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Game On

Chris Satchell, Chief Technology Officer, International Game Technology

Game On

If the slot manufacturing sector has learned anything over the past decade, it’s that alumni of the home video game business make great slot machine designers.

That’s why it was a good bet when slot-maker International Game Technology brought Chris Satchell in as chief technology officer. Satchell came from Microsoft, where he was the CTO of the division in charge of the venerable Xbox gaming system.

Interestingly, Satchell is the third Xbox alum now making slot machines—rivals Aristocrat and WMS each have one. He is the second video game veteran in IGT’s upper design echelon, game development VP Joe Kaminkow having developed his chops at Sega.

Satchell’s arrival at IGT brought him full circle to a profession in which he obviously always belonged. “I started programming when I was 8 years old,” he says. “I loved computer games, and I liked programming them more than playing them. All the way through high school, I was a nerd, in a very energetic way—I’d get in some programming before school, and a couple of hours after!”

Aside from hobbies of marital arts and weightlifting—to offset the nerdiness, he says—Satchell took his love of programming right through college, earning a theoretical computer science degree from Loughborough University in the U.K., followed by graduate work in distributed artificial intelligence systems and safety-critical engineering on a railway signaling system before he returned to his first love, building video games. By the time he got to Microsoft, he had served as a lead programmer, had built graphic engines, and in general, had become an expert game-maker.

Satchell brought all of that to a slot market that is evolving, in many ways, in the direction of the home video genre. “Video games are where this industry is heading,” he says. “We went through an incredible arms race from 1997 until today, improving the quality of content in slot machines, the richness of content, and production values. We became very good at how we bring masses of content together, and we’re going to need all of that in this industry, because our patrons are demanding more of us.”

Satchell says the line between games and systems has become increasingly blurred as server-based gaming applications have arisen. “Everybody is adding online features and online interactivity,” he says. “In 2011, you’ll start to see an uptick. You will see operators investing in Ethernet. You’ll see an increase in interoperability around GSA standards. We saw the start of it at G2E.”

The other thing the industry saw at G2E was game play that takes slot machines closer to their home-video cousins. For IGT, that meant the introduction of “Reel Edge,” a series of slot machines that employ a joystick in a skill-based, arcade-like bonus round. He says this mindset is only the beginning, and that the industry will see many more slots in which the main activity has nothing to do with reels, but still has gambling content.

“We have the chance to reach out to different demographics,” says Satchell, “with a product that is gambling, but is packaged in a way that appeals to those who grew up with video games.”

People like Satchell.

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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