Some of the very best games coming out of the slot manufacturing sector these days are coming from the legendary Australian slot-maker Aristocrat Leisure Limited. The biggest reason? Jamie Odell.
Odell took over as CEO of Aristocrat in February 2009, and in two years has completely rejuvenated the company. Shortly after taking over, Odell vowed to concentrate on game design for the North American market. At the recent Global Gaming Expo, it was obvious this effort was a success, as Aristocrat showcased a remarkable collection of new product in its largest G2E display ever.
“We put a lot of work into our new products and innovations, and we wanted G2E to be our coming-out party,” says Odell, “and I’ve been told by people who have been in my company a lot longer than me that this was the best show we’ve ever had at G2E. The response from customers and the buzz on the stand were just phenomenal.”
The products generating that buzz were mind-boggling in their numbers, but according to Odell, the standouts were “Mission: Impossible,” based on the Tom Cruise films and borrowing concepts from the famous 1960s TV spy series; and “Tarzan: Lord of the Jungle,” themed along the lines of the Tarzan novel of the same name by Edgar Rice Burrows.
Both games are extremely feature-rich, but the Mission: Impossible game has one other feature that Odell says gained a lot of attention—Aristocrat’s new “Dynamic LCD Button Technology.”
The changeable images on the game buttons are “like a prism,” says Odell, “and underneath that prism you can project any image you like.” On the “Mission” game, clips from the Cruise films actually run on the buttons.
“The operator has 100 percent flexibility on what to project underneath the buttons,” Odell says. “It gives the game that extra bit of polish and finish.”
The main reason Aristocrat’s games are such a hit this year is a central part of Odell’s strategy—research. During the game development process, customers are brought into the process, “from web browsers to bringing them into our offices and asking them direct questions, to doing test banks of our games with operators,” Odell says. “We’ve tried to accelerate our knowledge so we can provide better game performance when we release the product.”
It’s all very close to research in more traditional consumer-product markets, says Odell, who headed up the Fosters beer company before coming to Aristocrat.
“I certainly drew on the experience in terms of getting close to customers,” he says. “We’re becoming better business partners in the area of customer service, and that means understanding what our customers are trying to achieve. The industry I came from does a far better job at that than the gaming industry has done in the past. You start by understanding your customer’s strategy, and add value to that.”
The other credo Odell brings from the consumer product industry is in “recognizing the player experience,” he says. “Consumer goods come much closer to that: Why do you drink this coffee? Why don’t you drink that coffee? Gaming has been far more of a production-led industry: Make a game and they’ll come. These days, we’re trying to ascertain the reason they’re going to come, based on factual knowledge.”
Clearly, Aristocrat’s designers are understanding why people come back to slot machines.