International Game Technology: R&D Power
The slot leader aims to retain market dominance through its R&D prowess
International Game Technology is at the top of the slot machine market. Still.
Yes, IGT’s stock price is down, and in a couple of months, there may be layoffs at the world’s largest slot manufacturer. Does that mean the venerable supplier is in danger of losing its status as the leading slot-maker in the world?
Don’t bet on it.
IGT may have ceded some of the market share it once enjoyed to surging competitors, but it still commands more of the U.S. slot market than all rivals combined. And, if there is one thing IGT has proven over the years, it is that it has the research and development resources to meet virtually any competitive challenge.
The company proved this fact a decade ago, after then-upstart WMS Gaming seized the burgeoning multi-line video slot market in Nevada. Within a year and a half, IGT had completely revamped its video line, and regained the lead in that segment of the market.
The company will respond to the latest economic and competitive challenges in the same way—by regrouping and reinventing itself, once again, through R&D. No one does it better.
This year’s Global Gaming Expo is sure to drive this point home. Drops in participation slots? IGT has a mind-boggling array of for-sale products it will show. Competition in progressives? The company has groundbreaking new progressive concepts. The race toward server-based gaming? IGT’s booth will give the most comprehensive showing of the practicalities of the new technology to be found at the show. Competition in innovative new game styles? IGT has it covered, and then some.
In fact, this year’s G2E lineup is the most diverse and extensive showcase the slot-maker has shown in years, obviously intended not only to make a statement that the slot leader is still very much the slot leader, but to plant the seeds that will grow into a full-blown turnaround.
At the center of IGT’s booth will be a suite of slot games on the company’s AVP platform—it stands for “Advance Video Platform,” but it’s now being used for both video and reels—that are set up to demonstrate practical examples of how banks of server-based slot machines would be configured.
All of the games will include IGT’s award-winning Service Window, the portal through which casinos can communicate with and offer promotional programs to loyal players, and will be linked to a library of game content managed by an IGT software package called “sbX.”
The sbX system is what IGT calls “Experience Management,” in that it enables casinos to design and manage customized player experiences. For instance, the sbX Tier One allows operators to tailor games and promotions on a “bank-by-bank solution,” with mystery bonus events, targeted tournaments and other features specific to portions of a casino.
Outside of server-based applications, IGT will display a wealth of innovation in the slots themselves. “We will show new cabinets with the ability to do unique marketing and game theme utilization in the top box,” says Brenda Boudreux, IGT’s vice president of product management. “Attract modes will include feature callouts, showing the players special features of the games while the machine is in attract mode.”
These attract modes will include tutorials on what the special features do—the top monitor in the dual-screen cabinet will be used to teach players about some of the game features. For instance, a game will advertise popular IGT game features like “stacked wilds” or “tumbling reels,” but the top box will actually demonstrate what those terms mean and how they are applied in games.
“We’re using the real estate in the top box to emphasize all of a game’s new features, borrowing animation from the game itself,” Boudreux says. “Also, the operator can use that space for property marketing—upcoming concerts, promotions, and so forth.” She adds that during a game, the top box can now celebrate events like bonuses being triggered or jackpots won.
The improvements in hardware and extras like the tutorials and celebrations spice up a remarkable array of new games IGT will showcase at G2E, in all of its established game styles—plus a few styles that will make their debut at the show.
One of the newest styles debuted at the Grand casinos in Minnesota a few months ago. An all-video market, Minnesota was the perfect market to launch the new game style that is being seen by many as the answer to placing reel-spinning slots into server-based, downloadable applications—“REELdepth.”
REELdepth is IGT’s proprietary game style using technology licensed from PureDepth, Inc., which it calls the “Multi Layer Display,” or MLD. The technology, appearing first on the latest game in IGT’s “Indiana Jones” series, overlaps two LCD video displays to create the illusion of depth. In simulating a reel-spinner, there is little clue that the player is not looking at a traditional stepper slot. However, these are video slots—as unique animation possible over the reels ultimately reveals.
Simulation of reel-spinning, of course, is only one possibility of the technology. The overlapping screens enable a true 3D effect that is remarkable—almost a stereoscopic effect.
All of these capabilities will be on display at IGT’s booth as it hosts the official coming-out party of REELdepth. IGT will show more than a dozen new REELdepth video slots at the show, in applications that take full advantage of the technology.
“We’ve just started to scratch the surface with the MLD technology,” says Boudreux. “We’re seeing great results in improving our base game library, and in those markets that don’t have traditional reels, like Minnesota, we’re already seeing some phenomenal results.”
Some of the REELdepth highlights:
“Magic Butterfly” takes advantage of the 3D capabilities of the MLD format. The player collects butterfly symbols during the primary game, and the 3D animation has the butterfly flying between the front and back screens. They land on reel symbols and transform them into wild symbols for extra pays. It’s a compelling effect.
“7s Storm” features five different-colored “7” symbols on the reels, which can change color up to five times, often for a higher jackpot. Each reel can individually switch colors to transform a “mixed 7” jackpot into a higher same-colored 7 jackpot.
“Glitter & Gold” introduces a feature IGT calls “Symbol Swarm.” There are only six paying reel symbols, but they stack to fill up one or more reels—all the way up to filling the entire four-by-four pay window with one symbol. This one’s a three-level progressive, and the progressives are won according to how many symbols are stacked.
“At G2E, we’ll be showing the unique features and enhanced capabilities that MLD gives us,” says Boudreux. “Some games will be REELdepth games only; others will be available either in traditional reels or the REELdepth interpretation of it. The goal is to show how we are able to enhance the technology and use it to its maximum benefit.”
Among the games available in both the reel-spinning—the new “S AVP” series, for steppers on the AVP platform—and the new REELdepth video format are several that use a new “banking” concept, which will place multiple game themes under one common bonus round played out on a big screen over the bank.
One banked game to be featured at G2E is “Greenback Attack,” which will link various base reel-spinning slots in a bank to a community-style overhead video bonus event heralded by celebratory audio: “Green… back… Attack! An animation sequence on the overhead screen then gives “greenbacks” to players on the bank as a bonus.
Base games on this bank will include 50-line and 20-line titles, including “3X Triple Seven 2X,” “Double 3X4X5X Bam,” “Fire It Up,” “Pirate’s Gold” and “Triple Red Hot Gold.” Each will have a game-specific free-spin bonus in addition to the common bonus on the overhead display.
Boudreux says IGT will display five to seven banked concepts at the G2E show.
Breaking New Ground
In addition to using new technologies and marketing concepts to spice up the games, IGT is using the G2E show to launch a few completely new game concepts, such as the “MultiPlay” series of video slots.
IGT bills this as having the potential to do the same for video slots as Triple Play did for video poker. MultiPlay presents four different sets of reels to the player on the same screen. The player can wager on one, two, three or all four of the games, and the reels spin on all four simultaneously. “The ability to wager on each will result in more coin-in for the operator,” says Boudreux, “while the wagering setup provides a lot of volatility for the player.”
Boudreaux estimates that players will wager big on these games, because not only can a player quadruple his chance at winning combinations on each spin; he can quadruple chances at a progressive jackpot. Some games in the series will have one progressive for which all sets of reels are vying; others will have four different progressive levels. Initially, the games themselves will be the most popular IGT video slots, including “Cleopatra,” “Wolf Run,” “Golden Eagle” and “Treasure Cove.”
Other new game styles being launched at G2E include two new game families called “Bettor Chance Way” and “MultiWayXtra.”
Bettor Chance Way games allow the player to make a side bet to activate additional ways to win. With the side bet, the screen transforms into 40 individual reels. Each reel has the entire complement of possible reel symbols on it, and operates independently of every other reel. This multiplies the possibility of getting each paying symbol by four.
MultiWayXtra is a follow-up to IGT’s series that allows the player to purchase reels instead of paylines with all wins paid as scatters. In the initial MultiWay series, there are 243 ways to win on each spin. MultiWayXtra adds reel spots in a hexagonal pattern, so clusters of symbols pay off. This results in 3,125 possible winning combinations on each spin.
In addition to the multitude of for-sale options available from IGT this year, G2E attendees can expect a wealth of innovation in the MegaJackpots wide-area progressive series.
New MegaJackpots offerings include several community-play games. One is a new version of the “Star Wars” multi-level progressive game. In the new game, the “Speeder Bike Race” that is the main bonus feature is actually competitive between players on the bank.
Players are each assigned a bike for the race on the overhead video monitor. It is a timed event, and the winner goes on to play a secondary bonus event for one of the four in-house progressive jackpots. (The wide-area progressive is won through a line combination.) The losers each get a consolation bonus prize, so this is a lot of fun even if you don’t win the race.
Other new MegaJackpots progressives being introduced at the show include “Elvis: Rockin’ The Charts,” another multi-level progressive that features a new catalogue of Elvis Presley hits that are played in the bonus round; a multi-level progressive version of “Fort Knox” with a variety of base game themes; and “Wheel Hottie,” a new twist on the traditional wheel bonus in which higher wagers result in better chances at spinning the bonus wheel, and players can actually win the big progressive by landing on a certain spot on the wheel.
There also is a new version of the classic “Megabucks,” in a multi-level progressive version. Called “Megabucks Reel Gold,” the new game features a five-level progressive in addition to the top Megabucks wide-area jackpot.
There also is a new “Jeopardy!” four-level progressive slot featuring a 60-line base game (one credit activates two lines). In this one, the progressive amounts on each game in the bank are independent of each other, giving players the option to “shop” for the best progressive in the bank. In addition to the shot at the MegaJackpots wide-area prize, it is possible to win all three in-house progressives.
These join a host of other new multi-level progressives, including “Joker’s Wild,” the first multi-level progressive to use the REELdepth technology. It is a 30-line, 200-credit slot featuring a five-level mystery progressive.
Tried and True
The special new game styles and progressives are joined this year by an impressive array of games in all of IGT’s traditional styles. Highlights on the video side include “I Dream of Jeannie Magic Carpet Ride,” a 20-line game with a “Traveling Wilds” bonus feature and the “Bettor Chance Pay” option; and “3-Level Spellers,” a new game concept that features a “Spelling Bonus” within the free-spin feature.
The object of the Spelling Bonus is to land five letters on the reels in a free spin to spell out the word “BONUS.” This initiates a second “Multiplier Bonus” free-spin round, in which the player gets 15 additional free spins at multipliers up to 10X.
Another new game group on the video side is called “Hot Hundreds and Up.” This is a series of game in 100-line and 200-line configurations. IGT is launching more than a dozen new titles in this game group.
On the reel-spinning side, G2E will be the coming-out party for S AVP, the new reel-spinners on the AVP operating system. IGT will show dozens of new three-reel, four-reel and five-reel stepper titles, including many new game concepts.
“We’re really making a concerted effort to increase the entertainment in our stepper games,” says Boudreux. “We’ve relied for a long time on classic themes and play features, but we realize that players want much more than that—they want entertainment.”
Finally, IGT will show a number of new video poker games employing the sixth-coin “ante” wager in exchange for special bonus features. One of the launches will be “Quick Quads Poker,” which increases four-of-a-kind chances for the ante wager. For the sixth-coin wager, the game will add up the final two cards when the player is dealt trips—if they add up to the value of the trip card, you are awarded the four-of-a-kind. (For instance, three 3s, a 2 and an Ace will pay off as four 3s.)
There is more, of course—IGT will show a new group of electronic table games, Barcrest reel-spinners with mechanical top-box bonus rounds and other games which we have too little space to list.
According to Boudreux, the vast majority of the games being displayed by IGT at the show will either be approved or on WAM test (for “wide-area marketing,” IGT’s field-testing of new game performance against established titles) by February.
In all, IGT’s display this year is designed to re-establish the slot-maker’s ability to meet any and all competition.
And to stay on top.