Ever since first adding a casino slot division in 2018 to what historically was a bingo and keno supplier, Las Vegas-based Gaming Arts has been surprising the industry with the quality, innovation and inventiveness of its slots at each year’s Global Gaming Expo.
Far from a startup in the slot arena, the Gaming Arts slot business is led by a core group of veterans. From CEO Mike Dreitzer, with 25 years of executive positions at slot manufacturers, to Jean Venneman, a distinguished slot design veteran whose own 27 years in the business included leading the team that produced IGT’s Wheel of Fortune in 1996, the slot business for Gaming Arts has been a story of applying experience to product development.
The same applies to the company’s more recent additions, including Vice President of Studios Jason Pawloski, who spent 15 years designing games for IGT, Ainsworth and Cadillac Jack before joining Gaming Arts last year; and Product Manager Scott Reams, a slot operations veteran who ran the games at Caesars, Penn National, Tropicana and M Resort before joining the company to offer his own operator’s view of what makes a good slot game.
For the past five years, Gaming Arts has methodically built its product lineup to include eye-opening offerings. Last year, it was Brian Christopher’s Pop’N Pays More, based on top slot influencer Christopher’s popular game live streams; and a new, improved version of its unique multi-game Casino Wizard, a single-machine electronic table game with six individual table offerings.
Also prominent last year was Kung Fu Empress, a highly entertaining game featuring animated martial arts in bonuses featured on the company’s new large-format VertX Grand cabinet, which incorporates an ultra-bright, 4K 49-inch portrait monitor, theater-quality sound, a bright LCD button deck, programmable LED play buttons, and attention-grabbing LED side lights.
Another hit launched last year, Thor’s Thunder, was named to the short list for Slot of the Year in the 2023 Global Gaming Awards.
The reception from the industry has been rewarding for the young slot division. “We’re a smaller company, but growing every year,” says Reams. “At this point, we have right around 1,600 machine placements. At the end of last year, we had 74 GLI-approved titles. We’ll have another 31 this year. And we continue to expand our jurisdictions, now at 155. We’re very happy with the growth we’re seeing.”
Dreitzer says this year’s G2E offerings are likely to keep that growth mode going. “The games are each very unique in many ways, very different from a lot of the offerings out there,” he says. “And we can’t wait to have these games go out later this year, available to the players.
“We’re also very excited to introduce our new VertX Duo cabinet at G2E. It represents a step forward for us, and it gives us an opportunity to present many, many new games that we also believe players will enjoy.”
With twin 32-inch 4K monitors, the VertX Duo cabinet is a complement to the company’s current dual-screen cabinet, the Phocus S104. The new cabinet was a year in development, according to Reams, with the goal of being a best-in-breed form factor.
The R&D team developed a dozen new cabinet concepts, and the VertX Duo design was chosen. In addition to the 4K monitors, it features theater-quality sound, enhanced graphics and advanced ergonomics.
Some of the new games in the company’s G2E lineup will be available on both dual-screen cabinets. One is the Jungle Rising game family, with base games Jungle Days and Jungle Nights. The games will be demonstrated at G2E on both form factors.
The main difference between the two games is the jungle background displayed in the top box, day and night scenes. It is a three-pot, collection-style game. The collection pots are displayed in a unique manner: Jungle animals sit on pedestals, and as colored coins are collected in the base game, the like-colored pedestals rise until one or more trigger eight free games.
Each of the collection pots represents an enhancement to the free games. There’s a multiplier reel, where wins are multiplied by up to 20X. There’s a symbol upgrade where the lower-paying symbols are removed from the reel strips, and there’s a trigger for extra wilds that appear on the reels during the free games.
“So obviously with the three-pot game, the goal is to get a simultaneous trigger, two at once or hopefully three when you enter the free games,” says Pawloski. “You can also re-trigger a pot within the free games, and get another one of the features.
“One of the things I really like about this game is that it’s very generous in the sense that when you’re in the free games, any coin that lands will also give you plus-one in the free games. So, you start with eight, but you can actually easily get up to 20, 22, 25 free games just by getting a little lucky with the coins. Also, when you’re in the feature, you can level up. So as you get coins, they can make the features better. For the symbol upgrade, for example, it will take off more of the lower-paying symbols for the extra wilds.”
The first G2E launch that will be exclusive to the VertX Duo is Jackpot Sweep. It features a hold-and-re-spin bonus feature with four progressive jackpots. The bonus includes a new feature called “Spin and Slide.” When you initiate the feature with with six or more gem symbols, all the resulting cash-on-reels symbols move as far left as possible, and the three jackpot icons appear at the left of the screen. Each time a row fills with with cash-on-reels symbols, the player wins the corresponding jackpot (or a chance at the top Grand), and the symbols consolidate onto one spot to clear the way for more gem symbols.
“The idea is that you can win multiple Minis, multiple Minors, multiple Majors or grand chances just by filling out the rows again and again,” says Pawloski. “The top row is always the Mini, the bottom row is always the Minor. The middle row is a Grand chance where you could win the Grand, the Major or a very large credit prize. It has the feeling that the feature could go on forever, because as you fill the row, it collapses, and that gives you more real estate to lock in more symbols.”
Another inaugural VertX Duo game family consists of sister games Hoo’s Wild! and Roo’s Wild!—the “Hoo” is an owl; the “Roo” a kangaroo. “This game includes a random feature with fixed-value jackpots that scale according to the bet,” Pawloski explains. “The really cool thing about this game is that when you win one of the jackpots, even the lower ones, you get a certain number of free games associated with it. If you win the Minor, you get the $50 and you get the 10 free games on top of that.
“Randomly during the base game or the the free games, the Hoo’s Wild feature will trigger, and the owl will fly in directly towards the player, and all of one symbol will turn into a wild. It’s a very volatile game.”
The Minor, Major and Mini jackpots are triggered by a number of scatter symbols on the reels. If you collect four Minor symbols, for instance, you win the Minor jackpot plus the free games.
In addition to the new cabinet, Gaming Arts will use G2E to launch several new games for the VertX Grand cabinet. The Big Fat Dragons family, previewed last year and released this summer, will be one of the highlighted games, but several high-profile titles will be G2E launches.
One of those featured games is Deal Or No Deal, based on the long-running game show that is popular both in the U.S. and Europe.
“That’s our first super-premium game,” Pawloski says, “coming out at the end of October.” The game’s main feature is a re-creation of the central gambler’s game in the show—the player is shown a field of 26 briefcases, and picks one as his or her assigned case. The briefcase values are shown at the side of the screen, and the player begins to pick briefcases from the field.
As the briefcases are opened, the values inside are removed from the display. The player is then given several offers, and each time, chooses “Deal” to accept or “No Deal” to continue opening briefcases—the decision based on what values are left in the un-selected briefcases, and the likelihood the player can win more than the offer.
Also on the VertX Grand is Pele’s Eruption, themed around an erupting volcano controlled by Pele, who is a “volcano goddess.” Similar to last year’s Thor’s Thunder, game events are met by displays of fire, including an innovative feature called Fire Spins.
The Fire Spins feature is triggered by a true persistence meter. Players look to collect three of the fire symbols on a reel, which triggers a single spin with every symbol on the array transformed into a cash-on-reels or jackpot symbol. The collected fire symbols remain in place after the player leaves the game.
“Pele is guaranteed to be in the middle position, so you win everything on the screen,” Pawloski says. “So obviously, with 14 paying positions, there’s the opportunity for huge prizes.”
The other two VertX Grand launches at G2E arguably will be among the most creative concepts at the show. One is Presidents vs. Plutonians—the theme being the four presidents on Mount Rushmore fending off an alien invasion from Pluto.
The central bonus in this game recalls classic first-person shooter video games like Space Invaders. “In the feature, the Plutonians are coming towards you,” Pawloski says. “As you collect symbols, you shoot one of the Plutonians. They keep coming at you, and you have to push them back. It’s very cool.”
The other VertX Grand game is based on an ingenious concept—completing a jigsaw puzzle for cash. There are three unfinished puzzles at the top of the screen. The reel symbols include hundreds of puzzle pieces, and letters. The three puzzles behave like collection pots, and the goal is to form clusters of puzzle images on the reels.
“Every game is going to look different, because the puzzles themselves are going to be different,” Pawloski explains. “You collect clusters and they award pieces of the puzzle. When you fill out the puzzle, you win the prize.” Clusters also award credit prizes, which are larger for larger clusters.
“Unlike most three-pot games, this is true persistence, because these are actually puzzle pieces,” Pawloski adds. “If you cash out, the next player will sit down and play to complete the same puzzle.”
That feature, represented by the first pot, is called Big Win. The other two pots are called Multiplier Time, which multiplies all wins, and Jackpot Time, where you collect letters to win jackpot prizes. You would collect M, I, N, O, R to win the Minor, for instance.
“I have never been more excited about our product offering,” says
Dreitzer. “We are super enthusiastic about heading into G2E with a collection of games which represent very high value in terms of content and fun for the player.
“The bottom line is G2E, here we come. We’re coming in with a full head of steam, a whole host of games, many of which will have been already approved, and a large content pipeline to gain momentum into 2024.”