Slot manufacturers typically arrive at Global Gaming Expo with a theme for the year’s exhibit of new games, cabinets and systems products. For leading supplier IGT, this year’s theme is “Player-Driven Performance.”
The theme refers to the fact that every single new IGT game is perfected through player focus-group research, and in the case of its core portfolio, a rigorous test-bank field trial process that gauges actual game performance in a real casino environment. These processes help ensure that IGT only brings proven games to the big trade show and to its customers.
And the trade show is always big for IGT. “IGT will have the biggest presence at G2E of any manufacturer,” says Dallas Orchard, IGT’s senior vice president and chief product officer, gaming.
“We take pride in that, and not just because of the quantity of units, but because of the diversity of the different product verticals.” This year, that diversity will take the form of more than 300 machines in IGT’s 24,000-square-foot booth, with 200-plus unique titles.
Typically in the past, the first thing IGT would herald from the rooftops for a given G2E is its lineup of high-profile licensed games, or new, high-profile cabinets that invariably will house those branded titles. This year, from press announcements to the opinion of the chief product officer, an important highlight of the company’s G2E 2019 lineup lies in an area the supplier has dominated since its founder developed the game genre back in the 1970s—video poker.
For the second year in a row, IGT arrives at the big show with a lineup of inventive specialized video poker games. These games use multipliers, bonuses for special hands achieved and other features, but unlike previous attempts by other manufacturers to create specialty video poker games, IGT’s new video poker will draw no ire from diehard video poker enthusiasts, or even pros, because the extra features are, by and large, funded by an extra wager.
For six or 10 credits per hand instead of five to activate a bonus feature, operators already prone to do so can still offer the highest-returning pay tables on the games. It’s one reason IGT is making specialized video poker into its own new cottage industry.
The other reason is one never historically a concern for IGT when it came to video poker—competition. “We’re being more innovative in the poker space than ever before, with regards to trying new things,” says Orchard, “and that’s partially because we’re the market leader; we have responsibility to do so. But also, we are aware of the fact that there is competition, and we want to stay well ahead of that competition.”
Orchard says meeting new competition in video poker will ensure IGT remains the dominant player in that segment. “Our poker sales, and our poker recurring revenue install base, are as healthy as they’ve ever been, and they put up Q2 results this year that were records,” he says. “So, we understand the importance of our poker business… We know that competition in poker has stepped up, and is arriving, if not having already arrived. That being said, our poker business couldn’t be in a healthier situation. We’re going to have a huge poker presence at G2E.”
One thing IGT is doing to maintain its video poker dominance is utilizing new and improved hardware. Station Casinos, for instance, increased its footprint of IGT video poker when the supplier released its iconic poker games on the premium CrystalSlant cabinet, formerly only a slot cabinet. According to Orchard, Station did not take out its current Game King video poker games to make way for those on CrystalSlant—it is an incremental increase in the video poker footprint of the longstanding IGT customer.
CrystalSlant video poker “is just producing amazing results for us,” Orchard says. “Bringing poker out on the CrystalSlant has been tremendously successful.”
CrystalSlant is not the only hardware improvement IGT has made for video poker. At G2E, the company will reveal its new bartop cabinet, PeakBarTop. Complete with a 23-inch curved display and a series of technological advances including USB charging ports, enhanced lighting and audio and more, the PeakBarTop is available for the full IGT video poker content portfolio.
The PeakBarTop is the result of some of the most intensive research and development efforts the company has ever put into the genre.
“The story behind that is fascinating,” Orchard says. “You know that we’re very research-driven, and focus-test driven, so we’ve gone through three or four iterations of that bartop cabinet. We’ve had customers heavily involved, and then when we came up with our go-to-market model, one of our customers said, ‘Have you actually spoken to any bartenders?’ I thought that was a really unique sample, because it’s a bartop.”
The R&D team went back to the field with the product and asked bartenders to review it. One improvement from that research is an indicator light on the bar side of the cabinet that allows a bartender to easily see if a patron is wagering the required amount to get free drinks. (A green light gives the bartender the go-ahead for free drinks without having to look at credit meters.)
Slated for 2020 release, the PeakBarTop will contain evolutions of proven games such as Game King, Super Star Poker and Ultimate X Poker, as well as all the usual mainstays.
Those mainstays are growing in number, with a lineup of new video poker games for launch at G2E. Among the highlights are Deal ‘Em Up poker, which features rising pay-table values when Aces and face cards appear on the deal; and Super Times Pay Wheel Poker, which features bonus spins on a wheel that includes $1,000, $2,000, $3,000 and $4,000 slices.
Wheel Poker Progressive, which now has a Ten Play option, features a two-level progressive won through a wheel spin. For a one-coin ante, any natural four-of-a-kind triggers the wheel spin. On Stack ‘Em High Poker—on another new cabinet, called the Cobalt—a five-credit side bet enables a bonus triggered by two or more Aces. The Aces “stick” for a subsequent free hand.
While video poker development has been a big priority for IGT, as usual, the company brings a complete lineup of premium and core video products to G2E. On the premium side, unlike many years in the past, there are not as many brand-new, blockbuster licensed brands in the lineup. The company has concentrated on the blockbuster licenses it already owns.
Licenses such as Jeopardy!, which has not seen a major new release in years, at least for land-based casinos. Jeopardy! is one of several game-show themes IGT released as slots in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and it is one of several the manufacturer is bringing to G2E in two modern versions.
Residing on the CrystalDual+ Stepper and the MegaTower Universal cabinets, the new Jeopardy! is designed for mid- to high-denomination play, and includes several innovative new play mechanics. Using Triple Double Diamond as a base game, the new Jeopardy! slot is packed with primary-game mystery features and bonus events.
Some features encourage higher bets. For instance, the number of paylines on the base Triple Double Diamond video slot rises as the wager rises. Values in the bonus events and the progressive jackpots rise with the bet as well. A mystery “Random Daily Double” doubles values for five free spins.
The bonuses include a gambler-friendly “accept or reject” event. The player is given three offers for picks from the familiar Jeopardy! game board, the first two of which can be accepted or rejected.
Carrying on in the game-show mode, IGT will show its three games from The Price Is Right game family. A stepper version of the game was released recently on the MegaTower Universal cabinet. At G2E, IGT will demonstrate The Price is Right games on the CrystalDual+ Stepper and CrystalCurve Ultra cabinets. “By the end of next year, you’ll have all three various hardware components in the marketplace with the Price is Right franchise,” says Orchard.
The company also is bringing back $25,000 Pyramid in its premium video portfolio. This game, designed for high-denomination play, features a frequent bonus event based on the legendary game show.
“We believe game shows are among the best licenses,” comments Orchard. “There’s been a big move in the industry away from licensed brands for proprietary products. Multi-level progressives have grown, but most of those have been proprietary. So, we’re being very selective in regards to how much money we invest in licenses, and how much we invest in our proprietary products. And the licenses that we have invested in suit themselves to gaming very, very well.”
That also goes for IGT’s most successful game-show license, the venerable Wheel of Fortune, which will get several refreshes at G2E. On the video side is Wheel of Fortune 4D More Money, a new version of the game using IGT’s groundbreaking 4D technology, which combines glasses-free 3D and gesture recognition technologies.
The new Wheel of Fortune 4D slot has the player grasping objects in a persistent multiplier feature, wild symbols that increase jackpot values, and jackpot odds that grow more favorable at higher bets. A highlight of IGT’s portfolio will be Wheel of Fortune Cash Link Deluxe, a continuation of the well-known Cash Link family.
Wheel of Fortune is one of several new games being shown in the TRUE 4D format at G2E. Ocean Magic 4D is an example of an internal brand that’s being brought from the core group to the premium group. “We’re taking our best core game mechanics and bringing them, not just by name, but also by game play and game style, into premium,” Orchard says. “And so, you’ll see Ocean Magic 4D, and you’ll see extensions of more of our greatest internal brands into the premium world.” Jumanji 4D is another wild TRUE 4D game that will make its global debut in IGT’s G2E booth.
IGT will present plenty of “homegrown” premium games as well, among them Takes the Cake 2 and Candy Bars 2. Candy Bars 2 is a colorful linked multi-level progressive slot with a persistent feature that leads to “blackout pays.” Along those same sweet lines is Takes the Cake 2, a linked progressive that brings back another classic brand.
In the core video category, IGT brings a wealth of new titles as well as revivals of classic brands. On the Crystal series hardware, new titles like Lucky Buddha feature repeating multipliers, a wheel bonus, and a persistent feature that has players chasing multipliers within a set number of spins.
A new version of the classic brand Wolf Run Gold is one of IGT’s top brands that are being brought back in new versions. Available on and CrystalCurve cabinet, the new Wolf Run Gold features a hold-and-respin feature with sticky wilds and a free-spin feature in which wild symbols in the triggering spin “stick” for the entire feature.
A reimagined version of another classic, Hexbreaker 3, features horseshoe symbols that expand the reels for more ways to win. This game also features an open-ended free-spin feature that continues indefinitely, until a skull-and-crossbones symbol ends it.
The video lineup is augmented with a revival of another classic, this time as a new game in IGT’s TournXtreme tournament portfolio. Cleopatra TournXtreme will be IGT’s first tournament theme on a portrait cabinet, the CrystalCurve. It features four seasonal themes, such as Halloween and Fourth of July, and according to Orchard, it is the first of several classic brands IGT will port into the TournXtreme system.
Orchard notes that the company’s R&D staff has worked to meet increasing competition in the mechanical reel segment.
“Over the last 12 months, we’ve worked extremely hard on mechanical reel slots,” he says, “to make sure that we optimize all of our configurations, and show our customers why we are the market leader in mechanical reels. We’ve really worked hard with our customer base to make sure the games are configured correctly, to meet each casino’s needs. And that’s been the first step.
“The second one has been going back to a more retro look and feel with some of our games. Games that have just been released and are about to be released really look, feel and sound, more importantly, like the S2000 experience, and players have been asking for that.”
S2000, of course, was the company’s stepper workhorse format for decades, but for the past few years, those games have been steadily replaced by the new S3000 line. Since that line was first introduced, IGT has worked to give the steppers the classic feel traditional players love.
IGT’s stepper lineup places a focus on high denomination and high limit. “Some of it’s already rolling out, and we’re encouraged by the performance that we’re seeing, particularly with some of the new openings and expansions in the last few months,” Orchard says. “We’re seeing great performance in mechanical reel.”
Among the highlights on the mechanical reel side this year is Red Hot Tamales Jackpots!, a three-reel, 27-line S3000 progressive with a wheel bonus. A bonus symbol on the third reel triggers the wheel, which contains slices for all four progressive jackpots. On the LCD monitor above the reels are the jumping bean characters from previous iterations of the game. The characters anticipate wheel spins by giggling, jumping and wiggling right before the bonus symbol lands.
Another standout on the S3000 is Dragon of Fortune, another multiple-progressive. On this game, the three progressive jackpot levels rise as the bet level rises.
Double Chili Mania features 10 progressive levels, with a blackout feature every 75 spins that leads to one of the progressives. Loot Booster is another entertaining game on the S3000. A “Loot Booster” feature randomly increases the values on the bonus wheel. Both features are very frequent—the Loot Booster lands every 11 spins on average; and the wheel spin, around every 40 games.
“We have a focus on linked progressives like never before,” Orchard says. “The largest allocation of our R&D budget in 2019 and 2020 and beyond is going to linked progressives, and that’s across all of our various product verticals. We’re linking games in Class II, we’re linking games in Class III, on core video, on stepper, and also on games we will have for sale at G2E.”
The company also will have a complete lineup of Class II games at G2E, as well as games for the Washington and New York central-determinant video lottery markets.
“We’re having tremendous success with VLTs,” says Orchard. “We have some huge shipments in the fourth quarter of this year, and we’re continuing to invest aggressively in the VLT segment. We have a significant Canadian replacement cycle that starts next year, and we think we’re positioned very well to get the majority of that business and maintain our No. 1 market share, across not just the domestic markets, but the international markets.”
He adds that the Class II division no longer simply converts Class III games to Class II. “We’re taking the success of the Class III library and we’re driving that content, specifically designed for Class II markets, in video and mechanical reel,” he says, “so you’re starting to see performance and yield from our Class II business that we’ve never realized before. It’s a huge upside for us.”
On the central-determinant side, the company has revived what was the hot game around seven years ago in Washington state, Triple Fortune Dragon. “That game took the market by storm,” he says. “People lined up to play it. So, we decided this year to go back and redevelop new versions of the game.”
Orchard says there are three new versions of Triple Fortune Dragon on the market now, all of which are “knocking it out of the park” in Washington.
“People are lining up to play these games. This and other central-determinant games will be part of IGT’s show display.”
IGT’s display this year will include new multi-player electronic table games as well. The company has completely revamped and augmented its line of ETGs.
The games have been improved with new, slimmer cabinetry, but the big additions are a wealth of side-bet options added to the games. “For a long time, we were limited in regard to the side bets that we offered versus the competition,” Orchard says. “The new games are in the market now, and performing very well. We will demonstrate additional side bets at G2E.”
Finally, IGT’s booth will include a dedicated area for digital and sports betting products and services from its PlayDigital division, and system products such as the company’s lineup of cardless and cashless solutions. (See cover story, page 32.)
“We really believe that this year, end to end, every product vertical that’s going be displayed at G2E is as strong as it’s ever been, and that’s what we’re most excited about,” says Orchard.
“The strength of the business end-to-end is really what we’re displaying at G2E this year.”