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Global Games 2009, Part XII: Konami Gaming

Outside the Box: Konami pushes the envelope with a new platform and bold, new game styles

Global Games 2009, Part XII: Konami Gaming

Last year, Steve Sutherland, executive vice president and COO of Konami Gaming, declared the slot manufacturer’s plan was to “reach the podium,” meaning Konami is destined to be on the podium, Olympics-style, as one of the top three slot-makers in the world.

This year, Sutherland’s prediction became a corporate culture, and the “podium” concept became the main mission of the company. When the company’s engineers perfected a vastly improved computer platform to run both video and stepper games, the word, first used to identify the slot-maker’s cabinet, was a natural to identify the Konami platform of the future.

At G2E, Konami officially unveils the Podium product line, along with a collection of new games that venture beyond the confines of K2V, the slot-maker’s legacy platform.

“We definitely made a concerted effort to step outside the box,” says Ross O’Hanley, senior director of marketing for Konami. “Some of the pieces we’ve done have been very unusual. Our new slogan is ‘Borne From Fun,’ and going forward, we’ll have that theme. Looking at our heritage as a multi-faceted company, we’re glad we’re able to leverage Konami Digital Entertainment in our slot development.”

O’Hanley is referring to the video game division of the slot manufacturer’s parent company, Konami Corporation of Japan, which was founded as a jukebox supplier in 1969 and was one of the pioneers of the arcade video game business. Video entertainment is still a mainstay of the company, known around the world for its Metal Gear Solid series and other famous video games.

For the past few years, Konami Gaming has been leveraging the expertise of Konami Digital Entertainment, creating bold new slot styles as joint efforts between the home entertainment and casino entertainment experts of the company. “You’ve already seen that with Advantage 5,” says Sutherland, referring to the company’s groundbreaking five-reel stepper slot series. “You’re now seeing it with ‘Advantage Revolution,’ a definite joint effort, and with elements of the Podium platform.”

Pushing the Envelope
“Advantage Revolution” is a unique new slot style being launched at G2E, In the top box is a three-sided, revolving bonus apparatus-on one side is a set of mechanical spinning reels; on another is a mechanical bonus game; on a third is an LCD video monitor. The bonus changes according to events in the primary game.

Advantage Revolution is certainly “out of the box,” but there are plenty of innovations in the mainstream Podium platform as well. For instance, there are side buttons. “There are buttons at each side of the panel, reminiscent of the old arcade pinball machines,” says Sutherland. “At G2E, we will demonstrate the capabilities of the Podium button panel, which, particularly in secondary bonus games, gives the player more control of the game.”

Last year, Konami showed the Podium platform in the “secret area” of its G2E booth, reserved for concepts that are still in development. This year, it will be available for sale. “At our test site at (California’s) Barona Casino, the product is showing very high earnings and high customer acceptance,” Sutherland says. “And, because of our worldwide introduction of the same cabinet style, this will allow us to further leverage our worldwide resources, not only in the U.S., but in Australia and other markets. This is one of the first times the same physical platform is being launched worldwide.”

Sutherland stresses that the North American sales group, while fully servicing and supporting the K2V machines in the field going forward, will be fully transferred to Podium sales for new products by the first of the year.

“There is a big replacement cycle coming up,” says O’Hanley. “Because of the absence of capital, the age of the slot floor has grown older than it has been in the last 15 years. The consensus is that operators are soon going to start employing capital to maintain their edge. With the new platform, we will be ready.”

Game Showcase
In addition to Advantage Revolution, new products to be launched at G2E include Konami’s follow-up to “Beat the Field,” the successful community-based slot carrying a horse-race theme that was released in the U.S. this summer. (It was already successful in Australia, under the name “Sport of Kings.”)

Beat the Field places a community video horse-race on top of banks that can include any of several Konami game styles as a base game-video or reel-spinning, three-reel or five-reel, multi-line or “KonXion” scatter-pay slots. Each base game has its own special features that will not change, but the common bonus race leads to one of four progressive jackpots. The winner of each bonus race wins one of the four jackpots. Every other horse is awarded a consolation prize.

Players who bet more can get assigned more horses in the random bonus race. There are “longshots” and “sure things,” and the level of progressive assigned to each horse reflects the odds.  “The lowest level of progressive gets the short odds,” says O’Hanley. “Longshots are assigned to win the Maxi, or highest jackpots. It works like a true horse race-the favorites come in more often.”

The horses have tongue-in-cheek names like you find at the real track: “Nutmeg Snowball.” “Clueless Socks.” “Sunburned Bob.” “Immortal Stranger.” “Heavenly Drift.”

The computer picks a backdrop for the race-the autumn-colored “Colorful Vermont,” or “Rockies in the Rain,” or an overcast city, or the desert. What follows is a remarkable 3D, high-definition video sequence of a “Running of the Roses”-style horse race.

The race runs both on the giant overhead LCD video screen and on each player’s machine. You see the race from several angles, including the perspective of the jockey of your horse. The horses change position during the race, and their positions in the race are constantly tracked by the computer-each player’s horse always indicates its position in the race.

For G2E, Konami is launching the follow-up to Beat the Field. Called “Top Track,” the community-style event is transformed into a Grand Prix-style auto race.

Other game highlights include “Jumpin’ Jalapenos,” a popular multi-line video slot featuring the unique “4-5-5-5-4” reel configuration; and “China Shores,” which has been one of Konami’s best-performing new video slots this year.

Finally, operators will be ushered to Konami’s “secret room” for a preview of “K3V,” the next generation of video technology that will be combined with the Podium platform. “The new technology will feature 3D effects in video, dual LCD screens with images floating between the screens, and a lot more features that will make games more exciting and entertaining,” says O’Hanley.

System Success
Systems will also be a big part of Konami’s G2E booth. The Konami Casino Management System, or KCMS, has been a big revenue-driver this year, and got a big boost when it was chosen as the system for the new Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh.

“The fact our system is Oracle-based has attracted a lot of IT people,” says O’Hanley. “What has attracted the operators is that we have the system documented as having the best up-time in the industry. Anyone who

The Rivers installation was joined this year by a major installation of KCMS by the Osage tribe in its seven Oklahoma properties.

Sutherland says the management at Rivers is now entering the second stage of KCMS implementation. “Rivers will now leverage the strength of the system’s marketing opportunities, with an advanced-incentives module,” he says. “The Rivers system has made a number of major operators aware of the system.”

In all, G2E for Konami will be a showcase of what the slot-maker’s technology can do, now and in the future.

It’s one more step toward that podium.

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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