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International Game Technology: Touching All Bases

IGT continues to roll out innovative content for games in every genre, and for every type of customer

International Game Technology: Touching All Bases

Many slot manufacturers specialize in a certain style of game, or certain type of bonus, or certain game genre. For slot market leader International Game Technology, that certain type of product is… all of them.

IGT has made a lot of news in the past few years moving beyond its core game manufacturing into new distribution channels with its game content, including excellent revenue numbers from its move into social gaming with its DoubleDown social casino on Facebook, deals to take its content online in legal i-gaming jurisdictions around the world, and new networked bonusing features attached to the IGT Advantage casino management system.

However, any notion that IGT has ignored its core slot business while branching out to new ventures simply does not have a basis in fact. And the fact is that IGT still pumps out slot machines in a variety of styles, genres, shapes and sizes that is unrivaled in the industry.

“We’re continuing to focus on building great games,” says Joe Sigrist, IGT’s vice president of product management. “We’re using a combination of licensed brands, great math models, really innovative game mechanics and hardware to do everything we can to make the best player experiences and create the greatest excitement on the floor.”

Creating those player experiences on a consistent basis has meant an unwavering dedication to research and development efforts. IGT consistently spends nearly $200 million annually on R&D, which is a big reason it has remained atop the slot sector for more than two decades.

An important part of that effort, says Sigrist, is player research. IGT’s “Usability Tests” periodically go to players to gauge what is working, what will work, and what players want to see in new games. “This is a very extensive program that we’ve continued to enhance over the years,” Sigrist says, “and it’s become a more and more important part of determining how we can make games even better.”

The research extends over all game genres and departments. 

“We have by far the largest installed base of gaming operations units in the industry, so we continue to build great games for that area, in many cases using licensed brands,” Sigrist says, “and we also have the greatest floor share in for-sale games, so we continue to invest in both video reel and mechanical reel games.”

Back in Time

As always, the most prominent stage for all of these games is that of the licensed brand in the MegaJackpots wide-area progressive series. “There continues to be a great emphasis on our MegaJackpots games, across existing licenses like ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Sex and the City,’ but also, we’re very aggressive in going after great new licenses.”

One new license getting the IGT treatment this year is the blockbuster 1980s trilogy of Back to the Future films starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd.

The three installments of that film series about a teenager and his scientist friend who invents a time machine—traveling back to 1955, ahead to a very futuristic vision of 2015, and back the Old West—has always been regarded by fans as one long story. The game developers at IGT agreed, wrapping the entire trilogy into one feature-rich slot game.

In a talent coup for IGT, stars Fox (“Marty”), Lloyd (“Dr. Emmitt Brown”), and Thomas F. Wilson (“Biff”) all revised their roles in voice-overs for various bonus rounds of the slot machine. Features such as mystery wilds, picking bonuses and free spins all switch among the three time-travel destinations in the films—events like the “Hoverboard Bonus,” in which the player picks either Biff or Marty for a free-spin hoverboard race as depicted in the second film, occur in the “future” setting; other picking bonuses are in the 1955 setting or the Old West.

Another of IGT’s major licensed brands slated for release at G2E recreates a more recent box-office smash—the hit 2011 film Bridesmaids starring Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph. All of the memorable comedy bits from the film are depicted in high-definition video in five different bonus rounds, perhaps the best of which is an interactive picking bonus depicting the engagement-party scene in the Brazilian restaurant that leaves all of the bridesmaids violently ill with food poisoning.

The goal of the bonus is to pick food items from the restaurant’s “buffet” to give to bride Lillian (Rudolph) and the five bridesmaids, in the hopes that as few of the characters get sick as possible.

The player accumulates bonus credits until three of the bridesmaids get sick, which ends the bonus. The sequence is hilarious, with the characters turning colors and assuming funny expressions if the wrong pick is made and they become sick.

Another bonus in the game depicts the disastrous French-themed engagement party banquet from the film, and themed elements include the “Hold On” song from Wilson Phillips, the group reunited in the film’s final sequence to sing at Lillian’s wedding. There are two base games—a line game and a “243 Ways to Win” scatter game—which are selectable by the player.

“For fans of the movie, Bridesmaids is going to be a real winner,” says Sigrist, who adds that the game will be reprised in the future, after the expected sequel to the film is released.

“It’s great to be able to get a license for a movie franchise,” Sigrist says. “Back to the Future wasn’t just one movie. Neither was Sex and the City; neither was Ghostbusters. And Bridesmaids will be coming out with a second movie. These are obviously successful hit franchises.”

Jurassic Stage

As has become the norm for the past few years, several of IGT’s licensed brands will take Center Stage—the Center Stage community-style format, that is, with its 103-inch monitor (70 inches in the smaller version) that gave players blockbuster themes like “American Idol” and “The Dark Knight.”

“Center Stage has been quite successful for us,” says Sigrist. “What’s great about it is we’ve been able to give operators a choice between two-seat, four-seat and five-seat configurations. It adds to the flexibility of the platform.”

This year, another iconic film gets the Center Stage treatment in one of the format’s most effective uses yet. The original Jurassic Park, the popular film depicting an amusement-park habitat for cloned dinosaurs that goes horribly wrong, seems to have been made for the Center Stage format.

The original 1993 film, which is considered a pioneering work in the use of digital animation, is as popular as ever, having spawned a series of sequels, video games, books, and even a re-release last spring in a 3D version that had fans flocking to theaters once again.

IGT elected to focus on that landmark first film in the Center Stage slot, even getting actor Sam Neill to do voice-overs reprising his role as paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant.

The big Center Stage screen provides a perfect format for the game’s main community-style bonus, in which players have to try to escape from the park before dinosaurs overtake their vehicle. When the bonus is triggered, the scene on the big screen is a jungle crossroad of several paths, from the perspective of inside the safety of a vehicle. Each player gets the chance to pick a path to get to the exit of the park without being noticed and attacked by dinosaurs.

The entire bank then views the harrowing escape attempt, as the vehicle slams through the jungle underbrush to try to find the park exit before one of the dinosaurs heads it off or catches up with it.

There is a full lineup of other bonuses and mystery events in the game, which has a dual reel set for the primary reel-spinning. During the base game, the player can collect “Bonus Tokens” for use in free-spin events to add multipliers and wild symbols.

Another new branded game in the Center Stage format is “Wheel of Fortune Ultra 5 Reels,” a follow-up to the hit “Triple Spin” version of the wheel game. Like the original, the bonus display consists of three spinning wheels for bonuses, but for the base game, the new version features the company’s multi-layer display (MLD) technology, with layered LCD monitors creating a 3D effect. In this case, it forms a striking image of 3D cylindrical reels.

This version is packed with special bonus features, including free-spin wild symbols that carry multipliers of 2X-5X that remain wild for all remaining spins, and a “Scatter Wheels” feature. In the latter feature, three or more scattered wheel symbols cause all three bonus wheels to spin at once, with the accumulated results forming the bonus award. If one of the wheels lands on a multiplier, that is applied to the award as well.

A new version of “Ghostbusters” also recevies the “Triple Spin” Center Stage treatment.

Esprit de Core

All the new licensed titles will take nothing away from IGT’s Core Games division, which plans to release no less than 77 new titles at G2E.

“Our main goal for Core Games this year was to continue the momentum we created in a very highly successful 2011-12,” says Ryan Griffin, director of product management for Core Games. “We regained our market share, and our No. 1 ship share, and we’ve been riding high. Our main objective was to continue that momentum by continuing to use the science—the player research into game DNA that increases the probability of successful games.”

Griffin says the most recent game releases—there were 12 releases in a 22-day period in July—are designed to continue the success of the past two years.

At the top of that list is “Candy Bars,” which was the No. 1 core game over the past two years. Griffin says that game’s success was mirrored last year in “Triple Red Hot Sevens.”

But this year, it will be “Sweet 7s,” which wraps the Candy Bars theme together with its official sequel, “Takes the Cake,” and the similar game “Cats & Dogs,” which debuted at London’s ICE Totally Gaming last February, in a three-game setup.

Players spin three sets of reels, one with each game, simultaneously, and all three of the base games contribute to a three-level progressive. “We know how players love these themes, and we know how they love chasing the progressive,” says Griffin, who says that with all three games active, one of the three progressives hits every 17 spins, on average.

Griffin is even more excited about “Winners Choice,” which is IGT’s answer to the runaway hit Wonder 4 from Aristocrat.

IGT was the first slot-maker to create a game with four reel sets to be played simultaneously on one screen, with its MultiPlay video slot family, but the rival manufacturer created the concept of being able to choose from four games for each reel set, mixing and matching the titles whichever way they want.

With Winner’s Choice, IGT improves on that concept. “We know players love that game, so we’re going to enhance the experience,” Griffin says. First, there are six games in the Winner’s Choice menu, not four, from which to choose for four reel sets. Second, there are progressives. The two concepts are combined in a mystery bonus event that puts up all six games at once for free spins, with a double progressive jackpot.

“Operators have been asking us when we’re going to do a product like this,” Griffin says. “We’re enhancing it with progressives, because we see the player trending aggressively toward progressive games.” In addition to six games, the player has the option of choosing the music from his favorite game for the backdrop during reel-spinning.

One more reason this version of the concept will be better than the competition, says Griffin: “We’re bringing the IGT library to this, with player favorites like Cleopatra and Wolf Run.”

Another of this year’s highlights in the Core Games category will be a new entry in IGT’s series of games will full-on skill-based bonus events, the “Reel Edge” series. These games incorporate a special cabinet with a video game-style joystick mounted in front of the player, with a skill bonus played out in 3D animation on a 32-inch LCD monitor, positioned horizontally.

According to Griffin, last year’s two inaugural games in the series, “Tully’s Treasure Hunt” and “Blood Life,” are “totally smoking in the marketplace.”

This year, the company brings a new version of the classic arcade game “Centipede” to the Reel Edge series.

The base game is a “1,024 Ways to Win” video slot, and when the bonus is triggered, the player can choose free spins (an option for those who are not video game-savvy) or a skill bonus that remains absolutely true to the arcade game. The player manipulates the joystick and button to fire lasers at the centipede as it squirms through a field of mushrooms, while avoiding being hit by a scorpion or other enemy.

Former arcade-dwellers will love this game, and those who are adept at the game win the highest bonus. As with other games of this style, players get better at the bonus with each try.

The other genre in the Core Games category that is being enhanced this year is the classic three-reel mechanical game. IGT is bringing the “Hot Roll” feature, which has been extremely popular in multi-line video slots, to the “old-school, three-reel mechanical dollar player,” says Griffin.

The Hot Roll feature presents virtual dice on a touch-screen monitor. The player swipes to roll the dice, with the total on the dice translating into bonus credits. On the original version, the dice rolls continue until the player rolls a 7, which ends the bonus.

As Griffin notes, taking this concept to the traditional three-reel dollar game makes those dice totals into a very lucrative bonus award. “Additionally, we’re taking that mechanic over to the high-denomination world, where players normally have little refreshment,” he says. “Now, that dollar player can experience a mechanic that has been proven successful. Those players are  not going to play that penny game; they’re not going to mess with that MLD. We’re going to take that mechanic and add volatility, multipliers, and an Extra Chance feature—when you roll a 7, you’re not out; you get one more chance.”

Highlighted at the show in the Hot Roll group will be new versions of the classic reel-spinners “Double Gold,” “Super Times Pay” and “Sizzling 7s.” Griffin says the math of the base games will remain true to the originals.

 Other highlights in the Core Games area include “Fishing Bob,” the first clone of the early 2000s hit “Lucky Larry’s Lobstermania 2;” a new “Game King” multi-game unit focusing on entertainment-based games such as “Siberian Storm” and “Day of the Dead;” and new games using hot mechanics such as “Splitting Hares,” with the “Symbol Burst” feature that increases the number of possible symbols on a payline through rabbit symbols that “multiply.”

“Our goal going into G2E is to leverage our experience by enhancing the player’s experience,” says Griffin. “The majority of players out there are seeking entertainment or looking for the good gamble, but we want to stay true to the fact that all players want to win.”

Poker King

It’s no secret that IGT invented the video poker genre—it’s the reason the company was founded in the late 1970s by Si Redd.

IGT still practically owns the market for video poker games, with aficionados still flocking to classics like Jacks or Better, Bonus Poker, Deuces Wild and other variations. The company’s partnership with Action Games has put all those variants in multi-hand varieties from Triple Play to Hundred Play Poker.

This year, the company injects the genre with a wealth of new varieties of specialty video poker, designed to interest, if not convert, video poker diehards, but more so to create new video poker players.

“Video poker and IGT are almost synonymous,” says Sigrist. “It’s part of our business that we continue to invest in, and we want to make sure the traditional video poker player has new things to try if they want to, but also, we want to attract other, non-traditional video poker players to try the genre.”

That goal is being pursued through a collection of more new video poker styles than IGT has ever brought to the big trade show.

For the most part, these new video poker games carry pay tables and player returns identical to the traditional versions, which may or may not satisfy the purists. To make up for the extra bonus payouts, the player is generally asked to wager six credits per hand instead of the normal five. Among the highlights:

“Flush Fever” gives a guaranteed win for four-to-the-flush hands. Then there is “Look Ahead Poker,” which allows the player to peek at the first hole card before the draw, often altering accepted strategy; and “Super Look Ahead,” which allows the player to burn that first hole card from the draw.

There is “Lucky Quads,” which initiates a bonus wheel spin for any natural four-of-a-kind hand. There is “Stud Choice Poker,” which allows the player to see the first two cards, then decide whether the draw will form a five-card, six-card or seven-card hand. There is “Hyper Bonus Poker,” in which a multiplier is applied to any dealt win—a random amount that can go up to 12X—and “Crazy Times Pay Poker,” which applies random multipliers to all hands over a full house in exchange for a 10-credit bet; and “Multi Streak Poker,” which applies multipliers to three-hand streaks of winning results following a winning hand; and “Ultimate Aces,” which applies a random multiplier to Aces wins.

“Fast Four” returns four-of-a-kind pays for three-of-a-kind hands in which the last two cards add up to the value of the trips card. “Royal Deal” awards a bonus for the royal flush.

Many of these new games are included in a new version of the Game King Poker multi-game unit—“Game King 8.3,” which taps a library of 55 poker games and 17 new keno themes.

“Whether it be through different types of games, different bonus types or different hardware options, we think there’s an opportunity for us to create new video poker players,” says Sigrist.

New Networks

IGT’s Systems Division will be well-represented at G2E as well, including new modules for the networked “Intelligent Bonusing” suite. Now in the market are “Team Challenge,” which allows the slot floor to be segmented into teams of like players for tournaments; and “Auction Action,” which allows players to use their points to “bid” on player rewards.

New bonus games for the system, which works in conjunction with the IGT Advantage casino management system, include “Random Riches” and “Point Pursuit,” in which players receive bonus awards through games triggered by reaching point thresholds.

“Intelligent bonuses are ‘intelligent’ in how we engage players,” says Andy Fisher, product manager in IGT’s Systems Division. “Operators can present bonuses in a personalized manner—for example, the player’s Zodiac sign. The system takes standard bonusing offerings and builds intelligence into them.”

The Systems division also will display the latest enhancements to the sbX family of server-based gaming systems, including the newest cloud-based applications that minimize the cost of entry.

Additionally, IGT’s multi-channel content efforts will be highlighted, from its DoubleDown social casino to partnerships to take the company’s game library to online and mobile channels.

Even with all these new distribution channels, though, the one thing the company will drive home at this year’s trade show comes down to a basic fact: When it comes to game variety, IGT is still the Game King.

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.