Aristocrat Technologies has always prided itself on its Australian roots, but in early 2009, new Aristocrat Leisure CEO Jamie Odell announced a fresh commitment to North America in product design, marketing and sales.
North America was the key to what Odell called his “business transformation strategy,” to right the ship after years of flat sales, management problems, and a global recession that torpedoed efforts to introduce innovative new slot platforms.
Last year’s G2E gave the industry a taste of the first fruits of the effort to turn Aristocrat around. This year, the trade show will see a completely rejuvenated company presenting its largest-ever collection of new games, designed with a specific eye toward North America.
According to Mitchell Bowen, Aristocrat’s vice president of marketing for the Americas, the 230+ titles that will be on display at the company’s G2E booth are the result of a collaboration—between Aristocrat and its U.S.-based customers.
“We spent the last year redeveloping our pipeline and rebuilding,” Bowen says. “Two years ago, we began putting our games in user groups. We felt little parts of our business were broken, so we said, ‘Let’s fix it.’ We brought in 20 or 30 of our customers for sessions on stand-alone games and gaming operations (recurring-revenue games), and asked the customers what they wanted to see in those areas. We did a third session on technology, cabinets and server-based gaming.”
The company sets up moderators for two-and-a-half-hour focus tests. The customers—mainly slot operations executives—are filtered around the three sessions during the day. Aristocrat is doing this regularly throughout the year to improve its slot product.
It’s all part of Odell’s corporate strategy, dubbed internally as “Play to Win.”
“We have 25 separate initiatives, with everybody marching to the same drum,” says Dallas Orchard, the company’s vice president of gaming operations. “We are extremely excited to show the results of those sessions at G2E.”
For starters, there will be three new cabinets on display. “Aristocrat produced three unique cabinets in 12 months; that’s faster than ever,” Orchard says, noting that the company’s engineers were careful to incorporate all the operator feedback collected from the research sessions in the designs of the new cabinets, which cover every possible new game style.
Heading the list is the “Verve hd,” carrying a sleek new design, intense high-definition graphics, “3D panoramic digital audio,” ergonomic design, the dynamic Nteractiv LCD button deck (graphics and animation included on the buttons themselves), and one of two monitor setups—a 22-inch wide-screen LCD or a portrait-style 32-inch vertical display.
Aristocrat has also revamped its “VIRIDIAN” cabinet, first introduced to launch the Gen7 video platform. “VIRIDIAN ws” re-tools the cabinet style with a 22-inch wide-screen LCD, along with the Nteractiv LCD programmable button technology, a reduced belly area for more leg room, enhanced ambient and edge lighting, an upgraded sound system and ergonomic touches like a repositioned card reader.
Finally, the new slant-top version of VIRIDIAN, “Vii,” features a contemporary look with softer edges, an improved LCD angle to reduce glare, high-resolution 22-inch LCD monitors, improved sound and the Nteractiv LCD programmable button deck.
According to Orchard, the new cabinets will help to exploit the capabilities of a new group of recurring-revenue games that will be at the forefront of Aristocrat’s G2E display. “We’ve said we want to double our recurring-revenue share in three to five years,” he says. “We have a 14 percent -15 percent overall market share, and only a 5 percent share of participation. We know we can double that share.”
The new recurring-revenue product includes both proprietary concepts and branded games, and incorporates a rich group of bonus features, multiple progressive jackpots and other game-play models that stand to revive the reputation for innovation the manufacturer enjoyed 10 years ago, when it secured its Nevada license and promptly launched a parade of new game styles like the Hyperlink™ multi-progressive and the Reel Power scatter-pay series.
But the hardware advances will apply to all the slot-maker’s game styles, new and old—and the company’s U.S.-based game design team has made a great deal of the advances in an array of new products for G2E.
Some of the new proprietary themes from Aristocrat have a distinctly American bent. Take “Reel Tall Tales,” the company’s first triple stand-alone progressive feature top box game. It is a series of standalone progressives incorporating multi-line and Reel Power games—the player wagers to activate reels instead of paylines—themed on “all-American legends.”
There are three “tales” that constitute the first entries in the series. “Paul Bunyan” was recently released, and the next games, “Pecos Bill” and “Annie Oakley,” will be launched at G2E. The base games have theme-specific bonuses—there is an interactive “Axe Throw” in the Paul Bunyan game, and a “Tornado Riding” feature in the Pecos Bill game in which the character “whips” clouds to reveal bonuses—as well as a common progressive bonus based on the legend of Bigfoot.
The progressive feature has the player selecting feet (what else?) to move around a map to spaces awarding one of the three progressives.
It’s all on the new VIRIDIAN ws™ 32-inch portrait-style LCD, a format that has given Aristocrat’s game designers new creative freedom.
That new format is the backdrop for another of Aristocrat’s odes to American culture, in this case one of the legendary American authors of the 20th century, Edgar Rice Burroughs. “Tarzan: Lord of the Jungle,” themed along the lines of the 11th Tarzan novel by Burroughs, is a wide-area progressive with a $250,000 jackpot reset that is packed with bonus features surrounding the legend of Tarzan. “It is extremely feature-rich,” says Orchard. “We’re extremely excited about all the new features we’re bringing to this game.”
On the wide-screen Verve hd cabinet is yet another nod to popular U.S. culture, this time the art world. “Godard’s Rockin’ Olives” features the work of world-famous Las Vegas-based artist Michael Godard—also known as the “Rock Star of the Art World.” Godard’s famous paintings of cartoon olive characters are transformed into a video slot, with all art by Godard himself. The second theme in the Godard series “Monster Boogie” will be debuted at G2E.
Other games utilizing the feature-rich Gen7 platform and the capabilities of the new cabinet styles include “Mission: Impossible,” a video slot based on the motion picture series; and “Cashman Fever,” a new take on the Cashman series, which pioneered the use of “mystery” bonus events—an ante wager activating several bonus features which can appear at any time.
According to Bowen, the Mission: Impossible game uses imagery from the films, and includes bonus concepts from all three movies. Cashman Fever employs a new math model in which 20 jackpot pools are used for the mystery bonus and jackpot events—the higher the bet, the higher the jackpot. “We’re trying to find more sweet spots in our bet structures,” comments Orchard. “This offers jackpot levels based on your bet—the bet determines which jackpot level the player is pursuing. You’re incentivizing that bigger bet.”
Fun and Games
The new math models, increased computer power and marquee cabinets have injected a new atmosphere of fun into Aristocrat’s games, perhaps nowhere better illustrated than in “Crazy Taxi: Fare 4 All,” a game produced in partnership with home video game giant Sega.
The idea is just what the name indicates—to take the player on a wild ride in a taxi. This is achieved through a custom package that includes an “immersion chair” that rumbles and shakes with the movement of the cab during the bonus round.
That bonus round is also a community event—all players on the bank enter the bonus at once, and as each player’s “cab” passes a checkpoint, every player in the bank is awarded.
“Beijing Bonanza,” combines “cooperative” and “competitive” community bonus features into one slot. According to Bowen, this feature is the result of customer feedback. “We first showed this game at G2E last year,” he says, “but after customer feedback, we went back to the drawing board and came back with a better product—a community feature and a tournament feature in the same link. You’ll see players go from supporting each other to competing against each other in the same hour.”
Other highlights of Aristocrat’s G2E offerings include “Big Top Jackpot,” a “Hyperloop” mystery-progressive game with a mechanical top box and LCD displays—the big jackpot display features real ping-pong balls moving through a mechanical wheel—along with the jackpot trigger rate from the original Hyperlink series, which awards a mystery progressive when wagering on the bank reaches a trigger zone. By adding a mechanical top box to the proven mystery progressive setup, Bowen says the slot-maker hopes to “bridge the gap between the two styles of game.”
Other highlights bring Aristocrat’s comedy abilities to the forefront with animated bonus games in “Stuntman Sam,” featuring a clumsy cartoon stunt-man reminiscent of 1970s stunt-comedian Super Dave; and “Kiss My Cash,” the latest video slot based on the comedy of Jeff Foxworthy.
New stand-alone, for-sale games also will be well-represented in Aristocrat’s G2E lineup. Some of the highlights utilize new game-play styles such as “Mega Pay,” which multiplies the sets of reels when the player lands certain symbols. In “More Chilli” and “More Hearts,” players collect chillis or heart symbols during a bonus free-spin feature to activate additional reel sets—up to four sets of reels, each with one more completely wild reel. “This is a volatile game, but when the additional screens happen, there are going to be some very happy customers out there,” Bowen says.
Other new stand-alone games capitalize on game-play styles that Aristocrat has pioneered in the past. “6 Reeler” is an extension of the Reel Power™ scatter-pay series which uses the wide-screen format to add reels when triggering symbols land—what starts out as a three-reel scatter-pay slot can end up as a six-reel game.
There are new 50-line games (“Temple of Moolah”), new games on the Xtra Reel Power format (“Tiger Princess”), a third “JAWS” film-themed game (“Devil of the Deep”), a “Kentucky Derby”-themed racing game, a new game on the classic “Millioni$er” link (“Mega Millioni$er”), and new classic multi-line video slots of all stripes. There are new stepper games including wide-screen transmissive games with animation over the mechanical reels (“Mad Scatter” and “Looking Through the Glass” carry themes based loosely on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland).
“The key take-away from our G2E collection is that we’re designing content for the North American market,” says Orchard, “and that we’re unapologetic about the fact we’re designing for that market and then figuring out how to take it to the rest of the world.
“We’re releasing multiple products in different gaming segments, with a different cabinet to support each,” adds Bowen. “We’re not just banking on one product doing very well; we’re making sure our roadmaps are in place and our strategic plan is in place down the road to offer different products for different segments of the market.”
“I think what we’ve done right in the last 18 months is to really focus on the games and the technology behind them,” CEO Odell said in a recent interview with Global Gaming Business. “We know we want them to be fun to play and have them work for the operators.”
Aristocrat’s official theme for the G2E show is “Are You Ready…” Clearly, the slot manufacturer is.