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Inspired Gaming Group: New Horizons

Inspired Gaming moves to production of slot-machine technology as the company enters new VLT markets

Inspired Gaming Group: New Horizons

Inspired Gaming has long been known for its cutting-edge server-based systems and liver-than-live virtual sports games. Now, with more and more governments exploring the financial advantages of centrally monitored VLT networks, the development of solid slot games has taken on new significance.

“Slots have become very important to us over the last few years,” says Inspired Gaming CEO Luke Alvarez. “Partly because the regulations changed in the U.K. in a way that allowed slot games on our SBG VLTs. And of course, we entered the Italian market, where we’re up there competing with major international slot producers. We’ve faired well there, and now as we move into new markets in South America and Asia, slot content has become very important.”

Investment in game development, graphics and the math behind the games has increased significantly over the past three or four years. In addition, in 2012 the company linked up with former Atronic head Gerhard Burda to work with Inspired as a non-executive creative adviser.

One result of this intensified effort is the game “Diamond Goddess,” released last spring. This is the first of Inspired Games’ new Freespins+ family of titles, and features enlarged bonus symbols, spreading wilds and the ability to lock in wilds during free spins. It also carries the company’s signature “Fortune Spins” feature.

Says Alvarez, “We’ve done a big initiative with Fortune Spins games, which is a special magic feature on the slots that allows you to up your staking level for higher levels of RTP, which players have responded to extremely well both in the U.K. and with a variant in Latin America.”

According to Alvarez, the game has quickly become a favorite with players in the U.K. It will be launching soon in Colombia, Mexico and Italy, and a version for online and mobile play will also be available.

Diamond Goddess will be the special game promotion at Inspired’s G2E Vegas booth. Also featured at G2E will be the company’s new slot cabinet, Eclipse.

Inspired is calling the Eclipse cabinet “a 360-degree product evolution.” Key features include four linear HD screens, a high-definition “parabolic” sound system, ambient lighting and an ergonomically designed footrest.

The four-screen configuration is more than just for show. The core screen features a main menu that is fully “swipeable” in the same way as a smart phone screen, where you “swipe” your finger across the screen to navigate from page to page. This comes in handy as the cabinets typically have between 30 and 50 game titles of various categories from which to choose. The thinking is that people have become familiar with the swipe technique from their smart phones or their interactive TV menus.

The second screen, located above the main screen, is a 22-inch display on which are shown the various bonuses and features of the main game. Above that, the third screen shows bonus pots escalating and also displays promotions, animations and other aspects of the machine to potential players.

The fourth screen is on the button panel, where there is a smart deck-style touch screen that is larger than any other touch-screen button panel in the industry.

“It fuses physical buttons with the touch screen,” says Alvarez of the button panel, “so you have physical buttons imbedded on top of the touch screen. They are fully animated, physical buttons that have all the pressure features and tactile benefits of a real button, but all the interactivity and full color animation of a touch screen.”

The buttons, animations and game features on this fourth screen are fully configurable. The touch screen and the physical buttons can be used to spin the wheel on a roulette game, for example, or one could set up a number of additional bonus feature interactions or animations.

The high degree of interactivity also allows the Eclipse terminal to “remember” the player and suggest other games to try based on past choices—again mimicking what has become a familiar online or mobile experience.

“We think it’s a pretty breakthrough cabinet,” says Alvarez. “We’ve not seen anybody introduce those kinds of fully animated, full-color screen-projected physical buttons anywhere in the world. We’ve not seen people deploy full smart phone-style swipeability on menus elsewhere. We think the combination of all these features makes Eclipse a real breakthrough cabinet and a world first.”

The cabinet was scheduled to be introduced in shops of Inspired’s major U.K. customers at the end of August. More than 10,000 units were expected to be installed within five months. Eclipse will also be available internationally.

Says Alvarez, “Our focus primarily is on new VLT markets, the fully networked markets where we can deploy thousands or tens of thousands of units into government-sanctioned video lottery-style environments. We are very interested in the new gaming markets that are emerging worldwide, where you tend to have thousands or tens of thousands of machines spread in small numbers across lots of smaller venues. That is our focus, and we’ll be bringing that kind of technology to those markets.”

Growing Internationally

Italy has been a huge area of growth for Inspired in the past three years, starting with the introduction of VLT legislation there in 2010. Inspired has expanded its product offering in Italy to include Comma 6a games, which is Italy’s designation for AWP-type games, and virtual sports betting for physical retail venues as well as online and mobile.

Inspired is the primary supplier of virtual sports to Italy and is contracted to supply 90 percent of the market, including operators SNAI, Sisal, Eurobet, Intralot, Cogetech, Lottomatica and Gamenet. Inspired’s products will be approved and go live in the coming months, so Italy is expected to be a significant area of growth for the company.

As Inspired’s exports have grown, so has recognition of its importance to the U.K. trade balance. In July, the Sunday Times newspaper reported that Inspired ranked 34th on the list of Britain’s private companies with fastest-growing overseas sales. The company is now in 33 countries and has quadrupled international sales in only two years, to an annualized £25.3 million.

Inspired was acquired and refinanced by private equity firm Vitruvian Partners in 2010.

In terms of new business in 2013 and anticipated in 2014, China and Latin America are key emerging markets for Inspired. The company is live in Colombia and Mexico with its SBG slot products, and the most recent games—“Jungle Bucks II” and “Viking’s Gold”—are said to be performing very well in both markets. Virtual motor racing is live in Hunan province in China, where it goes by the name Lucky Racing. Virtual football, or soccer, will soon be live in another province.

Virtual sports are considered a lottery event. With a new game being run every three minutes, the product offers 24/7 entertainment and has a lot of growth potential in emerging markets. Inspired’s virtual sports products have been developed over 10 years and are live in over 20,000 venues. The games are trusted by governments and government-supported operators to be popular with players and easy to regulate.

The newest addition to the virtual sports product is not a game but a turn-key solution called BetBox. The system enables operators of small retail venues, or casinos with no experience of managing sports betting, to take the full portfolio of Inspired’s virtual sports events and have them run all day long using nothing more sophisticated than a normal PC.

BetBox circumvents the traditional manner of clients offering virtual sports to customers. Typically, the virtual events go out over a satellite network or an IP streaming network to a shop or to online or mobile phones or desktops. Bets on the events are taken via an EPOS terminal equipped with a bet management system, which would belong to the shop retailer. In mainland China, for example, it is the China Sports Lottery system that handles the bets. The lottery employee takes money over the counter and pays out winnings from existing cashier systems. The same goes for Inspired’s clients in the U.K. and Italy, where big established bookmakers already have elaborate systems for handling bets.

But not every market has that kind of infrastructure in place.

Said Alvarez, “What we’re finding is that in a lot of new markets, people may have no system at all, particularly if they are smaller retailers. With BetBox, they can run the software on a computer and use a little digital scanner, which allows them to take cash over the counter, give out betting slips to players, and then scan the slips and pay out any winnings. It’s very straightforward. You can be up and live in a couple of weeks’ time from placing an order.”

The BetBox software also receives results of each virtual sporting event. Results are always generated centrally, so the regulator and the player can trust that the outcome has been determined by an approved random number generator operating from a secure location and regulated jurisdiction. The graphics—the horse race or football game or whatever event—can be generated centrally if the network allows or locally, thanks to the compression of the information.

The first installation of BetBox will take place at Casino Helsinki in Finland in September.

Another option the virtual sport product offers operators is the ability to brand the events with their own logos and advertising. Most of Inspired’s existing clients do just that, which gives the racetrack or stadium where the event is being staged a realistic look.

Some operators have made limited forays into third-party branding, but to date, no one has landed a Coca Cola.

“People have talked about it,” says Alvarez. “Obviously, you have to go out and actually sell advertising on that basis. I think that’s happened in a small way with a couple of brands in the U.K. But nobody has yet come up with any of the big consumer brands.”