Las Vegas may be the entertainment capital of the world, but Austin is the entertainment capital of Texas. From the blues bars lining Sixth Street to the national entertainment stage of Austin City Limits, the place is brimming with talent.
That talent is not limited to the blues. Austin is also a hotbed of engineering talent, home, as it is, to the University of Texas.
This marriage of entertainment and engineering explains how an Austin-based slot manufacturer, Multimedia Games, has been able to grow into a world-class supplier, when few outside of Class II bingo strongholds like Oklahoma even knew of the company scarcely half a decade ago.
Company President and CEO Patrick Ramsey says he feels the Austin vibe has been an important factor in keeping those talented engineers focused on creating unique games—without being surrounded by a cluster of competition like the big Las Vegas suppliers.
“Game development has grown by around 50 percent just over the past couple of years, and think it’s important that we keep the energy here in Austin,” Ramsey says. “We’ve added several studios over the past couple of years, and we’re in the process of adding several more. We have 50-60 releases a year now, hitting a lot of different markets. Our team is putting out a well-rounded product portfolio.”
“We’re building a brand,” adds Brad Johnson, vice president of marketing and product management. “Our games have a look and a feel that we’ve been developing over the past four years. A lot of value is placed on making sure that quality is at a certain level, and that’s key to our success. People know that when we put out a game, it’s a quality game.”
All those games are earning big for operators, and being noticed by players. Clint Owen, Multimedia’s vice president and executive producer, tells the story of a Minnesota cab driver telling him what fun he had playing a Multimedia slot machine, “Carnival in Rio,” without knowing Owen actually worked for the company.
“Our games are attracting many different segments of customers,” says Ramsey. “We’re now in just about every major U.S. jurisdiction; you’ll see Multimedia Games product everywhere. That’s taken a lot of hard work by a lot of people over the past five years. And the good thing is that we’re now building a portfolio that attracts every type of gamer.”
Building on Success
That portfolio of games keeps getting larger, a fact that will be obvious from the 100-plus games displayed at the company’s G2E booth, with more than 50 new titles.
According to Johnson, part of the focus in game development this year was to build on what has been successful for the company. The High Rise series of tall premium games will see new entries this year and next year, and a new premium cabinet also will be released in 2014. However, standard for-sale games have received particular attention this year, he says. “We keep raising the bar on the quality of our video games,” Johnson says, “and we’re adding stand-alone progressives to our standard mechanical reel games.”
If there is one common thread in Multimedia’s standard for-sale games, it is entertainment. For many of the new G2E games, this means comedy.
Take “Yardbirds,” a nine-reel (each reel spot is actually a complete reel with all outcomes available), 50-line video slot. The main feature is the “Chicken & Egg Bonus,” in which the player picks eggs from a field to try to hatch chickens for credit awards. Every time a chicken isn’t found, a fox appears and steals one of the eggs, but when a chicken is revealed, the hen lays nine more eggs to continue the bonus.
This alone is entertaining, but what really makes it work is the cartoon animation and goofy music reminiscent of “Turkey in the Straw”—you may be looking for credit awards, but you’re laughing while you do it. Even Multimedia’s trademark “Lucky Dust,” which sends little stars or fairy dust flying when you touch the screen in other games, sends a bunch of drumsticks flying in this one.
Goofy farm music also makes you laugh in “Green Thumb,” another nine-reel, 50-line game, with a main “Watering Can Bonus.” When a watering can appears on the middle reel, the small-plant and medium-plant symbols get watered and grow into the highest-paying large plants, and the middle reel grows to be covered by the large plant. If the Venus Fly Trap symbol appears on the middle reel, it eats all the insect symbols on the reels, bumping up the credit amount with each bug eaten. In the “Growing Green” event, the player picks spots on a plant to uncover additional symbols for multipliers or additional picks.
They’re all fairly standard bonus mechanics, but it is the comical presentation that makes them stand out here—they are funny cartoons that pay.
There is much more humor in the Multimedia video lineup. There’s the 50-line “Wild 80s,” with its Valley Girl voice hosting the “Boom Box Bonus” picking game and cards flipping across the screen to turn symbols wild. There is “Femme Fatales,” another 50-liner featuring female heroes in Western, Mystery, Sci-Fi or Jungle settings for picking bonuses. There’s “Arriba,” with the flying Mexican wrestler character “Beto,” a frog mariachi band, and the irresistible “Jumping Bean Bonus” picking event.
But the one video slot with arguably the best entertainment-style bonus of the bunch is “Zombie Outbreak,” with a “first-person shooter”-style bonus event that stands up to any home video game out there. Most of the main features are clever enough—a “Free Spin Outbreak” in which the reels are “infected,” turning any human symbols into wild zombie symbols; reels in the primary game turning green for an “Infected Spin,” again turning the humans into wild zombies—but the main feature, the “Zombie Escape Bonus,” is the one that has had players abuzz in game tests.
The idea here is that waves of zombies are advancing toward you, the player, and you have to kill them before they overtake you and eat you—ending the bonus. There is a field of hidden weapons from which to choose as the zombies advance, and credits are awarded for each zombie killed.
But there are a lot of them, so picking the right weapon is essential: There is a pistol, which will take out one of them. The shotgun will take out two or three; the machine gun will take out a bunch of them; and the ultimate, the flamethrower, will wipe them all out. Then they’re replaced by a new wave of zombies—11 waves in all, so odds are you’re going to get eaten, unless you’re lucky enough to pick the flamethrower every time.
“We tested this in Washington, and the numbers have been awesome,” says Johnson of Zombie Outbreak. “It will be interesting to see how it takes on a life of its own as it moves across the country.”
Adds Ramsey, “I was in Washington, and I saw people circling around the Zombie game. I wasn’t sure how people would enjoy using a flamethrower to burn out zombies, but they were all over it, and talking about it, and watching each other in the bonus rounds.”
It’s not the first time a Multimedia slot has mimicked a video game. Last year’s “Triple Cheeseburger Deluxe” had players building their cheeseburgers one ingredient at a time in the “Build-A-Burger Bonus,” which, as anyone who played arcade games in the ’80s will recognize, is a lot like the famous video game “Burger Time.” This year, the company is launching a follow-up to that game called “Triple Sundae Deluxe,” which is also an app for iPhones and tablets.
Other standouts among Multimedia’s standard video collection:
• “Carnival in Rio 2” reprises Multimedia’s highest-earning theme in a 100-line version with a dual “Must Hit Progressive” jackpot. The top-screen progressive display plainly states the level at which the progressive must hit, which leads to anticipation, excitement and a high level of coin-in. “Wild Alaska” is the other new game with this progressive feature.
• “Fuji” is a new game featuring Multimedia’s “Straight Shot Multiplier” feature, which automatically applies a multiplier to any wins on “straight,” or horizontal, paylines.
• “Vortex” is a 50-line game with a lucrative “Scattered Vortex Bonus” free-spin round. Pays are multiplied by 10X during 10 free spins, and during those spins, wild symbols appear in “stacks” of up to four.
• “Brilliant Jewels” is a 50-line game featuring Multimedia’s newest game-play feature, “All-Match Pays.” Pays are increased if reel symbols in winning combinations are the same color, jewel type or mix of symbols. When players match all jewels, the payoff is 100 times the total bet.
• “Dragons Wild” features stacked wild symbols in a game-play similar to Carnival in Rio, with beautiful artwork as dragons expand to fill entire reels. There are five times as many wild symbols in the free-spin round as in the base game.
• “Beerfest” has a hilarious German theme, with a picking bonus in which the player selects items for a “banquet” to the backdrop of funny Bavarian music.
• “Bunch ‘O Luck” and “Seven Seas” each feature the popular dice “Side Action” game, active alongside the reel set for periodic bonus games.
Multimedia is launching several games in its mechanical reel-spinning series as well. Among the top games are “Patriot” and “Double Cash Money.” Both are three-reel, five-line mechanical reel games with wild symbols that double and quadruple the pay in winning combinations. Each features a three-level progressive jackpot.
Multimedia also arrives at G2E with a new lineup of games for its hot “High Rise” series. Heading up the games featuring the tall top box is “Moby Dick,” telling the tale of Ahab and the whale with dual videos screens and graphics of a ship sailing across the top box.
For free spins, the whale swims down from the top box to turn reels wild, and in a particularly dramatic effect, the water in the sea turns red in the top box and behind the reels. “This game is a work of art,” says Johnson.
Other High Rise highlights include “Crystal Jackpots Orient Express,” which features a “Destination Bonus” in which players pick from an array of luggage revealing travel stamps for various worldwide travel destinations, or a “Bump It Up” stamp that increases all prize values. A free-spin bonus uses a special set of reels, with gems corresponding to a tier of progressive jackpots.
Another prominent new game in the High Rise series is “Thundering Herd.” It features a huge, 40-inch portrait monitor and Multimedia’s new sound chair. In the bonus round, the player feels the thunder of the buffalo herd. An “Expand the Reels” feature doubles the game from a 50-line screen to 100 paylines.
Multimedia this year will also showcase its hit TournEvent instant tournament system, not only with new features on display in the booth, but with the finals of the first “National TournEvent of Champions,” a contest that has been going on all year with satellite events at 75 casinos nationwide.
The casinos’ satellite events have resulted in 85 finalists, who will participate in tournament final sessions held in the arena at Lagasse’s sports bar at the Venetian on Wednesday, September 25. Total prizes are $250,000, with the winner taking home $100,000.
The event is the culmination of a three-year process in which the TournEvent system, which has been among Multimedia’s top products, has been used for year-long tournament events with satellite contests at individual casinos followed by a big final event hosted by the slot-maker.
The first two TournEvent of Champions events were in the states of California and Washington. This year marks the first national contest.
The TournEvent system links a bank of tournament-specific Multimedia games for a contest with special features like an overhead leader-board, a built-in host, and streaming video of the leaders.
Special features have been added each year since the system’s introduction. There are two “Pop-N-Win” side games, in which balloons or other objects float up player screens at random—touch the screen to pop the balloon, and boost your score. A “Jump to First” feature can boost a player’s score to first-place at any time during the contest.
This year, aside from the national event, TournEvent will debut more new developments. The company will be offering casinos a “Holiday Package” of five tournament games, each themed to a holiday during the year. The casino can theme its tournaments to different times of year with different games.
Also, according to Johnson, after G2E, Multimedia will launch an effort to link TournEvent across multiple casinos, allowing players to accumulate scores in “Slot Leagues.” Big casino corporations will be able to form leagues across all their properties.
Next year, the company also will introduce a “Second Chance” feature for the TournEvent of Champions that will allow players to go online with mobile devices to play for entry into the finals.
“TournEvent certainly has taken on a life we couldn’t have predicted,” says Ramsey. “We’re approaching 200 casinos that are equipped with TournEvent, which is absolutely staggering. I remember it being in two or three casinos. There has been a lot of energy and excitement surrounding this product, and to have the National TournEvent of Champions to support that, and to teach our customers how to drive that excitement, is pretty awesome.”
It’s the kind of excitement that seems to be surrounding all of Multimedia’s slot products these days—an excitement that’s as big as Texas.