Everi product library is.
This year, Everi aims to add to the games that have been unqualified hits in every format, from Smokin’ Hot Stuff on the Renegade to Shark Tank on the Empire Arena to the Wicked Wheel series on the striking Empire Flex. But first and foremost, the company will seek to exploit what has arguably been its strongest game style, the classic mechanical reel-spinner.
In the Player Classic high-denomination mechanical reel format, the company will seek to add to awards it has won, such as Best New Mechanical Reel Core Game, one of three nods the company got in last year’s Eilers & Krejcik Slot Awards.
One standout this year in the reel-spinning genre is Diamond Lock, which takes what has been the stongest recent trend in video, the hold-and-re-spin game mechanic, and applies it for the first time to a mechanical three-reel game. According to Ehrlich, the game was still in development last year when first shown to customers, and has created substantial interest ahead of its official launch, which is estimated for the first quarter of 2021.
Diamond Lock Ruby and Diamond Lock Sapphire are both three-reel, nine-line mechanical reel-spinners. “These are our hold-and-spin, high-denomination three-reel mechanical games, which had a lot of fanfare at the G2E show last year,” says Ehrlich. “We’re very excited to see what these games are going to do.”
On the Skyline version of the Player Classic mechanical reel-spinning cabinet, one of this year’s highlights has been Triple Jackpot Gems, which features three different wild symbols—including the 3X Triple Jackpot symbol, which triples the payoff when one lands in a win, multiplies the pay by nine with two in a win, and pays a progressive for three—the level depends on which of the nine paylines the three wilds land on.
Triple Jackpot is one of the titles in the Triple Double series of three-reel mechanical games on the Skyline platform.
On the Skyline Revolve platform—that’s the Skyline setup with a top bonus wheel added, home to past hits Casablanca and Penn & Teller—Everi is highlighting Gold Standard, which is a follow-up to the hit Cash Machine and its “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” reel setup. Gold Standard uses the same numerical reel results as Cash Machine. For instance, 10-5-00 on the three reels returns the top $10,500 jackpot on the dollar game.
The Gold Standard game adds a wheel bonus to the Cash Machine play mechanic. The wheel in this game returns credit amounts or one of three progressive jackpots.
Everi also is launching new games for its Player Classic 26 mechanical reel cabinet—a traditional three-reel game topped by a 26-inch video screen for bonus features and progressives. Sister games Black Diamond Fortune and Double Fortune are Everi’s first core mechanical reel-spinners to employ the hold-and-re-spin play mechanic.
Everi is bringing some of its best content this year to the immersive Empire Flex cabinet. The inaugural offering for the cabinet, first released early this year, is the Wicked Wheel series.
Wicked Wheel features a unique progressive picking bonus in which some picks eliminate the lower jackpots from the field. As the player wagers more, multipliers and credit amounts increase.
“There was minimal amount of penetration of that cabinet before the lockdown occurred,” says Ehrlich. “So, between Flex, Empire MPX and then the Core HDX, which is our dual-screen cabinet, our strategy is to take our really successful mechanics and port them over into the Flex cabinet.
“The amount of bandwidth there is pretty solid. We have a total of nine new Flex games. We don’t need another new theme, quite frankly, until we get into 2021, because we barely launched Wicked Wheel Panda and Wicked Wheel Fire Phoenix (before the shutdown).”
Also on tap for the Empire Flex are new versions of Crush, the game that replaces spinning reels with a sculpted Aztec head that the player sends flying down to crush boulders that roll underneath, each “crush” yielding credit awards.
“Some themes are able to work within either MPX or Flex,” says Ehrlich, “The presentation of Flex is very nice. The team did a really nice job on higher resolution, premium graphics and CPU processing speed.”
Elsewhere in this year’s video lineup are three new base games for The Vault, the interactive hit series launched last year on the Empire Arena premium platform. “The Vault has been by far the best game that we’ve got,” Ehrlich says, “so we’ve had a chance to double down on additional base games, to make sure there’s a long runway for that product.”
The Vault, he adds, demonstrates the earning power of the Empire Arena platform. “Empire Arena has been our home run,” Ehrlich says, noting that after inaugural games in The Brady Bunch and Felix the Cat that he says he’s not afraid to call “God awful,” the platform hit with Smokin’ Hot Stuff Wicked Wheel, which he says is still turning in strong performance in the field. A 243-ways-to-win game, the game features primary game multipliers up to 64X, and a picking bonus that guarantees a progressive jackpot. Uncovering a pitchfork in the picking bonus removes the lowest progressive from the field.
Shark Week and The Vault would continue the success streak for the Arena platform.
The new Vault titles feature mechanics from the original like Vault Respins, a lock-and-re-spin feature; free-spin and picking bonuses; and Diamond Heist, a community-style event in which all players on the bank compete for diamonds to add to their vaults. Each player gets a chance to “steal” diamonds from other players on the bank, creating a competitive environment.
Another standout on the video side is Orb Lock, a persistent-state style of game that involves accumulating orb symbols. “When you get a certain amount of orbs within the base game, it triggers a re-spin, and orbs landing in the same spaces multiply wins. The game builds up high anticipation of when the orb feature is going to hit.”
The video offering that Ehrlich says has been the biggest surprise success this year is the Empire DCX, with its inaugural games The Mask and The Karate Kid. “I was really pleasantly surprised how well these games are doing, on a new set of hardware,” Ehrlich says. “It’s been hot out of the gate—as good as The Vault or Smokin’ Hot Stuff Wicked Wheel.”
In all, Ehrlich says the diversity of Everi’s game content is what will sustain the supplier for the next year and beyond. “When I go through all the different product categories, this is what excites me,” he says. “There’s such a lineup, one behind the other, with all these different swim lanes, that I think we’re really set up for some pretty great things.”
Meanwhile, the Everi Digital division is capitalizing on the burst of demand spawned by the industry shutdowns to establish a growth path for the long term. The company’s proprietary remote game server has accelerated the company’s move into new real-money online gaming markets.
“The major story for us in the last 12 months or so has been the amount of distribution we’re able to do, and the amount of traction we’ve gained with operators,” says Lucchese. “We now cover about 90 percent of the market in New Jersey, and we have four other casinos we expect to sign before the calendar year ends.”
In August, Everi Digital announced an agreement with MGM Resorts International and GVC Holdings’ Roar Digital joint venture to deepen its online footprint in New Jersey with three of its top traditional three-reel mechanical titles.
“It’s an underserved segment,” says Lucchese of the traditional three-reel model. “The other suppliers don’t do it. Nobody has steppers like we have, and some of the online operators offering these aren’t really familiar with steppers, because they had come from Europe. And as soon as we deploy those (stepper games) and they see the performance, they’re hooked.”
Next on the agenda for Everi Digital is Pennsylvania, to be followed with West Virginia, Michigan and other states as they launch iGaming. “We went live in Pennsylvania with very surprising success, and I say surprising because people were timid about the market,” Lucchese says. “But considering the volume there in our content, Pennsylvania has done an incredible job penetrating into what I think is a very, very healthy player set, and our partners are definitely capitalizing on that.”
Beyond the U.S., Everi Digital is now live in Quebec, and is ready to establish a footprint in other Canadian provinces. “We have inroads to go live in Canada in all the provinces where it’s legal,” says Lucchese. “So we’re not just stopping with Quebec. We’ve won the RFP with British Columbia Lottery Corporation, and are already working towards five other go-lives in Canada.”
Everi currently has content on 19 real-money casino sites, and Lucchese estimates that by the end of the year, Everi will have some 50 titles ready for real-money iGaming sites. That’s in addition to content on 43 social casino sites, and growing.
“We have been working towards making sure that the experience of the game feels like a land-based game,” Lucchese says, offering the simple three-reel game Cash Machine as a prime example. “Cash Machine was a hit game for the last year and a half on the land-based side, and has been an absolute monster for us in real-money iGaming,” he says. “Everywhere it launches, it rises to the top position and stays there.”
He says the next opportunity will be bringing Everi’s progressive game library online. “This is the future, and it’s where we’re headed this year,” Lucchese says. “It unlocks a huge portion of our content library that has seen success on the land-based side. Going into 2021, expanding that library is going to be huge for us.”
Everi is in a great position going into a new year everyone hopes will afford some type of return to normalcy for the industry. For instance, the company will look to again ramp up its annual national TournEvent tournament competition, with satellite tournaments hopefully leading to a new $1 million TournEvent of Champions final event in Las Vegas, canceled this year for the first time due to the Covid-19 crisis.
At last count, there were 5,000 server-based TournEvent machines in the field, at 400 casinos and counting. The custom-designed tournament system is augmented with new base games annually, in an evolution that has been ongoing since the system was first introduced in 2006.
As far as new content, the company is in good shape entering 2021. “We’re definitely delivering on the pipeline of new game content,” Ehrlich says. “We’ve been in our best run that we’ve had; in all the product categories, there are must-haves, and now it’s time to get that product on the floor and see how much we can continue to grow our floor share, and help our customers to make money.”
The difference from former years, of course, is the need to “partner with customers in the Covid environment,” says Ehrlich, who notes that the pod configurations possible with Empire Arena, Empire DCX and other cabinets naturally promote social distancing without disabling machines, and the company is working with its customers to facilitate Plexiglas barriers where necessary, and doing it in a way that does not interfere with machine maintenance or other operational necessities.
But the largest area of partnership with customers, Ehrlich says, involves ensuring the flow of high-earning product continues.
“We’re continuing to deliver on the strength of our pipeline across all the product categories, and working with our customers to generate higher returns in their product investments,” he says. “It’s important our customers have confidence in what we’re producing, to know that we’re invested in our customers, and that we aren’t going anywhere.”