Incredible Technologies has always been a company ready to move into new areas of technology—beginning, of course, with its move from its traditional amusement game business built around the legendary Golden Tee Golf game into the gaming industry with its first casino slots in in 2008.
By the time of last year’s Global Gaming Expo, production of Golden Tee Golf had been moved out the Vernon Hills, Illinois office where it had been produced since the 1980s, to make room for its expanding casino gaming business, as a diverse slot manufacturer with many of the most inventive cabinets and bank configurations in the gaming industry.
Like most other slot manufacturers, IT had been humming along successfully in March when the industry shut down suddenly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Unlike some other manufacturers, though, new game development did not shut down when the company’s customers were idle, and in fact, increased to the point where the new game volume this year is running ahead of last year’s lineup.
“IT is very lucky being a private company, always very risk-averse and not debt-heavy,” says Daniel Schrementi, the company’s vice president of gaming sales and marketing. “We’re a self-funded company, with the Golden Tee and the gaming side of it. We were lucky we didn’t have to shut down anything.”
He credits the company’s two principals, President and CEO Elaine Hodgson and Executive Vice President Richard Ditton, for keeping IT’s entire operation going through the industry shutdown.
“Our owners were spectacular throughout this,” Schrementi says. “We furloughed nobody. The office closed, everybody switched to remote work-from-home immediately, and oddly enough, game design is the one department that got ahead of everybody through all this. I think that department has been more efficient through this time than any. We actually have a backlog of products right now waiting to get into and through GLI.
“So game design actually got more creative from people’s basements and kitchen tables, and everywhere they’re working from, because they have fewer distractions.”
Of course, the only problem in having a backlog of product ready for approval is that it can’t all be launched at once. “We set out to make about 60 games this year, and we’re going to make that target,” Schrementi says. “The only change that will happen is once those actually get pulled through certification and launch, you don’t need to place them until you’ve got room to place them.”
IT never launches a game for general placement before it has gone through rigorous testing at live casinos—historically, the company has restricted general release of games to those that have been proven performers in test banks. With casinos idle for two and a half months, the testing process was halted as well.
However, IT, as opportunistic as ever, used the industry’s Great Pause to accelerate moves into new product segments that had already been on the front burner when Covid-19 hit—namely, Class II and iGaming.
Class II, Online Moves
On September 8, IT announced its official entrance into the Class II market, offering products on its freshly minted Class II gaming system to tribal operators across the country. The company partnered with Class II Solutions to integrate that company’s Class II system into IT’s existing platforms.
The company had successfully field-tested its central-determinant system at Wisconsin’s Ho-Chunk Casino and the Four Winds Casino in South Bend, Indiana.
“We had been working on launching the Class II segment of our company; it was launching right before Covid hit,” says Schrementi. “Now, it’s a huge focus for the company.”
Schrementi says that because of the backlog in Class III games ready for certification, the development team was able to allocate more time to the development of Class II products. “First and foremost, the toughest hurdle to get over is the development of a system,” he says.
“We partnered with somebody on that development process, to develop a bingo engine, and a wide area network, etc., but we want to have that system thoroughly tested before we launched. We were going to debut all this at NIGA, and NIGA never happened.”
He says Ho Chunk and Four Winds were the company’s partners in getting the system ready, and the increased attention to Class II development meant the company is able to release games to Class II markets in two phases.
“Our Phase One markets will be greenfield markets,” Schrementi says. “Washington state, for instance, has never had a game like Crazy Money, or Crazy Money Deluxe, or State of the 8s. So in those markets, we’re starting strictly with hit titles from the existing catalogs. But meanwhile, for some of that development pipeline, we have pivoted the teams onto new titles for Class II. So in mixed markets, like Oklahoma and California, we’ll have custom titles with a focus on innovation, designed strictly for Class II.
“And we’ve learned a lot from this process. You’re able to see earnings a lot quicker, and see performance a lot quicker. Our company has always been very heavy on testing products before we sell them, so we’re going to put some crazy ideas out there, see how they do in Class II, and then maybe move them to Class III. That’s a new opportunity, and the Covid shutdown really helped us focus a lot of energy on that.”
Over the next few months, the company will focus on Washington state and Alabama, with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Oklahoma and California, both “mixed” markets with both Class II and Class III offerings, will likely be next in 2021.
The Class III backup also benefited IT’s move into a gaming segment that heated up during the shutdown, online gaming. “We took some of those resources and moved them to iGaming as well,” Schrementi says. “That’s something we were able to focus on—since we’ve got enough games right now for Class III, let’s focus some of these teams on developing new tools for iGaming.”
IT actually has been increasing its iGaming footprint for around five years, beginning by partnering with aggregation platform supplier GAN. “They’re still a good partner,” Schrementi says. “They’ve got games of ours deployed in New Jersey and Pennsylvania that are among the top-performing games in the market.”
Last year, the company signed a new aggregation deal with Reno-based Spin Games. “They’re basically our closest partner in our path to developing iGaming,” says Schrementi. “They have our games on their ROC2 RGS, and we have a unique deal in place that allows us to build the library.
“Right now, we only have a handful of games live in New Jersey, and they’re at the top of the charts, which has gotten us a lot of attention. We’ve got 16 more in motion—we started with two, and honestly, we’re going to put our foot on the gas pedal beyond that. What we are happy to see is that good games land-based are good games in the iGaming space.
“We’ve got a ton of irons in the fire—we’re talking to partners in Europe and other markets—but as most states come online in the U.S., there’s something about the style of our games that makes them play well online. And that will initiate huge opportunity as more states and more sites come online.”
New Game Rollout
Because of the glut of Class III games ready for certification and testing, for the next few months, IT will concentrate on finishing the rollouts of new games begun at the beginning of this year. Many were out in the market only briefly.
“We’ll probably end up developing more games this year than we did last year,” says Schrementi, “but we’re allocating them differently, because of the change all companies experienced—there were a couple of months of not deploying themes, so we had games that were going out right before the shutdown that never got the light of day until right now.”
Those games will go out through the end of this year and early next year, according to Kelsey Sullivan, marketing manager at IT.
“A lot of the games we’re really excited about were released early this year, but they’re still very new in terms of time in front of players,” Sullivan says. “Now, games on all of our cabinets are picking up performance right where we left off in February or March.”
Those new offerings can be found in all of IT’s diverse cabinet styles, including the large-format V55 cabinet. Examples of this year’s releases on the V55 that Sullivan says have performed well before and after the shutdown are two sets of sister games—Prize Pool Cactus Cash and Fierce Dragon; and Happy 8’s and Jolly 8’s.
The Prize Pool and Fierce Dragon games use the giant monitor above the reels to display a prize pool grid of 20 credit amounts, mirroring the 20 spaces on the reel array. In the primary game, gold “Prize Pool” scatter symbols on the reels increase the credit amounts on the corresponding prize-pool spots. Prizes remain in place and continue to grow as the gold scatter symbols land. If the player lands four Prize Pool scatters of any color, the corresponding amounts on the grid are instantly awarded.
Happy 8’s and Jolly 8’s both offer persistent-play features. The games’ main primary-game feature is “Scatter Blast,” an innovative accumulation mechanic for bonuses, progressives and added wilds over a cycle of eight spins.
On the eighth spin, all wilds are released to the 40-line reel set below for potentially huge wins. Any progressive awards or bonus meters that have been filled with their respective scatters are also awarded. After eight spins, all bonus and progressive collections are reset to start the cycle over.
Other highlights this year include new content for the Infinity cabinets launched at last year’s G2E, the immersive Infinity Pilot and Infinity Summit formats.
The Infinity Pilot is designed to give the player an immersive experience by flanking the main 55-inch vertical monitor with two 29-inch displays—58-inch monitors that have been cut in half, basically. The effect is cinematic, creating what is almost a private chamber for the player.
The Infinity Summit is designed as a new “premium core” cabinet, with a 4K high-definition monitor on top of the main 55-inch display, angled down toward the player.
Of course, the timing couldn’t have been better for the release of these cabinets, particularly the Pilot’s private chamber. Schrementi says products like the Pilot, the Edge product released last summer and the company’s standard pod configurations have helped operators keep IT games on with safety in mind. A recent Eilers & Krejcic survey showed that of all the slot suppliers, Incredible Technologies had the least number of games inactive on gaming floors due to social distancing.
“We have no games idle, really,” he says. “We’ve got most of them back on, and a lot of that is because of our Edge product and all the crazy shapes we have. We wanted to design so people wouldn’t have to sit near each other and see each other when they played, and that ended up being beneficial for other reasons.”
According to Sullivan, one new game on the Infinity Pilot that is doing twice the house average in earnings wherever it is placed is Crazy Money Double Deluxe. A launch title in the Double Deluxe family, the game uses the immersive setup to display a 13-line reel set including Double Deluxe Wheel Scatters, triggering a wheel that awards free spins, bonus credits plus a re-spin, or a progressive jackpot.
The bonuses include the interactive Money Catch bonus, where players must tap floating money for credit awards.
On the Infinity Summit cabinet, one standout is Money Roll, another game doing two times house average, according to industry reports. It is part of the Roller Wheel game family, which features two progressive jackpots that scale with the bet and three jackpots that scale with the bet level. The primary game features “Rolling Reveal” stacks of symbols that trigger big wins. During free games, the reel set expands to double size, and the feature can be retriggered up to a total of 100 free games.
Meanwhile, IT continues to feed newly approved games into property banks for testing. As of late August, there were 20 games in the test bank program. “The good news for the industry is that the test banks have all fired back up,” says Schrementi.
For the longer term, Schrementi says IT’s development team is in the midst of developing its next-generation slot platform.
“We are knee-deep—we were prior to Covid and still are—in probably the most radical investment into hardware innovation that we’ve ever done,” Schrementi says. “We’ve tabled our timeline. Our Infinity platform that we’ve been innovating on is about six years old, so we’re due for something big.
“We want to have a place for our games where people recognize them when they see them. So, we’re taking a big swing for our next set of hardware. It’s timed out to be launched later next year.”
Meanwhile, Incredible Technologies will continue to transform Covid setbacks into opportunities, by taking the opportunity to diversify into the Class II and iGaming segments. “Diversification for our company was the primary concern before Covid, but the pandemic just put an exclamation point on having multiple channels,” Schrementi says.
“Look at the big companies. They have multiple channels, multiple avenues of revenue. That is the way you survive. And as a smaller company, you have to pace yourself as to when you introduce all that because you don’t want to sink the ship trying to innovate. Thankfully, IT is at a very healthy point to do all this, and thanks to our owners, to be able to continue to invest smartly.”