Last year, they were the startup that wasn’t a startup. Las Vegas-based Gaming Arts, LLC, a leading supplier of systems and supplies for casino keno and bingo, rolled out its first-ever lineup of video slots for preview at last year’s G2E show.
But a second glance at the company, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, reveals that there’s nothing “startup” about this group. Inventor David Colvin, who founded Gaming Arts in 2009, decided two years ago to enter the casino video slot market. Early last year, Colvin turned to Mike Dreitzer, a 20-year gaming supply veteran who most recently had been North America president for Ainsworth Game Technology, to take on the task of building a slot division from scratch.
Dreitzer wasted no time, filling a newly expanded technology campus with some of the top names in the slot development business. He had a head start—Keith Kruczynski, a 15-year veteran slot developer formerly with Bally Technologies, had just been named director of game development when Dreitzer arrived. He then brought in Jean Venneman, a longtime slot development executive with IGT Bally Technologies and Scientific Games, as chief commercial officer. Jason Babler, another former longtime Ainsworth executive, was named product marketing manager.
This core of executives would build a staff of experienced game designers for the task at hand—which was to create a video slot library from scratch.
They not only were successful at doing so; they did it in remarkable time.
Kruczynski, who joined Gaming Arts in January 2018, formed a studio known as the K9 Group (there originally were nine engineers), and by G2E last year, had three game groups ready to launch—Pop’N Pays, a series of fun games with inventive mechanics and high-volatility math; the Da Fa Ba Series of Asian-style games; and the Dice Seeker group of games that use rolling dice as bonus game mechanics.
Earlier this year, the first Pop’N Pays games, Piñatas Ole! and Big Top, got their first live installs in California, at Valley View Casino. By late July, an installation at Pala marked Gaming Arts’ 100th market install, which coincided with securing its 100th license as a slot supplier.
This year’s sophomore performance at G2E heralds Gaming Arts’ official arrival in the video slot sector. “Last year’s G2E was our first foray into displaying video slots,” says Dreitzer. “It was about what’s coming; it was a preview. At that time, the K9 Group, of which Keith is the head, had been working with the company since January 2018. So, at G2E, it had only been nine months, and people remarked across the board how far we had come in such a short period of time.”
“Last year at G2E, we displayed 12 brand-new slot titles,” says Kruczynski. “We started on January 3, 2018, so having 12 new titles as of October 8 was nothing short of miraculous. The vast majority of games we showed last year are on track to get approved by G2E 2019.”
Dreitzer says the feedback from that show was “very, very strong,” and as the original game groups continue to roll out—Da Fa Ba Series rolled out in August, to be followed shortly by Dice Seekers—Kruczynski’s group was preparing to arrive at this year’s trade show not only with new titles for the original groups, but with several new game groups with totally new game mechanics.
“Last year, we were really just showing what our capabilities were,” Dreitzer says. “The theme this year is ‘Play Now.’ That is, the games that we showed, and the promise of the games and their ability, has now come full circle and come to life… so play now. We’re ready.”
The initial rollout of Gaming Arts video slots is being accomplished over a wide swath of markets. “Our rollout strategy was designed to be across different regions because we wanted to test the games in different markets,” Dreitzer says. “We understand that each market, and each property, can be different. At present, we have over 100 units in the field and growing every week, and the games have been accepted very well by players in multiple markets.
“We wanted to understand those regionalities and differences, so we have a very good, diverse set of data across multiple markets. And Pop’N Pays has performed very well. We’re very happy with that. We really have transitioned from ‘here’s what we’re going to do’ to ‘here’s what we’re doing.’ And of course, as part of G2E, the K9 Group and our other creative teams put together some very compelling new games—content that will fill our library as we move forward.”
Building the Library
This year at G2E, Gaming Arts will double down on the success of its inaugural game suite with new entries in each series, and will launch a total of five new game groups. “What we showed last year is ready, and our pipeline keeps getting broader and broader,” says Kruczynski.
For the Pop’N Pays series, the company is launching Sweet Spin, a candy-themed video slot that fits the lighthearted mood of all the games in the series. In the Da Fa Ba series, it’s a new game called Fa Cai Ba. The company will also launch high-denomination games in the Da Fa Ba and Dice Seeker groups, and will display machines in its multi-game Casino Wizard suite.
In the Dice Seekers series, the company will launch a game called Flappers & Dappers. “If you remember, last year in the Dice Seekers series, we showed Viking Invasion and Heroes and Villains—in both cases not your typical slot art. They really caught everyone’s attention,” says Kruczynski. “For Flappers & Dappers, we wanted to bring it back toward our target demographic, and soften it up a a little bit. We anthropomorphized bars and 7s—we gave them a face, and put a cutesy side to the game. We’re excited about that one; we think these are great companion products to the games we already showed.”
Gaming Arts will combine the new entries to its original game suite with several totally new product groups, starting with a group called the Wu Series.
“Wu means dancing in Chinese,” says Kruczynski. “The Asian style is really great, and dragons are cool, but most games have the serious ones that are flying around and breathing fire. We wanted to stay true to our model, which is fun for the gambler—let’s make them fun, happy, cute.”
The inaugural game, Wu Xi Shi, which means “Dancing Happy Lion,” is a 243-ways-to-win scatter game incorporating a special lion symbol that jumps on to background symbols to award credits. Sometimes, the character will backtrack to jump on an award again, doubling the prize. “You are still doing a 243-ways game, so the pays are significant,” says Kruczynski. “There also is a free game model where you’ll have that interaction a lot more frequently than in the base game.
“We love giving players something to be excited about in their first $20 or $40 wagered—that’s fun for the gambler.”
In another mystery event, an animal character appears and jumps from symbol to symbol for bonus awards. “It is a really cool, frequent mechanic of a happy lion or toad jumping around,” Kruczynski says.
Another new game group is called the Fortune Finder Series. “Here, we’ve created two different factions helping the player out,” explains Kruczynski. “We created this family of pirates for the first Fortune Finder game. Male pirates and female pirates constantly affect game play.” While the reels are spinning, one of the pirates will come out randomly to enhance the spin, doing things like throwing a bomb at the screen to create multiple wild symbols on the grid. “In a 243-ways game, that’s powerful,” Kruczynski says.
“These games are feature-rich, but still designed for the gambler. They’re still about the money.”
Wheels and Hamsters
Gaming Arts will use G2E to launch an entirely new product group known as the GA Wheel series. It consists of three game brands—Inferno Wheel, Hamster Libre and Kai Yun Jin Bin.
The group features new ways to present the traditional bonus wheel, as well as some totally new game mechanics.
Inferno Wheel, with two inaugural games, features a persistent wheel feature. Wild symbols either trigger a wheel spin or increase the value on one of the wheel wedges, which change color as they rise in value—gold to orange to white, keeping the player engaged and chasing higher bonuses. “A persistent wheel game is something the market has not yet seen,” says Kruczynski.
Inferno Wheel also includes a free-spin feature that lets the player pick the feature’s volatility—fewer spins with higher wins or more spins with smaller wins.
A second brand in the GA Wheel series, Hamster Libre, offers a clever new take on bonus wheels. “What uses a wheel? Hamsters!” says Kruczynski. “This is an extremely feature-rich version of the GA Wheel. The hamster’s up there trying to enhance wins—it runs to spin the bonus wheel for credits and multipliers.”
Kai Yun Jin Bi offers a new spin on multipliers. In a mystery event, a coin flips for one of two multipliers, which pair with special symbols for big wins. During a free-spin feature, all game symbols are replaced with the special symbol.
In all, Gaming Arts arrives at G2E with 19 new game themes. “It helps to support our message to customers that we intend to fully support them with a consistent library for the Gaming Arts machines they’ve invested in,” says Venneman. “Customers don’t buy a specific game; they buy a library. That takes time to build, but we’re getting there.”
Meanwhile, Gaming Arts’ core keno and bingo businesses continue to be strong. The Super Bingo suite is currently on field trial in Nevada, which benefits the video slot side, since the slot platform is based on the bingo platform—approval of the platform will allow the company to immediately sell slot games in the state.
“That was one advantage for us,” says Kruczynski. “We already had the stable platform. It can block and tackle. Maybe it can’t go on a deep route, but the fundamentals were there. That was a huge, huge head start for us that companies starting from scratch wouldn’t normally have.”
On the slot side, the R&D staff continues to grow. The K9 studio team has nearly doubled since last year. “We’re now K16!” laughs Kruczynski. “That is a huge indication of the importance of R&D to Gaming Arts.”
“Importantly, too,” adds Dreitzer, “on the development and engineering side, we acquired a lot of talent in the last 12 months—folks who have had experience with this platform, who are now in-house. Previously, we used resources in a third-party way, and you really can’t control third-party resources the way you want to, because they work on other things. We basically took a lot of that knowledge base in-house. We were able to focus more, which enabled us to accelerate our rollout.”
The growth of the content library will be augmented further by third-party developers. According to Kruczynski, the company has prepared a developer kit for third-party designers. “It is fully functional; it is a solid SDK,” he says. “It allows for rapid development to increase our library. It’s important for our customers to know that yes, we do have breadth.”
He says the kit has been sent to multiple third-party developers, and so far, has generated “glowing reviews” from all of them.
In the end, G2E will constitute a coming-out party for Gaming Arts’ enhanced library. “Keith’s team has put together a phenomenal sequel to what he did last year,” says Dreitzer. “There’s going to be a lot of fun, a lot of excitement. We’re making the case to our customers and their players that Gaming Arts is here, Gaming Arts is here to stay, Gaming Arts has a full pipeline—not only the successful game we have in the field, but a whole list of games behind that.”
Next for Gaming Arts is to further expand its footprint—in North America and elsewhere. Currently in Native American markets such as California, Florida and Connecticut, Dreitzer says Gaming Arts is actively pursuing licenses way beyond the recent milestone.
“We’ve planted seeds in various international markets—Canada, Latin America and Europe—and we do anticipate that beginning to bear fruit into the next year,” Dreitzer says. “We have 100 licenses and growing, but it’s still going to be an ongoing process for several years to come.
“The customers like our story. They’re rooting for us. They’re taking our product.”
Says Kruczynski, “Last year we showed up—‘we’re here.’ This year we’re serious. This is us.”