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Incredible Technologies: Gaining Momentum

Incredible Technologies proves itself by combining an amusement-game pedigree with increasing gaming expertise

Incredible Technologies: Gaining Momentum

Last year, Incredible Technologies arrived at G2E with a collection of games that proved the value of an amusement-game company moving into the gaming space—mainly, the ability to apply novel ideas that may break the established rules of gaming, but which are always entertaining.

Over the past year, the company, based in the Chicago suburbs, has been improving its gaming pedigree. “We’ve had some success with our gaming products, and we’re learning from that and building on those successes,” says Elaine Hodgson, the company’s president and CEO. “It’s a learning process—from learning math models to the way players like to play, the kinds of groups we are going after, and the different kinds of players out there.”

The company had a head start in some aspects, like the ability to create software and game content that keeps players entertained. Founded in 1985 by Hodgson, a former biochemist, and former NASA software engineer Richard Ditton, IT is the largest U.S.-based manufacturer of amusement games, and the creator of the Golden Tee Golf franchise that has had golfers in bars practicing their swings on virtual fairways for decades.

The company also had a head start in engineering of hardware aspects of games. “We didn’t have to come up with those ideas from scratch; we built on what we had from our coin-op business and made it even more robust,” Hodgson says. “We also had good software talent, and art and sound talent as well. But it’s still a whole different kind of player (in casinos), and a whole different kind of game.

“That’s the part we’ve had to learn, as well as the different kind of selling and marketing effort, and regulation effort, which was certainly foreign to us. Now, we’ve gotten more efficient at it.”

It turns out, in fact, that IT has been a quick study in all of those areas. The company has had huge hits with games like “Crazy Money” (its biggest earner), “King of Bling” and “The Herd.” This summer, IT released its first game carrying a licensed brand, “The Munsters Family Portrait,” with a unique game mechanic called “Slide ‘n Win”—the basic game screen is a nine-reel field, and a sliding transparent frame moves back and forth across the field until landing on a five-reel portion of the screen.

The company’s staff has become adept at the regulatory aspect of the industry as well. Since securing its first license in Nevada, IT has become licensed in 15 states, and including tribal markets, 72 different jurisdictions. And the list is growing every month.

As its success mounted, IT quickly outgrew its original Arlington Heights, Illinois headquarters, a 40,000-square-foot facility tooled for its popular amusement games. The company recently doubled its production capacity, moving to a new 80,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in the Chicago suburb of Vernon Hills.

“We now have on-site manufacturing for both our coin-op and gaming cabinets,” says Dan Schrementi, IT’s vice president of gaming marketing and new media. “We have on-site tech servicing for amusement and casino gaming, which we didn’t have before. We’ve tripled our warehouse space. This was all accomplished in preparation for our growth in gaming.”

That growth is happening quickly, as IT combines in-house game design with some select third-party designers to beef up its game library, and moves toward in-house design of all cabinets. A proprietary slant-top cabinet with dual 22-inch monitors features a 75-degree angle on the main monitor.

“They’re designed so you can sit back, more like you are at a computer desk and less like a traditional slant-top,” Schrementi says. “It has been a nice success. It has a smaller footprint, angled to allow us to put it in tighter circles. We’ve done quite well with it, and it’s been the stepping stone for a new upright cabinet we’re working on.”

But perhaps the most important development for IT has been the creation of a new studio-based game design system. “We have four internal development studios,” Schrementi explains. “Each studio has its own programmer, artists, 3D animators and sound engineer. Each team is immersed in the product they’re developing, and each team has its own specialty.” Another team is dedicated to working with external game designers like GC2, Inc., another Chicago-area company that has designed such hits as IGT’s “Coyote Moon,” and which was responsible for IT’s new “Munsters” game.

The company’s own designers are improving by listening to the players. The new facility is equipped with a showroom that serves as a mock casino and testing lab for new games. Once a month, designers bring in 20-30 people for player testing and focus groups. “Our internal designers are talking a lot more to the operators and the players,” says Hodgson, “trying to understand the player—what kinds of games they like to play, which of our games they like to play.”

All of this translates into a rapidly growing library of casino slots. The company arrives at this year’s G2E with 15 new slot titles, bringing the total to 30 active casino titles. “In the first years, we got this ship floating on five games,” says Schrementi. “So, the fact that this year, with external help, we’ll probably produce 20 titles internally is huge. It shows you our growth.”

All of IT’s slots—even the licensed brands—are for sale. While Hodgson does not rule out participation games at some point in the future, for now, the company’s mantra is “Premium Content at a For-Sale Price.”

The Entertainment Factor

IT’s growth has accelerated because, in addition to perfecting the art of game math, the company’s designers always inject one or two novel features into their games, drawing on their amusement expertise.

“We take what we do best—entertainment—and add it to each game; that’s how we differentiate ourselves from the competition,” Schrementi says. “We now have enough internal math that we can exploit that fact with new experiences in the games.”

Among the titles at this year’s G2E will be a follow-up to the second-highest earner in the current library, King of Bling. “King of Bling Iced Out” reprises what made the original popular—a unique hip-hop theme complete with dancing, bling-covered characters and a backdrop of booming music—but adds several unique new features. For instance, the characters pop out of the reels, and move in sync with the music. It’s called “Reel Beats” technology—bouncing symbols, reel speeds and win celebrations all in time with the beat of the hip-hop sounds.

Bonus features include “Iced Out Mode,” which triggers re-spins when diamonds land on the first two reels. Every time another diamond lands to create a new line win, it triggers another re-spin. The other bonus, “Bounce 2Nite,” is a novel take on the pick-’em bonus: The player touches a tricked-out car on the screen, and it causes a hydraulic bounce to reveal credits. “It’s the same concept as a pick-’em game, but with a unique presentation,” says Schrementi.

Also prominent at the show will be IT’s new foray into branded games. The Munsters Family Portrait mines the best comedy bits of the famous 1960s TV sitcom, about monsters and vampires trying to fit into suburban life, and presents them with real-time 3D graphics, along with clever bonus events like the “Mad Lab Bonus,” in which you go into “Grandpa’s dungeon laboratory” to pick one of the characters to become wild during free spins.

At G2E, the Munsters game will be joined by a second branded slot, “Archie in Riverdale Riches.” The game is based on the classic Archie comic books that every baby-boomer boy had among his stacks of comics. A masterful treatment of the theme plays on favorites that will be familiar to anyone who had stacks of Archie, Betty & Veronica and Archie’s Pal Jughead comic books.

For instance, there are two bonuses, one a picking event and one a free-spin bonus. The theme for the pick-’em bonus is Betty vs. Veronica, and the player picks one of the two. (What guy didn’t have a favorite between the two Riverdale cuties?) The other is Jughead’s Free Spin Bonus, in which the player wins up to 18 free games. The top screen and reels change to reflect the theme of the bonus—the Jughead event plays out on a screen filled with hamburgers and other food symbols.

Other new IT games at the show reflect a diverse group of novel bonus events and game mechanics:

“Rorschach Riches,” a video slot featuring stacking symbols and free spins with locking wild symbols, uses Rorschach ink blots as reel symbols. When they land in winning combinations, they turn into one of several possible pictures.

“Car Nation” is a sequel to last year’s popular “Cars” game, with improved math and a unique reel set. Like its predecessor, the game incorporates “Sidewinder Reels,” which spin horizontally. The game screen forms a 3D highway scene, transforming to a new location and backdrop with every spin. Road signs in the new scenes award mystery “Street Wins” of multipliers, wild symbols and free spins. Random awards pop up such as the appearance of a scooter, which causes all scooter symbols to pay a credit amount.

The “Fast Lane Progressive,” activated with a maximum bet and triggered by a street sign in one of the changing backdrops, allows the player to spin a tire for three levels of progressive award.

“Leonidas King of the Spartans” uses the math model of last year’s hit “The Herd.” Instead of buffalo symbols, groups of stacked Spartans “attack” the reels for big wins. The “Free Spin Battle” features locking wild symbols, extra spins, 2X wild symbols and full wild reels. “Beautiful Storm” is another stacked-symbol game that follows the lead of “The Herd.”

Each of IT’s new games has stacked wilds, wild reels, symbol stacks, “Jumbo Stacks” (“Black Rose”), “Walls of Wilds” (“Mystical Mine”) or other special features—there is something extra in the base game of each new title.

“We’re at a place where we’ve had a lot of our games in one or two banks at casinos,” says Schrementi, “and they’ve earned a lot of money for a lot of operators. Our plan is to show the new games this year with different types of content, different types of features. We’re still unique and different, but we’ve also taken in a lot more of what’s doing well in the market, and we’ve studied the players.

“The games for G2E are not just 15 skins of each other. They are 15 games we’ve put a lot of heart and soul into—and games that we’re excited to show the industry.”

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 books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.  

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