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International Game Technology: Forging Ahead

Its merger with GTECH complete, IGT moves forward with strength and purpose

International Game Technology: Forging Ahead

International Game Technology has spent well over two decades as the industry’s leading slot manufacturer. The company has a history of making the right moves at the right time—like acquiring Double Down just before social gaming took off—and has maintained the most extensive R&D regimen in the business.

While IGT has remained the No. 1 slot manufacturer, though, its share of the international casino games market shrunk over the years from the ridiculous 75 percent share it enjoyed in the early 2000s. The reason, of course, was concerted effort by rival slot-makers to chip away at that market share.

Last year, the merger of IGT and lottery giant GTECH brought new strengths to the company, including convergence of international lottery and casino markets. But it also brought one of the rivals that had been chipping away at IGT’s share into the fold—and GTECH’s highly regarded slots, themselves the products of that company’s acquisitions of former slot-makers Spielo and Atronic, are now part of the IGT universe.

It’s all part of what the manufacturer calls the “Winning Combination,” the theme of the IGT trade-show collection this year. And the combination is formidable, indeed. Victor Duarte, the longtime GTECH executive who is now IGT’s global chief product officer for gaming, says diversity is the key.

“We’re trying to build the deepest, broadest, most diverse portfolio of game content in the industry,” Duarte says. “That’s what’s driving the studios, day in and day out.”

Duarte says the direction that portfolio ultimately takes will be up to the end-users of IGT’s product, the players. “Philosophically, our game design begins with the player,” he says. “We really are trying to be as attuned to player needs as possible. Our content managers already have a deep understanding of players, based on the research we do. We spend a lot of time researching players and understanding players, and that informs our game strategy going forward.”

He adds that the IGT/GTECH merger allows the new company to leverage a truly global presence. Where IGT studios were historically centered in North America, GTECH has added global studios that allow the company to leverage new strengths.

The GTECH library also adds strength in segments such as international casino games and VLTs in Canada and elsewhere, where the former GTECH had always concentrated its R&D efforts, says Duarte, who notes that a recent global game design summit brought legacy IGT and GTECH game designers together, and the dual game design philosophies merged together perfectly.

Premium Play

Nowhere is that more evident than in the collection of premium branded slot games with which IGT arrives at G2E. Heading the list is Breaking Bad, on the CrystalCore 42 cabinet—the format including the 42-inch vertical LCD monitor that housed last year’s hit Ellen slots.

Breaking Bad incorporates footage, sound and themes from the critically acclaimed AMC drama about a chemist with terminal cancer who turns to manufacturing methamphetamine and the gangster life to provide for his family before he dies. Powerful imagery from the show finds its way to the reels of two base video slots, one with a free-spin bonus on which flag symbols activate up to three additional reel sets.

One of the two base games features a multi-level progressive bonus in which higher wagers give the player better odds and raise the progressive levels.

Other branded games on the CrystalCore 42 go much more for the laugh—especially TMZ, a hilarious take on the syndicated tabloid TV series featuring a cast of reporters delivering tongue-in-cheek gossip on the star entertainers of the day. One entertaining new feature of this game is that the player gets to be in the game. A “Photo Booth” feature has the player sit still for a head-shot photo, and in all subsequent bonus rounds, the player is one of the TMZ news crew (hosted through voice-over by the show’s producer and star Harvey Levin)—which bounces around in funny cut-out animation at the start of the bonuses.

The bonuses all play out some scandal involving one of a select group of celebrities, including David Hasselhoff, Lindsey Lohan and other TMZ “regulars.” (In case you’re wondering, Charlie Sheen turned IGT down.) The bonus events are ingenious, from “Celebrity Spin,” in which a wheel bonus awards credits and gives one of the celebrities an “excuse,” to “Mug Shot Free Spins.”

Another new licensed game is Orange Is the New Black, based on the Netflix comedy/drama set in a women’s prison. This one is on the two-game CrystalCore Duo format, with two different base games under a common LCD display for bonuses. Bonuses begin and finish with a clip of a scene from the acclaimed series. Music also is a big part of the game—it is synchronized with lights across the different machines.

Additionally, Orange Is the New Black represents the first simultaneous game launch in land-based casinos and the DoubleDown social casino, Duarte says.

Finally, the CrystalCore Duo is used to great effect on a new version of Jurassic Park, featuring a T-Rex bonus in which the player selects matching symbols for moves by the player and the dinosaur as the T-Rex chases the player. (The high-definition video is outstanding on this.) It also features reels that expand up to 10 rows high for free spins, utilizing all the real estate of the 42-inch monitor.

Rounding out the licensed offerings on the tall G23/32 cabinet is a new entry for IGT’s series of games based on the Dark Knight Batman films. The Dark Knight reprise this year features three reel sets with wild symbols jumping among them, and base games centered around the films’ characters heralding “Heroes” and “Villains.”

True 3D

The GTECH merger augmented the technology of IGT slots in many ways, but perhaps none more significantly than bringing the former GTECH’s groundbreaking “True 3D” technology into the IGT library.

GTECH wowed G2E attendees two years ago with the launch of Sphinx 3D and its technology, which is the most authentic three-dimensional effect ever to be used for a slot machine—and the best 3D effect without 3D glasses to be had anywhere. True 3D features an adjustable effect for those who may get motion-sick from watching characters move around dimensional scenes. The effect even takes movements of the player’s head into effect. In Sphinx and several other games launched at last year’s G2E, the True 3D effect is mesmerizing.

IGT officials decided to launch True 3D under its own brand in grand style, applying the technology to the most successful game in its history, Wheel Of Fortune.

Wheel of Fortune Double Diamond 3D uses the True 3D technology to present an animated replica of a classic stepper game. It uses the traditional Double Diamond symbols and math model in a three-reel, five-line configuration, with a fourth reel added as a bonus reel.

IGT has added bonus events on the main screen and on a 39-inch top LCD monitor with full HD resolution. When a bonus is triggered, there is an animated transitional sequence in which the reels appear to drop off the machine to provide a new bonus window. There are several different bonus events. In one, 3D coins fly off the fourth reel and hover above each reel until the player selects one to reveal an award. There is a Puzzle Bonus in which the player solves the familiar Wheel Of Fortune puzzle.

The central Wheel Bonus takes place on a 3D touch version of the iconic wheel from the TV game show. Free-game bonuses and the Wheel of Fortune wide-area progressive round out the package on the game, designed for dollar and higher denominations.

While the new Wheel of Fortune game makes True 3D an official IGT technology, several other games on the former GTECH platform ProdiGi Vu will be highlighted at G2E. Three new games using the True 3D technology draw on popular titles of the former GTECH, including Cash Fever Wild Nurse, Plants vs. Zombies 3D and Return of the Sphinx 3D.

Cash Fever features the familiar bonus “thermometer” and a popular feature that increases stacked symbols, and therefore odds, as the player bets up. Plants vs. Zombies, one of a series of titles licensed from PopCap Games, includes a funny bonus in which plants on one side of the screen try to shoot all the zombies on the other side before they can approach and “eat the player’s brains.” Return of the Sphinx gives the 3D treatment to one of the former GTECH’s most popular titles, one that is still in the field and performing well seven years after its launch.

Other games on the former GTECH platform include Grit, Guns & Gold, a Western-themed 88-line game on curved video reels; and A Reef of Riches, which has the reel set floating over an ocean scene—taking the player underwater for the free-spin bonus.

As for the Wheel of Fortune franchise, the series will launch several non-3D iterations at G2E as well. Wheel of Fortune New Orleans uses the new CrystalWheel cabinet, which places the bonus wheel atop two 23-inch high-definition touch-screen displays. A Mardi Gras-inspired symbol set and engaging base game play mechanics include stacked symbols and multiplier wilds. In a progressive bonus, players can spin a touch-screen virtual replica of the famed wheel for one of the game’s five multi-level progressive jackpots.

Wheel of Fortune Ultra Wheels pairs the wheel spin with Ultra Wheels’ unique MultiPLAY interface, which features four wheels instead of reels with a multiplier pointer, boost feature and jackpot wedge. A multiplier pointer appears with each spin and may point to one of the four wheels and multiply the value up to 10X. Progressives are awarded when a jackpot wedge is displayed on wheels two, three and four.

Finally, Wheel of Fortune Gold Spin presents the classic stepper version of the game, but with bonuses utilizing the reels, an LCD bonus screen and the famous bonus wheel.

“Brands matter to IGT, and we’re going to continue to maintain a robust strategy there,” Duarte says.

Core Strength

IGT’s group of video and reel-spinning slots in the company’s Core Games group remains as strong as ever, with 60 video titles and more than 40 stepper titles to be launched at G2E. One of the highlighted games this year is Bubble Craze, which employs a unique video game screen comprised of bubbles instead of classic reels.

Bubble Craze uses a unique setup of 19 independent reels in a hexagonal format, on the CrystalDual cabinet. A “Cluster Pays” feature returns wins in the base game and free-spin bonus, the latter of which provides a guaranteed win on every spin. For big win potential, the Transformer Bubbles feature and the Multiplier Bubbles (2X to 5X) multiply any wins in their cluster by their multiplier.

Other core video standouts include DaVinci Dual Play, which combines two of the popular DaVinci Diamonds games into a dual-play format with symbols cascading from the top to bottom reel set; Wild Wind-Ups, which has classic wind-up toys as symbols that randomly turn other symbols wild; and the Mythical Warriors series, which features the first three-by-three (three reels, three rows of symbols) video setup since the legendary Texas Tea.

In IGT’s traditional stepper series on the S3000 cabinet, highlights include Mucho Dinero, a classic three-reel, five-line game for quarter, dollar and $5 denominations. Other reel-spinners include 7s With Peppers, including a feature that multiplies one of five progressive jackpots awarded by two or three—depending on the number of peppers gracing the jackpot symbols—Hot Hits, with a frequently hitting nine-level progressive; and Three Play Double Diamond, which stacks three sets of classic stepper reels atop each other in a nod to the classic IGT game Totem Pole.

Another of the featured S3000 steppers is Red Hot Tamales. Based on the player-favorite math model of Gold Bar 7s, the game introduces a three-reel, 27-payline configuration set for multi-denominational game play. The “Blackout Pays” feature awards progressives when all reels are covered with red or yellow 7 game symbols.

“S3000 has been a great success, because it maintains the classic elements of steppers along with new technology,” comments Duarte. “We certainly have reason to be proud of that product, and the plan here is just to continue to add to the product roadmap.

“We have a lot of legacy mechanical reel product that can be brought forward onto this platform and enhanced. Operators always tell me, ‘more titles on the platform.’ So, that’s what we need to do—bring the legacy library forward to the new platform, while continuing to innovate and create new themes and math models.”

Poker King

IGT, of course, was the company that invented video poker, and thousands of its original video poker variations are still on the floor, unchanged for more than 30 years.

However, that doesn’t mean the company has rested on its considerable video poker laurels—particularly since IGT began partnering with Action Gaming to present multi-hand versions of all of its legendary video poker variations and collaborations that present totally new takes on video poker.

This year is no exception, as IGT arrives at G2E with a collection of innovative new video poker titles. Among the highlights is Super Hand Poker. With a side bet made, the player is dealt three hands from different decks, instead of duplicate hands as in Triple Play Poker. The player or the  computer picks the best of the three hands—the “Super Hand”—and that hand is tripled for the draw from three different decks.

Also highlighted is Triple Chance Bingo Poker, which features a custom game design developed specifically for the electronic bingo market. The poker theme features one five-card draw poker hand, which is dealt face up on the bottom; and two five-card stud poker hands, which are 10 cards dealt face down. For big-win potential, players have the opportunity to win a 2X to 5X multiplier on the bottom hand of the deal, and on the stud hands on the draw.

Other standouts include Pyramid Poker and Powerhouse Poker. Pyramid Poker combines stud and draw poker. Five draw poker hands are dealt at the bottom of the screen, and then four additional stud poker hands are dealt from the top to the bottom of the screen with one card, two cards, three cards and four cards stacked in a pyramid. The player draws to the bottom hand and the top hands pay according to a stud pay schedule.

In Powerhouse Poker, any dealt winning hand is integrated into the top box, accumulating up to nine extra hands, with random 2X multipliers.

Systems, Tournaments and Light Shows

IGT will display its portfolio of interactive solutions for desktop and mobile gaming at the show. The company will demonstrate OnPremise, an integrated mobile technology solution that modernizes gaming and sports betting experiences and enables players to wager via a single mobile app anytime within set boundaries.

IGT also will spotlight the company’s Play-for-Fun solution, under which the supplier collaborates with casinos to create branded free-play websites.

The company also will spotlight two interactive MegaJackpots titles, MegaJackpots Cleopatra and MegaJackpots Siberian Storm. These multi-game, multi-channel progressives link play on desktop and mobile devices to a single progressive jackpot, where liquidity grows quickly to generate bigger jackpots that players can win anywhere they play.

But perhaps the company’s most groundbreaking systems-supported innovations come in the form of a new tournament solution and a new customizable promotional system for casinos.

IGT has had its TournXTreme instant tournament system for several years, but this year, the company placed its engineers on a mission to scope out every instant tournament system in the industry—including the innovative TournEvent system by Everi—with the goal of doing better.

The result is Spin-Ferno, a tournament solution that enables instant tournaments on dedicated stepper slot machines that also are top-earning stand-alone games in their own right.

“We consider Spin-Ferno IGT’s first-ever premium tournament package,” says Duarte. “This is the first time we’ve really created a tournament package that includes the systems and machines in a highly integrated way. It combines Tournament Manager 5.0 with the S3000 cabinet. The reason I feel it is leapfrogging what I’ve seen to date in the tournament space is that it includes all the popular features of those systems, and combines a top-performing set of products in coin-in mode that I don’t think our competition can touch.”

Unlike other systems, Spin-Ferno can be used for a single casino or a multi-site tournament. Operators can use the Tournament Manager 5.0 system at a central data center to link games between properties for tournaments. The base games are classic three-reel steppers in the S3000 cabinet, but with touch-screen video overlays that allow for a wealth of in-game opportunities to boost one’s score.

The result is a wild ride during the tournament, with icons popping up all over the reels within the players’ reach—a frenzy of activity when compared to old-fashioned, repetitive button-pushing in slot tournaments. Integrated leaderboards constantly update the scores during the contest, creating even more excitement around the games.

Other features include quick registration using mobile devices, instant conversion to in-revenue mode at the end of the contest, and a synchronized sound and light package that has the games in the tournament bank pulsing in unison.

This last feature was first seen at last year’s G2E, when banks of the new S3000 steppers conducted a synchronized light and sound show to draw attendees to the area. This year, IGT expands on that concept with a compelling marketing tool for casinos it calls SyncSation.

SyncSation—designed by audio-visual wizard Kyle Rothschild—allows operators to create an on-demand, synchronized sound and light show customized to any event, season or theme, on any group from a single bank of machines to all the machines on a slot floor.

The new system, available in Gold, Silver and Bronze packages—the Gold package enables 150 different synchronized shows—is evolving even before its formal launch. IGT has been working with operators to create different types of synchronized sequences that will be displayed at G2E. Attendees will see groups of slots with lights and bezels pulsing to holiday music, hits of a casino’s headliners, “Hot Zones” to which operators want to drive business—just about any sequence imaginable.

The light and sound shows can be scheduled for any period. In one demonstration, a New Year’s Eve sequence counts down from 10 as the big hour approaches, launching all machines into a synchronized rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight.

The future of this system is still being built, as IGT and operators explore possibilities of linking game events and floor-wide bonuses to the light-and-sound celebrations.

“SyncSation allows you to create a unique presence on your casino floor,” says Duarte. “We’ve integrated it into a number of our newer cabinets, to create quite a presence.”

The first combined G2E display for IGT since the GTECH merger is designed to make a splash, and splash it will. The company is designing the show to reassert its dominance of the slot floor, and all indications are that is just what it will do.

Moving forward, Duarte says IGT will continue to integrate teams and technology between the two legacy companies. “There is so much potential,” he says. “It’s not quantifiable; we have to work on common technologies but leverage the diverse talent base we have. The full combination of that talent is tremendous.”

In the longer term, he says the company will identify ways to enhance product lines such as True 3D and others, injecting new technology such as crowd detection—a game can recognize when players are hovering near a machine and encourage them to sit down. “Those kinds of applications are available because of the technology we’ve integrated into 3D, and we’re looking at new technologies and applications to integrate into all our product lines going forward.”

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.