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Stepping Up

Steve Sutherland, Chief Operating Officer/Executive Vice President, Konami Gaming, Inc.

Stepping Up

Nearly three years ago, Konami Gaming COO Steve Sutherland announced to the world that the slot manufacturer—the U.S. subsidiary of video game giant Konami of Japan—was ready to “step to the podium.”

The phrase was meant to set a goal for Sutherland’s team at Konami to become one of the top three slot manufacturers in the industry, conjuring up images of the podium at the Olympic Games on which the gold, silver and bronze medalists in a given event stand.

Since then, the word “podium” has become a culture at Konami, and in fact, is the name of the manufacturer’s latest series of slot machines. And this year, it looks like the slot-maker could finally step up to that podium as one of the top three slot manufacturers.

“With our competitiveness in the marketplace, we’re probably sitting very strongly in the No. 4 position already,” Sutherland said in early December. “We still want to achieve that podium, and we’re doing that through organic growth.”

That “organic” growth—meaning true internal growth that did not occur through mergers or acquisitions—has manifested itself in product development in the Podium platform, which launched its new generation at G2E in November, replacing the K2V video format with the new KP3 platform.

“We’ve focused on achieving high levels of product quality,” Sutherland says. “It’s been a laser-like focus on product development, with our video platform driving significant sales. The Podium platform continues to perform extremely well, so we’ve ratcheted that up, and we’ve introduced a stepper platform that will benefit the company significantly. We’ve also introduced two new participation products—the Top Track community-style game and the IP-based Rock Around the Clock.”

The new stepper platform, called Advantage 3, is the three-reel version of the format that first launched Konami into the stepper business, the much-copied Advantage 5. Like the five-reel version, Advantage 3 features oversized, back-lit reels that change color according to game events, and a cantilevered top cabinet that uses mirrors to give the illusion of depth.

Top Track, launched at California’s Valley View Casino in October, is the Grand Prix racing version of the 3D community horse-race game, Beat the Field, which catapulted the manufacturer to success in the community-style genre. Rock Around the Clock, available in both the Advantage 3 and radical Advantage Revolution formats, is an interactive game that was launched at all 10 Station Casinos properties at the end of November. It is an interactive slot game built around the 1950s hit of the same name by Bill Haley and His Comets (familiar to later generations as the theme from the TV show Happy Days).

In addition to more new games, the next technology on Konami’s radar includes mobile applications for Konami games for the Android smart-phone, and eventually for Blackberry and iPhone.

“In calendar 2008, the company was very focused on growing ship share,” Sutherland says. “It was 9 percent in ’08, and we set a target of 11 percent for ’09. We achieved that. For 2010, we set a target of 15 percent, which we are definitely going to achieve.”

And for 2011? Sutherland hopes to step up to that podium. “Even if it doesn’t happen next year, we’re very patient and strategic,” he said in December. “This is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.”

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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