Global Games 2018 - Part II

The second part of our annual spotlight of innovation in the slot-machine business

 

 

 

 

 

 


Gaming Arts
Bingo supplier Gaming Arts assembles a dream team of veterans to move the company into the Class III slot market

A first visit to the executive and R&D teams at Las Vegas-based Gaming Arts, LLC leaves the distinct impression of a veteran slot supplier.

The company’s president, Mike Dreitzer, is a 20-year industry veteran who most recently was president, North America for Australian slot manufacturer Ainsworth Game Technology, where he opened that company’s massive Las Vegas headquarters and guided the supplier into new markets in the U.S.

In June, it was déjà vu for Dreitzer when he was joined by Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval to cut the ribbon on the newly expanded Gaming Arts Technology and Innovation Campus.

Jean Venneman, the company’s chief commercial officer, has had a distinguished career in the slot sector, in executive and slot-development roles at IGT, Bally and Scientific Games. She led the team that produced IGT’s Wheel of Fortune in 1996.

Keith Kruczynski, the director of game development, made his name during 12 years in the same position for the former Bally Technologies, where he was one of the primary developers of a parade of hit games.

Jason Babler, the product marketing manager, spent six years with Ainsworth, including Dreitzer’s time there, before moving with him to Gaming Arts. Before that, he was a marketing executive with Station Casinos and Club Fortune Casino.

Despite that enviable stable of slot-sector experience, as far as slot machines go, Gaming Arts is a startup.

 

Bingo Beginnings

Gaming Arts was founded in 2009 by David Colvin, an inventor with success in patents and IP who formed the company after purchasing the bingo and keno divisions of Las Vegas Gaming, Inc. Since then, the company’s main stock in trade has been in supplying keno and bingo games and technology that is now turning bingo and keno operations into more profitable enterprises.

Colvin, who is CEO of the company, started Gaming Arts with a few employees, but steadily grew the company into one of the leading suppliers in the bingo and keno markets. The company’s growth accelerated this year, with the signing of an agreement with Canadian distributor Bet Rite in June to bring Gaming Arts bingo and keno games and technologies to Canadian lotteries; and the July announcement that Gaming Arts had acquired the assets of Las Vegas Bingo Supply, Inc., a privately held supplier of live bingo equipment.

Gaming Arts currently stands at more than 60 employees, and the company is licensed in nearly 80 jurisdictions throughout the U.S., Latin America, the Pacific Rim and South Africa. The company provides bingo supplies and systems to run live keno operations to hundreds of operators, and is creator and underwriter of more than 100 proprietary bingo and keno games and technology. Gaming Arts is clearly established in the gaming industry as a prominent supplier for bingo and keno.

But that slot-machine thing?

In early 2018, Colvin and his son, Eric Colvin—now the company’s chief technology officer—met with Dreitzer to discuss the prospect of coming on board to lead Gaming Arts. There would remain a solid focus on the core businesses of keno and bingo, but Dreitzer would also help bring the company into the Class III casino slot business.

“I really saw great potential in the vision that David and Eric had to expand the company from both a content and a gaming technology standpoint,” Dreitzer says. “Moving into the slot business was a natural extension for where Gaming Arts was headed.

“The goal is to become an end-to end provider and partner for gaming enterprises worldwide, meeting a multitude of our customers’ needs all at once. With the solid foundation of an amazing team that had already been put together by the Colvins, led by GM Moises Navarrete, a solid foundation was there to build upon from day one.”

Since joining as president in February, Dreitzer has wasted no time. In April, he brought in Venneman and Babler. (Kruczynski had joined the company in January, one of the first additions in the Colvins’ drive to create a new slot supplier.)

As of August, Dreitzer had assembled a staff of some 20 veteran slot developers, mathematicians, and sales and marketing executives, with a combined 100-plus years of experience in developing and marketing slot machines. At this year’s Global Gaming Expo, Gaming Arts will officially introduce its first three series of slot machines.

Launching a startup slot supply operation is a new experience for Venneman, and for most other members of the new Gaming Arts team. But it is an opportunity they relish.

“It’s exciting to be at a company when it’s just getting into the starting blocks,” Venneman says. “I spent most of my career at companies that were trying to hang on to market share. I’ve been where we had all the market share, and right now, we’re sitting at exactly zero market share. So we have just one direction to go.”

 

Keno, Bingo and Slots

As chief commercial officer, Venneman not only oversees the product plan for slots, but is responsible for growing the core keno and bingo businesses as well—a learning curve she conquered early on.

The company’s Optima live keno systems enjoy a 70 percent market share in casinos. The company also provides operators with keno kiosks, allowing players to pick a game, enter their numbers and print a ticket. Players can take the tickets home with them, watch the keno drawing on a mobile app, and return to the kiosk later to redeem winnings.

On the bingo side, in addition to its business of supplying bingo games, equipment, paper and daubers, Gaming Arts has developed several system products designed to inject some life—and profitability—into drab bingo games.

“We have numerous products that have really been great at enhancing the excitement level on a bingo floor,” Venneman says. “Bingo has a usual program of the different games they play. We offer stand-alone and overlay games that are added to one of their existing games, where if the player bingos during that session, we will provide them with a tablet that links to monitors around the bingo room so everyone can see it, and they’ll have the ability to spin a wheel or play other games in order to get their prize with the entire bingo room sharing in the excitement.”

It’s called the SuperGames suite—various bonus games with exceptionally high jackpots with separate pay tables, offered to bingo operators as an extra card in their games, with a different prize level. “It’s almost a side bet, if you will, on our game that we completely insure,” explains Babler. “We call up an entire pay table, and if we’re using our multi-win patent, we’re able to pay multiple winners as well. Generally in bingo, when someone hits a bingo, that’s the end of the game—and if people tie, they split the prize. We don’t split any prizes on our pay table.”

Gaming Arts takes that concept to the maximum with Bingo Millions, an add-on game in which winners can snag up to $1 million. The supplier insures the prize in this side bet as well, even if two players win the top prize. The game recently launched at the Plaza in Downtown Las Vegas.

Bingo Millions is very easy to play—simply bingo in 47 or less on the additional coverall card and win $1 million. (There is a smaller-scale version with a $100,000 prize called Bingo Millions Mini, and a third version which combines the two.)

On the marketing technology side, SuperPromo is the world’s first interactive casino-wide promotional system, featuring a suite of promotional games that can be customized and delivered to slot and table players via a casino management system. SuperPromo offers every conceivable casino promotion and more.

Finally, Gaming Arts offers a suite of electronic gaming machines that are pure U.S.-style bingo, under the SuperBingo and Ultimate Bingo brands. SuperBingo is a first-of-its-kind electronic bingo game that offers high play rates coupled with highly differentiated game mechanics. Ultimate Bingo includes a four-level “MegaProgressive” jackpot, awarded for completing various bingo patterns on the cards. Ultimate Bingo offers the same game play on up to nine different cards at once, with the same available progressive prize.

Both are available in either the patent-pending Phocus U103 upright or Phocus S103 slant-top cabinets, with denominations configurable by the operator.

 

To the Slot Side

Streamlining Gaming Arts’ effort to get the slot side of the business up and running was the fact that the development team was able to use the same cabinets, and more importantly, the same platform as those electronic bingo machines.

Kruczynski compares the advantage to when his former company, Bally, acquired Reno-based Class II supplier Sierra Design Group in 2004, and used that company’s platform as the basis for Bally’s Alpha slot platform, which revived the company’s business and survives to this day under Scientific Games.

“The nice part about our platform is that it’s already approved,” Kruczynski says, “which reminds me of what Bally did after purchasing SDG—we have this really great LINUX platform that is completely modifiable. We can custom-build it without having to worry about Unity or Windows licenses. That has made this effort really exciting, and advantageous for us.”

The inaugural Gaming Arts Class III slot library consists of three game series, dubbed “Pop’n Pays,” the “Da Fa Ba Series” and “Dice Seeker.”

According to Kruczynski, all the games are designed “for the true gambler,” but each series caters to a specific play style. All have an optional mystery progressive feature called “Rocket Rollup,” with what the company calls “an exciting ride for the player.” For operators, the games feature configurable return-to-player to drive higher bets.

The Pop’n Pays series features inventive game mechanics, high-volatility math, frequent bonus symbols and free games with “Rapid Re-triggers.” The inaugural games carry lighthearted themes like “Piñatas Ole!,” in which piñatas appear randomly on the reels to award up to 100 times the bet—or one of three progressive jackpots—to the background of fun custom music.

“Slot games are too serious,” says Kruczynski. “Our motto is ‘Fun for the Gambler.’”

The Da Fa Ba Series is a group of Asian-themed games (“ba” is Mandarin for the Asian lucky number 8) employing a multitude of popular play mechanics. One primary-game mystery event is a perceived skill-stop that gives the player three chances to improve a reel result. There are dual-purpose wild symbols that can trigger a “Take It or Leave It” gamble feature if the wild doesn’t result in a win. A free-game event offers the player a choice of volatility for the bonus.

Games in this series are ways-to-win games, with no traditional paylines and wins returned for adjacent symbols. According to Kruczynski, they are what the internal team calls the “Sydney Line,” because they cater to recurring players with Australian-style math.

Dice Seeker is a group of games utilizing a top-screen dice feature. Games like Viking Invasion feature dice that light up and award bonuses according to the number of pips on the die that lights up. Kruczynski says it’s a player-friendly event, because the dice are weighted equally.

The games also feature “sticky” wild symbols which can stay in place for several spins.

Gaming Arts is augmenting its first slot machines with a series of EGMs that replicate live table games in a single-player machine series called Casino Wizard. The first two entries, Casino Wizard Blackjack and Casino Wizard Baccarat, offer players the same odds as the live games, but the company is offering a number of side-bet features to increase operator hold.

Venneman says she’s confident that the Gaming Arts journey to capturing market share in the Class III slot market will be a quick one, and that confidence is common throughout the team.

“It’s going to be a necessity that we have an excellent product, and we think we do,” she says. “We’re going to have to have a consistent pipeline, and we know we will. And, we think our games are going to resonate with the players.

“We’re very excited to bring this company into a new space. But it’s a space we know very well.”

 


 

IGT
IGT uses meticulous research to produce “Proven Performers” on its way to recapturing dominance of the slot market

Twenty years ago, the spelling of “slot machine” in North America and many other parts of the world was accomplished with three letters: IGT.

At the start of the 21st century, International Game Technology dominated the slot market with anywhere from 70 percent to 75 percent market share. The company’s competitors fought over the remaining 25-30 percent of the market. Of course, that competition matured over time, with IGT’s competitors consolidating, expanding and blazing new and innovative trails in the sector.

Today, while IGT still sells more slot machines than any other North American supplier, the overall pie is dominated not by one, but by four companies. Over the past few years, IGT has worked to change that, with meticulous market and player research.

One laser focus has been to bring IGT back to the top of the market for core video slots, a space it absolutely owned in the early 2000s that had slipped away as competition grew. Not long after the merger with lottery and slot giant GTECH created today’s London-based company International Game Technology Plc., the new end-to-end company’s games division—now known simply as IGT—announced an intense effort to effect a turnaround in the core video space.

As noted by Dallas Orchard, IGT’s senior VP and chief product officer for gaming who spearheaded that effort, the video turnaround is complete.

“We’ve really been pushing that turnaround over the last couple of years as the No. 1 priority in the business, on the back of a lot of discipline around our test banks and our focus groups, which is really in full flight now,” Orchard says. “That core video turnaround, which we believe is complete now, is about creating sustainable results moving forward.”

The core video turnaround, of course, also has helped all of the other diverse product areas at IGT, including those areas like premium video, mechanical steppers and video poker, where the company never has relinquished its leadership position. That’s because the discipline of using test banks combined with customer focus groups has ensured that every new game released meets the company’s status of “Proven Performer.”

“Our commitment to the market a couple of years ago was that we will no longer publish games to the market that we don’t have confidence in ourselves,” Orchard says. “We’re really using that Proven Performer grade to come back from the test banks to decide what we’ll release to market, what we potentially rework and what we potentially throw away, at our expense, to make sure we end up with quality in the marketplace.”

The Proven Performer grade is achieved through a program of live testing of each new game in “test banks” across North America, a process Orchard oversees along with Mike Brennan, senior director of product management, as well as the heads of each product group.

“And we’re pretty tough on ourselves,” Orchard says. “Mike’s on me every month to make the grades tougher to achieve to go to market, because we want to make sure that when they go to market, they work.” Games are placed in the field test banks of host casinos for 90 days each, and, to eliminate false performance assumptions based on the novelty factor, game performance is only scored for days 60 through 90. “We throw the first two months away,” Orchard says. “It’s the third month that drives the grading. It’s been very successful for us.”

If a game doesn’t make the grade in 90 days, it goes back to the drawing board, and developers use focus-group testing and other research to rework the game until it achieves the Proven Performer score.

And it works.

Brennan offers the Fortune Coin video slot as a prime example of test-bank success. “It didn’t pass test bank with two iterations; the team pulled it back and reworked it, and now we have one of our strongest test-bank scores in a long time. We relaunched it, and it’s now one of our highest-performing games.”

Brennan says the test-bank system allows a game to be reworked and relaunched “without that market stigma” that would result from an unsuccessful general launch. “It allows us to have that safety net to make a game go from good to exceptional,” he says.

Operators are recognizing the benefits as well. “We had our Customer Advisory Board a few months ago,” says Orchard, “and the No. 1 piece of common feedback from our customers was that the dedication and the discipline to our test bank process has really created a lot more confidence, and is correlating with the performance we’re seeing in the marketplace. We’re able to prove to our customers now that if our games are scoring well on test bed, they should feel confidence in purchasing those games.”

 

Video Revival

The testing regimen has translated into performance both in the core video and premium video segments—manifested in a G2E lineup that will be dominated by those “Proven Performers.”

While IGT has been in line with other manufacturers the past several years in launching a wealth of new form factors in core and premium video, Orchard says two cabinets in particular have fueled much of the recent video success—the CrystalCurve and the CrystalDual 27. The CrystalCurve, with its 43-inch curved 4K HD portrait monitor, has proven a versatile form factor for a wealth of core video content, as well as premium. The CrystalDual 27, introduced at the spring NIGA Indian Gaming Tradeshow, features dual, high-definition, 27-inch landscape displays, the option for bank-wide synchronized lighting, a mobile device charging port, and other innovative features. Launch titles include Mistress of Egypt, Solar Disc and Scarab.

“The beauty of the CrystalDual 27 is that we were able to launch it with some of the highest-performing games ever from our test beds—great games that haven’t been seen in the market before,” says Orchard. “We believe with the CrystalCurve in the for-sale library and the CrystalDual 27 off to a great start, from a hardware perspective we’re on par with all of the market leaders, and from a game performance standpoint, we’re really starting to prove ourselves. We’re seeing incremental sales, which is critical.”

According to Orchard, 50 percent of IGT’s core video games are available on both cabinets.

“We’re supporting other cabinets as well,” Orchard says. “As part of this journey, we went back and cleaned up a lot of the underperforming games on those older cabinets. Also, we’ve made a lot of our titles backwards-compatible at the request of our customers. We’re starting to be more disciplined on which games go on which cabinets.”

On the core video side at G2E, the CrystalCurve and CrystalDual 27 will host a full collection of those high-performing games. Highlights will include Fortune Coin, the highest-scoring test-bank game in the past year. A ways-to-win video slot in the Jackpots series, Fortune Coin is an Asian-themed game with a four-level progressive jackpot. When one or more Fortune Coins land on the reels, it can trigger any of three bonuses—an award of up to 1,000 times the bet, a free-spin event in which all minor symbols are removed from the reels, or a progressive picking bonus with the goal of matching three icons corresponding to one of the jackpots. An “Award All” icon triggers all four progressive jackpots.

Fortune Coin is offered on four different cabinets, including the CrystalDual 27, CrystalCurve upright and both CrystalSlant slant-tops.

“We reworked the game twice, and this version is screaming on test banks,” says Phil O’Toole, IGT’s director of product management for North America. “It’s a real success story for the test bank.”

Other new core multi-progressive slots include two new games for the Hot Hit series—Hot Hit Ignite and Hot Hit Pepper Pays—which features a simple progressive mechanic that awards progressives for seven or more game title symbols on a ladder ranging from resets of $25 for seven of the symbols scattered on the reels to $10,000 for Hot Hit symbols on all 15 spots of the three-by-five array.

There are several events in which those progressives can be hit, including a picking bonus that locks Hot Hit symbols in place and offers picks for credit amounts or additional Hot Hit symbols; and a re-spin feature that locks all jackpot symbols in place and prompts the player to re-spin for additional jackpot symbols, credits and additional spins.

Also in the multi-progressive core category is the Hyper Hits series, which awards one of three progressives for landing a five-of-a-kind with a gold disc on the fifth reel.

Other standouts in the core video area include Coin-O-Mania, which features coins falling from the top of the screen to land as wild symbols on the reels; Golden Egypt Grand, with a 75-line, pyramid-shaped reel array; and Wild Pirates, with a unique mechanic in which cannonballs landing on the reels hold in place for a countdown, and explode to place wild symbols on adjacent reels.

The core video group also includes several games that place modified versions of hit games from the video library on the CrystalCurve, “with a small twist or tweak to entice players,” says O’Toole. Called the All-Star Evolution series, games include Ocean Magic Grand and Cleopatra Gold. “They have the same DNA as the original titles, but we’ve added additional layers for the player to win, such as a bigger bubble in Ocean Magic Grand, for the player to chase and stay in the game,” says O’Toole.

In a similar mode, Golden Jungle Grand is a follow-up game to the hit video slot Scarab, featuring the same kind of persistent game feature, in which players accumulate special symbols for 10 spins before the reels transform into full stacks of wild symbols.

 

Premium Play

The premium video segment also benefits from IGT’s collection of market-leading hardware. “We believe the CrystalCurve Ultra is the most beautiful premium product in the market,” comments Orchard. “It has given a tremendous shot in the arm to our premium game development.”

Dominating the premium space for IGT this year is yet another remarkable collection of licensed brands from popular culture—movies, TV, music—including games utilizing the standout “TRUE 4D” mid-air haptic and gesture recognition technologies that allow players to reach out and touch 3D images (generated by IGT’s TRUE 3D technology) to affect the game; and the equally innovative PowerSight technology, in which players affect the game simply by fixing a gaze on a certain area.

According to Kurt Larsen, vice president in charge of IGT’s premium studio, new titles this year are joined by strong brands that have been reworked with significant updates. “I consider those completely new games,” Larsen says. “We have strong licensed brands, with entertainment and immersive experience that also captures the heart of gamblers.”

One of the most prominent is a new version of the Ghostbusters brand released this summer using the mid-air haptic technology—Ghostbusters 4D, on the immersive CrystalCurve TRUE 4D cabinet.

It’s based on the original 1984 Ghostbusters film, and if you’ve seen the movie, you can imagine what the TRUE 4D technology can do with this theme. Players can reach out and feel a tingle when they touch the “proton stream” that snags ghosts, or use their fingers as proton blasters to catch ghosts in the “Ballroom Blaster Bonus.” There are even secret gestures that unlock additional game features, such as ghosts that appear when you outline a shape in the air.

Other new branded themes on the CrystalCurve TRUE 4D cabinet include American Gods 4D, from the IGT design studio in Graz, Austria. It is based on the Starz network fantasy drama centered on a celestial battle between “Old Gods” and “New Gods,” featuring a collection of interactive bonus events in which the players touch objects related to the theme of the show.

“4D just gets more and more compelling,” comments Larsen. “American Gods’ graphics are mind-blowing, and Ghostbusters is a fantastic usage of 4D. Dallas continues to work with our partner Ultra Haptics to update the technology, to make sure the experience is ever stronger.”

Just as compelling is the new Sex and the City Ultra, on the CrystalCurve Ultra cabinet, with its imposing 50-inch, ultra-HD top portrait LCD monitor over of a 32-inch landscape monitor. The remarkable PowerSight technology allows players to “shop” in picking bonuses by fixing their gaze on various merchandise, to pop bubbles for bonuses by simply staring at them, and to search for “gold cards” to move up to a higher award level.

The shopping bonus, called “Retail Therapy,” or the popping of bubbles to reveal diamonds in the “Champagne and Diamonds Wheel Bonus,” can lead to one of five progressive jackpot levels.

Other new branded themes on the CrystalCurve Ultra cabinet include Blake Shelton, based on the music and performances of the country music and TV star; and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the game about the master of thrillers and the macabre that was previewed last year and is now ready for market.

At G2E, the company also will launch a new version of The Price Is Right, all on the CrystalCurve Ultra.

The CrystalCurve cabinet will host new multi-level progressives such as the Asian-themed Fortune Gong, which Larsen says is the “strongest MLP we’ve built in a long time;” and Golden Goddess, which features a unique reel array that links two reels with like symbols. Additionally, the company will launch Jurassic Park Trilogy, a three-game series based on the iconic movie franchise.

Also new in the progressive area is Money Strike, a bolt-on progressive product that can sit atop all of IGT’s video core games. “This can really drive peak performance on casino floors,” says Orchard. “We’re doing an aggressive rollout on that product.”

Finally, IGT will be rolling out more offerings in the skill-based genre to augment its Video Reel Edge series, as Cleopatra Pinball and Texas Tea Pinball continue to do well in the market. The company will display the follow-ups to those two pinball-based games, Fuzzy’s Fortune and Little Fish Big Fish, along with Chill Gaming’s innovative Bloomtopia and Fortunes of the Brave games.

 

Stepper Dominance

IGT maintains the market lead in mechanical steppers, both in the core and premium areas—a position that was strengthened last year when the company brought back Anthony Baerlocher, one of the top game developers for 18 years beginning in 1992 and the man responsible for many of the company’s most iconic reel-spinners.

One of the main focuses in maintaining that lead this past year was a new effort fueled, like so many other aspects of IGT, by player research. According to Orchard, what players told IGT on the stepper side was to be more like… themselves. Well, their former selves, anyway.

Baerlocher spent much time last year gathering customer feedback, and what customers told him was later verified in the test banks: Players want the steppers in the core S3000 line to look and feel more like that line’s predecessor, the S2000 product group that produced legendary hits like Double Diamond and Red, White & Blue.

New mechanical reel-spinners, and reworks of classic titles, are now being designed to be more similar to the S2000 model in terms of sound, artwork, and particularly the pay table—recent games have used the top-box display to house only the top few jackpots, along with generic art, bonus features and progressive jackpot meters. The new games go back to displaying the entire pay table on top, right down to the single-cherry win.

“It involves something as simple as recreating top glass on the top screen with the full pay table, adding chunky solenoid sounds on reel stops, even reel dividers to make it feel more like S2000, but still give options and functionality to take the player to new places,” says Brennan.

Orchard says the results are plain to see in the test banks, with performance on many S3000 games increasing threefold when reworked with the classic features.

According to Nick Nistler, product manager for core spinning reel, the changes have given a boost to the high-denomination stepper category. “In mechanical reels, we’re focusing on three-reel and high denominations,” says Nistler. “We’ve gone back and increased the bet structure and the max bets to recapture that three-reel, high-denom market.”

The steppers being launched at G2E reflect this effort, with classic-style games often boosted by a new bonus feature. Red, White & Blue Super Drumroll Bonus features a lock-and-respin feature and a unique free-spin mechanic. When a drumroll symbol lands on the payline—it is a three-reel, single-line game with the classic RW&B math—the player hears the drum roll and is awarded one free spin. A “super drumroll” symbol on the payline awards up to four spins, which can be re-triggered up to a maximum of 42 spins.

For lower denominations, Triple Double Diamond and Legend of the Phoenix are offered in three-reel, 25-line configurations in the “Progressive Free Games” series. In a unique game mechanic, the top box displays three free-game “buckets”—red, green and blue—with free-game meters that increment as those colors land in symbols on the reels. When scattered bonus symbols land on the reels, the corresponding free games are awarded.

Fifteen free spins is the “must-hit-by” level. The reels rumble in anticipation when two of the three bonus symbols land.

Among other highlights, Pinball Gold is a three-reel, three-line game with a nine-credit max bet and a pinball bonus. As the player bets up, the bonus amounts in the pinball bonus rise. In the bonus, the player gets five shots in a pinball game, with the ball falling to touch various bonus awards.

Other standouts on the stepper side include low-denomination crossovers from core video like Dragon of Fortune, which includes a nudge feature in which the dragon symbol nudges a wild symbol to the payline. A progressive picking bonus can lead to free games, award credits or one of four progressive jackpots. “Seeing success of being able to translate game mechanics from video to stepper is very pleasing for us, because we have a lot available to be able to drive that growth,” says Nistler.

IGT’s commitment to stepper innovation does not stop at core; the company also will reveal a range of premium stepper games, on the CrystalDual + Stepper and CrystalWheel Stepper cabinets, as well as the large-format cabinets including the S3000 XL and the Megatower cabinet unveiled at last year’s G2E.

On the CrystalDual + Stepper, with its tall custom top-box display—used with great effect last year with the latest version of the Megabucks wide-area progressive—the company is launching new versions of Alfred Hitchcock and Temple of Treasures, all to follow Jin Long 888, currently one of the best performers in the market.

The S3000 XL large-format cabinet will be reprised with a “v2” version in the game Triple Gold, a three-reel, five-line game with a wide-area progressive jackpot starting at $200,000. With oversized reels, expanded personal space for the player and enhanced lighting, the new version of S3000 XL is designed to host any S3000 game.

The Megatower cabinet was launched last year with Megatower Wheel of Fortune, the top-performing wide-area progressive slot in the marketplace, according to a recent Eilers-Fantini survey. At G2E, a follow-up to that hit will be launched, Wheel of Fortune Gold Spins.

 

Poker, Keno and More

Even more than the reel-spinning genre, IGT has always been the undisputed, dominant leader in the video poker area. This year, the company continues last year’s trend of launching specialty video poker games that include bonus features but maintain the return-to-player percentages of the iconic original stable of IGT video poker.

The RTP is retained by adding an affordable extra per-hand bet. In the Asian-themed Lucky 8’s video poker game, on the Universal Slant cabinet, a five-credit ante bet unlocks several bonus features related to the Asian lucky number 8. In the base pay table, extra credits are paid for three 8s or better—including 88-for-one for a full house with three 8s and 2,088 credits for four 8s.

When dealt three of a kind or better, players trigger the Lucky 8’s Bonus Wheel, a virtual wheel in the beautifully designed top box with values up to 8,888 credits and a dragon slice that that re-spins the wheel with increased values up to 18,888 credits.

Max Action Poker jacks up payouts for a sixth credit wagered, including 8,000 credits for the royal flush, 4,000 credits for four Aces on Double Bonus, and a whopping 14,000 credits for four Aces with a kicker on Double Double Bonus.

There will be a new Game King multi-game unit displayed at the show including not only poker, but a new line of video keno games, headed by keno versions of the most popular IGT specialty video poker games. IGT will also launch Super Times Pay Keno and Ultimate X Keno, leveraging some of the most-played poker titles of all time.

Both slots and video poker will be available in tournament mode on new versions of the SpinFerno and SpinSplosion tournament products, and on TournXtreme, the new four-level tournament experience IncrediBell! As players progress through four levels in a tournament game, IncrediBell! switches theming to four different periods in history, the common theme being the iconic Liberty Bell.

“Any game in our library can go under this tournament package,” says Orchard, “and we feel very good about competing head-to-head with the competition with this system, not only in tournament but in regular-play mode. When not in tournament mode, these are some of the highest-performing games on the floor.”

IGT’s showcase of games for G2E wraps up with a complete lineup of Class II games produced by two studios in Reno, and of course, new system products for the IGT Advantage solution, including the new Resort Wallet e-wallet solution, the Cardless Connect system that allows players to activate their player’s card accounts using their smartphones, and M5, a groundbreaking solution that allows operators to stream HTML5 content directly to slot machines, opening up a world of possibilities for promotions.

The company also moves further into the electronic table game area this year, with the addition of Paul Baskerville, the new director of ETG product management who spent 20 years of his career in various table game-focused roles for

TCSJohnHuxley. Live baccarat and blackjack products employ a stable of innovative side bets including Majestic Match, involving matches of the first two cards, two “bad-beat” bets in baccarat, and four separate blackjack side bets.

“We’re focusing on how we can differentiate ourselves in the ETG market,” says Baskerville.

IGT also will display its new sports betting platform, deployed in Nevada, New Jersey and Mississippi, and will demonstrate the benefits of its strategic business agreement with FanDuel Group.

In all, IGT’s lineup for this year’s show reveals its progress toward recapturing the much of the market share it once enjoyed. “Core video has been a really strong story for us, and we have studios around the world contributing to that,” says

Orchard. “Our Asia-Pacific studios are delivering great games, our studios in Graz and Belgrade are delivering great games, and of course, our studios in Reno are delivering great games.”

IGT’s trade-show theme this year is “Your Best Bet.” Thanks to research and exhaustive live field testing of all new games, that bet is now more of a sure thing.

 


 

Incredible Technologies
Incredible Technologies creates innovative new brands while expanding its R&D and market footprint

Incredible Technologies has a unique growth story—particularly as a slot manufacturer.

The company, of course, had been well-known as a game manufacturer long before it ever produced a slot machine, its biggest hit, the Golden Tee Golf arcade and tavern game, still popular 30 years after its launch. But the company achieved success as a slot manufacturer almost immediately after its Global Gaming Expo debut in 2008.

Such success in a new industry boils down to two crucial factors for IT: First, the company has been able to transfer mastery of game mechanics from the amusement-game industry to casino slots, arguably better than any other company that has straddled both industries. Secondly, the company’s development staff quickly conquered the art of effective slot-machine math, and has been able to apply it again and again.

IT also has developed a knack for using its own successes to create new success, building consistently growing families of games that utilize the popular features of their early hits, the most notable being what the company calls its “money family” of games that grew out of the early hit Crazy Money. Since 2015, the company has averaged around 80 percent growth in year-over-year sales revenue, and 2018 is shaping up to be another record year.

To prepare for its 11th G2E, the company is writing a new chapter in its growth story. Last year, the company opened an office in Las Vegas, housing two additional internal game development studios. That brings the development staff to a total of seven studios, with five housed in its Vernon Hills, Illinois headquarters. Caitlin Harte, director of product marketing for Incredible Technologies, says the expansion of game development staff—the lion’s share of 50 new employees added in the past year—is meant to fill the company’s library with new proprietary game families.

“What’s exciting about the Las Vegas studios is that we’re drawing from a different talent pool,” she says. “These designers have a different view, and come from different industries.”

The new ideas coming from the expanded group of game studios are creating inventive new game mechanics and entertaining new themes, but Harte says the core of the success for the new variety will always go back to some of the industry’s strongest core game math, which she credits to co-owner and Executive Vice President Richard Ditton, who founded Incredible Technologies along with President and CEO Elaine Hodgson in 1985.

“Richard created proprietary math tools about five years ago that we still use,” Harte says. “Every game has to pass a standard on these tools before it can even go to the art stage. Our games focus on math first, features second, and finally, on wrapping a beautiful design around each.”

 

Old Favorites, New Favorites

Incredible Technologies is applying this winning formula both to build on the success of its current game families and to create new ones, in an effort to expand the library of games available for its Infinity V55 cabinet, launched at last year’s G2E.

The V55 features a 55-inch, flat-screen 4K vertical full-touch monitor, making it the largest screen on a core cabinet in the industry. Harte says the first games launched on the V55 have been a “huge hit,” performing anywhere from two times to six times house average. “Performance out of the gate has been really strong,” says Harte. “And that’s only with the four launch titles.” This year’s G2E will focus on a wealth of new content for the V55. “We’ve had a couple of big brand families throughout the years, particularly with our ‘money’ themes. We’re looking at what will be the next ‘money brand.’”

She says that big follow-up to the “money” family could be Clinko, a series of video slots on the V55 featuring a pachinko-style mystery bonus feature. The series is launching with Clinko Winning Wall, a 30-line video slot that uses that big 55-inch monitor for a mystery-bonus pachinko game. When triggered randomly, the big screen transforms into a colorful pachinko board with pegs displaying different awards. The ball bounces from peg to peg as it falls from the top of the screen down to the reels, awarding the prize the ball hits, including credit amounts, added wilds, symbol upgrades or a line-win multiplier.

There’s a free-spin event in which two Clinko balls are released before every spin, adding the awards touched along the way. During free spins, there are jackpot pegs added to the board, corresponding to three progressive jackpots at the top of the big screen.

While Harte predicts Clinko Winning Wall could be the next big game family, it’s only one of a full complement of new games to be launched on the V55 at this fall’s trade show.

Bars Up features a traditional-style slot game on dual 25-line reel arrays. Game play centers on classic bar symbols, and a simple but clever game mechanic: When a gold bar symbol lands, it upgrades the bar symbols on its reel set, turning single bars into double bars and double bars into triple bars. A free spin event continues as long as at least one bar symbol lands in a spin. When a bar lands in a free spin, it cascades down to the lowest unoccupied position and locks in place. Filling the entire screen with bars awards an additional credit amount.

Three bonus symbols trigger a picking bonus in which the player touches symbols to match three symbols corresponding to one of five progressive bonuses. It’s a “true-pick” progressive feature—the outcome is not predetermined; players really are choosing their prize. The screen reveals what was behind the icons not selected, to drive that point home with players.

DreamStar uses the big screen for another unique game mechanic, themed around a DreamStar that is the center of a celestial solar system. If the DreamStar symbol lands in the 40-line base game, it activates a second 40-line reel array. All wilds on the bottom screen are copied onto the second reel set. The process is repeated to create a third reel set if the DreamStar lands on the second array.

A progressive bonus transforms the entire big screen into beautiful 4K animation of the DreamStar solar system, and players spin planetary rings to match planets to win a progressive.

Freedom Fortunes places a patriotic theme on the big cabinet, centered around the Liberty Bell, Uncle Sam and various World War II icons. Random bonus features occur when the Liberty Bell rings, with the player qualifying for more bonus features by betting up.

Live It Up Power Wheel adds the high-performing Power Wheel game family to the V55. The game, featuring fast cars, jewels, cocktails and other icons of the high-roller lifestyle, features a two-level bonus wheel spin to win credits, multipliers or one of six progressive jackpots. Credit awards won on the outer wheel can be multiplied up to 4X by the inner wheel.

Finally, IT draws from the “money family” well again with Sky Dragons, based on the Money Rain 2 game on the V55. Like Money Rain 2, it uses a “ScatterWays” ways-to-win format in the base game, with the familiar flipping-dollar-bill reel symbols and a “Money Reel” activated when one or more special “reveal” symbols land. This version includes an expanding-reels feature that grows the array from three rows of symbols per reel up to seven rows, as the dragons drop to reveal symbols and expand the reel set, row by row.

All the V55 games are available with IT’s Simple Sign Kit, which is a digital sign on a video monitor that can be put up simply and affordably. According to Harte, the Simple Sign Kit has increased game performance an average of 30 percent when used in banks of games since its 2014 introduction.

 

Multi-Game Edge

The V-55 is the basis for a new casino marketing display package that IT calls the V55 Edge. Harte says it was designed to answer customer complaints regarding expensive digital signage and Plexiglas wedges with complicated printed inserts used in marketing signage.

Infinity Edge is a brilliant 4K LCD video wedge that displays motion graphics and custom casino-branded content, built to tie V55 cabinets together in a compelling display. The V55 Edge will debut at G2E in several configurations.

“This is the only wedge that is a full video screen,” Harte says. “Plexiglas and alternative digital signage is costly and difficult to update as gaming content changes. The Edge plays video from a video media player, so it’s easily customized and updated, while keeping costs low. We plan to offer three different types of content—abstract attract content, game-specific content or casino-specific content. It can be be customized to attract different audiences. There are a ton of different configurations, so it doesn’t have to be just four games; it doesn’t have to be against a wall.”

Configurations include triangles, back to back, or a unique sawtooth design that places games at an angle, which Harte says is an innovative way to give players some additional personal space.

The V55 Edge setup is being used to launch Incredistars, IT’s first multi-game platform. The inaugural version will include three of the company’s most popular games in its “money family”—Crazy Money 2, Money Roll and Money Rain.

In the Incredistars platform, the V55 screen displays three reel sets, and the player can use them to play any mix of the three available games.

The V55 offerings will be accompanied by new games in IT’s other form factors, including the tall Skybox cabinet, which hosts a new game, All Good!

All Good! debuts another new game family, called SkyRing. The 40-line base game, with classic bar, bell, cherry and 7 symbols, sits under a second monitor that displays “Instant Winner” credits. The huge Skybox monitor is unlocked during free spins, where the entire monitor is full of instant credit awards and additional free spins.

Every other spin, SkyRing Scatters are dropped onto the Skybox. If a SkyRing lands on an arrow symbol, the player wins all prizes that the arrow points to, totaling up to four awards.

The new additions to IT’s library come as the company is expanding its reach into new markets in Ontario and Mexico, and working toward approval in the few U.S. markets where its games do not have a current footprint.

The first installation of IT games in Ontario occurred over the summer, and more titles will be introduced through the end of the year. The company’s move into Mexico marks its second international expansion in one year.

Meanwhile, one of the newest casino developments for IT involves its flagship amusement brand, Golden Tee Golf. The Golden Tee World Championship was held at the Orleans in Las Vegas in June, bringing the company’s most storied brand to the casino industry in what could be called a skill-based esports format. IT awarded more than $100,000 in prizes during the championship matches alone.

“Our focus this year is to once again be innovative and clever, with our operators in mind,” Harte says. “We’re listening to their needs, and providing high-earning content that doesn’t have to have licenses on top. We offer games that can last a long time, and great brands that last a long time, and we’re giving them the flexibility to fit what we’re offering on their floors.”

 


 

Konami
Konami launches a wealth of product for its Concerto line, plus a new cabinet perfect for the “Konami Experience”

It is instructive that Konami Gaming’s tagline for this year’s Global Gaming Expo is “Play On.” The Las Vegas-based slot supplier, a subsidiary of Konami Holdings Corporation in Japan, has spent the past few years introducing a collection of groundbreaking form factors in the Concerto collection, and has continuously released a stream of content for all of them.

This year, the company will “play on” with a wealth of new content for those new cabinets—the Concerto Crescent, Concerto Stack and the newest cabinet, Concerto Opus, featuring a massive 65-inch flat-screen monitor, previewed last year and ready for launch. At this year’s G2E, yet another form factor will be introduced, the premium KX43.

The number refers to the monitor, a 43-inch, high-definition 4K display. According to Steve Walther, Konami’s senior director of marketing and product management, the “KX” stands for the “Konami Experience.”

“It’s an experience only Konami can offer, with exciting game content, and easy-to-understand value propositions for play mechanics—like Strike Zone and Reels Up, where you see how greater investment opens up new opportunities for players,” Walther says.

In addition to making it easy for players to invest more in the way of wagers to get extra features in the games, Konami continues to protect the investment made by operators in its products.

“We’ve really put a focus on the investment that customers have made in our Concerto product lines, maximizing that through new lines, and new links like Power Boost,” he says. “We’re expanding content for Crescent and Stack, and now Concerto Opus, which features a 65-inch, high-definition 4K screen that runs some exciting linked and stand-alone product.”

The new premium KX43—available on both leased and for-sale games—complements the Concerto line. It is very user-friendly, with two spin buttons, a built-in USB charger, a high-powered sound system, and a new LED button deck with a “touch-dash” button panel. “We see this type of cabinet fitting into a niche, but powerful, premium space on the floor,” says Walther. “It’s designed to engage players from afar, with the 43-inch display, unique content and edge lighting. We’re releasing content specifically designed for that box, focused mainly around links and stand-alone, symbol-driven progressives.”

Konami is matching the variety of its hardware with a stream of content, much of it doubling down on the company’s knack for creative new game mechanics to augment the popular Strike Zone feature, which identifies an area within the reel array in which symbol-driven bonus events occur frequently. The higher the bet, the larger the Strike Zone portion of the screen, starting with two reel positions at minimum bet and rising to a three-by-four box in the center of the primary game.

“Strike Zone has been a great mechanic for us, so we’ve built upon that,” says Walther, “but we’ve also found that some of our symbol-driven, link-style progressives are starting to resonate well.”

In that vein, the company is launching Money Galaxy, featuring a “what-you-see-is-what-you-get”-style game mechanic, with three bonus rounds and rising multipliers applied to the awards through each round. It will be released to the market around the time of G2E.

A follow-up to that game is called Thunder Arrow, with a similar style of game mechanic. “However, rather than waiting to reveal what the amounts are, all the potential win amounts are listed on the screen,” Walther says. “In the main feature, targets spin behind the possible awards, and when the targets land on a prize, an arrow flies straight into the target and the player wins that amount.”

 

Playing the Concerto

New games for the Concerto Crescent, featuring a 43-inch curved monitor, and Concerto stack, with the 43-inch flat portrait monitor, are replete with new examples both of clever mechanics and unique progressive setups.

Two sister games for the formats, Monster Sweep and Fairy Sweep, feature a unique mechanic in which the player looks to line up three symbols either horizontally or vertically. When that happens, the symbols sweep away and new symbols cascade into place. The goal is to create a chain of sweeps, which increases the chances for winning a progressive prize. “Not only are you looking for wins, you’re looking for wins that line up multiple symbols,” Walther explains. “Those symbols disappear, new symbols drop in, and you’ll see another lineup, and hopefully they cascade and chain again and again, and the more they chain, the more possible larger prizes become available.”

Another set of sister games is Matsuri Kojiki Sun and Matsuri Kojiki Moon. These feature another unique game mechanic, called Fortune Bank. The feature is triggered by any winning combination, and with every win, credits go into the player’s Fortune Bank. At any time, the player can choose to activate the bank and play those stored credits in a separate high-reward game with additional reel sets and random wilds in every spin.

When the Fortune Bank is activated, the player is spinning the reels for free, because Fortune Bank play draws on credits already earned. “You can activate it at any time,” says Walther. “You make the decision to either fill a little bit of the bank and play the normal game more, or build up a very big Fortune Bank and play it down all at once.”

Another unique offering is Catch Four, which employs a novel, square screen with a four-by-four reel array, as part of the new Flash Reels 4×4 series. The reels spin sideways, and the goal is to catch as many fish as you can. “This has fast play, and it looks slightly different than a normal slot,” Walther says. “We’re always looking to innovate, to find new ways to play.”

Highlighting the progressive offerings is Golden Blocks, a new series of linked progressive games on the core Concerto dual-screen upright and slant cabinets. Throughout game play, gold blocks randomly spin behind the reel symbols, and when the player collects eight or more of them, it triggers a “what-you-see-is-what-you-get”-style award adding together all the values.

Another progressive product is Power Boost Inferno, a progressive link that can be placed over any number of slots using the KP3+ platform. “It really shows the breadth of the new linked progressive library Konami is offering on the Concerto upright and slant,” says Walther.

 

On to the Opus

The new giant-sized Concerto Opus cabinet is hosting more games with unique play mechanics. Such is the case with a new series called “Triple Sparkle.”

The two inaugural game in the series, Solstice Celebration Triple Sparkle and Riches with Daikoku Triple Sparkle, feature a mechanic that complements Konami’s proven sparkle feature. Random sets of Action Stacked Symbols become framed at the start of each spin. When two complete reels land with frames, the symbols disappear and are replaced by new symbols. The Triple Sparkle game increases that to two sets of new symbols, potentially leading to huge wins, and symbol-driven progressive jackpots.

The Sparkle feature is only active with maximum bet, but Walther notes that the games make that max bet affordable to encourage higher wagers. “Most players will take advantage of the max bet to activate the Triple Sparkle feature,” he says. “In Star Watch and Celestial Moon Riches, people increase from the minimum cost-to-cover bet because they want to take advantage of the Strike Zone. We anticipate on games like these, people will bet to the affordable max bet to take advantage of the Triple Sparkle.”

He adds that the games are multi-denomination capable, for operators who want to increase the average bet and for players “who want to invest more to win more.”

Another highlight on the Opus cabinet is Treasure Ball, a linked progressive with yet another clever mechanic. “When you go into a treasure-ball vending machine, you put a coin in, spin it, a ball comes out, you open it up, and there’s where the treasure comes out,” Walther says. “We’ve captured that in a video format, so when you trigger the Treasure Ball progressive, all the balls inside the digital vending machine, so to speak, shake up, you spin the wheel, the ball comes out and reveals what the prize is—a credit award or one of the progressives, stand-alone and linked.”

Banks of the game include an attract mode in which a 4K dragon flies between the various machines.

 

The KX43

Content for the new KX43 cabinet being launched at G2E also follows the winning Konami formula of innovative, easy-to-understand play mechanics.

One such game mechanic is found in Vegas Rise, a game in the Ultra Reels family, in what is known as the “Reels Up” series. Across the top of the 43-inch monitor are three progressive levels, ranging from a “Mega” to the top “Supreme,” resetting at $10,000.

The base game is in a “ways-to-win” scatter format. “Reels Up” symbols on the first two reels expand the third reel by a random amount of spaces—blank symbols except for arrows pointing to the progressive on top. The same occurs when the symbols land on the third and fourth reels. If the reels rise to touch a bonus reel, it spins to award guaranteed credit prizes, and possibly progressives.

“As long as you register winning combinations left to right, the reels go up,” Walther explains. “If they go up high enough, it will trigger a bonus reel that looks like traditional stepper reel.”

Other games in the series include the new entry Expanding Egypt. “All these games can be linked together,” says Walther. “The progressive, graphics and movements really take advantage of the 4K display. This is the type of experience only Konami can offer—the movement back and forth, mystery, lots of things going on on the screen, and a fun play mechanic with great math behind it.”

Other games designed for the KX43 format include Hoi Yun Lai, which Walther calls the “firecracker game.” “As you play, you get this unique mechanic where the firecrackers drop and win progressive prizes,” he explains. “It’s a great presentation on the screen.”

Available on both the Concerto Opus and the KX43 is Diamond-izer, a game featuring beautiful artwork utilizing different-colored diamonds, wild symbols and classic fruit and 7 symbols.

Konami also will display its specialty games, including multi-station products such as the Fortune Cup mechanical horse-race game, which is driving incremental play for operators, as well as the skill-based musical timing game Beat Square.

Walther says these products are the result of Konami Gaming’s unique ability to partner with its sister companies—leading video game supplier Konami Digital Entertainment Company and Konami Amusement Company, producer of the most well-known arcade games in history.

Finally, as always, in addition to all the new games, cabinets and unique mechanics, Konami will demonstrate advancements to its popular Synkros casino management system, highlighting Konami’s next-generation True Time Windowing, which makes it easy to stream promotional content to HD and portrait slot screens; and SynkConnect, a near-field communications (NFC) feature built into Synkros that can allow players to dispense with plastic loyalty club cards.

With SynkConnect, instead of placing a card in the reader, the player can simply tap his or her smartphone at or near the card reader, causing the bezel to turn green to indicate the loyalty card is active and ready to track play. After play, the customer can either tap again to disengage or the system will do it after there is no activity for a set time.

For players still using flip phones, the NFC system works with fobs, room keys and other devices.

Players can also enjoy conveniences of the SynkConnect Mobile app, which allows the player to use a smartphone to access information on points, promotions and other information normally available only at a kiosk or the player’s club desk.

There are more games in Konami’s G2E lineup that the company is keeping close to the vest until show time. But you can be sure those games will also feature clever mechanics, unique progressives and groundbreaking game play.

It’s the Konami way.

 


 

Merkur Gaming Americas
Merkur Gaming Americas targets U.S. markets with new games from its Las Vegas studio, Sunshine Games

Merkur Gaming has more than 40 years experience in the industry, but is in its infancy in the U.S.

Merkur, the slot-manufacturing arm of Germany’s Gauselmann Group, stepped up its presence in this country with the formation of Merkur Gaming Americas in 2015. The new subsidiary led to the creation in early 2017 of the Las Vegas game design studio, Sunshine Games, which unveiled its first two games at last year’s G2E. Taco Tuesday and Amulet of the Pharaoh headlined the introduction of more than 100 games, which included multi-game mixes.

Progress has accelerated rapidly since then, including the range of titles the company will show at this year’s G2E.

Since the launch of Sunshine Games, Merkur has touted its American connection with the in-house mantra, “Designed in America, by Americans, for Americans.”

“That addresses, head on, the sometimes-heard objection to new, foreign-owned vendors that want to come to the U.S. gaming landscape, namely, NIH—not invented here,” says David Orrick, director of industry relations for Merkur, which will display over 120 individual games at G2E, highlighting eight new slots developed by Sunshine Games.

Making inroads in the American market, Orrick says, depends on a strong showing at G2E, one of the key gaming shows, both in terms of size and attendance and also in terms of the new products and new game genres that exhibitors reveal.

“We seek to attract and enthuse G2E visitors with the excellence of our product offering,” he says. “We always knew that the key to our success would be a blend of innovative, entertaining games and games that were familiar in feel and appearance to U.S. players. The games that we will show in Las Vegas have been created to meet those criteria, and we have every confidence that they will succeed. As well as new games, we will also unveil a brand-new cabinet innovation, literally as G2E opens its doors.”

Charles Hiten, CEO of Merkur Gaming Americas, stresses that the focus on the needs of customers and the experience of players will continue to propel Merkur Gaming to even greater successes. “Clear proof of our progress is evident in the games that we will show in Las Vegas, and we confidently expect G2E to provide a launching pad for many new and exciting developments,” Hiten says.

The new games at G2E feature diverse themes and come from both international and U.S. game development teams. The U.S. side goes from an ancient Egypt theme (Jewels of the Nile) to the wildlife of the Savannah (Savannah Stampede), to the mysteries of Asian Towers, to the suspense of Secret Area 150 to Western Pacific. Neon Panther takes players deep into the jungle. The thrills of Crash Stacks and Big Deal Wheel will also be available to see and play at the Merkur Gaming booth, Orrick says.

Western Pacific and Crash Stacks both pay deference to cash. “Cash is king, and these new titles highlight cash in a whole new way,” says Mike Halvorson, chief development officer at Sunshine Games. “Both of these games feature representations of U.S. currency as reel symbols, different dollar values being used as symbol variants, hence the homage to cash.”

Says Orrick, “Big Deal Wheel is a true game innovation, one that we believe is something totally new in slot play. We firmly believe this game will be our star performer at G2E.”

The game features segments of wheels as symbols, and the challenge is to complete the wheels on adjacent reels. That opens the Big Deal Wheel as a bonus feature, with wins depending on which symbols have been matched to open the bonus. “Plus, there are some really cool voice-overs as the bonus segment opens up. It’s the sort of feeling that is such a part of popular television game shows,” Halvorson says.

As the expanded offerings suggest, Merkur Gaming has committed to the U.S. market for the long term. “We have already seen that there is operator demand for our product offering,” Orrick says.

G2E 2018 could be the best ever for Merkur Gaming, says Athanasios “Sakis” Isaakidis, chief executive, international and head of international product management. “We come to Las Vegas with great games and great products, along with our great people. Our multi-national team is strong, well experienced and totally focused on further development of our success.”

When the 2018 games will appear in the U.S. market depends on a number of factors: site testing (ongoing at present), product approvals, required licensing and so on. “Considering those factors, and the good progress we are making in those various areas, we can realistically expect commercial activity—including installations —onwards into early 2019,” Orrick says.

The next 18 months will see a lot more jackpot games that will come along with interesting bonus features to earn the jackpots.

“Jackpots and jackpot feature games are something the players are really moving toward,” Halvorson says. “Everything in casinos is geared around linked or stand-alone jackpot feature games. As far as artwork on slot games, we will see a lot of Chinese or Asian content along with female-driven characters or the hero characters of games. It is about the players’ experience, giving the player a greater amount of interactively with the understandable hope of winning that big carrot at the end of the string.”

Merkur Gaming’s parent, Gauselmann Group, was founded more than 62 years ago, and employs some 10,000 people in more than 40 countries worldwide. The company’s success, knowledge and experience are major assets in the constant research and development process that accompanies the creation of new products such as those that will be seen at G2E. Merkur presents a gaming portfolio that is multi-faceted and country-specific.

“No matter what your language or culture, at Merkur Gaming, ‘We Speak Gaming’,” the company says in a release.

A market leader in Europe, a well-established and successful supplier across Latin America and the Caribbean, Merkur Gaming will also expand its presence in Africa and new market entries across Asia in the future. “Interestingly, there has been demand for our new games from across Latin American markets also,” Orrick says. “The demand for more sophisticated gaming entertainment is gaining momentum. It is a development that we are carefully monitoring.”

In addition to the casino-based slots, the Gauselmann Group has worked with online gaming company edict (without the capital E). The firm has been a reliable partner and specialist for high-quality, competitive online casino solutions since 1998. Via edict, the Merkur Gaming slot games are transmitted into the online space, as both cash games and fun games. —By William Sokolic

 


 

Novomatic Americas
Novomatic Americas uses U.S. research and development to methodically spread its footprint in North America

It was six years ago that Austrian gaming giant Novomatic Group made its first drive to enter the North American market, establishing the company originally called Novomatic Americas Sales. When Novomatic, the undisputed leading supplier of slot machines in Europe—as well as an operator of thousands of casinos, game rooms and betting parlors—first brought its distinctive gaming equipment to the U.S., many were impressed with the Austrian supplier’s games and innovative hardware setups.

Novomatic video slots had features like foot pedals that would switch the top and bottom video screens, so players could watch second-screen bonuses close up. There also was the remarkable V.I.P. Lounge, which in one format has an actual easy chair for a player to sit in, with spin buttons strategically placed at the ends of the armrests to allow players to remain chilled out, and playing.

The company now known as Novomatic Americas, headquartered in Mount Prospect, Illinois, still offers the best of those Austrian innovations, but the company is now ready to spread its footprint across the U.S., thanks to a growing slot development facility in the Chicago suburb.

It also is thanks to a team of U.S. gaming veterans running Novomatic Americas. Rick Meitzler, the president and CEO, is a 40-year slot supply veteran, having spent 33 years with Bally Technologies plus a stint at Ainsworth before joining Novomatic in 2013.

Kathleen McLaughlin, vice president of marketing and product management, previously had a long career on the operations side including eight years at Harrah’s/Caesars Entertainment, where she was corporate vice president of slot operations, and two years as managing director of global slot marketing and operations for Las Vegas Sands—as well as three years on the supply side as corporate marketing director for WMS Gaming.

The U.S. development studio is headed by Matt Ward, who was executive director of product strategy and advanced solutions at WMS Gaming for 15 years, before joining Novomatic three years ago as vice president of product development.

The U.S.-based game development began to pay off with last year’s hit video slot From Dusk to Dawn, launched at last year’s G2E with personal promotion at the Novomatic Americas booth from Danny Trejo, one of the stars of the film.

Ward says the game got off to a strong start, especially placed on the V.I.P. Lounge 3 cabinet, the largest, loungiest version.

That and the other iterations of the V.I.P. Lounge, including the standard premium 2.32 version and the sleek V.I.P. Lounge Curve, will join other cabinets, including the Panthera 1.43 Curve and the immersive Novostar V.I.P. 3.50 cabinet with Python Chair, in hosting Novomatic’s new slots at G2E, which will include prominent U.S.-developed games.

“Our studio here in Mount Prospect is fully up and running, and we will be showing four games out of this studio, as well as a number out of our studios over in Europe,” says Ward.

Meitzler says establishing U.S. research and development was one of Novomatic Americas’ main goals. “As you know, we are the big dog in Europe, but we brought those games over here and they did not hit the numbers we thought they would for a couple of reasons,” he explains.

“Europe is a male-dominated, smaller market, a multi-game market. The U.S. is more a female-dominated, single-game-style market, more time-on-device type games. So, we had to establish a studio here that focused on those differences and developed games specifically targeted for the U.S. market.”

Slot games are only one part of Novomatic Americas’ growth, though. A key focus for G2E this year is on electronic table games. Novomatic already has cracked the ETG market in the U.S. with installations at Foxwoods in Connecticut and Pechanga in California. Ward says the company will bring ETG product to G2E that has been developed with a stable of side bets designed for the U.S. market.

“We’re getting our system that’s been around the world up to the U.S. standards, first of all, then we’ve been adding a lot of side bets, because the operators are asking for side bets,” Ward says. “We’ll be showing four different side bets at G2E.”

Proprietary Novomatic blackjack side bets are combined with the spread bet concept from Cammegh on roulette, blackjack and baccarat.

But on the slot side, U.S.-based casino slots are joined by other game types, particularly video gaming terminals for markets like Illinois and Pennsylvania.

“We have had two distinct focuses this year,” says Meitzler, “the Class III market and the VGT market. That is a 30,000-unit market in Illinois right now, and still growing. We’re the third manufacturer in there behind Sci Games and IGT, and we’re penetrating the market extremely well. With Illinois going in the right direction, we’re also very active in the Pennsylvania market, which is a smaller VGT market with the truck stops. Next year we are lobbying again to try to get VGTs into all of the bars, similar to Illinois.”

The product range Novomatic Americas brings to G2E features new Class III games, enhanced VGT game mixes, and series of advanced cabinets, progressive jackpots, ETGs, sports betting and system solutions, and online gaming solutions.

 

MacGyver Mania

Heading up the U.S.-developed slot launches at G2E will be the company’s second branded game, MacGyver—based on the iconic 1980s series starring Richard Dean Anderson, not the recent reboot.

Housed on the Novostar V.I.P. 3.50 cabinet with Python Chair or the V.I.P. Lounge 2.32 cabinet, the immersive slot delivers all the quirks of Angus “Mac” MacGyver, the show’s main character, who solved desperate government problems but always came equipped with stuff like a Swiss army knife, duct tape, chewing gum and paper clips to help him. Bonuses and base-game features employ all those iconic items in reel symbols and bonus events.

Ward says the MacGyver game was developed with a lot of help from players in focus-group settings. “We did some comprehensive research at one of our Midwestern properties, and the feedback was just unbelievable,” he says. “The way these guys developed the sound and the duct tape and the things they developed in this game was that they spent two days, nine hours a day, talking to people and really making sure we were doing the right game. And people loved it.”

Ward adds that research showed the original ’80s version of the show was definitely the right choice. “People have very firm memories of MacGyver, and what it should be,” he says. “There’s a nostalgia factor for the original. Literally everybody knew MacGyver. There was not a single player, young or old, who didn’t know who MacGyver was.”

Meitzler says MacGyver will be one of 24 new slot titles being launched at G2E. “Matt Ward’s Mount Prospect studio alone will produce about 10 new games, and we have two large studios over in Austria that are also working diligently on a lot of innovative content. New links, new looks, high-definition graphics, to meet today’s market requirements for the U.S.”

McLaughlin says there will be 11-14 U.S. studio releases by G2E 2019. “Next year, we’re going to have almost 24 titles, and 11 of them are going to come from Matt’s studio,” she says. “It’s exciting, because now we’re getting a real swing at the plate with American-developed content for this market.”

Another new introduction at G2E will be the Enchanted Fortunes progressive link, which builds off the Asian Fortunes game. “It will have a family of our games, in both linked progressive and stand-alone versions,” says Ward.

Other progressives will be featured on the Panthera Curve and the V.I.P. Lounge Curve cabinets. “They all feature progressives,” explains McLaughlin, “and you can bank a game like Voodoo Fortunes and merchandise it as one theme, or you can take four or five different games and merchandise them together. They are very different games, with a common progressive bonus round.”

Other games will be featured on form factors such as the Panthera 2.27 twin-screen cabinet, and the Panthera 1.43 and V.I.P. Lounge 1.43 that feature curved-screen 4K displays. The cabinets will showcase a variety of single games, including Dragon Hits, Prize of the Nile, Prized Panda, Princesses of War, Riches Ahoy! and Great American Wilds, from the Novomatic Americas Mount Prospect development team, and the Winfinity Games and 707 Games studios in Austria. The Enchanted Fortunes Linked Jackpot will show progressive themes from the Fortunes series.

Pyramid Fortunes and Voodoo Fortunes have generated a lot of pre-show interest, says Meitzler.

ETGs based on Novo Line Novo Unity II platform also will be shown. At G2E, automated, virtual and live versions of popular table games will be presented with two automated roulette wheels and a live baccarat table to demonstrate variations of the powerful system.

“Novomatic has had great success in Europe with electronic table games since 1993,” says Meitzler. “What we have brought over here is a hybrid of that. This market gets much more dominant baccarat and roulette play, and in these games we have to get the percentages a little lower. So, we are focused on side bet offerings. We have a very successful installation at Foxwoods, we’re going into Pechanga next, and after that we are moving into Oklahoma.”

Meitzler has big plans for Novomatic Americas. In five years, he says, “we will be competing with the big guys. The thing with Novomatic is that they don’t know how not to succeed. When the Professor (Prof. Johan Graf, founder and owner of Novomatic) goes after something, he does it right. He treats customers well. He gives people a fair trial and treats them well. We’re privately held, so we don’t have to report to a board. I think we will no doubt be right in there with the Sci Games and the IGTs in the next few years.”

But that all starts with this year’s trade show. “What is most exciting as we are preparing for G2E 2018 is the amount of titles and cabinets that we have in the pipeline for 2019,” says Meitzler. “Look out for us at G2E—we have the right team, and I’m excited to show off our great product selection.”

 


 

Scientific Games
Scientific Games uses its G2E booth space to illustrate its versatility in games, systems and interactive technology to help usher in the future of gaming

Scientific Games Corporation will arrive at the Global Gaming Expo with its usual diverse lineup of every style of slot game, great new game technology, new cabinets, table games, system products and interactive technology.

But the company’s booth will be different than any you’ve seen from Scientific Games, or any other slot manufacturer, for that matter. If you can even call it a booth—it will be more like a set. Instead of the normal clusters of game groups scattered amid swarms of people, the Scientific Games display will be set up in a strategic, carefully planned way, organized to display the different styles of products in a way that will resemble a physical casino.

There will be games, for sure, arranged in game styles as they would be in a casino. There will be a central bar. There will be tables to display Shuffle Master proprietary games. There will be a sports book, along with demonstrations showing how Scientific Games technology can be used to make bets from a slot machine or mobile phone.

“We’re showing our customers how all SG product lines work together in the ever-evolving space of casino entertainment,” says Greg Colella, vice president of product marketing for Scientific Games. “That’s why we’ve designed the floor this way; that’s why we’re telling the story we’re telling, because we know that is where Colella calls it a “customer-first experience.” The booth will be separated from others on the floor, with a private VIP entrance for customers who can schedule private demonstrations or view regularly scheduled product presentations on two stages. The themes will be divided into four key messages—the introduction of the new TwinStar Wave XL premium cabinet, Larger Than Life premium products, Current Technologies and The Casino of the Future.

“The booth will be a mix of public and private space,” Colella says. “We’re going to control access so we know who’s in our space, so we can more effectively communicate to our guests, and provide them a better experience in viewing our products. We’ll give visitors a bit of background and vision behind our four main product areas, and then our salespeople can focus on demonstrating those products one-on-one.

“We think this will be a much better way for our customers to understand what SG is doing and where we are going.”

Sports betting will be one of the company’s key focuses at G2E, with demonstrations of how its market-leading OpenBet sports wagering platform, acquired last year when SG bought the former NYX Gaming Group, connects to various interactive technology produced by SG Digital.

According to Colella, everything in the front, public portion of the booth will be available to casinos by the first quarter or 2019 or earlier, including slots, table-game products and ETGs.

 

Strategic Display

While there will be much attention to Scientific Games’ new addition to the TwinStar family of cabinets, there will be new games featured on each of TwinStar’s existing form factors—the original dual-screen cabinet, the TwinStar 3RM stepper series, and the premium TwinStar J43 curved-monitor presentation.

Highlights on the original dual-screen TwinStar cabinet include two new titles in the popular Lock It Link series. These games include a hold-and-respin bonus feature. When three hearts land in a row—each bearing a credit value—they hold in place for three free spins, and other hearts landing on the free spins trigger more spins. Each time an additional heart lands on the screen during the feature, the credit values on all the hearts rise.

As long as at least one additional heart lands, the feature continues, the goal being to fill up all 15 spots on the three-by-five reel array.

The two new featured Lock It Link titles are Huff N’ Puff and Hold On To Your Hat, both 243-ways-to-win games with two progressive and two fixed jackpots.

“Lock It Link has been one of our premiere franchises on TwinStar, and it continues to do well,” Colella says. “One of the things we’ve tried to do with Lock It Link is make the base games very distinctive, so you’ll see that Huff N’ Puff plays very different than Hold Onto Your Hat. That’s a hallmark of how we designed those first Lock It Link games.”

The same type of hold-and-respin play mechanic is used in Loteria, the series of slots carrying the theme of the popular Latin American board game. “In the same way someone in the U.S. might recognize Monopoly, people in Latin America recognize Loteria,” comments Colella. “We integrated the Lock It Link feature on that theme. This game uses crowns like the Lock It Link series uses hearts.”

The two new entries in the Loteria series are El Barril de Fiesta and El Mundo. Both are progressive games—two progressive jackpots, two fixed—and include the Lock It Link-style free-game feature.

 

Stepper Style

Scientific Games has always been known for mechanical-stepper slots, particularly under the Bally brand. This year’s G2E display highlights the old and the new in steppers, with a focus on high-denomination games.

As far as the “old,” Scientific Games is wrapping up a year-and-a-half program of porting classic Bally reel-spinners to the TwinStar 3RM. This year’s batch includes faithful recreations of two classic Blazing 7s variations—Blazing 7s Scatter and Diamond Line Blazing 7s—along with new themes In The Money and Diamonds and Devils.

“These are some of the last of this style of game,” says Colella, who identifies them as traditional high-denomination games—single-line, three-line or five-line configuration in dollars or quarters. “We’re also doing what I call more of a modern hi-denom game,” he says. “We’re starting to develop games like Wonder Woman at what is considered a more modern price point. High-denom games have traditionally been offered either in three-coin or five-coin versions, but many titles are now offered in higher configurations. You may see a nine-line game that is high-denom. The other games serve the purpose of recreating some of the old hits. But if they’re compared to some of those nine-line games, they’re at a significant disadvantage.

“So it was very apparent that we needed to develop a range of high-denom games at a higher price point.”

New TwinStar 3RM games Wonder Woman and The Don, the latest in Scientific Games’ slot series based on The Godfather films, are both nine-line, nine-coin games. “We think of them as dollar games—they could also be quarters, depending on the specific market—wrapped in a theme that’s done particularly well,” Colella says.

“The Wonder Woman game on the original Pro Wave cabinet was a popular game for us, and the TwinStar J43 versions are doing really well. This brand has been very good for us, so we decided to bring it in at the higher price point.”

The Don on the TwinStar 3RM is the fifth slot under the popular license based on the 1972 film.

Scientific Games also is launching new low-denomination steppers on the TwinStar 3RM, including two new games in the Blazing Star series—reboots of the classic Bally games 24 Karat and Red & Black Sevens.

 

The Js Have It

There are several new games being launched on the TwinStar J43 premium video cabinet, but one of the highlights will be a revival of the WMS title Raging Rhino Rampage. “This was a very popular WMS game on the original Blade cabinet,” Colella says.

As in the original WMS version, there is a wheel feature in the game that gives players a chance to upgrade the wheel values—credit amounts, free games and progressive jackpots are included on the wheel.

But the new J43 version of the game has a unique addition. “One of the things I like best about this game is it has what is almost a prop bet,” says Colella. “For $10, you can make a wager and actually go right into the bonus feature. You don’t have to play the game. It’s a little higher price point, but you know you’re going to go into the feature. In a casino, maybe you’re waiting for your table, or are leaving in 10 minutes for a show. You can go ahead and place a bet and play the bonus. I believe players will find that to be a lot of fun, and this is a theme that does great for us.”

Also on the J43 are new entries in SG’s Asian Jinse Dao game series. Jinse Dao Dragon and Jinse Dao Phoenix are 243-ways games featuring two-level progressives with two fixed jackpots beneath them. “The best thing about these games is that they have a bonus wheel that includes free games and jackpots, but in the feature, it has a very straightforward, what-you-see-is-what-you-get type of payout for the player. How many times have you seen a player say I don’t know what I’ve won or how I won something in this game? These simplify that for the player.”

The J43 also will host two games each in the Blazing X and Leprechaun’s Gold game groups.

 

Premium Frenzy

On the side, one of the highlighted J43 games is Twin Fire Frenzy, which combines the best features of three popular classic Bally titles. It is actually a follow-on to the game Twin Fire.

“We released the original Twin Fire game a couple of years ago,” Colella says. “That original concept was a combination of Quick Hit and Hot Shot, which were two really powerful franchises. The new version still has that, but we’ve added a sixth reel, a “Frenzy Reel,” an idea from another game that was very popular, Bonus Frenzy.”

The Hot Shot series features “mini bonuses” played out on miniature replicas of classic Bally reel-spinners. The Quick Hit series is the much-copied progressive setup in which prizes on a progressive ladder are awarded for seven or more scattered Quick Hit symbols. The “Frenzy Reel” from Bonus Frenzy applies extra credits, multipliers and re-spins to winning five-reel combinations.

Twin Fire Frenzy adds a wheel bonus and free games to the mix.

“With this game, you’ll find that it always feels like something’s getting ready to happen, whether it’s a Quick Hit pay, a Hot Shot, the Frenzy Wheel, or triggering the bonus wheel, jackpot amounts or free games,” says Colella.

“There’s an additional prop bet you can make on the game, called the Go Bonus, which essentially almost doubles your progressives, because it gives you a flat bonus amount on top of those jackpots.”

Other premium games include a new entry for the Game of LIFE video series, titled Career Day, on two separate cabinets—one including a bonus wheel. There is an optional Bonus Bet on the game that triggers more frequent bonus events

There are two new Pink Panther games, Mega Mariachi and Many Fortunes, featuring a Lock It Link-style feature in the base game and the four-jackpot setup with two progressives on top. “These are from our Australian studio, so they’re a bit more of a gambler’s game,” Colella says. “You see some nice swings in them, and you feel you have a chance to get ahead of the game.”

Finally, the premium space on SG’s main exhibit floor will feature two new games in the James Bond series, Thunderball on the immersive Gamefield 2.0 cabinet and Goldeneye on the flat-table PRIZM cabinet, one of the first slot games on that unique multi-player form factor. “We’ve had roulette and poker-style games on PRIZM, but we’re now starting to transition to actually placing slot games on that platform as well,” says Colella. “Goldeneye will be one of the first.”

 

Behind the Curtain

The private area of the Scientific Games G2E booth will showcase some remarkable new technologies, not the least of which is the new TwinStar Wave XL cabinet, featuring a 49-inch full 4K monitor. “Since it’s a TwinStar product, we can port content from all the different development sources under the SG umbrella—Bally, WMS, our international studios—the best of all those worlds,” Colella says.

The new cabinet will feature Jin Ji Bao Xi, an Asian game from the same development team that produced the Duo Fu Duo Cai series and it flagship game 88 Fortunes.

On the Bally side, the new cabinet will feature Dragon Spin Age of Fire and Cash Wizard World, both reprising popular titles, themes and characters. “We really take some of our best franchises from all the different areas where we develop games, and we try to hand-pick those so we can get those platforms launched with very significant titles,” Colella says of the TwinStar Wave XL launch. “That’s worked well for the TwinStar J43 and the 3RM, so we’re going to steal that story.”

But perhaps the biggest slice of new innovation might be Die Another Day, another new Bond game featuring a groundbreaking usage of technology—the Pepper’s ghost 3D illusion technique.

A method of projecting a 3D image to a specific space, Pepper’s ghost is the same technique used to project the image of Tupac Shakur onto a stage, allowing the artist to appear to stage a performance after his 1996 death. More recently, it has been featured in the Michael Jackson One show at Mandalay Bay.

The Pepper’s ghost technique is not new in itself—it was invented by illusionist Harry Pepper and first demonstrated with a mirror apparatus in 1862—but its use in a slot machine certainly is.

Die Another Day will use the technique in a very Bond-esque way. For bonus features, the front of the TwinStar Wave XL cabinet will actually open to a secret chamber, and the player will gaze inside to view 3D images of Agent 007 and all associated icons of the Bond films.

Colella is not revealing the specific events; you’ll need to get into SG’s private room at the show to find out.

“One of the main things you think of when you think about the Bond movies are all the gadgets he had over the years, so we thought 007 as a whole is a perfect vehicle to introduce new technologies, or new techniques like Pepper’s ghost, to the gaming space,” Colella says. “The way it’s presented in the actual cabinet is particularly novel, and also very thematic to the overall 007 story. I think it’s something you’d expect to see out of a James Bond slot machine.”

The innovations in the private area will round out a Scientific Games display like no other.

“We’ve tried to create a space that looks like a casino,” Colella says. “I’m showing you ways to make wagers over here, new slot technology or there, or how to use our mobile wallet to tie it all together with transactions from across the casino.

“We’re trying to show our customers we have the infrastructure to actually tie all these offerings together, and I think that is one of the big differences in the story SG is telling—the products we have, and what we’re able to deliver that most of our competitors can’t even dream about. And that really is what the show is about for us.”

Frank Legato
Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the recently published book on gaming, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying.  

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