The gaming industry has long raided the video gaming business for game developers. While the parallels are not exact, the basics are similar enough that a background in video games is an advantage.
International Game Technology has recognized that benefit from its inception, with many of its most noted designers coming from that route. The company’s most recent find, Darrell Rodriguez, who was recently promoted to chief creative officer, blazed that trail beginning with the Walt Disney Company’s Imagineering Division.
“I was focused on understanding the web presence of these companies, as well as content that drives people to a transaction,” he says. “Some of it was vacation packages and getting them to book online before people were really booking online.”
He later became assistant COO and then COO for Electronic Arts in Vancouver and Los Angeles, where he was focused on creating game and sports video game titles.
Rodriguez then became president of Lucas Arts, where he developed all the Stars Wars and Indiana Jones video game titles, along with other classics from the parent film company.
When he joined IGT, he continued what he sees as a trend in his career.
“I have always worked at the biggest and the best companies in any field,” he explains. “So when I decided to get into the gaming business, there was no bigger and better company than IGT.”
But Rodriguez believes the similarities between the video gaming business and the gaming industry are many.
“We use the same basics in graphics and tool sets,” he says. “At IGT, we’re actually adopting a tool set that is very similar to what we use in the video game side of the world. The one big difference is the game play. Instead of a 10-hour experience you get with console games, this is a six-second experience when you push the button. So how do you create compelling content that will encourage people to keep playing?”
IGT has long spent the most money in the industry on research and development. Rodriguez says there are caveats to that system these days.
“We do a lot of market research,” he says, “to make sure we have the deepest and broadest portfolio of anyone in the industry. We work well with our product management partners who give us their thoughts on strategies and opportunities, then we put together the games.”
There are many different aspects that go into a great slot machine.
“To begin with,” says Rodriguez, “it has to be very compelling and entertaining. Then you consider the art package, the license, accessibility, as well as the math model to keep people playing. And finally, it’s the IGT polish and quality that we include in everything we do here. That’s our pledge to our casino partners.”
But not everyone agrees about the elements that make up a great slot game. Rodriguez says he works with the diverse elements of the IGT structure from the game studios, marketing executives, technology partners and others. As the person in charge, he says he tries to develop consensus.
“You have to weigh the science of the market research as well as the art of the machine,” he explains. “If we go too far in one direction or another, you lose the heart and soul of the machine. You have to have passion for the games, and I think that’s what I’m looking for when we’re weighing the pros and cons of any game.”
For the future, IGT is concentrating on building games for all platforms: stand-alone machines, server-based gaming, mobile, online and even social games. Rodriguez says his task is to ensure that the IGT quality emerges on every platform.
“We’ve seen that games that are successful in land-based casinos can be moved successfully to other platforms,” he says. “What we’re still waiting to see is if games that are successful in the social games, virtual currency arena can be moved successfully to real money play, whether it’s mobile, online or land-based. That is a question that is still not answered.”