It was big news in July when Brian Christopher, the YouTuber who is known as the top “slot influencer,” took his millions of online followers via live stream, as well as a physical crowd of his fans, to the slot area of the Plaza in Downtown Las Vegas that bears his name—it contains his favorite games—to launch a new video slot based on his videos, live streams and his own character, which grew from his hosting thousands of slot games.
In addition to the star YouTuber, the launch of Brian Christopher’s Pop’N Pays More was big news for Las Vegas-based Gaming Arts, whose engineers and game designers worked with Christopher to develop the game.
Gaming Arts worked with Christopher to recreate what he does online presenting a slot game. What he does is narrate while he plays a new slot, beaming the video and narrative to his own YouTube channel BC Slots, which has some 479,000 subscribers and has logged a remarkable 318 million views since its 2016 launch. Christopher also has some 41,500 Instagram followers.
His reactions to game events have become catchphrases among his followers—“Rude!” after a near miss; “Oh Nelly!” after a big win; “Line it UP!” in anticipation of a winning spin. “Do it to it!” “It’s all about timing!”
Gaming Arts recorded all of his catchphrases for voice-overs in the game—more than 200 recordings were made—and designed a slot game around his brand in its popular Pop’N Pays More series. It’s a 1,047-ways-to-win slot with a feature that expands reels 2-5 up to eight symbols high, which occurs on a staggering 70 percent of all spins, producing maximum excitement for the player. At full expansion, there are 16,384 ways to win on every spin and there is a free game feature offering up to 15 fee games with frequent re-triggers.
But mostly, it is Christopher who distinguishes the game, narrating play on his own themed slot as he would any new game.
The launch was a big success, and by September, the games were in a total of 17 casinos, with reports of daily win running at two to four times house averages.
“We are the first company to work with an influencer to do an influencer-branded game,” says Mike Dreitzer, CEO of Gaming Arts. “And he is so compelling. He’s such a great entertainer and spokesperson for the industry. The emotional connection that folks have with the brand is unparalleled. It’s something to be experienced to believe.”
Christopher was not the only big beneficiary of the launch. The game also provides a showcase for Gaming Arts’ new VertX Grand cabinet. Launched in summer of 2021, the VertX Grand features an ultra-bright, 4K 49-inch portrait monitor, theater-quality sound, an ultra-bright LCD button deck, programmable LED play buttons, and attention-grabbing LED side lights.
VertX Grand has rolled out with several successful games, and there will be more to come at the Global Gaming Expo. “We’ve been focusing on our new cabinet, the VertX, taking advantage of that while still supporting our other titles and cabinets,” says Scott Sims, the veteran game designer who now heads the slot game design studio at Gaming Arts. “But the VertX is definitely our focus.”
Sims is one of several additions to Gaming Arts who has helped the company’s young casino slot division make great strides. Sims joined the company in 2018, with experience that included seven years in game design at Aristocrat, eight years as chief game designer for online company Genesis Gaming, and a year as director of game production for Bluberi.
He joined Gaming Arts just after Keith Kruczynski—himself a 12-year slot design professional at Bally and Scientific Games—joined as vice president of game development and design.
This year, the company brought in a veteran from the operations side, Scott Reams, as product manager. Reams had run slot operations for several major casinos, including five years at Caesars Entertainment in marketing and casino services, as slot performance manager for Penn National Gaming, assistant director of casino operations at Tropicana Las Vegas, and most recently, director of slot operations at the M Resort in Las Vegas.
“Scott has been a great addition,” says Jean Venneman, chief operating officer for Gaming Arts. “Having that operator background has been really great. He knows games and he plays games, so he’s been able to jump in pretty quickly.”
“We’ve got a really great team and team spirit,” says David Colvin, founder and chairman of Gaming Arts. “This is a tough business. It’s mature, it’s expensive, but we’re really going after it. And we feel like we’re making our mark. You can see our products across the casino floors in America, and we really are starting to to get some serious traction. I am very proud of the fact that Gaming Arts is one of the most innovative gaming companies in the industry.”
That traction will not only come from the company’s growing staff of veterans. “We continue to work with third parties in a bigger and bigger way,” Dreitzer says. “Both internally and externally, we’ve expanded our capacity. We realize we are in the ‘hit records business,’ and we’ve got to have the content. We’ve got to have depth of library. So we grow the team internally and then do third-party partners externally to be able to offer a much, much fuller catalog than ever before.”
In addition to third-party slot developers, the company last year announced a partnership with Taiwan-based Jumbo Technology Co. Ltd., to offer the electronic table game Ocean Phoenix in North American markets.
Ocean Phoenix, a six-player shooter game in which players at individual stations work to slay four mythical beasts, was launched in March at California’s Pechanga Resort Casino and has enjoyed exceptional perormance, according to Dreitzer.
According to Reams, Gaming Arts’ G2E booth will highlight new content on the VertX Grand, as well as the legacy upright Phocus U104 and the hybrid Phocus S104. “We’re continuing to maintain all three platforms right now,” he says. “The VertX has hit the ground running, especially with Kung Fu Empress, and now the Pop’N Pays More family with Brian Christopher, and the HaloTop wheel option, on which we’ve seen some very strong performance numbers, especially with Spooky Spins.”
Kung Fu Empress debuted on the VertX Grand cabinet. Based on the popular video game of the same name, it uses the big VertX Grand display for an expanding reels feature to great effect, but that’s only one of a generous package of bonus and primary-game features.
During game play, the main character, Chipao, does her Kung Fu move that throws one or more wild symbols to the reel array. When the Chipao wild symbol stops on the fifth reel, all picture symbols on that reel become Chipao symbols, greatly increasing the payouts for players.
There are random “battles” that occur throughout game play. When a “PicA” symbol lands on the reels, it triggers the “Punch Bonus,” in which the Kung Fu Empress attacks the cute “Log Man” to award bonus prizes. The bonus prizes keep coming until the enemy collapses.
Also seeing much success on the VertX Grand is Casino Wizard VIP, the enhanced version of the multi-game electronic table game featuring video versions of blackjack, roulette, craps and baccarat along with new side bets. The new version doubles the number of games on the multi-game unit. The new Casino Wizard VIP adds Pai Gow Poker, Super Big 6 Wheel, Swap‘Em Poker and Triple Card Poker to the original four selections, most featuring high-hold side bets, special bonuses and/or progressives.
At G2E, Gaming Arts will launch two new game families on the VertX Grand: the “Go” family, with Jackpot Go and Tic-Tac Go; and the Winning Wings family, with Winning Wings Fairies and Winning Wings Butterfly.
Jackpot Go features a hold-and-re-spin bonus and a progressive bonus in which “go” symbols on the reels collect to potentially win different progressive jackpots. Tic-Tac Go features a persistent bonus in which the player collects “X” and “0” symbols on the reels, which travel to a tic-tac-toe board on the top screen. Whenever the player forms a tic-tac-toe win on that screen, a bonus is awarded.
Both of the “Go” games will be available by the end of the year, and in Q1 next year, the company will launch the Winning Wings games, with hold-and-re-spin bonuses and great artwork depicting the fantasy themes. Also on the VertX Grand next year will be a comical take on the dragon theme, Big Fat Dragon.
“Big Fat Dragon is a focus on a giant character, this giant dragon,” explains Sims. “It’s the center of a very interactive feature, like our Kung Fu Empress game. It’s of a lot of him interacting with the reels.
“Any food item that lands in those reels, he’ll actually eat for a credit prize, and anything that’s not a food item will effectively block those spaces. You’ll keep spinning until the whole reel window is blocked. So, it’s like a reverse hold-and-spin; you almost want to keep the spaces open.”
The VertX Grand games will be joined at G2E by a lineup of new content for the company’s dual-screen Phocus cabinets, as well as new offerings for the HaloTop wheel cabinet.
One of the highlights on the S104 hybrid cabinet is Cash Quest, with base games The Adventures and The Protectors. According to Sims, the games use Gaming Arts’ proprietary 3D engine to take players into battle with one of three villains to win credits, wild symbols or both.
During the base game, players collect swords and keys, which are used to defeat the character in the bonus round. There also are free games with guaranteed wilds on every spin.
Also, on the S104 is the Egyptian Gem series, with base games Rise of Pharaoh and Rise of Queen. On both games, pyramid symbols trigger a persistent feature as orbs drop down to the screen and move reel-to-reel, right to left, across the game screen. Landing a pyramid on one of the orb symbols awards credits and the chance of a multiplier.
There also is a free-games round in which the player spins a wheel to reveal a number of orbs that will be on the reels during the free spins. “This is a high-volatility game,” says Sims. “If you land a couple of pyramids, the orbs come in different colors, so they’re higher value.”
By the end of the year, the Phocus S104 cabinet will host an innovative new title in Lucky Pick, which includes a clever punchboard-style persistent feature. Next year, new themes on the cabinet will include titles Leprechaun and Bumble Bee.
On the HaloTop wheel cabinet, the company has achieved success with Spooky Spins, a wheel bonus with a ghostly theme that awards credits, multipliers and free games. It is a follow-up to the successful Inferno Wheel brand.
The company also recently released the Gumball Game on the HaloTop cabinet, and at G2E, will display classic three-reel games on the format, in the Halo Super Wheel Stepper Video series. Inaugural games are Giant Gold Bar Super Wheel and Triple Double Stack 7s Super Reel.
“The two games are different, with a little bit different volatility, but more of a traditional reel style,” says Sims. “It’s video, but it’s going to feel more like a time-on-device kind of classic reel slot to get into more mid-denom and higher-denomination. And of course, on top of that, it’s got a wheel. We all know everyone loves a wheel.”
Finally, on the HaloTop is Flip Mania, a game that uses the 3D engine to replicate the coin-pusher games from old arcades and casinos. The first title is Coin Dozer. “As you’re playing the base game, you’ll trigger coins that the players then flip into the top screen,” Sims explains. “It creates a perceived-skill ability to flip them into the top and try to land and even get into one of the progressive buckets or a feature bucket, or just have coins that are pushed off the board to add bonus prizes.”
One more addition for the company’s legacy cabinets is a new version of its mystery progressive product called Rocket Roll. The space-themed addition is a must-hit-by progressive jackpot funded by a side wager. According to Sims, the $1,000 progressive, when hit, resets at $976 to keep the excitement going.
In all, the Gaming Arts G2E display will demonstrate a maturing supplier that is not afraid to go out of the box with a few radical ideas.
“We try to be very innovative with everything we do,” says Dreitzer. “We don’t want to just be a ‘me-too’ company. We have to be different. We have to come to the table with a unique proposition for our customers and their players. That’s how we believe we’ll be successful.”
Meanwhile, the company will continue to broaden its library, which now includes the historical horse racing market, as the company has partnered with Exacta Systems to release its titles in several HHR markets.
“We are focusing on continuing to broaden our library,” Dreitzer says. “When our customers make the decision to put a Gaming Arts game on the floor, they need to know that there’s a whole library behind it. So, we do our best to continue to expand the depth and breadth of our library, through a lot of different games in different styles.”