As you no doubt have gathered from our cover feature, Konami Gaming is flying high. The past few years have seen the slot-maker separate from the increasingly competitive pack to the point that it is now recognized as one of a handful of elite manufacturers in the industry.
While it was five years ago that Konami COO Steve Sutherland made a pledge that the company would reach the “podium,” an Olympics reference to the top three spots in the slot market, it was seven years ago that the surge really began for Konami.
The end of 2006 was when the company first released K2V, the video format that was to begin a momentum that has yet to subside. Less than a year after that, Konami acquired the empty lot next to its already-large Las Vegas headquarters. This year, the company announced that it will use that space to double its production capacity to handle the increased demand.
Since the release of K2V, every year has seen a new platform, technology or game style from Konami. There was the company’s first stepper series, the unique Advantage series, first in a five-reel format that looked like no other five-reel stepper in the market, then in a three-reel version.
There were new cabinet styles like Advantage Revolution, a hybrid product with a three-sided, revolving bonus apparatus. There were new formats like the novel reel configuration of KonXion. There was a parade of new bonus mechanics to spice up all genres.
Meanwhile, as K2V evolved into KP3, Konami’s core video product kept improving. The games coming out of that improved platform are this year joining with even more new formats, new cabinets and new ways to play.
The development of those new technologies—and the company’s marketing of its next generation of products—are being helped along by new talent brought in over the past year. Last November, the company hired Matt Reback, a longtime operations and marketing executive for Station Casinos and the former Harrah’s Entertainment, as senior director of marketing. Early this year, Konami hired Steve Walther, the former marketing VP for Aruze Gaming, as director of product management.
The first G2E show for the two as Konami executives brings the industry more product than the company has ever brought to the big show. “You’re going to see a lot of new product in the Konami booth this year,” says Walther, “a lot more product than we had last year. Diversity is the word, and we are going big this year.”
Bigger is Better
“Big” is certainly the word to describe some of the new cabinet styles and new game formats Konami is bringing to G2E. The “Podium Goliath,” launched last spring, is a super-sized version of Konami’s standard cabinet, standing nearly eight feet tall with dual 32-inch, horizontally positioned LCD displays, 360-degree attract lighting, an ergonomic button panel, and an enhanced sound system.
According to Reback, operators have placed Goliath games—the cabinet supports all K2V and KP3 titles—in pods of three, and all have been earning big. “They are performing like much more than a novelty item (as giant slots are normally treated),” he says. “They are performing like a premium bank product.”
Konami is using the format to launch a new type of wheel game at G2E. Called “Gigantic Wheel of Winning,” it is a two-level stand-alone progressive product compatible with most KP3 video titles. The progressive bonus is randomly triggered during the base game to activate a giant wheel that looks like no other wheel before it.
The wheel covers both of the giant monitors, and is depicted from the side, with the player viewing the edge. It is a 3D image, with numbers popping out from the screen as its spins. The wheel contains two stand-alone progressive jackpots and several credit prizes. There is a “double or nothing” option on the wheel prize, which the operator can configure to limit the doubles.
According to Walther, the bonus display is configured as a “true wheel,” meaning there is an equal chance of landing on any of the spaces, including the progressives. “The Gigantic Wheel of Winning is designed to take advantage of the size of the Goliath cabinet,” Walther explains. “The progressive will sit on top of any standard game.”
At G2E, the Goliath will be joined by the new “Podium Monument,” which sports a very different, vertical look—a standard 22-inch game screen, topped by a vertical 32-inch portrait-style monitor. An LED border around the top monitor changes colors for a display that will draw attention from across the room.
There will be three launch products for Podium Monument displayed at G2E. “Quick Strike Quad” is a four-level stand-alone mystery progressive compatible with any video title that does not require a top-box display. Progressive awards are randomly triggered during base-game play. It is a “Must Hit By” progressive game, which means that the player is on notice of the level at which each progressive must hit—the jackpot trigger range is listed under each incrementing prize on the jackpot display.
The LED border on the cabinet helps the anticipation build up as the must-hit jackpot level approaches. “As it gets closer to the trigger, the display starts to ‘heat up,’” says Walther. “The colors change as the chances of the progressive hitting go up.”
Quick Strike Quad will be accompanied by two new game families designed specifically for the Monument format. “Snow Stars” is a family of games launching with two titles, “Snow Stars: White Winter” and “Snow Stars: Wild Winter.” The game carries a stand-alone progressive feature, and the top box is used as an attract mode. For free-spin rounds, the player picks the volatility—a low number of spins with a high multiplier for high volatility; lots of spins at a low multiplier for lower volatility and more time in the bonus.
The other Podium Monument game is a new entry in Konami’s popular “Rock Around the Clock” series called “Doo Wop Dudes.”
A modified version of the Podium Monument is used for a completely new game style called “Rapid Revolver.” Launched first at G2E Asia in May, the format uses a standard main game screen combined with a tall top box housing a vertical display of six mechanical reels, which spin horizontally at different speeds and different directions. The display determines the amount of a two- or four-level progressive jackpot.
Two titles launching in the Rapid Revolver format are “Rising Dragon” and “Northern Treasure.” According to Walther, both feature reel symbols that pop out in “real-time 3D.”
Remember the Titan
One radical new game style that Konami launched in Atlantic City over the Fourth of July weekend is the “Titan 360.” Housing the launch game “Rise to Wealth,” the Titan is a giant amusement-style bonus display surrounded by eight individual slant-top slots.
“This is a special-edition, limited-release product,” says Reback, “intended as a precursor to a family of products that will leverage our amusement heritage. (Konami’s parent company, Konami of Japan, is one of the top amusement-game companies in the world.)
“One thing that Konami does really well is layered entertainment. The Titan 360 contains not one bonus, but several. Instead of a single progressive, there are multiple levels of entertainment.”
Specifically, the big central display features a physical wheel spin that sends a ball falling into one of several slots to determine either a prize or advancement to other bonus features. Among those other features is the “Big Money Ring Feature,” which can result in Mini, Major or Maxi progressive jackpots.
It is a major attraction on the casino floor, and an imposing apparatus when the bonus is triggered. For instance, if you land “lock” and “key” symbols on the first and fifth reels, respectively, the entire gigantic bonus unit swivels around to place the wheel in front of your machine.
The new game styles are accompanied by new products to round out Konami’s current game library. The Dynamic 5 stepper cabinet, which was launched last year in a slant-top version, is being introduced in an upright style this year.
Dynamic 5 features two-part reels—a second physical transparent layer on the reels transforms them into bonus reels, wild reels or other features normally found only in video or transparent video overlays on reels.
The effect is achieved by inner and outer mechanical reel strips.
According to Walther, some games in the Dynamic 5 cabinet feature a “skill stop” feature on the inner reels. “It’s a real skill stop,” he says, “and it helps to contribute toward how many bonus features you may or may not have.”
While Dynamic 5 rounds out Konami’s collection of stepper products, the company’s video lineup will include games with new reel setups and play mechanics.
“Ultra Reels,” a follow-up to the KonXion scatter format, uses a 3-4-4-4-3 reel layout (three spots on the two outer reels and four spots on the rest) in a left-to-right scatter-pay setup. Launch titles include “Spellbound Princess” and “Warrior’s Gate.”
“Genie’s Power” is a new seven-level linked progressive product, with four individual bonus games that can be triggered randomly. The bonus games—“Wheel Castle,” “Treasure Cave,” “Fortune Oasis” and “Lucky Town”—each have different bonus mechanics, and each can trigger one of the seven progressive jackpots.
“Exotic Princess” is an 11-reel game. The first two columns are independent reels, and the nine spots forming the remaining columns are each individual reels, with all possible symbols available on each spot.
Tournaments on Demand
In addition to the wealth of new slot games, Konami will display new additions to its “Synkros” casino management system. The popular system, which is the next generation of the widely used Konami Casino Management System (KCMS), now includes a networked tournament product known as “True-Time Tournaments.”
“It is a networked product that leverages the power of the Synkros system,” Walther explains. “A feature called True-Time Windowing takes over the entire game screen once the player decides to play his tournament entries.”
One phrase in that sentence represents what makes the new tournament module unique—“once the player decides.” True-Time Tournaments is an on-demand tournament system. Players earn entries to a tournament based on whatever parameters are set up by the casino. The player can decide at any time during an event period to play his tournament session based on the entries earned, which instantly transforms the game screen for tournament play.
“This is where our tournament system differs from the competition,” Walther says. “It gives the player the opportunity to decide when to play.”
Adds Reback, “The other nice thing is, as an operator, tournament entries are free to give away. Your costs are your fixed costs for whatever your prize pool is. With Player On Demand, I can set up whatever incentive I want in the Synkros system so I can give out an infinite number of tournament entries. As long as you are reaching the thresholds I set as an operator, I’m not limited by how long my tournament area is roped off or how many positions I have.
“I can set up whatever behavior incentives I want, and I don’t have to worry about the math of how many turns per hour I can get in. It allows me to really turn my incentives, limited only by how creative I can get. As an operator, I always wanted incentives that were zero cost but high value, and that’s what this gives you. When I show this to operators, that’s the first comment they make.”
Of course, the functionality is in the system to do the normal “3-2-1-start” type of collective tournament, since many casinos do prefer to promote specific events at specific times. But with the Synkros system, the flexibility is built in for the operator to choose how to run the contests.
True-Time Tournaments are just one more piece of the puzzle Konami has been assembling for the past six years, and the completed puzzle forms the picture of one of the top slot suppliers in the industry.
Sutherland’s “podium” is certainly right around the corner.