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Everi: Playing Forward

After acquiring Multimedia Games, Everi doubles down on the Texas company's creativity

Everi: Playing Forward

On August 24, executives of the former companies Global Cash Access and Multimedia Games gathered on the podium at the New York Stock Exchange to ring the opening bell, christening their newly merged and rebranded company as Everi.

It had been an unlikely marriage, with GCA, the top supplier of ATMs and cash-access equipment to the casino industry, acquiring Multimedia, a highly regarded manufacturer of Class II and Class III slot machines. But in the end, it made sense—beyond the new slogan communicating the combination of technologies, “We get you playing and we keep you playing.”

A key advantage of the merger was that GCA was already licensed across the U.S.—twice as many jurisdictions as the still-growing Multimedia, an Austin, Texas-based company and Class II leader in Oklahoma and elsewhere that had been rapidly making inroads in Class III markets. GCA’s licenses instantly broadened Multimedia’s market base.

But if anyone wondered what changes the GCA/Multimedia merger would bring to the slot manufacturer’s popular games, the answer came quickly: none.

In fact, the new Everi is building on the quality technology, engineering and creativity for which Multimedia was known. The company’s R&D hub, it was promptly announced, will remain in Austin, an inherently creative town where the presence of the University of Texas campus provides a steady stream of engineering talent that would be difficult to match in Las Vegas.

While Everi CEO Ram Chary and his staff are still mapping out all the possibilities of the combined engineering of the two former companies, the decision had been made early on to allow the former Multimedia continue to do what it does best—building creative and engaging slots, and the popular TournEvent tournament system.

To facilitate that continuity, Chary brought in a veteran supplier of slots and systems, David Lucchese, as executive vice president-games. Lucchese, the former vice president of sales of Bally Technologies and previously a vice president at the groundbreaking supplier Casino Data Systems, says it was determined not only that the eight studio teams in Austin should remain in place, but that they should be augmented.

“We wanted to invest in the games business, for the greater good of Everi,” says Lucchese, “so we announced and are executing on expanding our studio content development teams. We decided to open up two new development centers geographically remote from Austin.”

The two new R&D centers are in Chicago and Reno. “It’s taken us five-plus years in MGAM history to get to eight studio content teams here in Austin, and we want to grow faster,” Lucchese says. “So we announced we’re going to open those cities and double the teams to 16.”

To help manage all that content, Lucchese brought in Jim Palermo, the former director of product development for WMS Gaming who most recently served as vice president of product development for growing slot manufacturer Incredible Technologies. Palermo is now vice president of strategy and product management for Everi.

Back in Austin, other improvements to the game development efforts include naming longtime Multimedia game developer Allison Pope as executive producer, and Michael Conway, another longtime MGAM executive, as creative director. Pope and Conway will work together to collaborate the efforts of the three studio content centers, in Austin, Chicago and Reno.

Ramping Up

Lucchese says the fact that Everi is doubling its number of development teams doesn’t necessarily mean a doubling of content. “What we’ve also embarked on doing is doubling down on the quality of our games,” he says.

Part of that will eventually include the kinds of high-profile licensed brands on which the largest manufacturers currently rely. “We’re exploring licenses to do, and as the licenses come along, we’re also creatively looking at how the cabinet should evolve to support a new type of license,” says Lucchese. “So, really, the mantra is not only more, but better and more.” He says his team is targeting the first licensed themes for next year.

Meanwhile, there is a boatload of proprietary content being pumped out by the Austin development staff, and this year’s G2E display will be like nothing the former Multimedia ever staged. Beyond being the first show to combine payment and slot technology in a single booth, the sheer number of games to be launched is unprecedented for the company.

The first G2E display for Everi also will occupy a much more prominent location on the show’s floor than Multimedia ever enjoyed. Where Multimedia typically had a booth at one corner of the floor, Everi’s is front-and-center on “Las Vegas Boulevard” in the trade-show map (the former location of WMS Gaming, which is now wrapped into the Scientific Games booth).

“We’re pretty excited about G2E this year, for both the historical payment side and the games side,” says Linda Trinh, Everi’s vice president of marketing and promotions. “We will display 140 gaming products, 11 payment kiosks, and also cash/payment products.”

Those 140 slot games to be displayed include 60 new titles, 13 of which are new products in the stepper category. “We’re truly bringing a casino to life on this booth, including—as we have for the past three years—our TournEvent of Champions bus.”

At press time, that bus was crisscrossing the country to attend satellite events in the third annual National TournEvent of Champions, the multi-casino national slot tournament on Everi’s unique TournEvent tournament system. This year’s tournament involved 100 casinos—98 in the U.S., two in Peru—which are sending a total of 180 finalists for all-expense-paid trips for two to Las Vegas, where they will compete in the finals at the XS nightclub at Wynn Las Vegas on Wednesday, September 30.

The winner will take home a cool $1 million, with $1.3 million in total prizes and no finalist walking away with less than $500. (“One in 180 for $1 million—not bad,” comments Palermo.)

Once the TournEvent bus is parked in the Everi booth, attendees will peruse 140 games which, Palermo stresses, are available immediately. “Everything you see in that booth is for real,” he says. “That’s different than some of our competition. There’s no smoke and mirrors, there’s no showing something at this G2E that’s going to launch September 1, 2016. Everything is for sale.”

“We’ll also be showcasing our new cabinet, which is the Core HDX,” adds Trinh. “We’re pretty excited about that.”

As far as the games themselves, Conway says attendees will notice the jump in quality immediately. “We’ve been all about getting in there and throwing down, and really making the quality of the games better than they’ve ever been,” Conway says. “We’ve tried to really focus on becoming very competitive in the industry.

“There’s been a big push to get the art top-notch to compete with everyone. The game play is new. We’ve got content designed specifically for this Core HDX cabinet.”

The Core HDX, which will be released in November, will accommodate any of a total of 140 library titles at launch. “No one has ever offered a cabinet that deep in content,” comments Palermo.

The new format features dual high-definition monitors, an ergonomic design with monitors close to the player, vastly improved sound over previous platforms, and dynamic lighting. That last point is “what the machine is all about,” says Conway. “It’s a light show.”

The vertical display of the two monitors is outlined by stage-style lighting that changes colors dynamically to match events in the game being played. Contrasted to the black cabinet itself, the effect is cinema-like. “It creates this space of excitement on the casino floor,” Conway says.

“HDX is the next evolution in light shows,” comments Palermo. “There is functionality in the box that actually makes lights in games relevant. There are a lot of light shows out there, but we’ve integrated them right into the actual game. Light becomes part of the experience.”

Conway says the cabinet also was designed with TournEvent in mind, and the next version of the tournament system—which uses onboard cameras, leaderboard displays, special random score boosts and other features to create an event out of a simple contest—will have the Core HDX as its platform. “That thing is going to pulse on the floor like a beacon,” he says. “And that’s as it should be.”

Palermo adds that the other great distinguishing factor of Everi’s new batch of games for G2E is the improved sound system. “As an outside observer and a fan of MGAM as a player, what I’ve noticed the most year-over-year is that we really up-ticked the sound design,” he says. “The sound design in the games we are showing, compared to what we had in the past, is really at the next level.” (Conway says the company moved all sound design in-house last year.)

New Features, Same Innovation

The mix of games on the Core HDX—as well as the legacy Platinum MPX, Player HD, High Rise and giant Texan HDX cabinets—features new game mechanics such as “Reel Match,” on the game El Dorado the Lost City, which randomly matches the symbols on one reel on another reel for a re-spin, all the way up to five wild reels.

Other games in this year’s lineup present a unique mix of the game-play potential of the new platform and the kind of entertaining, humorous animation and game events that distinguished the former Multimedia’s slot games for years.

One showcase for the new HDX platform is Bonus Attack, a game designed around a top-box bonus that occurs as frequently as every 30 spins. “This game is all about getting to the bonus,” says Conway. Once in the bonus, there are 10 levels of awards, won by landing a corresponding number of Bonus Attack symbols in a free-spin bonus. There also are extra spins awarded as players try to climb the bonus ladder.

A sister game is Jackpot Inferno, which features eight easily obtainable progressive awards, also won through free spins, but this time on a special set of reels that contains only high-paying symbols. The player also can land “Jackpot Jump” symbols for instant advances in jackpot levels.

The first group of Core HDX Games—which also includes Quad Burst Tiger Strike—also includes a patent-pending programming feature that allows for flexible return-to-player decisions by the operator through an adjustable bet/max bet configuration that does not rely on changing the number of paylines to adjust the RTP or bet levels. The programs include more than 200 balanced math models, so various percentage and denomination models will feature the same game volatility.

Also, the games reward players for higher wagers. While progressives are available at any bet level, the reset levels rise as the wager rises.

The Core HDX titles will be joined at the Everi booth by games in the Platinum MPX cabinet—popular in its own right for its 40-inch HD integrated touch-screen display, interactive sound chair with “Earthquake Shakers,” and custom 6.2 surround-sound system. Among the highlighted games on MPX this year is Smokin’ Hot Dice, which features a jackpot dice roll that triggers one of a multiple tier of progressives. Players touch the screen to roll the dice, to the backdrop of original honky-tonk music, and can win several jackpots at the same time.

Pope notes that the dice roll is typical of Everi’s design credo for bonuses: “fun to play, easy to understand.” Many of those bonuses also reprise the kind of humor the company’s developers popularized long ago.

A good example is Her Majesty, a hilarious take on Great Britain’s Elizabethan era featuring cutout animation from portraits of Queen Elizabeth, King Henry VIII and other historic royals, in bonus events like “Heads Will Roll”—the heads drop to the reels to add wild symbols—“Pester the Guard,” in which you pick annoyances to try to get the royal guards to change expression; and “Sink the Armada,” in which you get to fling everything from cows to boulders at ships in the water, to the backdrop of laugh-out-loud sound effects.

Another entertaining entry is Rumpelstiltskin, on the Player HD platform (featuring dual 23-inch wide-screen monitors), with its funny central character and the “Guess My Name” bonus in which the player makes picks to try to assemble the legendary imp’s name in three tries. Free spins include “Straw to Gold” reel results, which change reels into wild reels. Throughout are funny little accents, such as Rumpelstiltskin moon-walking across the bottom of the reels.

The Player HD format also hosts Viva Los Muertos, a humorous play on the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday that combines three popular game mechanics with a picking bonus hosted by funny animated skeletons; and Paris Le Magnifique, with a retriggering free-spin bonus that accumulates symbols toward a progressive jackpot. (Those symbols are miniature can-can dancers, also guaranteed to trigger a laugh.)

Sharing space between the Player HD and the super-sized Texan format is Pirates vs. Ninjas, featuring an entertaining cartoon battle in which the player advances prize levels by picking a warrior and consistently defeating the unpicked pirate, or ninja. On the big Texan screen, it’s like playing a video game on a theater screen.

Rounding out the Player HD collection this year is Potion Power, featuring “Connected Pays;” and The Three Fates, with a picking bonus that determines a number of free spins, a multiplier and wild reels for a free-game event.

The company’s tall High Rise cabinet also hosts strong new content this year, such as Journey to the Center of the Earth, which features a multi-level picking bonus with the object of advancing through different levels of the earth to get to the core, and the highest bonus (the “Motherlode”). Prizes in the picking bonus increase as the levels get closer to the core, with high-definition graphics and sound offering a compelling effect.

Another standout in the High Rise series is Fruit Cocktail Deluxe, with a fun classic fruit theme and a top progressive that links with current progressives One Red Cent Deluxe and A Girl’s Best Friend Deluxe.

Other video highlights include Live It Up! Diamond Bingo, an intriguing hybrid bingo/slot game that ties progressive jackpot levels to bingo-like patterns of symbols on the reel set; and Gargoyle, with very creepy, magnificent artwork in the reel symbols and a “Stay Until You Pay” wild-reel feature.

Finally, Everi’s stepper series features Big Hit Cash, with a top-screen bonus game including perceived skill; and nine-line games such as Big Hit Cash, Shamrock and Blazin’ Triples. All are simple, high-denomination entries designed to introduce new concepts to the traditional reel-spinning space.

New Identity

While the game lineup represents a continuation of the quality customers came to expect from Multimedia, the G2E show itself is the first showing of what Lucchese notes is a unique composition among gaming suppliers.

“We’re not strictly a games company, we’re not strictly a systems company, but a combination of great games and a leader in the payments industry,” Lucchese says. “We’re starting to socialize that with our customers, and listen to our customers, to what they’d like to see as our strengths come together and gel into a different strategy that the gaming industry has never seen.

“That will take time to come to fruition, but again, we have a unique toolbox with the two companies coming together.”

Palermo says that diversity and unique combination of disciplines is why he left Chicago and IT to sign up with the new Everi. “I was relatively happy where I was, but this company is uniquely positioned,” he says. “Sometimes, playing by a different set of strengths is the way to move in a game.”

He adds that Everi has the industry’s “only significant footprint of core participation,” thanks to its Class II history. “In a world where casino expansions are slim to none, post-boom, having a huge footprint of core participation is one of our greatest assets,” he says.

The symbolism of combined forces was evident at the NYSE bell event in August, which included not only 15 executives headed by Chary on the podium, but 45 other Everi employees among the crowd on the floor. They were picked by raffle, and handed out Everi coffee tumblers and other gifts to the traders. (“Our marketing team, led by Linda, was bright enough to bring swag,” Lucchese laughs.)

The event reflected what Lucchese calls a “renewed energy and sense of purpose” throughout the company, a “rallying cry behind all the expansion, with everybody collaborating to move the ball forward.

“There’s a new excitement throughout the fabric of the company.”

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 books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.  

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