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New Horizons: Multimedia Games

Texas-based Multimedia Games pours on the titles as a pending acquisition promises value to shareholders

New Horizons: Multimedia Games

When it was announced in early September that Texas-based Multimedia Games is to be acquired by cash-solution provider Global Cash Access, the biggest surprise was that it was not another slot manufacturer making the acquisition.

There had long been market speculation that Multimedia could be an acquisition target—the company’s games have soared in popularity, sales to Class III casinos have jumped while the company retained its traditional Class II and central-determinant VLT strength, and the stock price has consistently risen.

MGAM shareholders will receive a 31 percent premium to the closing price of shares as of September 5 upon finalization of the $1.2 billion cash sale. GCA, the leading supplier of ATMs, ticket redemption kiosks and similar equipment to casinos, estimates there will be around $30 million in synergies and $800 million in annual revenues for the combined company.

Not much else is likely to change, including the Austin, Texas location of Multimedia Games, long considered an asset for the company as it has provided a steady stream of engineering talent from the flagship Austin campus of the University of Texas.

That wealth of talent has enabled Multimedia Games to grow from a Class II bingo supplier well-known in Oklahoma and a few other markets into an emerging force in U.S. slot manufacturing, with 205 gaming licenses in 29 states providing a growing stage for a steady parade of entertaining slot games, not to mention TournEvent, perhaps the most talked-about instant tournament system in the business.

That talent also means GCA will inherit one of the best game libraries in the business—a library that will officially be much larger as of this year’s G2E show.

“We’re putting out an increasing number of games every year,” says Brad Johnson, vice president of marketing and product management for Multimedia Games. “The library is almost double where we were two years ago.”

Johnson says Multimedia wants to demonstrate to customers that the company can now handle and support an order of any size. “We’ve increased our number of studios,” says Johnson. “When I came here in 2009, we had two studios. We’re just finishing our eighth studio right now. So, what they’ll see at G2E this year is a ton more games than they’ve ever seen from us.”

That display will include more than 100 unique themes in all game styles and in several different cabinets—the premium cabinet Platinum MPX, the eight-foot Texan HDX, the new Apex V Topper featuring dual video monitors, and Cash Boom Bang, the latest out-of-revenue game for the TournEvent tournament system.

“Our MPX cabinet, which we quietly showed customers last year at G2E, is fully approved,” Johnson says. “We already have it in casinos, and we’re producing a variety of new games to go on it. We’ll show six games at G2E on our Premium cabinet. It’s got a 40-inch screen, a customized chair with integrated sound, ‘Earthquake Shakers,’ and an LCD button panel.”

“Earthquake Shakers” are sequences of sound and rumbling vibrations in the Premium cabinet’s custom chair, used to great effect in “Thundering Herd.” When the bonus is initiated, the game goes into a buffalo stampede to herald the event. The chair shakes, the rumbling starts, and the buffalo eventually come on the screen to initiate the bonus.

“The sound system allows us to directly have the sound pointed at the player, but then when it’s a big event, we want everyone to hear about it, so we have speakers at the very top that announce that it’s a big win,” says Johnson. “People around the machine can see and hear what’s going on in the game.”

The Texas HDX cabinet is Multimedia’s version of the Big Bertha—eight feet tall, with two 42-inch LCD displays. There is seating for two, and play buttons for two. It will work with any game in Multimedia’s library. Three games on the cabinet will be at G2E.

The Apex V Topper is a dual topper in a “V” shape that goes on banks of games, with attraction animation across multiple screens. It will be used as a marketing tool at first, Johnson says, to be shown on “Must Hit By Progressive” games at G2E.

Other hardware launches include improvements to the standard TS 3.0 cabinet, including improved reel lighting; and “Skyline,” a new top box with novel lighting effects Johnson describes as a “modern, classic Vegas” feel. “It feels like you’re walking down the Strip when you see a bank of these games,” he says.

All this, plus hardware improvements to the TournEvent system, have given game designers at Multimedia a new canvass for what will be a blitz of new product at G2E.

Entertainment Style

One of the highlights of this year’s G2E lineup for Multimedia will be a mix of new and encore games on the MPX cabinet that show off the company’s ability to produce clever entertainment-style video slots that appeal to a broad range of players.

For instance, two of Multimedia’s most popular video slots get new treatments this year, with “Invasion 2: The Return” and “Haunted House After Dark.”

“Invasion 2” is a follow-up to the hilarious “Invasion from Outer Space,” using the same campy 1950s sci-fi film images (with MGAM employees again providing the screams).

The new Haunted House game is an elaborate extension of the creepy, masterful 3D animation in the first game, as the player is taken through the rooms of a haunted mansion searching for bonus credits behind various objects.

In addition to the main Haunted House Bonus, the new game features a complete lineup of mystery events, including “Ghostly Wild Reels,” the “Tombstone Quick Pick Bonus,” mystery “Bat Wilds” and “Witchy Mystery Multipliers,” and stacked “Haunted House Wilds.”

The Multimedia G2E booth, in fact, is being dressed up to celebrate the arrival of Haunted House After Dark. According to Johnson, there will be a “haunted house” inside the booth to showcase the new game, along with one other MPX title.

Sticking to the macabre, Multimedia offers “Dracula” on the MPX. The main bonus in this game is a multi-level event that has two picking events and a wheel spin. The picking events use that same intricate 3D animation as the player picks from bats, wolves and coffins for bonus credits. The wheel contains credit prizes and jackpot awards. During each level, the player picks objects to reveal either Dracula, one of the “Brides of Dracula,” or “Spin,” which triggers the wheel. Dracula adds a jackpot slice to the wheel; his brides boost the credit values on the wheel.

Finally, “Cabinet of Curiosities” is a quirky nod to 19th century curios, with an elaborate picking bonus in which the player picks from 32 curious-looking objects and adds it to one of five “specimen collection shelves.” Each shelf has a corresponding progressive jackpot.

The MPX games are joined by a huge collection of games in Multimedia’s core video, stepper and “High Rise” slot collections. As usual, many of the new games are designed to make you laugh. Take “Full Service,” a theme that resurrects the gas station of old, with spiffy, uniformed attendants—called “Gas Jockeys” here—performing all manner of “super service” like checking tires, wiping windshields and of course, pumping your gas.

The Gas Jockeys sing an old-time commercial jingle at the start of one bonus, in perfect, hilarious harmony. In one scatter pay, when one of each theme symbol lands, the Gas Jockeys come out to service an automobile and present the credits to the player. The “High Octane Bonus” has players picking Gas Jockeys for credit awards.

Full Service is one of several multiple progressive slots being offered by Multimedia this year.

“Kitty Riches” is another example of Multimedia’s masterful use of humor. In what Johnson calls the “best kitty game ever,” the player picks a kitty at the beginning to serve as a wild symbol. In the “Black Cat Bonus,” a black cat walks across the screen and awards multipliers.

But the funny part is the chorus of “meows” that come out of the sound system every time a kitty appears, from the “Catnip Wilds” to the free-spin bonus (“meow, meow, meow… free spins!”) to the “Pick’n Kitten Bonus,” in which you pick from a field of kittens until four match for a prize—the “meows” get louder as you approach the payoff.

Other titles in the video category cover a wide variety of themes and play mechanics. “Legend of Excalibur” has a medieval-themed picking bonus to fill in characters to win four progressives. “Ghost In The Machine” has creepy robot characters and “Second Chance Wilds,” which are wild symbols that stay in place on the free-spin reels until they are part of a win.

“Silver Fox” is a gambler’s game with stacked symbols and a free-spin bonus that can reach 100 spins with retriggers. “Bonnie and Clyde” has stacked Bonnie and Clyde symbols that turn other symbols wild. “Gorilla” has wild gorillas—stacked, of course.

Other standouts in core video include:

• “The Birds and the Bees,” a hilarious video slot in the vein of last year’s “Yardbirds;”

• “The Kraken,” with a free-spin “battle” that shoots cannonballs at the Kraken monster when certain free-spin symbols land;

• “Valkyries,” with reels that expand to eight high with stacked wild symbols;

• “Sparkle and Shine,” a six-reel game featuring “Twist and Win,” in which a section of the reel field twists to form a new field with additional wins;

• “Jack and the Beanstalk,” in which you can win the top bonus for chopping down the beanstalk with the giant on it; and,

• “Goldilocks,” with bonuses for Mama, Papa and Baby Bear.

In the High Rise tall-top series, the company is launching “Super Jackpot Wheel,” a five-reel video slot featuring Second Chance Wilds and four wheels in the progressive bonus—a slice on each wheel corresponds to a progressive jackpot, and the player can win more than one of four jackpot levels. It’s all wrapped up in an old-time game show theme, complete with a smarmy host.

Also in the High Rise series is “Smokin’ Hot Diamonds,” a linked six-tier progressive with a volatile program and free-spin rounds that can reach 200 games. The progressive levels correspond to numbers of diamond symbols on the reels, with five on the first payline returning the top prize.

High-Denom Focus

One of the game design trends at Multimedia Games this year was the creation of a range of slots designed for higher denominations, both in video and stepper games. Johnson says there will be a “High-End Room” at the Multimedia booth to display all the high-denomination games.

Among the high-denom highlights on the video side is “Starry Night,” a high-denomination—quarters through $5—version of the ode to the earliest days of motion pictures released in low-denom versions two years ago. Reprised is the nickelodeon-style picking bonus and the animation reminiscent of early motion pictures.

Other high-denomination video slots include “Warrior Legacy” and “Carnival in Rio,” both featuring free spins in which themed symbols become wild; and “Night Hunters,” with four “Must Hit By” progressive jackpots.

Highlights on the mechanical reel-spinning side include “Double Jackpot Gems,” a three-reel, nine-line stepper with multiplying wild symbols; “Hot Spot Sevens,” a three-reel, five-line, five-coin slot with multiple “7” combinations, free spins and multiplying wild symbols; “Smokin’ 7s Deluxe,” a three-reel, five-line game with a dual progressive; and “Black Diamond,” a nine-line, 27-coin stepper with a two-tiered stand-alone progressive.

On the Skyline stepper cabinet is “Canary Diamonds,” a six-level progressive with the jackpots corresponding to numbers of scattered diamond symbols. On the High-Rise cabinet is “Queen of Diamonds,” with a ladder-style progressive bonus.

Champion TournEvent

Multimedia Games will be holding the finals to its “National TournEvent of Champions” October 1, in which a top contestant from one of the casino locations that participated in satellite events will take home $500,000. (The top prize in 2015, by the way, will be a cool $1 million.)

The tournament is at the XS nightclub at Wynn, but back at the trade show, Multimedia will display the latest additions to the innovative instant tournament system, which comes in a package including cameras in each machine, a leaderboard that shows video of the contestants during the contest, special features like “Jump to First”—in which the “Money Man” appears and jumps a contestant to first place—and special games with floating balloons that jack up the score when you touch the screen to pop them.

This year’s improvements include a tablet functionality that allows hosts at local casino events to register tournament participants on a mobile device, and a new game called “Cash Boom Bang.”

The game features a random “Turbo Mode,” in which a contestant’s screen goes from one to four sets of reels for a period of super-charged spins. With each game at around 1,500 percent payback, the player’s score can jump a lot with four reel sets per spin. “It’s a super-exciting feature that takes tournament play to another level,” says Johnson.

In all, it will be MGAM’s biggest coming-out party. “We’re really trying to show our customers in all our markets the size of our game library,” says Johnson.

“As we go into the future, we want to be able to sustain large quantities of games on casino floors.”

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.