Time to open the “whole is better than the sum of its parts” file.
The two companies that make up the slotsupply arms of Gtech Corporation were certainly well-known to casino operators long before they joined under the Gtech corporate umbrella.
By the time the Atronic Group was acquired by the Rhode Island-based lottery giant in mid-2008, it had spent more than a decade building itself up from a localized Austrian specialist supplier of 3D video slots into a worldwide force in the slot market. Spielo Manufacturing, Inc. had spent even more time building its own reputation as one of the top providers of video lottery terminals for markets extending from its base in New Brunswick, Canada, to lottery markets across the U.S.
The two companies would retain their individual identities after the merger-as would their parent Gtech, after its acquisition by Italy’s Lottomatica S.p.A, now the parent of all three companies.
For the past two years, though, the companies have been busy merging the technologies of the two veteran gaming machine suppliers. Atronic, while retaining its European operations in Graz, Austria, has moved its slot R&D and manufacturing operations to Las Vegas, where Atronic Americas is now the main hub for casino sales.
While Spielo has retained its Canadian headquarters, its engineers now work with those of Atronic on products for the casino industry-as Atronic technology is incorporated into Spielo’s VLT products.
The result of all this is a newly merged technology that is moving the Atronic and Spielo brands forward in both the casino and VLT markets.
“When you look at our business, Atronic is really a brand,” says Ken Bossingham, chief operating officer of Atronic Americas. “Much of the infrastructure previously was based in Austria. Now, after the closing of Scottsdale (Arizona, the previous headquarters of Atronic Americas), the infrastructure is in Las Vegas and New Brunswick. So, we are now leveraging all this North American infrastructure to build games forthe North American player.”
This year has seen the completion of the merger of the two gaming machine brands. Bossingham says forging the suppliers into one corporate culture has been a challenge, but merging the technology has gotten a boost with the release of “ProdiGi Vu,” a new platform for both video and stepper games that Bossingham says will be the company’s platform of the future.
For now, he says, games from the European subsidiary in Austria will remain with “e-motion,” the platform that has served Atronic well for years. However, e-motion will be slowly phased out in favor of the new platform in North America.
The new platform is functional for the move into networked gaming, with wider dual LCD monitors, a more durable design, and different technology for content. ProdiGi Vu uses USB- and flash-card-based content rather than EPROMs.
There is a dynamic button panel-each button is a miniature video monitor, which means every aspect of a game can be changed to a new theme in a server-based setup. There also is one item that promises to be a hit with a lot of players: a remotecontrol. It is a hand-held button on a wire thatallows the player to sit back and hit the spin buttonwithout reaching.
“ProdiGi Vu also is very tech-friendly,” says Mike Brennan, product manager for Atronic. “It is a much more durable platform, and the system architecture is much more simple and modern.”
The new platform also has more processing power than e-motion, which permits more intense 3D graphics and a wider range of game outcomes. This has been used by game designers of both former companies, and will be key in Atronic/Spielo’s integrated offerings at G2E.
Atronic will bring ProdiGi Vu forth as the common denominator for products of both the Atronic and Spielo brands at G2E. “Our approach is to take the best-of-breed from both companies,” Bossingham says. “While we’re sharing our product development efforts as an integrated company, we’re going to sell to the North American casino market under the Atronic brand, while bringing the best product forward from the integrated company. Spielo will do the same thing in their markets.
“We’ll leverage the product development and competencies we are now able to bring forward asone integrated company.”
One aspect of this G2E collection from Atronic that is different from the past is that operators will generally be able to purchase most of what they see on the spot. Bossingham says 85 percent of the products at the show will be available for sale in most North American jurisdictions, and another 10 percent will be available for placement by the first quarter of 2010.
Part of this is a result of Atronic’s new content strategy. Many of the games being displayed on the new ProdiGi Vu platform are titles that have been tested in the field. “Our content strategy has been adjusted,” Bossingham says. “We’re doing market segmentation, market analysis… We’re making good, solid decisions on how to improve the overall quality of our content. We feel really strongly going forward that we’re not going to release any content to our customers for which we can’t prove a certainperformance level on the casino floor.”
Bossingham says the company is “validating content” before offering it to the customer, which wasn’t the practice previously. “We’re starting out with a strong footprint, and trying to prove the vitality of the new format,” he says. “We have new games that have tested very well on e-motion, so we have the opportunity to take the highest-performing games and import them to ProdiGi Vu.”
Some of the top Atronic games at G2E will be ProdiGi Vu versions of titles released earlier this year on e-motion that have passed what the slot-maker calls its “critical test bank program.” Basically, thatmeans games that have proven to earn at least 125 percent of house average.
One is an ingenious new version of “Deal Or No Deal,” the franchise product based on the popular game show, available in e-motion, the e-Harmony slant-top, and the giant “Titan” cabinet. The strength of the series’ popularity has been the bonus game that re-creates the game show itself—the “Briefcase Bonus,” in which the player selects a briefcase from a group as his own, and reveals the bonus contents of several others before accepting or rejecting an offer from the “Bank.”
The player is shown the values of all the briefcases; he just doesn’t know which value is in which case. As potential values are eliminated, the offers from the Bank become larger or smaller, based on the probability that a large or small value is in the player’s case. The process goes on until the player takes a “Deal” or his chosen case is the only one left.
It is a true gambling activity, and the risk-taking is the heart of both the game show and the slot series. The new version of the game, “Deal Or No Deal: What’s Your Deal,” capitalizes on that—there is no reel-set for a video slot base game. It’s just the extremely volatile Briefcase Bonus. The player hits the “play” button to either go directly into the bonus, or, if it’s a “losing” play, to increase the amounts in the briefcase for when the bonus does occur.
“As we’ve shown in game development, we’re willing to take risks,” says Brennan. “We’re taking the real risk with this game. Some of the players we’ve watched were making betting decisions we’ve never seen before on a slot machine. People are betting tons of cash—the type of betting only seen in the pit before. This is a niche product, but it’s a really great one.”
Participation games introduced last year that will be relaunched at G2E include “The Three Stooges” and “Stargate.” According to Bossingham,Stargate-based on the popular science-fiction series involving time and space travelers-has been a runaway hit where it has been introduced. “Stargate is really through the roof at Harrah’s Rincon,” he says.
“There are three individual base games with their own bonuses, and five shared bonuses on top, plus a four-level progressive.”
He says what contributes to the popularity of the game is that the bonus feature is 100 percent funded by a side bet-no percentage is taken from the base game to fund the bonus. “You can still play the base game and have a great time,” says Bossingham. “All three have their existing volatility and really interactive bonuses. Players really get their money’s worth.”
Stargate was introduced at last year’s G2E, but was refined after numerous study groups, with the revised version approved in Nevada in July.
Other games being shown at G2E that traveled similar paths of release, refinement and re-release include “Deal Or No Deal Wild,” “Xanadu 9 Dragons” and the stepper version of “Stargate.”
“We’ve been more strategic on our product rollouts,” says Brennan. “We work with focus groups to provide insight on the player experience. ‘I didn’t understand how I got that symbol’ can be valuable feedback. It could be something as simple as putting ‘Bonus’ on the bonus symbol. Game designers are sometimes too close to the development. We like to bring the human element in, in the form of actual players.”
Other reworked games being shown include the three-reel, five-line stepper version of the classic Atronic game “Sphinx,” in the tall-top “Passion” format. Bossingham says the game has been one of the best dollar products on any floor where it’s been introduced, which he attributes to the buy-a-feature setup of the wagering.
“You can bet one, three or five coins,” he explains. “One coin activates the five lines; three coins activate the wild symbols; five coins activate the video bonus feature. Players love climbing the pyramid in the top-box bonus.” He says player feedback prompted the company to incorporate the buy-a-feature structure in the three-reel stepper version of Stargate as well.
Other Atronic slot offerings at G2E will consist of a wealth of core video slots transformed from emotion into the new ProdiGi Vu format. Among them will be “Jewelly,” “Adventures In Bonusland,” “Princess of the Amazon,” “Island Quest,” “Phoenix Fortune,” “Valley of the Scarab” and “Money Out the Wazoo.”
Atronic/Spielo also will be demonstrating its two major linked products at G2E, which both use the company’s Multi-Functional Controller product, or MFC. The MFC product links banks of games for either tournaments or community-style games.
The two major products being demonstrated at the show are “Tournamaster” and “Bingo Factory.”
Tournamaster links slots in a four-machine bank to a central game controller to allow instant switching between revenue mode and tournament mode. Additionally, a display shows real-time tournament standings, and detailed player reporting features are automatically exported to the back of the house.
Bingo Factory links base games together to a community-style bingo game. As players spin the reels on the primary games, they collect bingo cards through a symbol on the third reel. When the common bingo bonus is triggered at random, each player can have up to four collected bingo cards for the bonus round.
When the bonus is triggered, each player selects a “Lucky Gnome” character to serve as its “dauber.” The overhead LCD screen and the top screen on each machine then display the cartoon gnome characters doing the ball draw in a 75-ball bingo game. The player who fills his bingo card wins a progressive jackpot, but there are other prizes for completing a row. Payments are based on the wager of the triggering spin.
The bonus is designed to hit every 75 spins on a full bank of four machines.
While the linked games and refined e-motion slots are a big part of the show, Bossingham says this year’s G2E is really about the launch of ProdiGi Vu as Atronic’s platform of the future.
“These games are examples of the positive steps we’ve taken in the time since the merger deal was closed,” he says. “We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve got a really motivated team, and we’re taking every opportunity to build on the quality of our product.
“G2E is the first step in that coming-out party.”