Even before the former slot manufacturers Atronic and Spielo became sister companies under the Lottomatica corporate umbrella, each knew how to deliver what its customers wanted.
Atronic was a pioneer in 3D animation used for video slots, and its games had a popular following even when the company was in its original configuration in Austria. Spielo, on the other hand, was the master of the video lottery terminal, and of the Canadian VLT market where its headquarters remain.
If there was one thing both former companies had in common, it was knowledge of their markets. Both used player feedback as a vital part of game development, using what players told them during research to make games that those players would love.
It’s been four years since Atronic and Spielo became part of the same corporation, and one year since the merger of the technologies of the former companies yielded a new corporate identity—Spielo International. And while there is still work to do combining two diverse slot platforms, the mission is now solidly under one mindset: find out what players like, and deliver it.
For Spielo, that means knowing the preferences of customers in some distinctly different markets. “Unlike other manufacturers that really look at the North American space as the key component of their business,” says Ken Bossingham, vice president and general manager of Spielo’s North American casino division, “Spielo International is so multi-diversified that the business channels we’re pushing our product in have a much wider range than anyone else. So, when we look at our success in this space, our plan is to take it slow, be very responsible, be realistic in the progress we expect, and go at the pace the players set for our product.
“That will create a sound foundation, and ultimately, a really good relationship among ourselves, the player and the operator. We’re not overselling our company; we’re letting the strength of the product roadmap dictate. our success over the longer term. We’re not willing to take short-term wins but pay a long-term price.”
That roadmap has had some great landmarks already, in hit slots like the “Deal Or No Deal” series, plus hits in several core games both in video and in the “Passion” stepper series.
While Bossingham says the merger of technologies of the two former companies is not yet complete, it has reached the goal of a common platform. “With our Universal Gaming Platform, we’ll be able to taker our greatest competency—development of great game content—to all channels,” he says.
That includes online and mobile channels, but it starts with the game content itself, tailored to each market, including its strongest market, video lotteries. “As you look at our success in the VLT business, whether during the Canadian replacement cycle or in Italy, Prodigi Vu (Spielo’s ergonomic dual-screen cabinet) is the standard,” says Bossingham. “In Canada, we’re the market leaders in the space, and others are chasing us.”
In other North American markets, Spielo has scored hits in several different game groups, and all will be represented with new entries at the Global Gaming Expo, including new video slots tailored for specific markets, new stepper games that call on legendary brands, and a new community-style entry in the “Deal Or No Deal” franchise.
Spielo also will display a totally different style of video slot, produced under a license agreement with PopCap Games, owner of some of the most popular social games available on the internet. Spielo will launch slots based on three PopCap titles known around the world—“Plants vs. Zombies,” “Zuma” and “Bejeweled.”
The first PopCap games will be launched at the G2E show. There will be two based on the “Plants vs. Zombies” series, called “Plants vs. Zombies Gargantuar” and “Plants vs. Zombies Backyard Showdown.” Both use the authentic graphics of the popular social gaming versions of the games—PopCap provides all the graphics and artwork for the slots.
Gargantuar is a 30-line game with a pick-a-prize bonus that involves skill. Backyard Showdown is a scatter-pay “243 ways to win” game with a wheel bonus.
Both titles feature the “Graveyard Bonus,” in which the player picks tombstones in a graveyard, looking for “suns” toward winning a progressive—before brain-craving zombies, advancing through the cemetery, reach the player.
The base games include many features that social gamers will recognize, such as plant symbols that have special powers and other story lines borrowed from the social games.
“Zuma” places the familiar “Zuma Frog” front and center on the screen, shooting at a moving ball track to activate “Power Frogs” that place wilds on the screen. The track surrounds the game screen with the frog in the middle. There’s a skill involved in the shooting—the player can aim at different colors to increment the progressive meters. (It’s an effective way to display meters that are incrementing anyway.)
Also, in the “Boss Battle Bonus,” the player picks whether the bonus will be unskilled—“Watch the Frog”—or skilled, “Be the Frog.”
The center frog can also turn into one of the “Power Frogs” from the game, and “shoot” wild symbols on to the game screen.
“Bejeweled” uses the original game mechanics of the social game, which features a cascading matrix of jewels, and a player’s choice between random-outcome bonuses and three skill bonuses.
“Experienced Bejeweled casual game players will recognize the similarities in the slot adaptation,” said the statement announcing the PopCap games, “while players new to the game will quickly learn why the brand has been so successful.”
“Over the longer term, we are proving to customers that there’s a convergence of gaming with social play,” Bossingham says. “It’s bringing a player to your casino who would not have otherwise gone there. I don’t think there’s ever been a game where you’ve been able to prove that you’re growing the player base for the casino. It’s an example of our company’s willingness to take a chance to get a new game in the market.”
“We’re still satisfying our core player,” adds Mike Brennan, Spielo’s product marketing manager. “PopCap’s demographics are two of three female; three of four over 30. It’s a good demographic conversion to gaming.”
Bossingham says operators love the theme. “I talked to an operator who said, ‘Wow, You made a slot of Plants vs. Zombies? I’ll take four!’” he says. “PopCap loved the games. They created the characters, the sounds and the graphics; our job was to make it into a slot game. It’s the first example of a slot manufacturer bringing a social game to life.”
Join ’N Play
As for bringing casino gaming to life, there has been one constant at Spielo’s G2E booth for each of the past several fall trade shows—there is always a new “Deal Or No Deal” game.
The game franchise, based on the internationally known game show—and now, more specifically, on the U.S. version of Deal Or No Deal, hosted by Howie Mandell—has been one of Spielo’s biggest success stories, dating back to the first version of the game under the Atronic brand. The reason has been simple—the central premise of the game show is a classic gambling proposition: take this offer, or leave it for the chance of getting more. Or less.
Every version of “Deal Or No Deal” replicates the central contestant round of the game show. A collection of briefcases is displayed; a list of cash prizes is shown. The prizes go into anonymous briefcases. The player selects a briefcase. Then, the player selects briefcases to open, revealing the prizes, and tries to gauge the chances among the prize amounts that are left. The “Banker” makes an offer based on the average of what’s left in the hidden briefcases. The player selects “Deal” to accept the offer or “No Deal” to decline and open more briefcases.
The process repeats itself until the player accepts a deal or there is only one briefcase left. The offers get smaller or larger according to the value of the remaining unchosen prizes.
“Deal Or No Deal Join’N Play 2,” to be launched at G2E, is a faster version of last year’s community slot, with added features that make winning more frequent and more lucrative. Bossingham says player focus groups, interviews and other research “provided a sound foundation” for the second community-style “Deal” game.
“We had big success with the first version—not so much a success in the Join’N Play product, but a success in player development, player focus groups and player feedback,” Bossingham says. “The process was so much different than how we’ve developed games in the past. We asked (the players), ‘What is the path to the second version?’”
“We took some risks with Join’N Play,” says Brennan. “If we were in the big-five slot manufacturers, someone in management would have said you can’t release a community game where players have to qualify. But we included all these player-friendly features, and made it easy to qualify.”
In fact, Join’N Play has what Spielo calls “stress-free eligibility” for the community bonus round. Once you qualify with minimal bets, you stay qualified. “The market had set expectations that in a community game, you had to bet every eight seconds to remain eligible for the bonus,” says Brennan. “The challenge is how to get enough coin-in and not have players sitting there waiting for the bonus. That also creates stress for the player.”
In Join’N Play, qualification is based on betting in the base game, and once you reach that betting level, you don’t lose eligibility before a bonus game. “You can become eligible and just sit there,” Brennan says. “If you’re qualified, you’re qualified. You don’t lose anything. We’ve eliminated the negative spin on a community game.”
He adds that in practice, people generally keep playing. “I can get up to a 4X multiplier (they rise as you bet) and kick back and wait for minutes, but I’m nervous. Players will always get in a couple more spins; it’s hard not to sit there and play.”
The bonus is based on the same propositions as the former games, but in addition to better visuals and merchandising, the math of the game was made more player-friendly. There are shorter times between bonuses, mystery bonuses are more frequent, and the amount of the top briefcase has been doubled.
“We took the time (between bonus events) from 11 minutes down to 8 minutes,” says Brennan. “We doubled the amounts of the top cases every four bonuses. Mystery bonuses between the big bonuses are more frequent.”
“We’re not out pounding our chest about this game like some other manufacturers, but we’re quietly returning solid results with Join’N Play,” Bossingham says.
Spielo’s player research has benefited much more than just the “Deal” games. The company plans to roll out a host of core games that are all the results of what the company’s designers have discovered the players want.
One of the headliner games in Spielo’s G2E lineup is one that was released this summer and has been one of the biggest Spielo games of the year, “1421 Voyages of Zheng He.” The Asian-themed game has gained momentum in markets around the world. The game theme concentrates on the number 8, which is considered lucky in China and other parts of Asia. For starters, there are 88 paylines in the base game. And, the number 8 crops up in bonus images and in the free-game bonus round.
Players get to choose one of two bonus events—the “Cup Feature” or the free-game feature. In the Cup Feature, the player chooses from three tea cups, lined up top-down in a shell-style game. The goal is to find the cup hiding the golden ball. It is an all-or-nothing feature, with an equally weighted, one-in-three chance of winning an amount that is triple the ordinary bonus win.
Titles new at G2E cover just about every imaginable theme, from “Hawaiian Treasures,” a “243 Ways to Win” game including a player choice of free game/multiplier combinations according to volatility; to “Sphinx Wild,” a revival of one of the legendary themes from the former Atronic; to the Egyptian-themed “Magic Pharaoh.”
New play mechanics in video include “Wild Stay Until It Pays,” available on several core games. When a wild symbol lands in a non-winning combination, it will stay in place until it results in a win. “We’re the first manufacturer to ever do this in the base game,” comments Brennan.
In the Passion stepper series, “Cash Fever: Love Forever” reprises a theme that was extremely popular in the early 2000s—the “doctor” with the thermometer that pushes up the level of a progressive jackpot. In its new incarnation, a five-reel-penny game with a 243-ways scatter-pay configuration, an “EKG Meter” progresses toward a bonus round, in which the thermometer determines bonus awards and progressive jackpots.
Finally, Spielo’s GTECH G2 division, responsible for interactive gaming, will showcase a “multi-channel offering” at G2E, demonstrating poker and casino slot offerings available on tablets or smart phones.
According to Bossingham, this year’s Spielo lineup for G2E represents “a monumental jump in our business, on both the hardware and content sides.”
“We’re providing the total player experience, which we view as our next step as a manufacturer,” Bossingham says. “This is Chapter 1. Next year, we’ll write Chapter 2, and Chapter 3.”