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Global Games 2009, Part IV: Aruze Gaming

On to America: The Japanese pachislo king retools and renews its commitment to entering the American casino market

Global Games 2009, Part IV: Aruze Gaming

One of the newest faces in the slot sector is also one of those with the most potential.

Aruze Gaming is an offshoot of Aruze Corp., one of Japan’s most successful manufacturers of pachislo machines-the slot-machine clones that fill Japanese amusement arcades. However, the company is no stranger to the gaming industry.

Back in the 1990s, the company owned Universal Distributing of Nevada, which achieved a large market share in new slot sales. Universal bridged the gap between the struggles of erstwhile slot king Bally and then-rising star IGT, with hit games like “Magnificent 7s.”

As IGT’s star rose, Aruze owner Kazuo Okada focused the company’s energies on the growing pachislo market in Japan, where Aruze achieved market dominance. The company’s gaming industry presence focused on South Africa, where Aruze slots achieved a 30 percent market share.

By early this decade, Aruze was ready to re-enter the U.S. casino market-first as an operator, when Okada bought a sizable stake in Wynn Resorts. Two years ago, the company got serious about parlaying its expertise in the pachislo market into slot machine sales in North America. The first order of business was to bring in game developers and marketers experienced in the Americas.

Aruze opted to acquire a ready-made slot content company which itself had been formed by seasoned pros. Last January, the company completed the purchase of True Blue Gaming, the content provider formed by former Aristocrat Technologies Global GM and Marketing VP Kent Young. Young had formed the company along with Aristocrat’s top former game designer, Scott Olive.

Young and Olive had led Aristocrat’s success early this decade in the U.S. market with Hyperlink, Reel Power and other groundbreaking game styles. By acquiring True Blue, Okada got a package deal of proven successful game producers.

Aruze Corporation formed Aruze Gaming America as a Las Vegas-based subsidiary, and began investing heavily in the new supplier’s technology, intellectual property and R&D.

The Global Gaming Expo is Aruze’s coming-out party for the worldwide gaming industry, and for North America in particular.

“It’s a new day for Aruze,” says Young, who is now general manager of Aruze Gaming America. “That’s our theme for G2E-we’re positioning ourselves to be a major player within the global markets. Since the start of this year, we’ve been pushing into new markets from a licensing perspective. We’ve developed a whole new range of products, acquired some licensing, and gotten a considerable number of games approved. Several products are out there on trial, and there is excellent performance in the field.”

Currently, field trials are ongoing in Nevada, California, Oregon and New Mexico. The good performance in the field will be boosted this month at the trade show, when the rest of the industry is introduced to the new Aruze.

Full-Court Press
The arrival of the new Aruze will be heralded to G2E attendees at full volume, in the form of a mind-boggling collection of new slots, special game styles and state-of-the-art hardware.

The fact something special’s going on is evident from the hardware alone. Aruze’s cabinets-the “G-Wave” upright, the “G-Comfort” slant and the futuristic “G-Enex” upright-are unique in their ergonomic design and flashy style. G-Wave features two high-resolution monitors (the top slanted down toward the player), surrounded by multi-colored LED lights and featuring an ergonomic play panel. The G-Wave video format features 3D technology, customized sound and music, and high-resolution color.

The G-Comfort slant is just what the name indicates, with a play panel that essentially is a miniature cocktail table with buttons. Dual monitors are positioned at viewing angles allowing the player the most natural range of motion.

G-Enex is Aruze’s cabinet for the future, with dual monitors, superior 3D animation, high-resolution graphics and custom sound that produces what the company calls an “integrated sensory experience.”

The initial success in the field of Aruze slots has been attributed to special features like “Rescue Spin,” which counts down losing spins and reimburses the player periodically with free spins and credits. On free-spin games, if a player goes a certain number of spins without a bonus sequence, an “angel” comes onscreen and awards a free-spin round. A countdown appears when there are 10 games left until a Rescue Spin.

A button on the panel allows the player to activate this feature-a wager at least covering the paylines is required, providing the operator a coin-in benefit.

The new games to be shown at G2E continue a momentum that’s been building since the first of the manufacturer’s games reached the field. Two of the most successful games so far have been “Shen Long” and “Legend of the Qin Dynasty.”

Shen Long-which Young says is the No. 1 penny game in Australia’s New South Wales clubs-features a unique wild-symbol bonus feature that can result in huge credit wins. When the bonus is triggered, a “Mini Game” prompts the player to choose from five gems to reveal a number of free games, and a number of wild symbols to appear during those free games. Anywhere from 20 to 60 wild symbols can be assigned to the free spins, which can result in some spins in which nearly all symbols are wild.

The Qin Dynasty game has a similar wild-symbol/free game feature, in which additional wild symbols are added to each free spin. Both games have been extremely popular in the Pacific Rim markets, and Young says the high credit awards are sure to make them popular in the U.S. as well.

The new games to be displayed at G2E take the math and volatility of games like these and tack on a ton of entertaining features. One that promises to be one of the highlights of G2E is “Rock You: Queen.” This game takes the music, images and recorded performances of the legendary rock band and wraps them into a masterful package that provides Queen-a-holics ample opportunity to enjoy the music while experiencing a remarkable number of winning outcomes.

Queen’s hit songs play throughout the primary-game reel-spinning, and both animation and live-action video of the band are featured in bonus events. There are three separate bonus events, all involving Queen music and performances.

When the “Greatest Hits” feature is triggered, five of Queen’s hits are displayed in a jukebox-style setup, each representing a number of free spins-and a different volatility for the bonus round, from five free spins with high volatility to 15 spins with low volatility. Once the hit is selected, the song plays as the free spins play out, and video of the band performing the song follows.

The second bonus event actually is triggered during the free spins. A bicycle symbol triggers the Bicycle Bonus. As the song “Bicycle” plays, the main screen displays a bicycle race, and the player picks the Queen member he thinks will win. The race plays out in 3D animation, with the player paid according to his choice. Then, it’s back to the free games.

The other bonus is the “Drum Bonus.” When a drum symbol lands, the player is awarded a mystery bonus award ranging from 15 to 600 credits.

The Queen game is a microcosm of what Aruze has to offer both players and operators. For players, there are tons of visuals and sounds-Queen frontman Freddie Mercury flying across the screen on a bicycle, sounds that anticipate upcoming bonuses, lots of music.

For operators, the game has features designed to increase overall coin-in: Take the “Max Bet Special.” When the player presses the max-bet button, it actually adds 5 percent to the game’s long-term payback percentage-a 90 percent game becomes a 95 percent game, which is duly communicated to the player, a sure enticement for surrounding players to jack up bets to the maximum.

Other games offer extra free spins when the player chooses the Max Bet Special.

Entertainment, Volatility
Other games to be launched at G2E display Aruze’s trademark mix of entertainment value and program volatility. According to Steve Walther, the company’s vice president of product management, Aruze slots are produced in three different volatility categories.

“We’ve got a very broad range of content,” he says, “covering both entertainment styles and gambling styles. We also have the ‘G-Deluxe’ range, which is differentiated through top-box animation and a mechanical interface between the game and top box.” The company also has a category called “G-Link,” consisting of linked or networked games.

For G2E, expect to see a barrage of products in every category, for every gaming taste. There are hilariously entertaining games like “Bow Wow Bucks,” with cartoon dogs on free-spin and second-screen bonuses. There are mechanical top-box games like “Vampire & Beauty,” in which the player picks coffins to open for bonus awards.

Viewing Aruze’s offerings reveals something for everyone. Games targeting the Asian markets include “San Guo Zhi Dai,” which tells the story of “The Three Kingdoms” of  Chinese history in graphics and bonus events; and “Giant Panda,” which features a funny sequence of a group of pandas crossing the video screen after big wins, or to add wild symbols to increase a win.

The feature is called-you guessed it-“Pandamonium.”

For those who like community games, Aruze offers “Link Craps,” a community-style game in which players join together during the bonus round in a shared experience not unlike that of a live craps table. When the bonus is triggered, one of two modes can be chosen by the triggering player-“Easy” mode for beginners, in which only a Pass Line bet is made; or “Professional Mode” for advanced craps players. Players are eligible for the bonus if they have wagered a certain level, but those who don’t qualify are given a chance to place additional bets to get in on the event.

Once the bonus begins, it is much like a real craps game-the shooter throws virtual dice, and everyone cheers him on. It is a truly unique slot experience.

Other strong video titles include “Saber Toothed Tiger” and “Big Challenge Mammoth,” both designed for high-limit, high-denomination play; “Showgirl,” in which sexy Vegas showgirls glide across the screen adding wild symbols in free spins; and “The Last Emperor,” another game designed for Asian markets that courts the high-limit player.

Then, of course, there is Aruze’s famous “Jackpot Battle Royal,” a multi-level progressive link delivered in a bank that is hard to miss, with giant, dimensional gloved hands popping out of the overhead display to lend 3D motion to the bank.         

The company also has a complete range of stepper slots, many featuring the “Transmissive Reels” technology that places a video overlay on top of spinning reels to add video animation. Aruze was the pioneer of Transmissive Reels, which it introduced in Japan’s pachislo markets.

Finally, Aruze will be demonstrating its system products at G2E as well. “We are in our early days as far as systems, but we have a commitment to bringing new technologies to market,” says Walther, whose background included a stint as head of product management for the OASIS system, both at Aristocrat and at CDS before its acquisition by the Australian slot-maker.

Product Rollout
Aruze will spend the near term aggressively pursuing licensing in key jurisdictions. According to Young, the company is currently pursuing full licensing in Nevada, California, Oregon and New Mexico, and is doing installs in Mississippi. The company also is going through the licensing process in Pennsylvania, Florida, New York and Connecticut, and is about to enter key jurisdictions in Canada and South America.

Meanwhile, the company continues to increase its presence where it is already licensed. At press time, the first Aruze games were being installed in Atlantic City, and the popularity of the company’s games was on the rise in South Africa, Macau and Australia.

“We’re significantly increasing our research and development,” says Young. “We have three development centers currently-Aruze Gaming Japan, our Australasian studio, and the True Blue Gaming team (in Las Vegas). We also have a software team in the Philippines, assisting in integrating everything. We’re really seeing the key parts of our business coming together.”

The most important part of the business, getting games in the field, is already well under way for Aruze. And from all indications, it’s full steam ahead.

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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