For many years, WMS Gaming has been the slot manufacturer at the forefront of the “networked” revolution. Networked games such as those in the “Adaptive Gaming” series have married brick-and-mortar games to the internet. The company’s “Portal” applications have allowed any variety of WMS base games to be instantly transformed to a new product with dedicated bonus games downloaded over a network.
But despite the progress made toward the networked slot floor, for WMS Gaming, everything comes back to the games themselves.
“While WMS has probably been the most successful at rolling out networked gaming on casino floors today—60 or 70 casinos around the globe are currently running our network—as a macro environment, the casino industry is not conducive currently to further rollout,” comments Larry Pacey, executive vice president of global products and chief innovation officer for WMS.
“So, we went back and looked at what is important to the casinos, the operators and the players. And it always goes back to great games.
“It’s always about the great game.”
For decades, WMS has had one of the industry’s premier R&D teams in charge of creating those great games. This year, the creative atmosphere got substantially better with the opening of a new 125,000-square-foot R&D center on the Chicago River, part of the company’s R&D campus on Chicago’s North Side.
“We needed a destination to glue all our disparate groups around campus together,” Pacey says of the new building, which uses things like state-of-the-art fitness centers, a world-class cafeteria and lots of common areas to assure that the various design groups and heads of different game development studios—designers, engineers, mathematicians—regularly interact with each other. A rooftop deck on the new building—which received the LEED Platinum certification for environment-friendly construction and sustainability—overlooks the Chicago skyline.
“Our culture is a high-performance, innovation-driven culture,” Chairman and CEO Brian Gamache said at the end of a media tour of the new facility in July. “We rely a lot on collaboration and integration, end to end. We built this building with that in mind.”
The fruits of that collaboration will be on display in what is going to be the largest portfolio of new games WMS has ever brought to the Global Gaming Expo—more than 200 machines in all.
At the core is a new operating system for the games, CPU-NXT3, along with the new series Sensory Immersion 2.0. First shown last year, the new game format includes the industry’s first motion chair as part of the virtual-reality experience offered by Sensory Immersion.
“It’s always about finding great platforms and then enabling our studios to take advantage of the technology in a multitude of ways, to create a wide range of product we never would have imagined before,” says Pacey. “We look at these platforms as the enablers—the things that will spark the capabilities of a studio. We think CPU-NXT3 is one of them; Sensory Immersion 2.0 with the motion chair is another, as are Gamefield xD and the My Poker product.
“We’re going to showcase a whole new level of product the industry hasn’t seen before, and we’re really jazzed about that.”
Rocking the Brands
Allon Englman, WMS Gaming vice president of game development and strategy, says the new CPU-NXT3 platform allowed designers to maximize the potential of several new licensed brands the slot-maker is bringing to G2E.
“In terms of making the games, it’s like a tale of two cities between the two platforms,” Englman says. “Before, we produced games using CPU-NXT2. Now, most of our product is on CPU-NXT3. The sheer horsepower of the new platform has allowed us to do all types of different animation and game play mechanics we previously were unable to do.”
For example, the platform has allowed designers to do justice to an ambitious theme that arrives at G2E as a new Sensory Immersion game based on legendary rock band KISS. From the base game’s unique reel setup to the vibrations of music from the entire library of the theatrical rock band throbbing through the BOSE Surround Sound chair, “KISS,” the slot machine, redefines “immersion” as it relates to a slot game.
The extra storage and computing power of CPU-NXT3 comes to play in the music heard through the sound chair as the game’s soundtrack. Players can change the soundtrack song by touching a “cassette tape deck” displayed on the screen—a new “tape” goes in, with a new soundtrack.
Base-game play on the main reels can trigger bonuses that unlock up to three other reel interfaces, each with lower-paying poker symbols removed and each with wild reels. Bonuses include “KISS Alive,” a picking bonus set to the band’s music.
“Cheers,” based on the long-running TV sitcom set in a Boston bar, is another high-profile brand on tap for WMS this year. Actor John Ratzenberger reprised his role as know-it-all mailman Cliff Claven to do all the voice-overs to host a full contingent of bonuses based on clips, gags and situations from the show.
The game is loaded with video clips from the series. Each character has an associated reel symbol, and when the symbols stack, it triggers a video clip involving that character. The main bonus is on a spinning wheel, with mini-bonuses related to each character on the slices, as well as “Cheers Credits” and multipliers up to 100X.
Next up among licensed themes is “Spider-Man,” which uses the Sensory Immersion 2.0 setup with the motion chair. The chair was launched last year with “Aladdin & The Magic Quest,” in which players are taken on a physical magic-carpet ride thanks to actual movement of the chair. In Spider-Man, the chair works in concert with video from the film trilogy that began with 2002’s Spider-Man starring Tobey Maguire. The player is taken from rooftop to city streets and bridges on Spidey’s “web” as he battles the Green Goblin in virtual-reality bonus events.
The base game features random “Spider-Sense” bonus events, and free-spin bonus rounds can multiply up to eight reel sets spinning at 50X.
Another popular brand is renewed in “Wizard of Oz Haunted Forest,” the latest game in WMS’ popular Oz franchise and the first in the new Sensory Immersion 2.0 format. The new Oz game also debuts a new display format for WMS, called “Gamefield xD.” The format combines two large LCD video monitors into a huge “game field,” on which animation flows seamlessly between top and bottom screen to provide a remarkable treatment of movie clips depicting the Wicked Witch of the West’s forest from the classic 1939 Wizard of Oz film.
Another highlight among licensed brands is “Monopoly Legends,” which is the first game in the more than 40-game Monopoly series to combine the theme of the classic board game with several legendary WMS brands.
The Monopoly theme is integrated into bonus rounds from each of the classic WMS brands “Reel ‘Em In,” “Zeus” and “Jackpot Party.” For instance, in the famous Reel ‘Em In fishing bonus, it’s Mr. Monopoly in the boat fishing for bonus awards. The classic picking bonus in Jackpot Party yields “gifts” containing prizes related to the icons of the Monopoly game.
“The Lord of the Rings,” the slot series based on the Peter Jackson films presenting J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary fantasy trilogy, will get its third and final slot in the WMS collection for G2E. “The Return of the King,” based on the final book in Tolkien’s trilogy, features a triple stand-alone progressive jackpot and a bonus in which the player takes the role of an archer, shooting at an invading dwarf army to get free spins, bonus credits and multipliers, or one of three stand-alone progressive jackpots.
The bonus round is a continuous event—attacking dwarves who are hit to reveal bonus awards vanish, and in subsequent bonus rounds, the player has a better chance at hitting a progressive.
The Return of the King also networks with the WMS “Player’s Life” website. As with the first two games of the series, players can visit the website to earn “miles” (representing the journey in the films) to “unlock” new bonus features the next time they play the game in a casino. Players can log in on the game and pick up the progress they had earned previously.
Finally, one branded game to be launched at the G2E show, still under development at press time, may be the next “legendary” brand for WMS: “Willy Wonka.”
Based on the classic 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder, the theme provides WMS a brand that is “right up there with the Wizard of Oz,” says Pacey. The “Oompa Loompas,” Wonka’s diminutive assistants in the story, provide all manner of mystery bonus events by leaping onto reel spots. The base game employs another new play mechanic, in which one bonus event has the reels expand into the top box to a maximum of 12 symbols per reel for lucrative free-spin events.
In addition to the new licensed products, the wealth of proprietary brands that WMS has produced over the years will be well-represented at G2E. Heading that list is “Reel ‘Em In Greatest Catch.”
The latest installment of what is arguably the most important brand in the history of WMS as a slot-maker features staggered reel sets with a free-spin bonus round offering the chance to win up to seven progressive prizes—even multiple progressive jackpots on the same spin.
The famous fishing bonus is present as well, but according to Englman, the new Reel ‘Em In game is all about volatility—higher bets translate into better odds during the progressive bonus round. “This is designed for local-area progressive players looking for an exciting new experience and higher rewards for their bets,” he says.
The “Money Burst” series, which provides two, two-symbol reels connected to all other reels to produce high line wins (the quirky “Dean Martin’s Dance Party” was the first hit in the series), also gets a new entry this year. “Double Money Burst” doubles the original Money Burst screen with dual two-by-two reel sets leading to a three-by-six reel set. The new layout creates a 100-line play field, with multiple ways to trigger a bonus.
Double Money Burst is being launched with four base games, each with a different math model. The first two themes, “Fire Queen” and “Neptune’s Quest,” will be on display at G2E.
In the reel-spinning category, WMS is launching “Awesome Reels,” an addition to the manufacturer’s Innovation Series with a distinct, six-by-four reel layout offering 4,096 way to win on each spin, multiple six-of-a-kind wins and bonus features on the sixth reel to improve base-game wins.
Finally, WMS will display a complete range of games in its new “My Poker” series. The result of extensive video poker player research, My Poker games present all the classic video poker games plus a few specialty games in a format that allows the player to choose card faces, how the hands are presented, and other little extras to personalize the game. The cabinets are designed for player comfort, with improved sightlines and maximized visibility.
Much more will be presented by WMS at the trade show, including a new “Top Gun” game for Portal customers and new slots in all core categories.
“We’ve been working the past couple of years under cloak of secrecy, but we see this as a blowout year for us,” says Pacey. “We are really hitting on all cylinders, and we are focused, at the core, on creating the great game. We’re taking great brands, great math product, great art and design, and putting it all together with a powerful new platform in CPU-NXT3. It all results in some game-changing play experiences for the player.”
Pacey sums up the year for WMS in succinct terms:
“It’s the year of the game.”