It’s been a year of evolution for Novomatic Americas, the U.S. arm of Austrian gaming giant Novomatic AG. The year began with the announcement that Novomatic will continue its exclusive distributorship in North America for Apex Pro Gaming, the Czech company with hit games like the popular Clover Link.
In February, the company announced it was moving its headquarters to a new, larger facility in the Chicago suburb of Buffalo Grove, Illinois, to accommodate increased business and to provide the infrastructure for future growth and development.
But according to Rick Meitzler, president of Novomatic Americas, one of the most significant developments this year has been the perfection of a new software platform for Novomatic’s games for the North American market going forward. Called the Cobra Board, it will provide a single technology to replace what now is different software for different markets.
“Before this, if we did games for casinos, we’d use the NovoLine software,” Meitzler says. “Games for Illinois were on the Magic HD software; games for the military were on the Paris software. There were five different boards we were working with. So, as a company, we have designed our own board. It is Linux-based. It’s got much more powerful graphics. Some of our competitors feature higher-end graphics with a little more 3D depth—this gives us a lot more power to create those effects.”
Beyond the advanced graphic and game-feature capabilities, having a single platform going forward will streamline approvals. “It makes it a lot easier for our customers,” says Meitzler. “It will be a lot easier to get games approved, and we’re hoping our pipeline gets bigger.”
Along with the growing pipeline is an enhanced global R&D staff. In May, Novomatic hired Greg Colella, a longtime executive of Bally Technologies, Scientific Games and Konami, as vice president of product management. “Greg will work half the time for our parent company in Austria to help design games,” Meitzler says. “We’re trying to get them to look a little more through American glasses. Greg’s main focus will be the U.S., but he will help bring games to all our markets in Europe as well.”
At the Global Gaming Expo, Novomatic will introduce the first new game family developed on the Cobra Board, Thunder Cash Gold. Beyond that, the company has combined the Apex Clover Link series with other Irish-themed games—namely, Irish Grace and Irish Locks—into an Emerald Isle theme for Novomatic’s exhibit.
“This year, we’re going to have an entirely new-looking booth,” says Kathleen McLaughlin, vice president of marketing and corporate sales for Novomatic Americas. “We will have a new presentation, with a very high concentration of Irish-themed games. Our entire booth is going to be one big Emerald Isle party.”
While featured as a booth theme, the Irish-themed games will only constitute a small portion of what will be one of Novomatic’s most diverse G2E exhibits yet. “We will have the same product portfolio of slot machines—Class III, VGT, VLT, electronic table games—but also, a new one-screen sports betting kiosk,” McLaughlin says. “We’ve got casino management systems and promotional systems—a lot of new technology coming your way.”
The slot games, though, will remain the focus of the Novomatic booth. “We launched a new cabinet last year, the Diamond X, and we have seen really great returns,” McLaughlin says. “We’ve seen a good bump in performance on those cabinets, and we will be featuring those this year with all of our new products and progressive links.”
This will include new games on the popular Money Party link, now registering two times house average in earnings at many locations as it rolls out on the East Coast. Other links include Thunder Cash X, Thunder Cash Gold and the Clover Link.
“We continue to build momentum in multiple categories, especially in the progressive segment,” McLaughlin says. “We will be featuring the new cabinets with all our new products and links.”
The G2E lineup begins with an expansion of the Thunder Cash X progressive link, which was launched early this year with the Candelas de los Muertos family of games themed around the Mexican Day of the Dead festival (base games Senior Muerte and Seniorita Suerte), and Lady Victoria, with its old-England theme. Another game, Amazon’s Diamonds, was added to the link in Q2.
At G2E, three new Thunder Cash X games will be launched, pegged for release around the time of the show—Coin Fishing, Eye of the Queen Magic Coins and Charming Lady’s Boom.
“These all share a common hold-and-spin bonus round, called Lock ‘n’ Win,” says Matt Ward, vice president of product development for Novomatic Americas. “And then, each has a unique feature on top of that. The Candelas de los Muertes games have a mystery Lock ‘n’ Win trigger—sometimes, wind will blow and show the candles moving, and it will take you into the bonus even though you didn’t get the six trigger symbols normally required.
“Lady Victoria has a sticky-wild free spin. Amazon Diamonds, featuring beautiful Amazon warriors, has a feature that allows you to collect all the visible coin values on the Lock ‘n’ Win screen and continue the bonus. In Eye of the Queen Magic Coins, you upgrade your symbols as you get wilds in the free spins. In Charming Lady’s Boom, instead of collecting coins during the Lock ‘n’ Win feature, you fill in ‘regions’ on a much larger board. The larger the region, the more valuable it is.”
In Coin Fishing, fish symbols carry cash-on-reels value, and progressives are included in the Lock ‘n’ Win feature. “You can always get a pulse on new games from our sales people, and they’ve really been looking forward to the release of Coin Fishing,” says McLaughlin. “The game’s got really bright graphics, and lots of cool features.”
She adds that while they have the same hold-and-re-spin feature, each of the Thunder Cash X games is unique. “That allows the operators to merchandise their floors a little differently with the same features,” she says. “They can link them, but they all have a very different look and feel.”
“We do have a lot of flexibility on our progressives,” adds Ward, “starting with Thunder Cash X and going forward, where operators can select the Grand reset value anywhere from $5,000 up to $25,000, and offer it as linked or stand-alone. Also, we can actually link across game families. We’re really trying to create that flexibility in the math models.”
The other new “Thunder” product group from Novomatic, Thunder Cash Gold, will include the first games using the Cobra Board platform. “We’ll be taking more and more advantage of that with game families as we go forward,” says Ward. “Since it’s Linux-based instead of Windows, we have a lot more direct control over what we’re doing with the graphics engines.”
One of the new features introduced with the game family is the inclusion of free spins in the Lock ‘n’ Win feature, along with cash-on-reels symbols and progressives. “Every game in this family will leverage that as much as possible,” Ward says.
It starts with one of those Irish-themed games, Irish Grace. The game features beautiful graphics depicting a lush Irish landscape, and in the Lock ‘n’ Win feature, free spins extend the bonus.
Other games in the family include Golden Voodoo Magic, a follow-up to the popular Voodoo Magic and Voodoo Fortunes themes; and Golden Book of Ra, a new version of a game that has dominated European markets.
“Irish Grace and Book of Ra have a special expanding symbol,” Ward explains. “It will pick one symbol for the duration of the free spins, and whenever that symbol lands, it will expand to fill the entire reel.”
Parties and Clover
There will be new additions to other popular game families, notably the Money Party Link. Last year, three games were added to the link’s original games, Fruity Fruity and Juicy Juicy. This year, another fruity game will be added with Money Party Fresh. It will reprise the feature of last year’s Yummy Yummy in which the middle reels turn into one giant cash-on-reels symbol for the Lock ‘n’ Win feature.
Among Novomatic’s core offerings will be a multi-game unit including all six Money Party games.
Also in the core group will be the Apex Clover Link family. “The original version had eight base games sharing the Clover Link Jackpot, which is a hold-and-spin type of jackpot,” Ward explains. “The new link will include four titles—Bars and Sevens, Buckaroos, Eye of the Queen Magic Coins and Leonardo’s Code.”
The new link introduces a “Win Share” concept. “We take what used to be a $10,000 Grand jackpot and split it up—$8,000 to the player who triggers the Grand, and $2,000 split up between any other active players on the bank,” Ward says.
The Win Share feature also applies to the Major jackpot.
At G2E, a companion link, Clover Link Xtreme, also will be launched. In this link, the Major and Grand jackpots have three possible levels. There is a feature where the player can double or triple those prizes. “Through the course of play, you collect double clovers, and those are persistent. When you play the Clover Link hold-and-spin feature, you play it at 2X.”
The other progressive link in the core-game category is Diamond Link, with base games Mighty Sevens and Mighty Elephant.
Other core games include Fortune Fishing, with a free-spin feature similar to Coin Fishing; River Queen Asia, featuring wild symbols that “roam” up and down on the screen to create full-reel wilds; and Roaring Wild Spins, a straightforward fruit game.
These games include a double-up Gamble Feature in which you play four reel arrays at once. “This type of mechanic has really caught on online, and you’ll start seeing more of these coming over to the land-based world,” Ward says.
“I’m excited about the depth of our product roadmap,” says Meitzler. “With Novomatic and Apex, we’ve added a lot to our portfolio. We have a lot more arrows in our quiver.”