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Player Focus: WMS Gaming

WMS Gaming fires on all cylinders to produce games with something for everyone

Player Focus: WMS Gaming

Talk about WMS Gaming, and it’s easy to get lost in category names: Innovation Series. Compete to Win. Cascading Reels. Colossal Reels. Transmissive Reels. Reel Burst. Adaptive Gaming. Sensory Immersion Gaming.

It may be easy to get lost in the jargon, but every one of those terms represents an innovative idea, and together, they spell the remarkable rise of WMS Gaming over the past decade to become one of the industry’s elite slot-makers.

Most of that decade has been devoted to a move toward the slot floor of the future, with popular game categories created by WMS aimed specifically at demonstrating what is possible with a networked slot floor. Games in the Adaptive Gaming series and a few other categories replicate miniature server-based slot floors in a single game, with cooperative and competitive play at the heart of the experience.

Meanwhile, the company’s “Portal” technology provides a means for WMS bonus games—or casino-to-player communication—to be common to any group of WMS games on a floor. It’s another early in-the-field adaptation of server-based applications.

However, whether containing networked elements or not, the wealth of product categories offered by WMS reflects constant research into what players enjoy, and into the different styles of games players prefer. For players who like things simple, there is the G+ series in video and classic three-reel mechanical steppers. There’s a Monopoly game for every taste. There are core video products ranging from simple free spins to the most elaborate setups for players to compete on teams.

“We’ve found success in certain product categories that has caused us to really hone in on it, but if anything, we were not making enough,” says Allon Englman, vice president of game design and strategy for WMS. “We’ve had to produce more content in all categories, and the company has come together around that focus.”

The hardware and platforms for those categories have adapted right along with the games themselves. This year marks the latest version of the groundbreaking ergonomic Bluebird cabinet, called “Bluebird xD.” This year’s G2E collection will include the first games on CPU-NXT3, the third generation of WMS’ high-definition video platform.

Larry Pacey, WMS executive vice president of global products and chief innovation officer, evaluates this year’s Global Gaming Expo lineup from WMS pretty much the same way he did each collection for the past several years—the company has delivered a larger group of games and game categories each year G2E has existed.

“We’ve got the largest portfolio of unique product we’ve ever brought to the show,” Pacey says. “We’ve got tons of variety in math, and in different segments of product. For us the hub of the show will be to deliver the best variety of games to the operator.”

Join the Team

Five years ago, WMS became the pioneer of community-style gaming, introducing the first game to bring players on a bank into a common, big-screen bonus round with “Monopoly Big Event.” Since then, the company has constantly worked at perfecting the community-play experience, evolving into competitive play among players on the bank with the bonus fishing tournament featured in last year’s “Reel ‘Em In: Compete to Win.”

This year, WMS once again produces a new community experience with two separate games, “Pirate Battle” and “Battleship.” They are the first two games in the “Team Compete to Win” series. Banks of four or six games sit in front of a common bonus display, and the bank is separated into two teams—the “Blue Team” on the left and the “Red Team” on the right. Graphics on the machines and the monitors reflect the team colors.

In a nutshell, Team Blue and Team Red battle it out in the bonus round, with the winning team getting a higher award.

Both of the displays are spectacular. For Pirate Battle, four Bluebird xD cabinets sit in front of four adjacent 32-inch monitors—portrait-style monitors turned sideways to form a long, horizontal display. To the players, it’s like looking out of windows at one scene. (WMS calls it the “Metascreen.”)

In the bonus events for Pirate Battle, the scene is a cannon battle between the pirate ships of Team Blue and Team Red. In the free-spin event, all machines go into free-game mode, and all wins on either machine for each team go to the other player on the team as well. Certain reel combinations cause the ship cannon on the big screen  to shoot at the other team’s ship. After three “hits”—after the second, your ship is ablaze—a ship goes down, and the winning team gets a “treasure chest” for an extra bonus.

“Battleship” is the first in a number of new games WMS is launching under its ongoing partnership with Hasbro, owner of the Monopoly game that has become a top franchise for the slot-maker. Battleship, based on the popular board game in which players try to sink each other’s battleships by placing pegs into a game board, is one of several Hasbro licenses that became available when the former Mikohn went out of business. However, where the Mikohn version of Battleship was a single-player game, the WMS version takes the battle to a competition on the big screen.

The setup for Battleship is four or six machines in front of one large LCD monitor framed by two portrait-style monitors. When one of three competitive bonuses is triggered, the player teams try to sink each other’s battleships, with high-definition video, BOSE surround-sound audio and vibrating chairs all adding to the immersive experience.

Three competitive bonus events occur at random. In “Bomber’s Run Bonus,” each portrait screen displays the team’s “bombing run” while the central video displays the results—for added tie-in to the board game, the bombs look like the pegs from the game and land in pegboard spots on the ships to go toward sinking each ship. The team with more hits in the first round receives a second bombing run. Each hit results in bonus credits for all players on the team.

In the “Free Spins Victory Bonus,” a reel set appears on the main screen, and cannon symbols award shots at the opposing team’s fleet in an effort to sink ships. In the “Find and Conquer Bonus,” each team places its fleet of ships in various positions on a replica of the Battleship game board, and then shares three picking rounds to fire at the opposing team’s ships.

Filling the Senses

The Battleship community-style game is enhanced by the technology of the Sensory Immersion series, a game group which itself will be well-represented among the new WMS games this year.

One of the new Sensory Immersion games also is one of the first games to be released in the CPU-NXT3 format—“Aladdin.”

Pacey says the Sensory Immersion format was “re-engineered” from the ground up for the new games, including a new version of the BOSE Surround Sound Gaming Chair called “3SPACE.” The Immersion slot mines the sights and sounds of the story of Aladdin and the magic lamp, from the lamp to the genie to the magic carpet.

In fact, the main bonus is a remarkable 3D Magic Carpet Ride, with the player’s chair swaying and moving to simulate a ride through the air in an Arabian market.

The other major Sensory Immersion launch this year is the next entry in what has been the biggest hit for WMS over the past several years, the “Wizard of Oz” series. The new game, called “Journey to Oz,” packs several different play styles into one experience. The base game is a five-reel-by-four-row scatter-pay slot, with 1,024 possible winning combinations on each spin. The bonus incorporates “Collaborative Gaming,” with events played out on a large display formed by combining two 52-inch LCD monitors.

The bonus events are in the “Bigger Event” series—all eligible players on the bank enter the bonus at once, at a level of multiplier earned during the primary game. Each of the classic film’s main characters has a special bonus event of his own. There’s a pick bonus with the Scarecrow in a cornfield, another one to help the Cowardly Lion find his courage, a wheel bonus hosted by Glinda the Good Witch… You get the picture. It is the most feature-packed version of Wizard of Oz yet, the first to combine several different game groups into one offering, and the first to feature a community bonus event.

The Sensory Immersion technology appears in many games of the manufacturer’s “Adaptive Gaming” category of slots as well. Launched with the “Star Trek” series and “Lord of the Rings,” Adaptive Gaming slots allow the player to progress through various levels and unlock new bonus events through continuous play, and lets players “log off” of an individual game and pick it up at the same place on the next casino visit.

The “Lord of the Rings” Adaptive series gets its second entry with “The Two Towers,” a sequel game that follows the second book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1950s trilogy and the second installment of the Peter Jackson 2001-2003 film trilogy, on which the slot game’s images, audio and video sequences are based.

The Two Towers is the next progression of the bonus “journey” in the series—players are earning miles for their virtual journey across Middle Earth, so the eight bonuses from the original game are available in this version, plus four new bonuses specific to The Two Towers book and film. The Gollum character appears as clumped wild symbols in one event. There is 3D animation in bonus sequences themed on the scene from “Helm’s Deep” in the story, and another event involving “Tree Beard,” the walking-tree ally of the story’s protagonists, along with his fellow “Ents.” “March of the Ents” has the tree characters rolling boulders for bonuses.

The Two Towers also features “Power Spins,” a new play mechanic being placed in several WMS games. Bonus events, multipliers and other awards land in reel symbols, and the bonus can be saved and applied on any future spin. The Two Towers Power Spins awards are “Frodo Wilds,” “Random Reels Wild,” “Win Multiplier,” “Scatter Spin” and “Bonus Booster.”

The Two Towers is joined in the Adaptive Gaming category by “Clue,” another adaptation of a Hasbro game once done by Mikohn. This one plays out the game’s classic murder mystery on a large LCD monitor as players land bonuses that offer the same propositions as the board game: pick a room, pick a weapon, pick a suspect, all in an effort to solve a murder.

Finally, WMS starts a new slot series in Adaptive Gaming called “Super Team,” a series of games that will form a kind of club on the social networks, with a series of bonuses related to each of seven “Super Team” super-hero characters. Heroes include “Ex-Panda,” a panda bear that expands wild symbols (Get it?), “Mr. Dollar,” “Coolinatrix” and others, all reporting to the head hero, “Mr. Maximum.” Each of the characters hovers above a reel on the video screen, and randomly, they fly down to grant a bonus. Players will unlock each hero’s bonus through continued play in the Adaptive Gaming system.

New Frontiers

The stand-alone games in WMS’ arsenal this year, typically, include a good portion of new play styles and new kinds of bonus events. In “Leprechaun’s Gold: Land O’ Luck,” bonus events play out in cartoon animation on a display comprised of twin 52-inch video monitors.

The main bonus is almost like a Nintendo game, with “Lucky the Leprechaun” bouncing from tree trunk to pot of gold to clovers, all the while hitting or stopping on obstacles that increase the bonus award.

The Hasbro partnership continues with “Yahtzee,” a 25-line video slot with a second-screen bonus event replicating the legendary dice game. This version of Yahtzee attaches progressive jackpots to each of the Yahtzee “hands” possible in the classic board game. The main “Yahtzee Party Bonus” simulates the dice game—a roller shakes dice on the main screen, the roll goes up to the top box, and you get three rolls for a chance at a Yahtzee. However, the game lets you store that initial bonus trigger to be used at any time. The progressives are available after five stored bonus triggers, with Yahtzee hands winning each of the progressives.

The Monopoly franchise gets two new entries with “Monopoly Party Train,” a new adaptation of a title that was popular several years ago; and “Epic Monopoly,” a multi-play game.

Available in mechanical-reel and video versions, Party Train includes the “Mooove Feature,” which randomly takes a player around the Monopoly board on the top video screen for bonuses, free-spin enhancements, and wild reels or extra spins for the free-spin bonus. Properties on the Monopoly bonus board also trigger several mini-bonus events.

Epic Monopoly is the first “Super Multi-Pay” game in the Monopoly series. This format uses four sets of reels for the primary game, with bonus events triggered on all reel sets but filling the main screen. The game includes a wheel bonus and awards multiplied by an “Epic Multiplier.”

Another new game series is “Cascading Reels 5X4,” debuting with the comical “Invaders! Planet Moolah” and “Invaders! Planet Wombat.” The groundbreaking Cascading Reels series was the first to use the concept of reel symbols in a winning combination disappearing, and new symbols falling into those spots for additional winning combinations. With each win, the reels cascade until no more winning combinations appear.

This series places the Cascading Reels game mechanic into a five-by-four setup—four symbols on each of five reels—and includes both Free Play Progressive and dual cash progressives employing the Cascading Reels feature. Players receiving six or more consecutive cascades on one play trigger the Free Play Progressives, and earn one of the dual cash progressives with eight or more consecutive cascades on the same play.

The “Invaders!” games employ funny animated bonus rounds involving cows in spaceships (“Moolah”) or wombats flying around with jet-packs. The other series of games launching in Cascading Reels 5X4 is “Ancient Magicke.”

The WMS lineup for G2E also includes a large number of new games in all the other categories, notably the G+ line of basic, volatile video slots and the new “Innovation Series,” which features games incorporating the multi-screen “Colossal Reels” format—two sets of reels, one large and one small, with wild symbols transferring between each reel set. Extensions of other game groups are being launched with games like “Win It Again Jackpot Party,” the “Great Wall 2” game in the “Money Burst” series, and “Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow.”

On the three-reel mechanical side, “Hot Hot Super Respin Progressive” and “Extra Extra Luck” are among the standouts.

New Digs

The creative team at WMS has flourished in the “R&D Campus” the company established on the site of the original Williams pinball plant on Chicago’s North Side. Since its inception in 2002, the campus has grown to several buildings in a several-block area. Next year, all of the game development disciplines will be centralized in one new building on the Chicago River.

Slated to open next summer, the new R&D center will combine several disciplines with communal workspaces, areas where games can be set up by everyone, with walls you can write notes on, brainstorming rooms—“exactly what you want if you’re trying to nurture a creative environment,” says Pacey.

“When I started, there were 60 people in game development,” Pacey says. “Now, there are over 800. The new facility will offer a perfect team environment. Creative leadership and facilities will all be in the same studio.”

The R&D center, the first new construction for the R&D Campus, and will replace functions that now occur in four or five refurbished historic buildings. (“A normal day involves a lot of walking,” says Englman.)

Judging from what has come out of those five buildings during the past decade, it’s a good bet WMS will now, more than ever, be tooled for future growth.

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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