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New Horizons: International Game Technology

The new IGT capitalizes on the design talent of its legacy companies

New Horizons: International Game Technology

Anyone who has been attending the Global Gaming Expo regularly since the show’s debut in 2001 knows where to find the booth for leading slot manufacturer International Game Technology—and what it looks like. IGT’s massive front-and-center booth has been a fixture of G2E from the start.

This year, though, will be different. IGT’s booth will be in a different location, and it will look different—shaped like an “L,” it will occupy a prominent corner of the Sands Expo Center.

IGT’s display will look different for one reason: IGT is different. Last year’s trade show marked the end of one era and the beginning of another for IGT. The slot-maker’s merger with slot and lottery giant GTECH had closed in April 2015, which afforded time for a prototype or two that resulted from the combined work of the legacy companies. The rest of the display was the normal IGT booth, plus GTECH’s former Spielo International games.

The new IGT has since matured, integrating the best of the legacy companies into a more diversified supplier—and a company ready to recapture market share.

“This year, our integration is complete,” says

Victor Duarte, IGT’s senior vice president and global chief product officer for gaming, “and you’re going to be able to see the combined power of the company. We’ve got great talent on the legacy IGT side, great talent on the legacy GTECH side, and we’ve brought in new talent from the industry. That combination is pretty powerful.”

Truth be told, Duarte and his team can’t wait for the show. They all have an app on their smartphones telling them how many days there are to go until showtime. “I’ve had my team at that level of urgency, because this show is really going to be our show as a combined company,” he says.

“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people with the amount of innovation, the new product introductions and the quality content we’re going to bring to bear. We have new premium cabinets, never-before-seen licensed brands and updates of existing licensed brands, and some large-format form factors we’re bringing to the show.

“I think it will be our best show in years.”

Premium Punch

Dallas Orchard certainly agrees. IGT’s senior vice president of global premium products, Orchard has been on a mission to catapult IGT’s premium product segment back to the top position it once enjoyed.

“We’re working around the clock to change how we do business, to improve our games, our hardware, our technology,” Orchard says. “And we are well-positioned to be No. 1 again inside of the premium space.

“We know we have a point to prove, and we think G2E 2016 will allow our customers to see our turnaround firsthand. This is a huge G2E for us, as we work to change the perception of IGT from a premium product standpoint.”

Orchard says his team has been diligently working to improve the premium category ever since last year’s debut of the new IGT. “We have been directly responding to feedback from customers last year immediately following G2E,” he says.

“We’re reinforcing to our customers that we’re fully committed to our premium business, concentrating specifically on upgrading our hardware, creating more innovative content, and displaying what we consider to be the industry’s best technology.”

It all starts with the presentation, he says. “We needed to invest heavily in the way we display our games to create a much larger presence on floor. We will show what we believe will become best-in-class merchandising and packaging solutions, as well as continuing to support the legacy hardware pieces that we have in the field.”

Each of IGT’s new cabinets and formats will be displayed with a game designed to bring out the cabinet’s best features. Heading the list is the CrystalCurve Ultra, featuring huge monitors in a unique configuration.

The main screen is a 32-inch monitor—situated horizontally, rather than the usual vertical portrait-style orientation used with that size screen. On top of that is a super-size curved vertical monitor—a full 50-inch screen, ergonomically situated toward the player.

“We are launching a new, dedicated library of games for CrystalCurve Ultra,” says Orchard. “We are extremely excited to bring that to market.”

The G2E launch titles for the CrystalCurve Ultra format are a new game in the Ellen franchise—the series of slots based on the daytime talk show of Ellen DeGeneres that helped launch the CrystalCore 42 cabinet two years ago—and The Goonies, a new branded slot franchise based on the 1985 adventure comedy film starring Sean Astin and Josh Brolin.

The new premium video cabinet will be accompanied by a new format for IGT’s industry-leading stepper slots. Called the CrystalDual+ Stepper, it is a top box housing the kind of mechanical bonus events that were a staple of IGT’s lineup before it sold its British subsidiary Barcrest in 2011. “It’s a mechanical top-box space that IGT dominated for years,” says Orchard, “and we’re looking to go back to our roots and bring forward what we consider to be the best modern solution within that portfolio.”

The steppers in this former line of IGT were distinguished by arcade-style top boxes with lights flashing behind the glass, bells and other mechanical amusement-style elements. The most popular by far was Top Dollar, featuring a simple bonus event in which lights flashed behind images of stacks of cash representing bonus awards.

What’s fortuitous for the launch of the CrystalDual+ Stepper is that IGT held onto the Top Dollar brand when it sold Barcrest. A modernized version of the legendary game will be launched on the new cabinet at G2E.

Other games to be launched on the new format include new titles How to Marry a Millionaire Starring Marilyn Monroe, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Starring Marilyn Monroe, and a new version of the Megabucks wide-area progressive.

Content is King

IGT will arrive at G2E with fresh content for all of the new and proven cabinets and game styles, in a display company officials are saying will be a coming-out party for the new IGT.

Leading the way will be a remarkable collection of premium games based on licensed brands, starting with the most legendary of the slot licenses, the venerable Wheel of Fortune.

As it happens, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the introduction of Wheel of Fortune, a watershed event in the slot-machine industry that ushered in the era of themed games. IGT is honoring that milestone with a complete lineup of new entries in the Wheel of Fortune franchise.

The first event of the celebration occurred a few months ago with the first placements of Wheel of Fortune Gold Spins, on the CrystalWheel+ Stepper cabinet. This latest in a long line of Wheel of Fortune steppers was released in July—along with Wheel of Fortune New Orleans, on the CrystalWheel Video cabinet.

Gold Spins uses a three-reel base game in quarter or 50-cent denomination, but offers incentives for raising the bet beyond three credits. Betting five credits per spin or 10 credits per spin increases the frequency of the signature wheel spins, up to an average of a wheel bonus every 36 spins. The game also offers an extra way to win the wide-area progressive jackpot—a bonus spin on a video wheel with a jackpot slice.

“We’ll be showing a more dedicated, deeper library for the CrystalWheel+ Stepper, including more innovative concepts in the Wheel of Fortune family,” Orchard says.

IGT will celebrate the brand’s 20th anniversary with a booth visit from Wheel of Fortune TV co-host Vanna White.

Other licensed themes will add to popular IGT franchises—in addition to the new Ellen game, the company will show Jurassic World 3D, a follow-up to last year’s Jurassic Park game on the CrystalCore cabinet.

Also debuting at the show is a new premium game based on the film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and a few games that were previewed at last year’s show but have been modified and perfected after player research. One of these is TMZ, a hilarious video slot based on the entertainment-gossip TV series. The technology perfected on that one includes a camera that takes a picture of the player and actually places him or her in the bonus round—one of a head-bobbing clip-art TMZ crew that travels around Hollywood.

Finally, at G2E, the company will launch a game themed around beloved comic TV star Betty White. “Our research shows that with players, she has scored through the roof in all manner of focus-group testing,” says Orchard. Adds Duarte, “She has tremendously broad appeal. We’ve done player research on positive impressions of Betty White, and it’s off the charts. We think that’s a premium license that will do well.”

The new Jurassic World game, meanwhile, is part of one of the hottest product groups within the premium segment, True 3D. The technology, developed by the legacy GTECH team, produces a glasses-free 3D effect that has not been matched by any other slot-maker since its introduction three years ago with the game Sphinx 3D, which became one of the industry’s biggest hits.

For the past year, the True 3D technology has been transformed into a flood of new games. “On our True 3D product line, we have a lot of successful titles that still haven’t enjoyed their full market penetration,” says Duarte. “Aladdin’s Fortune 3D is one example. However, we continue to develop games for that product line. We have over 2,000 machines in the marketplace today, and I honestly believe that with the content we’re bringing to that product line, the number could double.”

In addition to Jurassic World, which will bring the sensation of being chased by a dinosaur to 3D life, IGT is launching a new version of Zuma 3D, based on the popular game licensed from PopCap Games; Baywatch, bringing the legendary beach series starring David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson to life; and Treasures of Olympus, with a volatile base game based on the former Spielo game Icarus: The Journey and a 3D bonus sequence taking you on a journey through ancient Athens.

According to Michael Brennan, IGT’s senior director of product management, games like Treasures of Olympus feature a very volatile base game and a bonus event that is “more infrequent, but very rewarding when it happens.” In this instance, the mythical Icarus randomly flies onto the screen to shoot arrows at symbols turning them wild, and flies through the sky dodging meteors.

The new Zuma 3D game has a “Dynamic Attract” sequence that actually beckons passing players, inviting them to play. This game follows the game-play sequences familiar to players of the mobile version, including a bonus involving balls shot from the mechanical frog character in the game, the object being to match the colors for a bonus.

“True 3D is about continuing to recapture market leadership from an innovation standpoint,” says Orchard. “It’s becoming much less of a niche product. We will display an enormous amount of 3D content.”

Duarte adds that at G2E, the company is launching a new evolution of the True 3D line “that you will have to see to believe”—an immersive experience “unlike anything you’ve seen.”

Details are being kept under wraps until the show, as are a few other surprises in the premium game group.

Core Strength

As Orchard has worked since the merger to revitalize IGT’s premium products, a similar effort was under way in the core product division, which includes core video, steppers, video poker, electronic table games and specialty products including skill games.

Managing it all is gaming veteran Ken Bossingham, who was appointed senior vice president of global core product in September 2015.

The appointment reunited Bossingham with former colleagues and product professionals from the legacy GTECH company—he spent 12 years at the former company, serving as COO of Atronic when it merged with Spielo, and general manager of North American casino operations for Spielo until it was acquired by GTECH. He was chief operating officer of slot-maker AGS when IGT tapped him to head up core product in the newly merged supplier.

“The last year has been quite the whirlwind, as we’ve introduced a new level of discipline to the core business,” Bossingham says. “G2E 2016 provides us with the opportunity to show our customers the great progress that has been made in achieving our objective of presenting the best-in-class core product portfolio.”

He adds that the core group has made a concerted effort to divide the R&D efforts to match the markets for the games. “After the acquisition, we have game studios on every continent, and a high level of diversity,” Bossingham says. “By examining content according to where it will work best, we’re able to leverage our R&D throughout the globe. We’re developing the right content for the right players.”

Perhaps most importantly, says Bossingham, is a regimen of testing, focus groups and field trials to maximize the success of each game. “We feel the most responsible approach to business, as we build the product pipeline, is to bring each game out on test bank and make sure it’s sustainable before we roll those products out to our customers,” he says. “Our customers will be able to have a level of confidence that our games will perform close to floor level or above—if, not, we’ll put those products on the shelf and never release them to the public.”

A different team focuses just on market analysis and player focus groups for titles still in development.

“I think this is going to be IGT’s best core video show,” says Duarte. “Over the last 18 months, we have been progressively implementing our player-centric approach to developing core video games. We do a ton of research on player needs and expectations at the front end to help shape our roadmap… We only bring successful games from field trial to market.”

At G2E, IGT will have a special section of games that are ready for placement after extremely successful field trials.

Highlights among the core video offerings at G2E will include Valley of Gold, featuring a “must-hit-by” dual mystery progressive with a dynamic jackpot reset—the jackpot does not always reset at the minimum levels when hit. Ocean Magic, which Bossingham says is “arguably our top global game,” includes “Bubble Boost,” a feature activated with an ante wager in which random bubbles appear to add wild symbols.

Then there is Keystone Kops, an entertainment-based video slot built around the famous silent-film slapstick police comedies of the 1920s. The main bonus is a hilarious sequence of cartoon cops clumsily chasing bad guys around the city. (There are Easter eggs added that have the cops giggle or otherwise react when you touch them on the screen.) There also is a free-game bonus on two reel sets, one on each monitor.

Keystone Kops also includes a feature called “Shuffle Scuffle.” When major winning symbols stack on the middle reel, all symbols on the screen shuffle for additional wins.

Featured on the Crystal Slant cabinet will be Elephant King, in which cash symbols atop each reel award random credits or free spins when matched on the reels—larger bets result in larger bonus wins.

One unique game in the core video group, Kayo Dragon, combines spinning reels with cascading-symbol reels on a single game screen in a first-of-its-kind game mechanic. Symbols on the second and fourth reels cascade and disappear when stacked, with additional symbols dropping into place for re-evaluation of the win.

In terms of core hardware, the company has used another new cabinet to re-launch its international hit multi-game product. Called the Axxis 23/23 (two 23-inch monitors), it is being launched primarily for markets outside the U.S. where the legacy GTECH, and its Spielo International subsidiary, had great success with the Oxygen cabinet and diversity multi-game in Latin America and Europe.

“When we merged, we realized that format needed an update, so we launched the diversity HD multi-game,” says Duarte. “We put a lot of innovation into that product—we enhanced the screen technology to what we consider best-in-class, and we added high-resolution graphics into the package.”

The diversity HD multi-game is being launched with game suites including both new titles and proven games from IGT’s library. The menu of 12 games is interactive in the style of a mobile phone, and the format offers full HD video and graphics and easy transition between games.

To enhance the core video proposition across casino floors, IGT this year launches Spin Splosion, a video version of Spin Ferno, the premium tournament solution introduced last year in stepper version that allows multi-site instant tournaments.

Stepper Leadership

For all the effort IGT has made to recapture its core video mojo, the company has paid no less attention to its core stepper product, which has long dominated the reel-spinning space. The segment has maintained its market leadership while getting a rejuvenation with the launch of the S3000 format two years ago—which retained the most loved features of the then-standard S2000 stepper product while modernizing the games with high-speed processors, high-definition bonus screens and different denominations and payline setups.

“Without question, IGT has the best library of mechanical reel games in the industry,” says Duarte. “And what we have seen in the last couple of years since we introduced S3000 is that it is, most of the time, outperforming the product it’s replaced with the same title.”

IGT has already shipped more than 10,000 stepper games in the S3000 format, but according to Duarte, the company is devoted to completing the library with both new titles and all the favorites from the former workhorse S2000 series.

“We are hearing from our customers, and they remind us that we haven’t brought forward our entire library yet from the S2000 days,” Duarte says, “so we are going to bring more and more of those titles to the floor at G2E.”

“We’ve gotten off to a great start with S3000; it’s a market-leading product,” adds Bossingham. “But we can’t be complacent. We have to continue to build upon that position of strength.”

Brennan says the company’s stepper line comprises several categories, including three-reel and five-reel games in a variety of line setups, including nine-line steppers in the lower denominations. “S3000 appeals to a lot of different people,” he says, “and we’re doing a much better job of earmarking which titles fit into which player categories.”

Among the highlights in the S3000 line this year is another game with an anniversary—next year marks the 25th anniversary of Double Diamond, a game that defined the stepper category for IGT. At G2E, the company will celebrate with the launch of Double Diamond Deluxe, a new version of the classic multiplying-wild three-reel game including a nudge feature to increase the overall hit frequency.

Other S3000 highlights include the It’s Raining Cash series of three-reel, five-line games; Super Silver 7s, a three-reel, 27-line low-denomination game; and the stepper games associated with the Spin Ferno tournament system, which Bossingham says have been outperforming the house average when the reel-spinning games are in revenue mode.

Additionally, IGT is launching a multi-level progressive product on the S3000 platform, Super Red Hot Jackpots.

Skill and Poker

The core slots are accompanied this year by more games in IGT’s growing library of skill-based games, leading off with a new and improved version of Texas Tea Pinball, previewed last year. According to Jacob Lanning, IGT’s vice president of international market strategy, modifications since last year’s preview include the addition of a second flipper button for the skill-based pinball bonus—the bonus plays much more like a traditional pinball game.

Also added to the game is “Wild Rush,” a mystery feature that multiplies wild symbols landing on the reels.

A second pinball entry revives another classic IGT video title. In Cleopatra Pinball, the base game is exactly like the classic video slot, but a pinball bonus is added in which the player aims at objects to add blocks to build a pyramid.

“Pinball is a great way to introduce boomers to the next generation of games incorporating skill,” comments Lanning.

Also on the skill-based side is Atari Centipede, a slot with a bonus recreating the famous arcade game with an integral joystick; and other skill bonuses in the Video Reel Edge series.

As for the original skill-based casino game—video poker—IGT dominates the space as always. The company still collaborates with Action Gaming on new multi-hand games, as well as several clever new takes on traditional video poker games.

One standout in video poker this year is Ultimate X Poker, promoted in an optimal Ten Play Poker in a nickel denomination. In Ultimate X, any three-of-a-kind or better is followed by random multipliers applied to the subsequent three hands.

Another poker highlight is Super Triple Play Jackpots, in which a bet of seven credits activates a feature in which any four-of-a-kind hand triggers a wheel spin for extra credits.

Other new video poker titles include Flip & Pay Poker, Powerhouse Poker and Pyramid Poker.

IGT also is launching Ten Play Multi-Race Keno, a super-fast multi-card keno game with 10 different ball draws per play—the first game to apply the multi-hand, fast-play concept to the game of keno.

IGT rounds out its G2E display with new system offerings that apply mobile technology both to functions of the operator—Mobile Host for front-line marketers; Mobile Notifier for real-time management alerts—and of players, with loyalty-club apps and On Premise, which allows players to take slot games and other features with them to any approved location within a casino property—and beyond, in approved jurisdictions.

Cardless Connect is another emerging technology on the casino systems side. Already being implemented in Las Vegas, Detroit and Australia casinos, Cardless Connect replaces the mag-stripe loyalty card with a smartphone app. Everything from loading credits on a machine to earning loyalty points is handled via smartphone on the system.

“We enter G2E with roadmaps that go out 12 months for every section of our portfolio,” says Orchard. “Our goal is to go into this trade show with no gaps. We have the industry’s biggest R&D budget, and we want that to be reflected in our product roadmap and our commitment to frequent releases.”

Of course, there will be ample surprises among the IGT launches at the G2E show. “We’re going to announce some of the really exciting brands we’re bringing out, and there are a couple of secrets we’re going to announce at the show—really top-tier brands,” says Duarte.

“We want to make a big splash. We deserve a big splash, because this team has been working really hard to show a new company with focus on content, and hardware, and the experience of the player.”

“We’re hungry,” adds Orchard. “We’ve given up market share in past, but that’s over. We have a point to prove, and G2E 2016 provides our line in the sand.”

“This is our first show where we can see the strength, innovation and power of our company,” says Duarte. “I look at it as a measuring stick for IGT.”

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.  

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