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Light & Wonder

R&D Blitz - Light & Wonder cranks up its studios in a wave of game development with a variety of formats and hardware

Light & Wonder

It’s been nearly three years since the company then known as Scientific Games announced it was divesting two of its main business units—its legacy lottery business and its sports betting platform—to focus on becoming the leading cross-platform global games company.

With both divestitures becoming a reality in 2022, the company, rechristened as Light & Wonder last April, has concentrated on one overarching mission: the creation of content.

By shedding sports betting and lottery, in addition to turning its balance sheet around, L&W was able to concentrate solely on game-making, for land-based, online and social casinos.

“First and foremost, it got us back to our core capabilities,” says Siobhan Lane, L&W’s chief executive officer of gaming. “It was about making sure that the businesses that remain in Light & Wonder belong together—and leveraging our enterprise teams to give us the capability to move at speed, respond to market needs, and leverage our brands and licenses that we’ve invested in as a company.”

The company’s studios multiplied and expanded for the task. The studio footprint includes Las Vegas, Chicago, Reno, Manchester, Australia, India, and Tsingtao.

What has come out of those studios in the past two years has been astounding. New cabinets—the giant Mural, the beautiful curved Cosmic, the portrait and dual-screen Kascada, the classic Landmark 7000 stepper cabinet—have appeared every year, and this year will be no exception. Each of the form factors has its special features, and great games that take advantage of those features.

Siobhan Lane, L&W’s chief executive officer of gaming

Siobhan Lane, L&W’s chief executive officer of gaming

“We want to make sure we’ve got great canvases to paint on,” says Nathan Drane, L&W’s senior vice president, global product management. “The market is moving faster, and the product life cycle is getting shorter. But we’re not going to leave a cabinet behind. If our customers are invested in it, we’ll make sure our platform can support it, and we will continue to release great new content.”

“We need the platforms and technology to power those channels and that content,” adds Lane. “Whatever dollar we put into the R&D engine to develop that great content, we can then commercialize across land-based, digital and social gaming, which builds the equity of these amazing brands with players that engage across those three channels.”

L&W’s land-based studios—not to mention the digital studios—simply keep churning out inventive and high-earning titles in all the categories. Its game developers create new game families and revive old favorites with the latest trending game mechanics.

“Heading into G2E, what we’re really proud of and excited about is the reinvestment we’ve made in R&D over the last couple of years coming to fruition,” says Drane.

“As a percentage of revenue, we’ve increased our level of R&D spend. And some of that has gone into hardware, so you’ll see three new hardware variants at G2E. Some of that’s also gone into cross-platform technology, the underlying architecture that powers our games. And then a lot of that investment has gone into talent.

“We have some of the industry’s great game designers in this business, and we’ve been investing in them and their studios. And you’ll see some of that increased investment in the quality and volume of content coming through.”

New Cabinets

It starts with the hardware, and the games developed for new cabinets that multiply annually. And at the top of that list has been the stepper format. “Last year, we launched a new stepper (the Landmark 7000), and this has been incredibly popular with our customers and players,” Drane says. “It is the No. 1 core stepper on Eilers right now.”

The new cabinet hosted a revival of one of legacy Bally’s most legendary games in Blazing 7s 2X3X5X. Drane says that was only the beginning. “We’ve focused on some of the biggest stepper brands under the L&W umbrella such as Blazing 7s and Quick Hit. All of these games are on the Eilers report, so they’ve really resonated with players and operators.”

At G2E, Light & Wonder will launch another new stepper cabinet, the Landmark 7000 Transparent. The name harkens back to legacy company WMS and its “Transmissive Reels” technology, which first put a transparent video overlay on top of mechanical reels to display animation, multipliers and other special features.

Transmissive technology has advanced quite a bit since those first WMS games used it in the mid-2000s. “The technology has come a long way,” says Drane. “We’re leveraging the transparent technology to provide low-denom mechanic overlays on top of traditional mechanical reels.

“We’re not going to overuse the transparent elements because players like the reels, they trust the reels. So we’re going to use it in a slightly different way and we’re going to bring the best low-denom brands through.”

That will include Huff ‘N Puff, as well as other favorites from the video side, including 88 Fortunes, Quick Hits and Reel ‘Em In, according to Drane. Four games in all will debut on the Landmark 7000 Transparent cabinet.

Drane adds that a new gaming ops version of the Landmark 7000 will be unveiled at G2E, which includes a top bonus wheel. Its launch title will be Monopoly Triple Blazing 7s. “We had success previously with Monopoly Hot Shot, combining a mechanic with the Monopoly brand,” says Drane. “Now we’re combining Triple Blazing 7s with the Monopoly brand and really targeting a traditional high-denom player with this.”

Video Versatility

Early in 2022, the company launched the dual-screen version of the Kascada video cabinet. “This has been the No. 1 dual-screen on Eilers for 14 months straight,” Drane says. “We’ve seen a really good uptake and acceptance of this, both from an operator and player perspective.”

This year, the company introduced the Kascada Slant. “I call this the cutest cabinet in gaming,” says Drane. “The benefit of this cabinet is clear sightlines across the casino floor. We’ve been pushing the limits on size of cabinets, but we want to provide flexibility. If you want to put this at your entryway, if you want someone to see through to your sportsbook, this cabinet is your solution.

“And the beauty of this is every game that we’ve released on dual-screen works on the dual-screen slant.”

The Cosmic cabinet, with its 49-inch curved video screen, has hosted both new games and renewals of L&W favorites, such as Dancing Drums and Gold Fish.

According to Drane, the company will highlight the Cosmic cabinet at G2E. “With Cosmic, you’ve got a 49-inch, 4K curved monitor flowing up to the 27-inch topper, with one contiguous piece of glass and seamless edge lighting, including skirt lighting that extends all the way to the floor.

“We just launched Cosmic for sale with seven titles,” Drane says. “We took Dancing Drums into the multi-play category, which gives you a shot more frequently to get that bonus. Also included is a revitalized Gold Fish with some modern trends like a triple-pot collection bonus.”

L&W also is bringing back the Heidi’s Bier Haus brand on the Cosmic. “Like anything these days, we wanted to modernize it,” says Drane. “So, it’s got a new hold-and-spin feature, it’s got a ‘build a bonus’ mechanic. We’ve added a lot of action to go with the old Heidi. And don’t worry; the song’s still there.”

Other old favorites make appearances on the Cosmic. On the gaming ops side, Ultimate Fire Link Cash Falls extends that brand with a hold-and-re-spin bonus that has a unique twist: another hold-and-re-spin feature, this time in the bonus trigger.

One of the most entertaining games in L&W’s arsenal this year is another brand extension, the hilarious Journey to the Planet Moolah. Characters in this game include the “Unicow,” a cross between a cow and a unicorn, and bonuses include a funny sequence in which an alien spaceship beams befuddled cows up to take them to Planet Moolah (which is in “Cowtopia”), along the way generating up to a maximum of more than 400 free spins.

Big Hot Flaming Pots is a new game family L&W will bring to G2E on the Cosmic. Designed by Qin You, the head of Star Studio based in Sydney, Australia who produced the mega-hit franchise 88 Fortunes, it is a new triple-pot game with unique graphics based on a Chinese street market.

L&W also will feature several new licensed-brand games that will be available on all three main video cabinets—the Cosmic, the Kascada and the Mural—including the latest game in the Willy Wonka franchise, called Willy Wonka: I Want It Now. This game mixes an “Oompa Loompa” feature on expanding reels with a hold-and-re-spin Golden Egg Bonus.

Elsewhere in the video group, a slot called Dragon Train comes from one of the newer Australia studios headed by Emma Charles, who formerly worked under Scott Olive at Aristocrat. “This will be an Australia-first product that we’ll bring over to North America,” Drane says.

Finally, in a first reveal at G2E, L&W will launch a new jumbo cabinet, including a 75-inch portrait screen, with another new brand extension, Dancing Drums Ultimate Explosion, as well as a new Ultimate Fire Link extension. Few details had been revealed as of press time, including the name of the new cabinet.

The explosion in game design and new content from L&W is not restricted to the land-based casinos. “We have dedicated studios in digital and social, and they also port our games across from land-based,” Drane says. “So, if you look at the iGaming side, around 75-80 percent of the roadmap is actually the land-based roadmap. But then they have custom content to support their unique segments in the European market as an example, so they do have their dedicated studios.”

L&W’s G2E exhibit will be rounded out by demonstrations of the company’s industry-leading systems products, including Engage, which allows operators the ability to level-up their rewards and loyalty programs, as well as new products from its venerable table-game division such as a new table progressive system and new game, Power X Roulette.

“We’re making sure we continue to focus on R&D investment,” says Lane. “We’re funding R&D to the right levels and scaling our studio talent, bringing in new studio talent to have that differentiated level of content throughout our portfolio—and building great games that really resonate with players, and perform in the market.

“So, at the G2E show this year, it will be evident that we continue to move the needle and transform this organization, to be the best Light & Wonder that we can be.”

 

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