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GLOBAL GAMES 2009, Part V: Aristocrat Technologies

Back With A Bang: Aristocrat courts its most important markets with a burst of creativity

GLOBAL GAMES 2009, Part V: Aristocrat Technologies

Earlier this year, Jamie Odell, the new CEO of Australia’s Aristocrat Leisure Ltd., announced a new commitment to North America in game design and marketing.  

At G2E, that commitment comes of age.

Odell, aware that the Americas are key to Aristocrat’s emergence from the economic downturn, initiated a focused effort to produce high-quality additions to the company’s game library with an eye to North American sales.

A new executive leadership team includes Julius Patta, a veteran software engineer and game designer brought in as chief technology officer. Patta, who is based in the Las Vegas headquarters of Aristocrat Technologies, the manufacturer’s U.S. subsidiary, was joined by Paul Kitchin, chief marketing officer for the corporation, in the U.S. office to help focus on the North American market.

The effort bears fruit this month. “You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you find from us at G2E,” says Doug Fallon, director of marketing for Aristocrat Technologies. “Our offerings are player-led and technology-driven, and a lot more focused on the North American market.” 

The company’s game designers and software engineers obviously did their homework, from intense research into what has worked in the past to focus-group research on what types of game experiences are player favorites. They formulated new play styles; they dug deep into their technology bag to create entertaining new game features.   

The result? Welcome to the new Aristocrat. It’s a combination of the best of what made Aristocrat the hot company of the slot market early this decade and a rejuvenated, player-focused group that could well become the next hot slot-maker.

Not since those heady days of the early 2000s has Aristocrat arrived at the fall Las Vegas trade show with a stronger collection of new product. Back then, Aristocrat led the industry in innovation with concepts like Hyperlink, Reel Power and Bonus Bank-all groundbreaking slot concepts that subsequently were copied by just about every other major slot-maker. This year’s offerings likely will set new standards.

The industry got a taste of what’s in store earlier this year with the instant popularity of “JAWS,” the masterful multi-progressive game based on the legendary shark-attack films of the 1970s. G2E will see the next version of that franchise, a 50-line game titled “Night Hunter.” “It has a different feel, based on the night theme,” says Dallas Orchard, Aristocrat’s director of gaming operations. Orchard says the game will be added to existing JAWS links, which the company will keep refreshing in response to customer demand. He says the 1,300 JAWS games already installed are earning up to two times the house average.

New Realms, Old Friends
But a refresh of this year’s most successful game is only the beginning. Aristocrat arrives at G2E with new looks, new game styles and even new twists on a few of its successful older games.

Take “Beat the Bandits.” This is one of the most interactive video slots ever produced  by Aristocrat-an Old West-themed game that is packed with entertainment and new technology. The slot features a multi-tiered bonus event that takes the player through three different Old West experiences in the quest for a progressive. The bonus-round progressive is one of three levels; there is a top progressive that is awarded as a mystery jackpot.

According to Fallon, Beat the Bandits uses a “Vertex” progressive controller, a first-of-its-kind server based on G2S protocol that adds advanced bonusing capabilities. The result is an interactive bonus sequence that starts with a dice “face-off” between the player and “Madame Red.” The dice results are multiplied by the line wager, unless one of the results is doubles, which triggers the next level of the feature.

That level is a choice between three bonus games, each with a different volatility. The volatility level determines the level of progressive jackpot. Incredible animation leads the player to search for banditos, to gamble with Old West poker players, or to face off with “Granny” to see who can shoot more bottles off a fence. It is arguably the most intense treatment of a theme yet from Aristocrat.

Other new video achievements include “Beijing Bonanza,” Aristocrat’s first linked community game in the Gen7 video format. It includes a tournament feature that pits players against each other, and a community feature that brings players together for a common cause.

“It is really about connecting players,” says Orchard. “It features both a tournament feature-player vs. player to win top awards-and a group bonus, which is a free spin or roll of the dice option from the triggering player.”

The tournament feature assigns an animal to each machine on the bank. During an animated sequence, the characters collect gold nuggets to fill up spaces in a pyramid on the top screen-the first player filling up the pyramid wins the bonus. In the community bonus, the player triggering the event chooses free spins or a die feature. The outcome of the game is displayed in everyone’s top box, and each player wins according to that outcome. “It’s unique in that we’re giving an individual player the ability to influence the outcome of everyone’s game,” says Fallon. “The first four players win a prize and each will win according to how much they bet in the primary game.”

An ante-bet feature allows players to wager extra to increase multipliers for their bonus prize.

Another video highlight for Aristocrat brings back one of the slot-maker’s most entertaining game concepts from the late 1990s-the chicken! A new “Reel Power” game-no paylines; all wins paid as scatters-“Chicken 2” reprises the comical animated chicken bonus round-if the chicken crosses the road safely, the player gets the higher bonus. If the chicken is flattened by a passing truck, it’s a consolation prize. This game was hilarious in its original incarnation, in the comparatively primitive 1990s video format. In Gen7, it stands to be even more popular.

Finally, the company’s big video introduction for the show is a new licensed game featuring comedian Jeff Foxworthy. “Jeff Foxworthy Redneck Rumble” is a Triple Standalone Progressive video slot incorporating video clips of comedy bits, unique voice-overs and video of Foxworthy leading into bonus rounds, and several hilarious bonus sequences based on the comedian’s famous “redneck” routines.

One bonus feature is a treasure hunt through a redneck’s junk-strewn back yard. The player collects beer cans to trigger different jackpot levels. Another is a “Truck War,” a tug-of-war between two beat-up pickup trucks. Then there’s the “Stink Bait Bonus,” in which Foxworthy’s character fishes in his miniature swimming pool while drinking beer. Once he catches a bonus amount, the player can opt to cast again to win either a larger award or cut his winnings in half.

In all, it’s a hugely entertaining sequel to the original Foxworthy “Bonus Bank” video slot. And the topper? A pickup truck, naturally.

These new concepts will be accompanied by a number of new standard video slots in the MKVI and Gen7 platforms.

Stepper Style
Aristocrat has been refining its “RFX” stepper series for the past few years, and the company is using G2E to launch several new play styles in what is its most ambitious collection of reel-spinners yet.

“The RFX stepper has always had strong mechanical performance, but we now have the platform to make it work,” says Orchard. “RFX is approved everywhere, and I believe we have the most advanced reel mechanism in the industry. Now, it’s all about creating the right games on the platform.”

The most high-profile of these is “Kentucky Derby RFX,” a racetrack-themed multiple-progressive licensing the venerable theme owned by Churchill Downs. There are four progressive jackpots, the top symbol-driven and the other three won through the free-game feature/horse race.

When the free-game feature is triggered, the field of horses appears on the players’ screens, and players select which horses will come in first, second and third. During the free spins, when binocular symbols land on the reels, your horse advances in the race. The “Grand Award”-the top of the three progressives-is won by hitting the trifecta. There also are prizes for an exacta and a quinella.

The race on the top LCD screen of each machine-and on an overhead display-plays out in compelling 3D animation, with changing angles displaying the action as horses change positions. “This is really about taking the excitement of the Kentucky Derby race and bringing it to the players as they play their free games,” says Fallon. “We’re excited about this,” adds Orchard. “The math is very solid, and we’re hoping to get a boost for the RFX series from this.”

Other highlights in the stepper area include “Hillbillions,” a three-level stand-alone progressive in which the jackpot feature occurs at random (players search for gold nuggets to trigger the progressives); and RFX Five-Reel XRP-for Xtra Reel Power-which features a four-by-five configuration (five reels, four active symbols per reel) and the Reel Power scatter-pay setup for 1,024 ways to win. “I don’t think there’s any other stepper configured like this,” says Orchard. Two titles in the new series, “Salmon Rapids” and “Old Bayou,” will be launched at G2E.

There also is a new line of three-reel RFX steppers, designed for high denominations. Highlights for launch at the show include “Same Way 7s,” a classic single-line game; “Skin Deep Cherries,” a nine-line game; and “Pow-Tastic 7s,” a nine-line progressive. Also, the “Xtreme Mystery” jackpot feature is now available for RFX steppers as well as Gen7 video slots.

New Game Styles
Aristocrat returns this year to the type of innovation that caused the company to expand in Nevada early this decade, with totally new game styles that build on the technology developed over the past decade.

“Big Top Jackpot” is the first game in the new “Hyperloop” series, an extension of the Hyperlink multiple-progressive slot, incorporating a mechanical wheel topper. Focusing on the circus ringmaster concept, the game’s top-box bonus apparatus incorporates a motor that pushes different-colored balls into the wheel. When the jackpot is triggered, the balls move into the box, and the motor moves the balls around the wheel. (The actual wheel doesn’t move.)

When two balls correspond to a progressive jackpot, the player wins that prize level. Two red balls trigger the top prize. “There was a tremendous amount of work involved in designing an interface between the digital and mechanical aspects of this game,” says Orchard. “We wanted to bring more to the table in bonus games, and this fully themed evolution of Hyperlink is a pretty impressive product package.”

Another new bonus slot is “Hit The Heights,” which incorporates both a wheel and a ladder topper.

Other new launches for G2E include more additions to the Triple Standalone Progressive series; “Power Pay” games that award extra features for ante bets; Double Standalone Progressive games; games for the Latin American markets; and a lineup of multi-player electronic table games, offered through Aristocrat’s distributorship agreements with Electroncek (Interblock) and Pokertek.

Also new for G2E will be the first two games produced under Aristocrat’s partnership with video game manufacturer Sega-a multi-line game called “Bonanza Brothers” and a Reel Power game called “Golden Axe.”

“Sega provided the art and animation; these are their brands,” Fallon says. “It will provide players with a completely different style of entertainment.”

One game concept not to be unveiled until the show is “Big Bang,” which Fallon will only say is a “different style of player experience.”

The games, of course, will be accompanied by demonstrations of the latest technology improvements to Aristocrat’s popular OASIS 360 casino management system and “TruServ” server-based solutions.

In all, it is Aristocrat’s most ambitious collection of new products in years. “We’re looking at building our business in new and different areas,” says Fallon, “with new styles of game play, interactive play aspects, and value-added products.

“Innovation is the key word.”

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.