Welcome the 17th edition of Global Games, our annual sneak peek into the games to be displayed by the world’s slot manufacturers at the Global Gaming Expo.
These games—many being revealed exclusively in this section—are accompanied by new developments in cabinets, game styles and system innovations that are reaching the slot floor in intriguing ways.
This year’s innovations at G2E continue the trend of the past few years of slot-makers launching new cabinets, as well as the trend of using those new form factors to house a typically amazing body of innovation on the content side, from new entries in IGT’s masterful “4D” combination of 3D images and midair haptic control to a new cabinet from Scientific Games that will use the so-called “Pepper’s ghost” illusion technique; from new entries in the AGS Orion series of cabinets to new brands from Aristocrat, new form factors from Aruze and Konami, and the debut of a startup slot manufacturer, Gaming Arts, which is making a transformation from a bingo supplier to a slot manufacturer thanks to bringing in several of the most respected slot-supply veterans in the business.
There are new progressives from Ainsworth and Novomatic, new branded games and new cabinets from Everi, compelling new form factors from Incredible Technologies and Merkur Gaming, and new skill games from Gamblit.
And most of the major slot suppliers are now involved in the rejuvenation of the high-denomination stepper style of game, so expect to see a lot of that.
New technologies once again take center stage this year, including mobile and cardless play—and how those technologies will affect the new sports-betting market.
But this annual feature, in the end, is about the games. Here’s a peek into the very best innovation that the slot sector has to offer.
All articles written by Frank Legato unless otherwise indicated.
With additions to its Orion cabinet series and a new round of content in all game styles, AGS completes its first year as a public company with an eye to the future
The slogan of gaming supplier AGS is “Obsessed With the Game.” While it originally referred to the variety of slot and table games rolling out of the company the past few years, the slogan could easily apply to the overall “game” of growing into a complete gaming manufacturer.
AGS is approaching its first anniversary as a public company, after ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on January 26 to emerge as PlayAGS, Inc. with a successful initial public offering of 10.25 million common shares.
Private equity firm Apollo Global Management—the parent company of AGS from when the company was known as American Gaming Systems—is now the public company’s largest shareholder, controlling around 34.2 percent of the company following the IPO. Earlier this year, Apollo subsidiary Apollo Gaming Holdings, L.P. conducted a secondary public offering of 5.5 million shares of the company’s common stock.
Apollo’s ownership initially provided AGS the financial muscle to expand its business far beyond the basic Class II business that distinguished the company in the early years following its 2005 founding.
That growth has accelerated since the arrival in late 2013 of President and CEO David Lopez, who has overseen the creation of a table-game division that now has more than 2,700 products installed worldwide, and an interactive division that launched a white-label social casino last year. The company also recently acquired Gameiom to provide real-money games and slot content aggregation for real-money wagering.
The growth in all divisions has accelerated in the first year of the public PlayAGS, Inc., as the company strives to exploit the marquee products of recent years—particularly, the Orion family of cabinets on the slot side.
Much of the past year for AGS has involved the rollout of additional titles for the Orion Portrait cabinet, the first in what is now called the “Orion family” of cabinets.
First released in spring of 2017, the Orion Portrait made a splash as the first premium cabinet for AGS, joining the core ICON cabinet launched the previous year. The marquee-style cabinet, with a 42-inch vertical flat-screen monitor surrounded by 498 game-controlled LED lights, scored big hits with inaugural titles Fu Nan Fu Nu and River Dragons.
Operators generally have favored banks of Orion cabinets, thanks to the U-shaped “starwall” LED lighting between the monitors, which makes a bank of games almost like a work of art in itself.
“This year has been fantastic,” says Andrew Burke, senior vice president of slot products for AGS. “We had a continued rollout of the title library for the Orion Portrait, the first cabinet in the Orion family to be released. It’s obviously been a smashing success for us, well beyond our best estimates and expectations.”
Burke says AGS has concentrated on giving the Orion library some depth with new content, as the “family” gets its first addition. Launched at the NIGA Indian Gaming Tradeshow in April, the Orion Slant places all the best features of the portrait version into a distinctive slant form, its 24-inch main game screen topped by a 32-inch top LCD monitor, situated horizontally—commonly known as a “landscape” orientation. The game-controlled side LED lights, 420 of them in this case, blend into the landscape screen in a unique effect.
The company launched the cabinet with four inaugural titles. “In half a year, we will accelerate the growth of that product line,” says AGS Product Manager Brett Vela. “By the end of the year, we hope to have 20-plus titles available for the platform, in Class III and Class II, in all of our major markets.”
AGS plans to add another new cabinet to the Orion family at the Global Gaming Expo, although the company is keeping the specifics under wraps until G2E.
“G2E is really exciting for us,” Burke says. “People view us as a small company, but our hardware roadmap is very robust. We will be showing another cabinet for the Orion family in our booth—the first time anyone in the industry will see it.”
Building the Library
G2E will provide a forum for additions to the libraries of games fitting into all that new hardware, including not only the Orion variants, but additional games for the core ICON cabinet. “That’s a very versatile format too,” comments Burke. “Content that works on the ICON will work on the Orion Slant, and the new cabinet we will roll out in the Orion family will be very complementary as well.”
The company’s R&D team certainly has been busy, thanks in part to a growing number of design studios. The company has been expanding efforts from its main game design studio in Atlanta, Georgia, with a small studio in Austin, Texas, and a recently opened studio in Sydney, Australia, providing the highly volatile style of slot product for which that region is known.
At G2E, the company will launch the first game series from the new Australia studio, a group of Asian-themed games with striking artwork under the heading Fa Cai Shu. Four inaugural titles will be available for the Orion Slant, all featuring a three-level progressive jackpot. “The difference here,” says Vela, “is a pick-‘em bonus that reveals free games as well as credit prizes and progressives.”
Among the four inaugural titles is Tiger Magic, a four-by-five, 50-line game incorporating a feature that upgrades all wild symbols to 2X, 3X or 5X multipliers.
Also on the Orion Slant will be a new six-title series called Kingdom Cash, featuring a four-level progressive in which the top two prizes are linked and the bottom two are stand-alone jackpots. “These games feature great artwork and great math,” says Vela. “This is going to be a really good game for us, and it’s going to add a lot of diversity for us on the Orion Slant.”
The inaugural games on Kingdom Cash include Kingdom Cash Jaguar, a 243-ways-to-win game; and Kingdom Cash Earth, featuring a five-level picking bonus that can reveal free spins or a jackpot symbol.
The company also is launching new games for the Orion Portrait cabinet, including additions to the popular Xtreme Jackpots series, the first AGS multi-linked progressive series connecting across core ICON and Orion cabinets. The Xtreme Jackpots base games feature Jackpot Pick and Free Spins Bonus events. When a full stack of wild symbols lands on any of the middle reels during the base game, players have a chance to hit the Jackpot Pick Bonus and are guaranteed to win one of the four Xtreme Jackpots levels.
New Xtreme Jackpots games pegged for launch at G2E include Monkey Temple and Bonanza Blast—both featured on the Orion Portrait.
Both offer a progressive picking bonus randomly awarded when a wild symbol lands in the base game, and both employ expanding reel features—Monkey Temple in the bonus game, with individual reels expanding to widen the win area; and Bonanza Blast, with reels expanding in either the base game or free spins when dynamite appears and blasts to expand the reel set.
“We’re going to be doing more advanced game features like mystery triggers of exploding dynamite,” Vela says. “We’re featuring the same progressives players are familiar with; however, we’re adding new and exciting features they haven’t seen in the series before.”
Meanwhile, AGS is pumping similar new content into its Class II business, which grew last year through the acquisition in December of the installed Class II base of Rocket Gaming Systems, a transaction that instantly added 1,600 recurring-revenue games to the company’s footprint.
“Our Class II product is doing the best it’s ever done,” says Burke. “Orion in Class II is just a great product. Our Class II customers are the happiest they’ve ever been.”
The expansion of the company’s staff and product groups continues on the heels of the creation of the company’s successful table-game and interactive divisions.
The latest expansion of the company’s product offerings will be thanks to a recently concluded agreement with Alfastreet, the legendary Slovenian manufacturer of electronic table game products. While AGS has no in-house ETG offering (and Burke says the genre is not on the product roadmap), the company has agreed to become the exclusive U.S. distributor of Alfastreet’s Royal Derby, a 10-player arcade-style electro-mechanical horse racing game linked to electronic play stations.
Royal Derby features mechanical horses racing around a large track and 10 ETG betting terminals with high-definition graphics.
“It’s a beautiful piece of machinery,” says Vela, who says first installs of Royal Derby were expected by the end of September.
The company also is forging ahead with its new interactive division, recently announcing an agreement with PokerStars Play to deploy its social white-label casino as part of The Stars Group’s social casino portfolio.
“We had the opportunity to work with AGS to extend our social casino portfolio, (and) we were impressed with their land-based content and broad range of non-slots games,” PokerStars Director of Social Gaming Lloyd Melnick said in a statement. “Their products are a good fit with what our existing customers are looking for, and we are excited to be able to offer our millions of registered players the AGS experience.”
Expansion of the company’s product portfolio is accompanied by expansion into new markets. The company is licensed in most U.S. jurisdictions, and is working on the last new markets—Ohio was added recently, and the company is awaiting final approval in Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, the supplier is expanding its footprint in Canada, with games in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba with a target of a presence in all provinces by early next year.
As Burke says, it’s getting harder to classify AGS as a small company,
with more than 600 employees spread across offices in Las Vegas, Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Austin, Mexico, Australia, Tel Aviv, Israel, Isle of Man and Gibraltar.
The company is sure to grow larger—sooner rather than later. Burke says the key is the still-growing R&D team. “We’ve been adding a lot of talent in R&D, and we’re diversifying the product mix we’re putting out,” he says. “As our different studios come on line, we can offer different types of games and experiences that appeal to a greater variety of players.
“We’re still focused on the core gambler that really likes to play, and play with high volatility. But we’re now giving them a broader offering.”
Ainsworth continues to capture new markets by concentrating on successful brands
Ainsworth Game Technology has been in a state of evolution since the the Australian company first sold games in the Americas, but particularly since the 2016 opening of its nearly 300,000-square-foot North American headquarters in Las Vegas.
That was when customers realized the Australian company was committed to succeeding in the U.S. The company’s subsequent moves only solidified that opinion—the new facility brought with it a new design studio to complement the original Sydney game design team. The 2016 acquisition of South Carolina-based Nova Technologies opened a new stream of business in Class II markets, and a second design studio in the U.S.
The final result has been success. Ainsworth slots have gained popularity in the U.S. with a mix of high denominations and high volatility, in games that are unlike those of other manufacturers.
Offerings such as operator-selectable multi-denomination setups and premium games available for sale have solidified the company’s position with operators. The games themselves offer more unique styles of bonuses that go beyond the company’s Australian roots.
In Class II, Ainsworth has broken ground with its AnyBet system, a one-of-a-kind Class II progressive link in which a jackpot is available at any bet, but jackpots are more frequent with higher bets.
Meanwhile, Ainsworth dove into the branded-license game with a splash, with two versions of Pac-Man, based on the Bandai Namco Entertainment Inc. hit that is the best-known arcade game in history.
The company previously had success with brands like King Kong and The Three Amigos, but Pac-Man put Ainsworth on the map in more jurisdictions than any other game.
“The first two titles—Pac-Man Wild and Pac-Man Dynamic—performed tremendously for us,” comments Mike Trask, director of product management and marketing for Ainsworth. “Pac-Man is a true A-list brand. It’s certainly the most powerful third-party brand we’ve had at Ainsworth.”
The evolution of Ainsworth’s game library has paralleled the new form factors on which the library has grown. In the past three years, the company’s games have gone from the former workhorse core cabinet A560 to the A600, A640 and A600 Slant Top cabinets. Much content works across several cabinets; other content is designed particularly for one format.
Those cabinets are finding their way to new markets these days, as the company has moved into the Washington state central determinant lottery and into Kentucky, where Churchill Downs has just opened Derby City, including some 900 historical racing games on premium cabinets from Ainsworth—the largest single installation of games in the company’s history.
This year, Ainsworth launches yet another new cabinet, the dual-flat-screen EVO, which will serve as a modernized core cabinet as the A560 is phased out.
The new hardware will join the current formats in hosting a wealth of new content with many innovative bonus features, but with the common thread of concentrating on the game styles, genres and features that have brought the company its success thus far.
The Ainsworth U.S. team also has evolved since the new headquarters was unveiled three years ago. In June, Ainsworth named industry veteran Joe Bertolone as its new president for North America. Bertolone’s career has covered both operations and supply—he was director of operations for William Hill US, and most recently served as president and CEO of gaming technology supplier DEQ Systems Corp., which was sold to Scientific Games in 2017.
Another key addition is Deron Hunsberger, former longtime sales and gaming operations executive at major suppliers including Aristocrat, Bally, Shuffle Master, WMS and Scientific Games, who was brought in as senior vice president of sales and marketing last December; and John Archuleta, a 30-year veteran of sales for several major gaming suppliers who was appointed as a regional sales director for Northern Nevada.
Management changes have been accompanied by the maturing of the R&D team at the Las Vegas studio, comments Trask. “Our U.S. development team continues to grow,” he says. “A good deal of what we’re going to show at G2E comes from that team in Las Vegas. We are now investing in our game portfolio through expansion of our teams in the U.S., Australia and Japan. We have signed on two new outside game development groups to add diversity in our content offerings.”
According to Trask, a total of 130 games will be available for order at this year’s Global Gaming Expo—and an additional 50 to 60 games will be developed within the next year.
Many of those games were designed for the A640 premium cabinet launched last year. The A640 “has been our top-performing cabinet on casino floors essentially everywhere,” says Trask, who notes that two of the top-performing games on the A640 have been Super Charged 7s and Super Hot 7s, wheel bonus games (one progressive, one non-progressive) developed by the Las Vegas studio.
“Those games have really taken hold,” Trask says. “Across the country, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a place where they haven’t found a spot, particularly in the locals market.”
The games reflect a math specialty of the young Las Vegas studio, a mid-level volatility that appeals to a broad range of players. “They are much lower volatility than a typical Ainsworth game,” he says. “We’re trying to give a new feel to players, particularly 1-cent players—a little less volatile, a little more time on device, and giving players the opportunity to get into that wheel spin quite often.”
Trask says Ainsworth’s G2E display will include clone games that capitalize on that formula, as well as a “4 Play” version that will feature four reel sets, activated for a $1 minimum bet.
But the big buzz this year, as last year, will surround unique games based on licensed brands—led by last year’s mega-hit, the Pac-Man franchise. Fittingly, the debut of the next games in Ainsworth’s Pac-Man series also will debut the new dual-screen cabinet, EVO.
EVO brings special touches like edge lighting and an LCD button deck to the core dual-screen format—in this case, two 24-inch LCD monitors. There will be a full library of more than 60 titles for the EVO, including many designed exclusively for the sleek new cabinet.
Those are led by the next entry in the Pac-Man slot brand, the four-game Pac-Man Link. Four base games—named for the Pac-Man ghosts, Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde—are linked to a five-level progressive.
“The games have the classic feel of the arcade game, with Pac-Man, the ghosts, the sounds,” says Trask.
This year, the Pac-Man series will be augmented with a new theme from Bandai Namco, a slot based on another classic arcade game from the early 1980s, the alien-shooting spaceship game Galaga.
Galaga, on the A640 premium cabinet, includes multiple features mimicking the sights and sounds of Galaga game play. The multiple-progressive game includes an alien-fighting bonus and a free-game event.
One more premium theme on the A640 is Ben-Hur, which wraps the cinematic theme around a central wheel bonus.
“I think Ben-Hur is right in that wheelhouse of some of the other successful themes we’ve done, like Three Amigos, King Kong and Cinderella,” says Trask. “Also, it is in a line of premium content that a casino can own outright.
“That’s very important. For our customers, a huge advantage is that we offer our premium products as for-sale products. It’s a great point of differentiation for us from some of our competitors.”
Licensed brands, of course, make up only a small portion of Ainsworth’s game library. Among the highlights of this year’s launches on the A640 cabinet are several games with unique features that represent new types of game mechanics for Ainsworth.
Two good examples are Cards of Cash and Triple Challenge.
Cards of Cash is a five-level progressive featuring poker symbols in the base game, but including a bonus that involves collecting cards to build poker hands. Triple Challenge features virtual dice as the bonus mechanic—a sic bo-style game in which the player rolls for progressives.
“These have a very different feel than a traditional game,” comments Trask. “There’s tons of interaction, rolling the dice to increase win levels—you continue to have those moments of touching the screen and hoping for the next level.”
Another strong new game series on the A640 is Triple Action, with two inaugural games using the full vertical monitor for three separate reel sets with a cost-to-cover of $1 to activate all three. A bonus symbol on any of the three reel arrays triggers free games on bonus reels that include only the higher-paying picture symbols.
The inaugural games are Triple Action Dragons—reprising the Action Dragons theme popular on the dual-screen A560 cabinet—and Triple Wealthy Phoenix.
Another standout is a new version of Quick Spin, Ainsworth’s top-performing brand of 2018. The new Quick Spin keeps the familiar large bonus wheel but presents the games in a four-play format, with four individual reel sets. The player has the option to play two reel sets for a minimum $1 or all four for $2 per spin.
Other than the four-play format, the math of the new Quick Spin is identical to the original.
“We’re using some very familiar titles, and we’re taking what we have that’s working and moving it to different formats,” Trask says. “We’re adding some increased graphics capabilities, but the core of this is taking what we have that’s working extremely well across the country and trying to give people some more options to play with it.”
Of course, the new formats and game styles from Ainsworth are accompanied this year, as always, by a new batch of the high-denomination, high-volatility games for which the company is known.
“We’ve continued to bring some of our high-denom product—traditional games like Eagle Bucks and Thunder Cash—over to the A640 cabinet,” says Hunsberger. “Now, we can offer that premium cabinet with our high-denom product. We’re starting to place those in high-limit rooms, and we’re seeing good results.”
Among this year’s new products capitalizing on that strength are a pair of multi-game products, Multi-Win 7 and Mega Choice.
Multi-Win 7 places five of Ainsworth’s top-performing high-denom titles in a single unit under a two-level stand-alone progressive. Mega Choice offers an operator-configurable nine games.
Both give the operator the option to disable any of the available denominations.
This year, the classic Ainsworth volatility is accompanied by the newer middle volatility of games produced by the Las Vegas studio. The mix of volatility will lend variety to the new EVO dual-screen format.
Three games in what Hunsberger calls the “mid-high” volatility category are among the first games designed exclusively for the EVO cabinet, in a series called Top Pays. Each of the three base games in the series has a unique bonus feature. Bubble Bucks features a mechanic in which the player pops bubbles for multipliers. Tres Chiles features a collecting-style bonus, and It’s Lit features a multiplier bonus and free games in which wild symbols are guaranteed to multiply at 2X, 3X or 5X.
“The series certainly is not as volatile as our high-denom games, but it’s a pretty volatile play experience for a core game,” Trask explains. “That said, the player is going to be able to see some massive wins on the bonus. We’ve taken very simple play mechanics—proven play mechanics very recognizable to your core casino audience—and brought them into this cabinet, which I believe puts us in line with what a dual-screen cabinet needs to look like on today’s casino floor.”
The games all feature a customizable multi-denomination function, with the ability to run any or all of four different denominations.
Traditional high-volatility Ainsworth math is featured on other EVO standouts such as the Super Wins Chef’s Magic series, with four unique base games all including a re-spin feature for the bonus trigger; and the Asian-themed Dragon Drum and Panda Gong, 1,024-ways-to-win games featuring random drop-down wild symbols.
On the Class II side, Ainsworth continues to employ what has worked best to augment the library. “We’re continuing to take our best-performing Class III content and transferring it over to Class II,” says Hunsberger. “You’ll see Pac-Man and the Quick Spin in Class II. We try to keep the math somewhat close.”
He adds that the company is doing the same repetition of success for its new games in the Washington central determinant market and for its historical racing product, currently in Kentucky but ripe for expansion elsewhere.
Bertolone, the company’ new North America president, says the company will continue to grow by applying its winning formula to new markets. “We’re continuing to move product that works in that high-denom sector,” he says, “and we’re making sure our coverage model in the field is getting product to the markets we need to.
“We really try to stay focused on what we’re good at,” Bertolone adds. “We’re trying to leverage where we’ve had success in the past, as more operators, especially in regional markets, try to build that type of player base.”
For Ainsworth, building a player base has always been a specialty.
Aristocrat uses its most popular titles and game styles to launch new formats, while augmenting its staple of licensed brands
Aristocrat uses its most popular titles and game styles to launch new formats, while augmenting its staple of licensed brands
Aristocrat Technologies lays claim to game titles that consistently have been recognized as the best in the business—the Buffalo franchise, the Dragon Link and Lightning Link progressive products and others typically top industry surveys as the highest-earning slot offerings in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Aristocrat game designers and product planners keep the market dominance of many of the slot-maker’s offerings in mind, even when creating completely new game styles and form factors. That’s why the industry will see, this year as every year, the company’s best and most established game mechanics and most popular themes presented in completely new iterations at the Global Gaming Expo.
Most recently, those iterations have been in the form of new, premium-style cabinets to house a vast amount of both for-sale and gaming operations content. Last year, the company previewed the Helix+ Tower cabinet. It’s a larger version of the Helix+, its center being a 55-inch, flat-screen 4K-resolution monitor. The monitor is infinity-style, so banks of the Helix+ Tower games form a kind of artwork of their own. Also launched last year was the Helix XT, a portrait cabinet with a curved 4K monitor that bends at the top toward the player.
Since those launches at last year’s G2E show, Aristocrat has been gathering feedback from customers and refining the form factors, and has launched both cabinets commercially, housing some of the company’s best titles, according to Nathan Drane, Aristocrat’s vice president of commercial strategy, games.
“We’ve brought some of our content from the Arc cabinet (the premium curved-screen cabinet that has hosted some of the biggest branded hits) across to the Helix XT,” Drane says, “and we’ve added dedicated games like Buffalo Max, Gold Stacks 88 and Wonder 4 Boost. G2E is going to be the coming-out party for that cabinet. We’re going to have a lot of dedicated portrait content, leveraging that full portrait canvas with really great mechanics, linked jackpots and more.”
Then there’s the Edge X cabinet, with two 43-inch LCD monitors stacked in a landscape configuration that the company calls “personalized space” to create a “mini-jumbo feel” within a standard slot footprint.
Finally, the RELM XL reel-spinning cabinet, with its 43-inch curved monitor above the spinning reels, topped by a bonus wheel, is hosting new brands, new versions of current hits, and games designed specifically for the format. After the successful launch of RELM XL at last year’s G2E, Aristocrat is following up with popular themes including licensed brands like Britney Spears and proprietary hits like Buffalo Golden 7s at this year’s show.
The new hardware joins the flame55 cabinet, the sleek format released last year that uses a 55-inch vertical monitor curved in two places. The flame55 has scored hits with Game of Thrones and other themes in its first year.
As Drane notes, all the new Aristocrat cabinets are designed as premium-style form factors, but they are being made available in the company’s for-sale library as well as on the gaming operations side.
The Helix+ Tower and Helix XT product groups have had a great first year. “We’ve seen great performance on those two cabinets, and it’s really engaged customers in our entire portfolio, including steppers,” says Drane.
“We’re really excited to be commercializing the flame55 cabinet, which we’ve shown at a previous show, and officially launching the Edge X products, and getting those into the market,” adds Jon Hanlin, Aristocrat’s vice president of commercial strategy, gaming operations.
Both cabinets represent state-of-the-art video, he adds. “Premium video is a huge momentum-driver for our products. We had a great result with the Arc Double and the Behemoth cabinets over the last three or four years, so we’re really excited to start the next chapter in that premium video cabinet space with these two great products.”
Another new video cabinet offering, the Edge XL, will be unveiled at G2E. It is a super-sized version of the sleek Edge X dual-screen cabinet, the 43-inch landscape monitors replaced by 48-inch displays. It is the Edge X counterpart of the Arc Double cabinet.
“With Edge X and Edge XL, we’re giving operators a choice of offering a really premium, large-format experience, or a smaller version for operators whose size and floor configurations are tight,” Drane says.
The launch title for Edge XL will be Madonna, showcased on the Edge X at last year’s show. Meanwhile, Aristocrat continues to pump up the library for the original Edge X with Mad Max Fury Road, based on the 2015 Australian post-apocalyptic film starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. “It’s a very visually based movie,” Hanlin says, “a beautiful movie—so it fits well into that large-format cabinet.”
Also coming soon on the flame55, he adds, is a slot based on the hit Showtime series Billions, the Wall Street drama starring Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis.
One more new format getting fresh content is the Helix+ Tower, launched last year with the game Mighty Cash, featuring a hold-and-spin mechanic that has proven very popular with players. At G2E, Aristocrat will launch Wonder 4 Spinning Fortunes on the Helix+ Tower. The Wonder 4 format offers the player the option of playing from one to four games on four different reel sets. In this case, Buffalo Gold will head up four new games designed for this configuration.
All games feature “Extreme Free Games,” which allow the player to spin reels on up to eight game windows at once; and “Random Boost,” in which wilds can upgrade a bonus from regular free games to Super Free Games or Extreme Free Games.
“We’re commanding some of our strongest brands with premium elements like signage and jackpots,” Drane says. “It gives you that retail jackpot presence, that retail signage presence on the gaming floor in the game sale space. We really haven’t done that before; signage has been isolated specifically to the gaming operations business. Hopefully, this feature will be exciting for our customers, and it will certainly look good on the floor.”
The RELM Factor
With the RELM series, Aristocrat—the traditional king of video—has, in less than two years, made headway in the stepper-slot category. The original RELM stepper format was unveiled at G2E 2016 and released to the market in June 2017, and has been followed by the RELM XL in the premium space, with the addition of a 43-inch curved screen and a jackpot wheel.
Developed by Aristocrat engineers along with those of Tennessee-based Class II subsidiary Video Game Technologies, the RELM cabinet—its back-lit, oversized reels surrounded by an array of LEDs synced with game events—has achieved great success with the eight original launch games, and according to Drane, one of the focuses in R&D this year has been to populate the hot new format with more games.
“We’re bringing some of Aristocrat’s biggest and best brands to the RELM platform,” Drane says. “We’re bringing Buffalo Gold, Dragons Gold, Wicked Winnings II and Gold Stacks 88 all to our RELM mechanical reel platform.”
In each case, an established proprietary brand is customized for the stepper format, with familiar features—Buffalo Gold’s multiplier feature, 5 Dragons’ bet-up mechanic and free games with player selectable volatility, the re-spins and free games of Wicked Winnings and the stacking of picture symbols in Gold Stacks 88—remaining key features of the stepper versions.
Aristocrat has committed to releasing no fewer than 60 new titles on the RELM stepper cabinet within the next three years. In 2019, there will be 20 new titles on the RELM, says Drane, who notes that they are split evenly between high-denomination and low-denomination offerings. “We’ll continue to support both categories,” he says. “The brand strategy allows us to tap into a new market segment—players who like video-style brands and video-style mechanics, but like to play on a mechanical reel.”
The stepper genre actually will be the basis for a major licensed brand from Aristocrat this year, as Motown comes to the RELM XL premium stepper cabinet. “Motown’s a great brand—very nostalgic, but with great music that appeals to all,” says Hanlin.
“The brand represents nostalgia for people of a certain age, but also, Motown songs were featured in a recent Broadway show. Those song are always out there in the ether. We’re really excited about this brand, and we feel it’s a brand that can continue over multiple games.”
Featured songs in the inaugural game include hits by the Temptations, the Jackson Five and other legendary Motown artists. The sound system, naturally, is one of the most prominent strengths of the RELM XL format in this application, which also employs a vibrating sound chair to complete the experience.
“We’re putting our best foot forward in that (stepper) space,” says Hanlin. “We wanted to make sure both the RELM XL and RELM formats are really leveraging the best brands we have, particularly proprietary brands, to maximize our offering in the stepper space.”
Of course, the RELM XL offering is only one of a multitude of new licensed and proprietary brands coming from Aristocrat this year. The company released Game of Thrones and Mariah Carey on the flame55 this summer, and at G2E, will introduce Buffalo Diamond in the format—celebrating the 10th anniversary of the industry-topping Buffalo brand.
“Buffalo Diamond is a very important product for us,” says Hanlin. “Similar to how Buffalo Grand is a top-three performing game in the market now, this next evolution of Buffalo on the flame55 will have progressive free games. Buffalo is really all about the free games, and the frequently re-triggering feature. With progressive free games, we’re adding this new hot slot mechanic that’s out in the market to Buffalo. It’s just a great marriage of hot trends and classic brands.”
Also on the flame55 is Westworld, based on the hit futuristic HBO show about an Old West-themed amusement park run by androids. Previewed at last year’s G2E, Westworld will be approved and for sale at this year’s show, according to Hanlin. “The flame55 lineup is full of great brands,” he says, “brands that can drive that cabinet forward and really engage both customers and players.”
Another big branded game to be launched at G2E is the B 52s. Themed with the sights and sounds of the legendary 1980s “new wave” band, the game will utilize the substantial real estate of the imposing Arc Double cabinet.
Also featured at the show from gaming operations will be the two major themes released earlier this year, the X-Files on the Arc Double and The Big Bang Theory on the flame55 format.
Finally, Aristocrat will unveil a new progressive link to carry on the tradition of the wildly popular Lightning Link and Dragon Link products—according to Hanlin, currently the No. 1 and No, 2 best-performing products for Aristocrat on the gaming operations side. Dollar Storm continues the hold-and-spin mechanic and frequent progressives of the first two links, while adding a fifth jackpot—a wide-area progressive.
All the new cabinets, game styles and entertainment brands Aristocrat will unveil at G2E will be accompanied by yet another first for the company—the multi-game Bar Top.
The new product represents not only Aristocrat’s first foray into bar-top multi-games, and first offering of several basic video poker games, but also a response to intense customer demand to play Aristocrat video slots at bars. Video poker games will be accompanied by Buffalo Gold, Wild Lepre’coins, Buffalo Keno and other popular games.
Including the most popular Aristocrat video slot brands in the Bar Top is “really the key selling point,” says Hanlin. “We’ve seen bar operators in Nevada actually cut a hole in their bar and put one of our Buffalo machines directly into the bar. That will tell you the kind of demand that is there to play Buffalo at a bar.”
Drane adds that the company’s motto for the Bar Top is “Every slot player deserves a seat at the bar.”
“What we mean by that is that in our Bar Top, we’re not only bringing some of the poker products that you love, but we’re bringing slot content to the bar, to provide a solution to operators from a hold perspective (video slots like Buffalo hold substantially more than video poker), but also to players who like to play slot content while they’re sitting at a bar.”
Drane says the company has been testing the waters on the product with customers since previewing it last year at a pre-G2E showing. “We received feedback on the form factor, the hardware, the player loyalty systems, as well as the content—and we’ve got a lot of positive feedback, from route operators through to small local casinos and the large corporates,” he says. “Customers understand this could be a different bar setting as well as an addition to their existing bars, so we do see this as widespread across the Americas.”
There will be 18 games available to operators in the inaugural edition, and Drane says the company is building functionality to scale above that in the second and third iterations.
Aristocrat will be taking its growing library of content in all game styles into new markets over the next year. The company recently launched its VLT footprint with the Atlantic Lottery Corporation in Canada, and will be rolling out games in Manitoba in December, says Drane, who adds that Aristocrat will be entering the central-determinant video lottery market in Washington state around the same time.
“Aristocrat is excited to enter these new market adjacencies; we have committed to entering these segments with our customers over the past couple of years,” says Drane. “That’s all coming to fruition.”
In the end, it will be the variety Aristocrat offers in all game styles that will keep the slot-maker at the top of the market.
“It’s absolutely vital to the future of our portfolio, and how we service our customers, to make sure we give them all the product they could possibly need for their casino floor, whether it be leased or bought,” says Hanlin, “and that we cover all the available options in the market, whether that’s video poker, stepper, VLT or central determinant.
“We’re expanding our offerings to make sure we can service any customer in North America.”
Aruze uses projection imaging and other innovative technologies to move forward in slots and electronic table games
Things have moved forward rapidly for Las Vegas-based Aruze Gaming America. It is a forward movement that has accelerated since Eric Persson took over in March 2017 as the company’s general manager.
Persson, now president and chief operating officer of the slot supplier, instituted changes quickly. Noting that he wanted to offer operators something he himself would have appreciated—he was senior vice president of Las Vegas Sands Corp. and served senior roles for several other operators prior to joining Aruze—Persson immediately instituted an industry-first two-year performance guarantee on all products using the APX video platform, and on any new video platforms going forward.
Just before last year’s Global Gaming Expo, he added another industry first for Aruze customers, a six-year guarantee on any new APX cabinet purchase on hardware, software and service support.
While making moves like this to solidify the company’s relationship with its customers, Persson looked to expand Aruze’s product base, bringing in veteran leadership for product management on the slot side and for a move into the table-game side of the industry.
Laura Sims joined as product manager just before G2E 2017. In January, Brandon Knowles joined as executive director of table games. Sims had been a product manager for Aristocrat prior to her most recent stint in the same role for online slot studio Genesis Gaming. Knowles was experienced in an area to which the company’s focus was shifting, electronic table games. He had managed ETGs for Shuffle Master and IGT.
The executives’ arrival marked a shift in Aruze’s growth path, with the introduction of new technologies on the slot side and diverse table games products.
The company’s display at the Global Gaming Expo will reflect this movement, as well as showcasing new cabinets and product lines that expand the footprint of Aruze Gaming America in new ways.
Cabinets and Content
This year’s G2E will mark a continued evolution in the cabinet area, accompanied by some intriguing new content to fill those form factors.
The most recent of those is the Muso Triple-27 cabinet, launched at NIGA’s Indian Gaming Tradeshow in April. According to Sims, the new cabinet will eventually replace the core Cube-X cabinet launched a few years ago. For now, the company continues to release content that can be adapted to either cabinet.
The Muso Triple-27 cabinet features three stacked 27-inch monitors, a high-performance sound system, an ergonomic glass-table button deck with a 13.3-inch LCD interface, and the first-ever wireless charging port on a slot machine, accompanied by a USB outlet.
Sims describes the Muso Triple-27 as a good example of “out-of-the-box” thinking in Aruze R&D. “One of the great aspects is that it looks like a much larger cabinet; it’s got a really great presence,” she says. “But it’s actually an inch or so shorter than our Cube-X cabinet. It’s the first with a wireless charger built in, plus a USB outlet. All of the LCD panels are upgraded to a higher brightness and high definition.”
Sims adds that one unique aspect of the Muso Triple-27 is its LED lighting, which surrounds the entire cabinet. “Because of the LED lighting in the back, it has a tremendous presence on the floor,” she says. “As you walk around the back, it’s calling out to a player from every direction. No one else is doing lighting on the back; that’s a part of the cabinet that’s ignored traditionally. But this really makes it more exciting.”
Some 200 Muso Triple-27 units were already in the field by early August, housing two different games. Sims notes that the game Wheels Go Round, with sequential animation that serves almost as additional signage, has generated particularly strong customer feedback.
At G2E, Aruze will launch additional titles for Muso Triple-27 and for the other cabinet launched last year. At G2E 2017, the company debuted the Thor cabinet, featuring a curved 55-inch HD monitor with a 21.5-inch tablet touchscreen and dual USB charging ports.
Aruze also will arrive at G2E with new content for the Cube-X Vertical 80, which stackes two 40-inch monitors to present an 80-inch play surface; and the Cube-X Vertical—with its 42-inch vertical monitor, still a mainstay for premium games.
The Cube-X Vertical games were released beginning in January, and according to Sims, the two highest performers have been Xtreme Dragon’s Fortune and Xtreme Panda.
“Both have an expanding reel feature and very animated characters that interact with the reels,” says Sims. “The panda gets angry and pounds on the reels and throws a giant coin.” Sims calls Xtreme Panda her “personal favorite” in the Cube-X Vertical series, citing little touches like an Easter egg in which the panda reacts to petting by playing with his ears.
In the Dragon’s Fortune game, the dragon shoots flame down the reels and lights them up with wilds. “The feature comes in very frequently, but the game still has a high level of volatility,” says Sims. “That’s part of what keeps it so engaging to players. If you like adorable characters, it’s a great game for you. If you like frequent features, it’s a great game for you. If you like higher volatility, if you like chasing progressives, it’s a great game.”
Aruze will bring four game pairings to G2E—along with the two Xtreme games, the company will show Ancient Wheel Aztec and Ancient Wheel Tiger; Thunderstorm Diamond Noir and Thunderstorm Gilded Treasure; and Sizzling Wheel Mighty Tiger and Sizzling Wheel Flamenco Desire.
“We did a lot of focus testing with players around the Sizzling Wheel games,” says Sims. “We had very positive responses—players said it looks like a lucky game because the wheel is on fire the whole time. It always has this feeling you’re almost already in a bonus.”
On the Cube-X Vertical 80, Aruze is launching two-game pairings—Xtreme Tornado and Xtreme Explosion; and Wild Explosion Get’cha Money and Wild Explosion Get’cha Gold.
All include bursts of wild symbols, multipliers or other bonuses through tornados, erupting volcanos or fantastic explosions. The base-game feature in the Wild Explosion games is triggered when dynamite or bombs land on the reels, starting a timer countdown through three base-game spins. Wild symbols stay in place when they land and spread out to other reels in an explosion when the timer reaches zero.
“These games have great characters, and some of the most fun sound packages I’ve ever heard,” says Sims.
Aruze also will display six new games in the Cube-X Innovator Deluxe reel-spinning series, including multi-progressive groups Moonshine/Sun Fire Jackpot, Leap to Riches, and Dazzling Thunder.
“Sun Fire Jackpot and Moonshine Jackpot really showcase the way we take a cabinet we already have and refresh it, so it feels like something completely different on the floor,” Sims says.
While the other games on the cabinet have a glow ring encircling a video wheel, Sun Fire Jackpot and Moonshine Jackpot do not. “We changed it from your traditional flat wheel to a vertical wheel that spins towards the player,” Sims explains. “That creates an entirely different feel. Visually, as you walk across the floor, it feels like a new cabinet.”
The Leap to Riches progressive link features games with skill-based or perceived skill features. The operator has the option of setting the skill level on a skill-stop feature, ranging from full skill to perceived skill in stopping the final reel.
For all the diversity in Aruze’s slot product, this year’s trade show marks the company’s expansion into completely new areas. On the slot side, the company is launching new technologies both to create entirely new play experiences and to reprise one of the most popular game offerings in the company’s history.
One of the most-visited displays at Aruze’s G2E booth is sure to be Ray Vision, a new type of slot bank that uses projection mapping to create a 3D picture across a top screen that conforms to the shape of each cabinet.
in three-game or six-game, back-to-back configurations, Ray Vision tops the individual screen on each play station—the premium package includes a vibrating chair with integrated sound—and uses the projection on the top screen for bonuses, jackpot celebrations and attract sequences.
“It has the feel of community games while still offering individual play,” says Sims. “In a three-pack, that middle seat that nobody wants is turned into the hot spot. The giant volcano interacts with each individual player.” The top screens are actually one molded plastic screen displaying projected images. There is a see-through glass button deck. “That looks fantastic,” says Sims. “When I saw it in person, I thought it looked like something out of Tron!”
Common features include the volcano shaking to throw wilds into the reels of one player, and big-screen jackpot features. “It creates this really seamless feel,” says Sims. “The image even comes down around the sides of the monitors, which is something you wouldn’t be able to do with a normal LCD.”
She says Aruze is planning to have Ray Vision to market by the end of the year.
New technology also is aiding a G2E reboot of Paradise Fishing, one of the games that arguably put Aruze on the map in Nevada.
The refresh of the game reprises its most popular feature, a common fishing bonus in which players use special fishing “reels” that give a realistic experience of fish tugging on the line as players try to reel in the largest bonuses.
The new Paradise Fishing is on the “Muso Limited” cabinet, which reprises the Muso Triple-27 features, but with a 27-inch main screen topped by a 55-inch portrait monitor. Unlike the original Paradise Fishing, banks of the new version can go anywhere on the floor, including back to back, unlike the original’s requirement to be placed on a wall.
“All the features people will remember from the original Paradise Fishing are there—the great fishing bonus, the reel controller with tension,” says Sims, who adds that the new presentation includes an extra touch—a wrap that makes it look like you’re fishing in a wooden boat.
A Seat at the Table
Under an effort headed by Knowles, the company is moving in a big way into the electronic table games market, and even into the supply sector of the live table-game market.
According to the company, Aruze’s table games products will be the “centerpiece” of its G2E booth, encompassing the inaugural series of Aruze electronic table games, and its first RFID-enabled gaming chips.
The ETG effort began with Aruze’s popular Shoot to Win Craps game, which can be found at many Las Vegas properties. At G2E, the company will officially launch Roll to Win Craps, a hybrid dealer-assisted ETG that combines digital technology with a live-dealer craps game using real dice on a standard-sized craps table.
All bets and payoffs are made via electronic terminals equipped with ticket-in/ticket out payment. Up to 10 players place bets electronically, and the physical dice pass to each player as in the live game. The dealer enters each result on a terminal and play proceeds like a regular craps game.
Only one dealer is needed for Roll to Win Craps, to call the results and direct game play.
The table is an innovation in itself. The back panel facing players is formed from a series of LED panels, which can be programmed to display each point, proposition bets, hard-ways, etc., or even as a medium for advertising.
“Side bets are configurable,” Knowles explains. “There are various table layout scenarios.” He said one possible side bet is a progressive won if a shooter reaches a predetermined number of rolls without crapping out. “Wagers are identified by color and where they’re coming from,” says Knowles. “The dealer doesn’t have to track bets or make payouts, and all action is reconciled electronically.”
Knowles says Roll to Win craps is expected to achieve GLI certification in December and will roll out in Nevada early next year.
Meanwhile, the same projection imaging technology that is being applied to the slot side in Ray Vision is being applied to other new ETGs Aruze will launch at the show.
Lucky Roulette is a modified version of a previous Aruze product called Virtual Roulette, in which projection imaging provided the entire visual, including the spinning roulette wheel.
Lucky Roulette uses a real roulette wheel, with a real ball, with projection imaging available for side bets, spin history and other messaging. In one side bet, the player bets on a number, and his or her game screen goes into a separate bonus event if the number lands.
Projection imaging also is being used on Super Big Wheel, a big-6 game that includes side bets for progressives; and on yet another radical product from Aruze—the Omni-Table.
The Omni-Table is essentially a generic table game that uses projection imaging from underneath to present the layout of any specific game. The operator can transform one table from blackjack to Three Card Poker or any other game that occupies a similar footprint. “Operators don’t need bodies to move furniture to switch out games,” Knowles says, adding that as with the other new table products, the projection display also includes room for advertisements on the table—shows in the showroom, restaurant specials, or even outside advertising.
There is one more new ETG product being shown which will “defy the imagination,” says Knowles. It is tentatively called “Multi-Card, Multi-Game.” “As you pull a card out of a shoe, that card can be played for your baccarat game, your blackjack game, your war game. The idea is you’re leveraging labor to deliver multiple games across multiple terminals. Side bet opportunities are endless.”
Finally, in July, Aruze entered into a distribution agreement with Genesis Gaming Solutions to distribute a new line of Aruze Gaming RFID-embedded gaming chips powered by the best-of-breed PJM3.0 technology, in conjunction with the Genesis Bravo system suite.
“We are definitely in the RFID chip business,” Knowles says. “In fact, we are rapidly approaching 150 mph in the RFID space.”
Still, G2E is about the games, and with the new ETGs, Aruze will arrive at the show with around 80 titles.
“We’re on fire,” says Knowles. “And we’re looking for different ways of innovating the market.”
Everi expands game development and explores new ways to deliver a wealth of content
In the three years since payments leader Global Cash Access merged with surging slot manufacturer Multimedia Games to form Everi Holdings, the former headquarters of Multimedia Games in Austin, Texas has remained the creative heart of Everi’s games operation. Top engineering talent from the University of Texas had always combined with the artistic vibe of the capital city to give Everi slots their unique appeal, and the merged company’s management, headed by President and CEO Michael Rumbolz, was wise enough to leave that operation unchanged.
Dean Ehrlich, who joined Everi in January 2017 as executive vice president and games business leader, has expanded on that success. The gaming business now internally houses multiple studios in three cities.
Each studio has its own name, its own specialty—and its own identity, from Studio 7, Big Bet Studio and Top Shelf Studio in Austin to a second outlet of Top Shelf in Reno, the Black Hat Studio in Chicago, and the newest, bZillions in Las Vegas, headed by gaming technology veteran Steve Weiss.
“R&D spend is currently more than $45 million a per year, which includes all our outside developers,” says Ehrlich.
Much of that growth is devoted to new hardware platforms, in what Ehrlich calls a “doubling down” on the hardware strategy. This year, Everi will be adding to what is already a remarkably diverse collection of hardware. While still providing new content for the Core HDX video cabinet and the Player Classic and Player Classic Boost stepper cabinets, the company is also rolling out new content for the Empire MPX premium format, also known as the E43 (referencing its 43-inch flat portrait screen); and the towering Empire 5527—featuring a 27-inch flat touch-screen LCD topped by a 55-inch portrait-style LCD.
More variations of the Empire cabinet series will be highlighted this year, including the Empire DCX, a new premium form factor featuring dual curved 42-inch landscape-style LCD monitors; and Empire Arena, the elaborately banked execution of the E5527 cabinet. Add in a new stepper cabinet this year as well, and the number of formats on which a parade of new content will flourish has few equals in the industry.
Everi’s R&D team is filling all of these new cabinets not only with licensed brands, but with 70 percent original content—original math and/or innovative new play features—and a variety of themes, over 80 this year alone.
“One of our most significant mantras here is creating original content,” Ehrlich says. “Our different development studios have the tenacity and the capability to produce never-before-seen content. Just consider Lightning ZAP, for example. We have a very talented group of experienced industry veterans that spearhead our game creation efforts.”
To ensure the company releases only its best, Everi has ramped up its player-based research with focus groups on concepts, game prototypes, brand licenses and new hardware.
“We bring players into our Chicago office,” explains Ehrlich. “We conduct roundtables, ask questions and formulate whether or not they believe a concept would make a decent slot game or, more importantly, not. We also speak with players about brand licenses to determine whether we want to pursue a particular license.”
When a game reaches the prototype stage, Everi goes back to the players in Chicago. “They’ll play the game, kick the tires on it and provide feedback,” Ehrlich says. “We’ll make necessary changes, retest it and eventually release it to market.”
Ehrlich says this process can repeat several times for more challenging innovative concepts. “We’ll go back to the well a few times, especially if it’s a new play mechanic,” he says. “We want to ensure the game resonates with and is very intuitive for the player.”
Stream of Content
Everi game developers are spending more time than ever seeking player input on new games, simply because of the flood of new content pouring from the company’s five studios.
The exhaustive research and development effort will pay off for Everi at the Global Gaming Expo, with more than 130 games on display—new content designed for all the various cabinet formats, including an impressive lineup of both licensed brands and proprietary content.
One of Everi’s most prominent offerings introduced in the past year is Everi Bet 2.0, an upgrade to the company’s groundbreaking technology that allows operators to set theoretical return-to-player (RTP) percentages according to the level of wager. Games with the Everi Bet 2.0 feature incentivize the player to make higher wagers, its LCD button deck displaying in simple terms that the payback percentage rises with the bet, with bet levels marked with “good,” “better” and “best” return to player.
According to Andrew Frisch, Everi’s director of product and program management, Everi Bet is the most-requested functionality from Everi’s Customer Advisory Board. “We’ve enhanced the messaging to the player, in terms of the button deck changes on screen,” he says. “Pop-ups will change to really make sure the player knows what’s happening as they bet up.”
Meanwhile, Everi will fill the cabinets launched in the past year with new content designed for each, and will complement that with content that can be shared between one of the new form factors and the Core HDX dual-screen cabinet.
According to Frisch, the E43 cabinet has been updated since its launch last year. “The lighting on the Apex Edge topper now follows the same design cues as the cabinet itself,” he explains. “We’ve also brought some of our merchandising from our more premium space into our for-sale space.”
On the premium video side, the E43 joins the other new Empire configurations—the E5527 and banked Empire Arena—in hosting one of the most impressive collections of licensed brands in the business.
At the forefront is Singin’ in the Rain, a masterful themed video slot on the E43 that uses bonus events to take players into the heart of the iconic 1952 MGM musical starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor.
The new game, which was slated for a September release, is offered with specialized merchandising including theme-specific wedges and single- or double-faced signage. But once the attract features draw players, the game itself takes over with an immersive experience drawing on the most memorable scenes of the film.
The game’s quality is indicative of the design team that worked on it—Everi’s Black Hat Studio in Chicago includes many of the same game designers who were responsible for the former WMS Gaming’s landmark Wizard of Oz video slot series. Singin’ in the Rain uses similar math and play mechanics to that long-running success, including two mystery bonus events in the primary game and three separate bonus events, with one leading to one of five progressive jackpots. Bonuses and the progressive jackpots are linked to each of the film’s four main characters.
One themed game to be officially launched at G2E is a new video Willie Nelson game on the E43. The Willie Nelson theme first was used in last year’s pair of mechanical reel-spinning games, designed for high-denomination players. The new video version is packed with bonuses, music and video developed in partnership with Nelson himself, who lives right around the corner from Everi’s Austin games headquarters.
As a result, the game includes nods to Nelson’s unapologetic highwayman lifestyle. There’s the “Whiskey River Free Spins” with “Seein’ Double” double Willie symbols. Or the “Willie’s IRS Beater” bonus prize of exactly $1,199. The leaf of a certain plant favored by Nelson is one of the wild symbols. Bonuses include original images of Nelson’s Texas home, and music includes guitar recorded there by Nelson’s grandson-in-law.
Also on the E43 is South Park, a hilarious three-reel video slot based on the long-running Comedy Central animated series depicting foul-mouthed kids and injecting social commentary in a particularly raunchy manner. The game captures many of the funniest bits from the show, which is in its 22nd season.
Everi also will launch three new branded themes on the super-sized E5527 cabinet, launched last year with The Brady Bunch.
Set to launch around the time of the show is Felix the Cat, a multi-progressive game based on the quirky cartoon character ranked No. 28 on TV Guide’s list of “50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time.” Following next year will be the E5527 versions of Fruit Ninja, the fruit-slicing video game that has been offered as a skill-game in the company’s TournEvent system titled Fruit Ninja Gold; and Hot Stuff, based on the 1960s comic book character Hot Stuff the Little Devil, now owned by DreamWorks, titled Smokin’ Hot Stuff Wicked Wheel.
Both games feature a six-level progressive available at any bet.
On the Empire Arena banked E5527 product will be a game previewed last year and ready for release later this year—Shark Week, a six-pod group of games presented as a themed package, the 55-inch monitors arranged touching each other to form a spectacular top display that looks like a giant aquarium.
The bonus game is based on the Discovery Channel program Shark Week, television’s longest-running program featuring shark-based stories, research and unique insights. Placed on top of four popular Everi base games, the top monitors host clever themed bonuses like “What Did the Shark Eat?” and a touch-screen event in which the player touches the shark to break the cage in which he is contained.
One more new licensed theme will be featured on the latest iteration of the Empire series of cabinets, the Empire DCX. The new cabinet uses the dual landscape-oriented curved monitors to create a wrap-around effect.
The launch game is based on The Mask, Jim Carrey’s hit 1994 film in which a mild-mannered bank employee finds his wild inner self through a magical ancient mask that washed up from a river. Carrey’s inventive, maniacal zoot-suited character comes through in the immersive experience created by the Empire DCX in several funny bonus events.
Brands for Sale
Everi’s lineup of for-sale video products also uses the Empire series—alongside and sometimes along with the dual-screen Core HDX—for both licensed brands and the company’s growing stable of hit proprietary themes.
“We have a robust pipeline for both the Core HDX and the E43 in the for-sale video space,” says Frisch. “We’re also looking to leverage select brands in this for-sale space.”
One of those for-sale brands highlighted this year is also one of those games available on either the Core HDX or the E43 cabinet—Knight Rider, based on the popular 1980s TV series starring David Hasselhoff as a detective aided by “KITT,” his self-aware, artificially intelligent Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am.
In the base game, KITT (it stands for “Knight Industries Two Thousand”) randomly appears to reward up to seven re-spins with wilds and multipliers up to 7X. The Knight Rider Pick Bonus awards credits or “Jewel Jackpots.”
While the branded games are certainly strong, many more of the titles being launched on the E43 and Core HDX display Everi’s well-known prowess in creating and continuing hit proprietary game groups. For instance, Lazer Lock, a banked multi-denomination linked progressive in which higher bets give players better odds at a progressive, will be available later this year on the Core HDX and in the first half of 2019 on the E43.
Also on both formats is a new version of Lightning ZAP, the innovative game configured without reels but with a field of award amounts, won by a zap of lighting from a central electrical sphere. The player’s hits on a spin button charge up the sphere until it zaps a prize.
Lighting ZAP, released earlier this year, has been a hit with players, and according to the company, has performed above house average across the map. At G2E, Everi will capitalize on that success with the launch of Lightning ZAP Jackpot, which adds five progressive jackpots to the field of “zappable” prizes. The new version is available in three unique themes, offering the operator a choice of volatility. For players, there are no “non-win wins”—every prize is higher than the bet.
At G2E, Everi will launch an Asian-themed version of the game, Dragon ZAP, a high-denomination variation with a “Match 3” progressive picking bonus. It is available either on the Core HDX or the dual-screen, large-format Texan HDX.
The company’s G2E lineup, in fact, contains several sequels to popular Everi brands. On the Core HDX are new versions of FuXuan Jackpot Inferno, Fire Phoenix Burst and High Voltage, all games already performing well in the field.
FuXuan 88 features stacked wilds, a free-spin event with a “nudge” feature, and a multi-pick bonus. All bonuses are available at any bet. Jackpot Inferno Wildstorm features four reel sets with wild reel stacks and up to 100 free spins with all the lower-paying symbols removed from the reels. Fire Phoenix Burst is a 720-ways-to-win game with the “Phoenix Burst” feature leading to stacked symbols.
High Voltage Jackpot Jolt features seven jackpot levels, and a clever feature in which symbols which “block” a jackpot become paying symbols by themselves.
Other highlights include Diamond Rain, previewed at last G2E and being released by the end of this year; and a sister game, Jackpot Wheel, both on the E43. Also on Core HDX is Double Jackpot Wolf, one of a new series of high-denomination video games that use proven math models ported over from the mechanical reel side.
Jim Palermo, Everi’s senior vice president and executive producer, notes that tapping into the success of Everi’s reel-spinners made sense. “Ten of the top 25 mechanical-reel games on the market in a recent Eilers-Fantini report were ours,” Palermo says. “All of them also work as video games. It turns out they’re just good games.”
“Super Jackpot was the first one we brought from mechanical to video, and it’s done so well we’ve now expanded that,” says Frisch. “We’re looking to continue that success with more titles and offering them into our for-sale video footprint.”
The newest outside development team secured by Everi, Steve Weiss’ Las Vegas bZillions Studio, will have a primary focus on single-line, high-denomination video product in addition to new large-form-factor development.
It’s an example of the flexibility Everi brings to all the form factors. Palermo notes that just as titles launched on the Empire series of cabinets are being made available on the Core HDX, the best games on the dual-screen will be available on the E43 portrait cabinet.
“Nearly all of the themes that work well on our Core HDX format will be brought to the portrait cabinet,” Palermo says. “That’s a strategy that differentiates us from our competitors. You can’t lose buying our portrait cabinet, because you also get the best games from our dual-screen format.”
Among those games is Money Frog, one of the best-performing games on the dual-screen format, which Palermo says is performing even better on the portrait cabinet.
Other highlights on the video side include Money Ball, with the random Money Ball feature awarding static jackpots and the MoneyBall Frenzy feature leading to one of five progressives; Dragon Surge, a ways-to-win game with an expanding-reel feature; and Cherry Bomb, with a tall, eight-by-five-reel array and “mini-reels” that can trigger progressive jackpots.
As Palermo notes, the mechanical reel-spinning genre has been one of the brightest spots for Everi the past few years. The Player Classic 3.0 platform, highlighted last year with the first Willie Nelson-themed games, is available in two new formats, the Player Classic 26, introducing a 26-inch top box over the spinning reels with three exclusive titles per year; and the Player Classic Boost, including a game-controlled video topper above the top LCD screen.
“Everi is one of the top mechanical-reel providers in the industry, if not the provider for high-denomination currently,” says Ehrlich. “If you ask a casino operator which high-denomination mechanical is a must-have on the floor, they’re going to say Everi.”
“The Player Classic 3.0 is one of our most successful platforms to date,” adds Frisch, “so we’re enhancing the cabinet, and adding variety into what the form factor looks like. We launched the Boost feature early this year, which gives us more real estate to display the progressives on the Apex N topper and pay tables on the LCD top box.”
Displaying pay tables, in fact, is one of the big draws of the new reel-spinners. Everi’s researchers learned players really miss the full pay-table displays that were used on the classic reel-spinners.
“One of the things we consistently heard from players was, ‘We love to pay-table shop; we need more pay tables to be prominently displayed,’” says Frisch. “Boost was our first move in that direction, and we’ve now followed that up with the Player Classic 26, which is a bit different from our standard cabinet with a large 26-inch top box.”
Everi’s new stepper slots combine games with the old-school mechanical reel mechanics with some games that feature unique new game mechanics. The twin games Sapphire Spin and Shamrock Spin are classic high-denomination ($1-$100), three-reel buy-a-pay games, with a free-spin bonus available only with the second coin bet.
Cash Machine and Hundred or Grand both add innovative game mechanics to the classic formula. Cash Machine is a simple “what you see is what you get” game with dollar amounts serving as the reel symbols. The player gets what lands on the reels—and max bet is required to activate all the reels. Hundred or Grand returns only two prizes for winning combinations—100 credits or 1,000 credits.
“We’re aiming to offer something truly unique in the stepper space,” Frisch says.
Other highlights in the mechanical space for Everi are Wild Jewels and Wild Electric Diamond, follow-on titles to the popular progressives Blazin’ Ice and Lightning Diamonds that link to the same progressive pool.
“We’re also leveraging our really premium mechanical games with new versions,” says Frisch. “For Black Diamond, one of the best brands we have, we’ve released a Skyline variation as well as a Deluxe version in the standard form factor.”
The tall Skyline cabinet, in fact, is getting its own upgrade in the premium mechanical space. Skyline Revolve features the tall Skyline top box incorporating Everi’s first mechanical bonus wheel. The lease-only offering comes with a complete merchandising package, and two premium brands for the launch—a reboot of Penn & Teller, featuring new, funny video recorded by star Penn Jillette, the “talking” member of the famous comedy/magic duo; and Casablanca, last year’s hit brand in a nine-line, nine-coin high-denom reel-spinner.
All the core games will be accompanied by new offerings in some of the areas in which the company has excelled. Everi’s best content will be available next year in Everi Game, the company’s first-ever multi-game platform. The product will be released in two 12-game bundles beginning in Q1 2019.
The company’s expertise in simple high-denomination games is being used this year to add a new base game to the TournEvent system, with which the company will wrap up the latest TournEvent of Champions national competition at the XS nightclub during G2E week.
It is an add-on to the original TournEvent and the Fruit Ninja skill game, designed to target the traditional player. It is a simple three-reel tournament game, targeting older players who don’t like the fast-paced balloon-popping of the original. “It was one of the most-asked-for developments from our customers,” says Frisch.
Other new functionality for TournEvent is a feature that allows multi-property operators to host TournEvent tournaments at multiple locations simultaneously; and a “sit-and-go” mode that allows players to play their tournament sessions at various times.
Finally, the wealth of high-performing content from Everi is easing the company’s move into the interactive space. In an effort headed by Dave Lucchese, executive vice president, digital and interactive business leader, Everi is on track with an interactive strategy that falls into two primary “buckets”—B-2-C and B-2-B.
For B-2-C, the company continues to pour content into its mobile-based social casino launched last year, called Super Jackpot Slots. The free-to-play site, which offers Everi’s best games, is now joined by a second site, High Rollin’ Vegas, designed to showcase high-denomination, three-reel mechanical-style reel-spinning games.
Meanwhile, for B-2-B applications, Everi games are now available to a network of more than 35 sites via services provided by third-party partners. However, the company has developed its own proprietary remote game server (RGS), which is currently before Gaming Laboratories International for certification. Going forward, Everi’s RGS will be deployed for both social and real-money customers.
“The whole premise behind our strategy is leveraging all our great brands for land-based casinos,” Lucchese says. “We don’t have math guys in our department; we’re leveraging the exact land-based math.”
One technological advance from Lucchese’s team, headed by Marshall Adair, senior executive producer and interactive director, was to take Everi’s strong math designs and put them on a server it calls the Remote Math Server (RMS), which will allow operators to customize Everi games on their own sites.
Lucchese says the heart of all the interactive success has been the strength of Everi’s content.
That content, in all its variations, will be on display this month in Las Vegas for all to see.
In It to Win It
Since skill-based games first hit casino floors in 2016, they’ve been touted as the next big thing—the innovation that will finally bring Gen X, Gen Y and millennial players into the fold.
It’s no small job to literally bridge the generation gap between young adults weaned on video games and traditional slot players. Not surprisingly, the new wave of video-gambling games has seen its share of wipeouts.
Eric Meyerhofer, CEO of Glendale, California-based Gamblit Gaming, isn’t surprised, or especially concerned. “Video slots have been perfecting their art for over 30 years and slot machines are over 100 years old, but skill gaming is very much in its infancy,” says Meyerhofer. “While we’ve had some great promotional support from our casino partners, it’s apparent the majority of casino patrons still aren’t aware that skill games exist. As with any new industry, this will take time, patience, cooperation and, of course, fun and exciting games that people tell their friends about.” Once players discover the games, he adds, they “generally really enjoy the interactivity, engagement and game play compared to slots.”
Gamblit is leveraging high-profile brands like Deal or No Deal, Pac-Man, Jetpack Joyride and Cut the Rope to not only win over next-gen consumers, but to engage everyone on the casino floor. Heading into G2E, Meyerhofer talked about what’s new and what’s next:
GGB: Here’s the chicken-and-egg question. Do casinos have to attract younger players to help these games get a foothold, or do the games come first, to bring in the younger players?
Eric Meyerhofer: The larger group of younger casino visitors is assured, certainly in the U.S., where the largest population groups of the combined Gen X and millennials compared to boomers is overwhelming numbers-wise. You will see younger visitors.
The question remains: will they become electronic game players? For slot machines, it’s clear the answer is no. With our games, we’ve proven that yes, the younger visitors not only like to engage in our games but often play multiple games on our TriStation hardware. It’s our belief that monetizing this customer base on the gaming floor is key to the future of the industry.
Can you break down that audience by age, gender, etc.? Is there any spillover into older generations, the people who are already regular casino patrons?
We’ve seen customers of all ages on our games. However, our average player is 36 (compared to the average slot player, who is 58, per the American Gaming Association).
Our player age curve is the perfect complement to slots, with our attraction for players over 50 as the lowest segment and players under 40 as our largest. We tend to be pretty evenly split between male and female, with some games leaning towards one side or the other. We have a significant amount of unrated players, meaning most casinos are seeing Gamblit games as new revenue.
You’re working to shorten the play cycle. What’s your goal in that regard?
Some of our first-wave games lasted more than a minute between wagers versus approximately six seconds for a slot machine. Striking the right balance between a captivating experience and financial results will be important in order to engage and monetize this younger player.
Let’s talk about the Pac-Man multi-player game. It certainly brings the brand recognition, and it’s a game that has the longstanding affection of generations of players. Beyond nostalgic appeal, how does your version tune it up for casinos?
We have very high expectations for Pac-Man: Battle Casino. We co-developed the game in a rare partnership with Bandai Namco Amusement, which has been amazing to work with. The development team in Tokyo has kept all the things that make Pac-Man incredibly fun, while implementing a straightforward wagering mechanic and system under our guidance.
Given that Pac-Man is the most popular video game character of all time and the controls are easy to pick up, we think it will have massive universal and broad age appeal. We certainly saw that at G2E last year when the game made its world debut.
You just launched Deal or No Deal, both single-player and multi-player versions. Can you describe that game and how it plays? How do you choose these brands, by the way? Why Deal or No Deal, for instance?
With Deal or No Deal, we kept all the classic elements of the show everyone loves—selecting a briefcase, the banker making an offer, fun models—but instead of trivia, you’re playing poker to win big. Players either battle it out against other players on our Model G multi-player table or against the house on our TriStation single-player system. Both DOND experiences are true to the game show while giving players the familiarity of poker.
Our brand selection is a layered process; most of all, we start with, “What’s fun? What do we like to play?” Stats like downloads help us know we’re providing games our customers already know and love while allowing them to wager on it for the first time. Some partnerships include “Into the Dead,” which has over 75 million downloads, while “Catapult King” has reached more than 40 million and “Cut the Rope” tracks over 1 billion. It all starts with what’s a fun, deeply engaging and an easy-to-learn experience.
Why do you think Cut the Rope has such widespread appeal?
Very few apps in existence have crossed that billion-download mark; Cut the Rope achieved that success largely due to the adorable nature of Om Nom, the main character, the fun of the puzzles, and engaging game play.
We’ve been thrilled to work exclusively on the casino version with ZeptoLab, adding wagering to Cut the Rope 2, which will be shown at G2E this year and on floors soon.
What else will you be talking about at G2E?
We’ll be showing a lot of great new products—over 20 games—including the world debuts for games such as Doodle Jump, another Gamblit exclusive which has received over 250 million downloads, and the all new exclusive single-player Pac-Man game Cash Chase.
Where are Gamblit Games being played right now?
We’re live at more than 25 locations from California to Nevada to Indiana and Oklahoma, with many more in the works.
We still consider this to be a test-launch phase, gathering lots of data on what does and doesn’t work and modifying our games for the best player experience. —By Marjorie Preston