The Next Level: Aristocrat Technologies

Aristocrat gathers its talent, resources and new acquisitions in a drive to conquer the slot market

The big news last year at Aristocrat Technologies was the slot-maker’s retooling in talent and game design resources—the addition of high-powered designers like Joe Kaminkow, Dan Marks and Scott Olive presenting new opportunities to gain market share.

This year, the company calls upon its vastly improved arsenal of talent and resources—including its acquisition of leading Class II supplier Video Gaming Technologies—in an aggressive campaign to gain market share in North America and elsewhere.

“For G2E 2013, our theme was ‘Transforming the Game,’” says Matt Wilson, Aristocrat’s senior vice president of sales and marketing for North America. “That had a connotation that good things were about to happen at Aristocrat, and we knocked their socks off in 2013. But even in the subsequent 12 months, a lot has changed. We’ve built significant momentum around our core business, but we’ve also gone through serious consolidation ourselves.”

Wilson calls the acquisition of VGT important from a number of different perspectives. It expands the company’s relationship with tribal gaming, which, he notes, has always been an important segment for Aristocrat. Tribal casinos, for instance, were the first in the U.S. to include Aristocrat’s then-radical multi-line video slots in the 1990s.

But he says the added significance of the VGT purchase is that it is in line with the strategy put forth several years ago by Aristocrat CEO Jamie Odell to increase the company’s base of recurring revenue.

“We’ve had strong organic growth in recurring revenue under the leadership of Dallas Orchard (VP of gaming operations),” Wilson says. “Our installed base in gaming operations was around 8,200 units in March and has been growing strongly ever since. VGT has a strong installed base as well. From a strategic and scale standpoint, the deal makes a lot of sense.”

He adds that the acquisition earlier this year of Paltronics, a leading supplier of progressive systems, bonusing applications and jackpot controllers, is taking the company’s popular Oasis 360 casino management system to the next level.

In fact, Aristocrat’s theme for this year’s G2E is “Taking It To The Next Level,” as the talent additions, acquisitions and new technologies converge into a collection of new content across the company’s entire product portfolio. “This year is all about the next level—about Aristocrat raising the bar for everything we do,” says Wilson.

“In 2014,” adds Orchard, “we have enough confidence across our whole business that we can really tell the marketplace we’re taking it to the next level. When you arrive at Aristocrat’s booth at G2E 2014, that will be very apparent in the breadth and quality of what’s on show.”

The Helix

Content, of course, is king in all three business lines—for-sale games, gaming operations and systems—but this year, a new hardware package also takes center stage. Called “Helix,” the new family of cabinets—available in upright, standard slant and “Super Screen Slant”—can be adapted to any game in the Aristocrat library.

Helix cabinets feature two floating LED HD displays with frameless, infinity edges. The 1080p resolution combines with integrated pinstripe lighting and immersive rear-surface ambient lighting for vastly improved visuals. A quad sound system with subwoofer completes the package.

Aristocrat engineers worked closely with leading ergonomic experts to ensure the Helix cabinet delivers unmatched player comfort, with features like an optimal button deck height designed with both male and female players in mind, a plush padded bolster, added leg-room clearance, and easy-view screen heights and angles. “We never want players to get up from a Helix machine because they are tired or uncomfortable,” says Wilson.

The core Helix cabinet joins other new cabinet styles developed specifically for the Gaming Operations division. “When we reflected on our portfolio of hardware relative to the competition, we realized we weren’t leading the market, so we spent a lot of time and effort in R&D to develop the new range of cabinets,” Wilson says.

Not only is player comfort paramount in the new Helix product, but Wilson says the product has a lot of “curb appeal” that makes core Aristocrat games “pop” on the gaming floor. He says the results in the field so far have been “staggering,” which he attributes to extensive research done in developing the cabinets, with input not only from players but from slot technicians. “The technicians came up with about 70 things they wanted to change,” he says, “and we went back and checked off every single item.”

Games and More Games

The Helix is an important new supporting player to the stars of the company’s G2E show—the games being created by the top talent the company has assembled. “We have the industry’s best game designers in each of the segments where we operate,” says Orchard. “We feel we have the dream team in terms of game design.”

This year, one of the “dream team’s” objectives was to maintain dominance in the area where Aristocrat has always excelled—the low-denomination, high-volatility multi-line video slot designed for the core gambler, under the group heading C*Series (for core Aristocrat). The for-sale games under this heading have been surging in popularity. “Buffalo,” for instance, has been rated the No. 1 slot game in the marketplace for three years in a row by the Goldman Sachs annual survey of slot managers.

That survey contains a question asking operators what percentage of the floor they would devote to Aristocrat if they opened a new casino today. According to Wilson, quoting the Goldman Sachs Survey, the response went from 10 percent in 2013 to 26 percent this year. “That’s a really strong validation of our strategy and the investment in game design talent,” he says. “The reason for that jump is that we’ve expanded and diversified our portfolio beyond just the pure gambling-style products to include entertainment-based products. We’re commanding a larger percentage of casino floors because of it.”

Even with all the product diversification, the company continues to dominate the core gambler space with the C*Series, which Wilson calls “the lady that brought us to the dance.” He notes that Aristocrat has retained the same designers in the core segment for decades, reflecting the company’s commitment to this segment.

Among the top C*Series releases at G2E will be “Super Wheel Blast,” a core-style video slot with a 3D wheel on top that interacts with game play. “It doesn’t look like a traditional Aristocrat product, but it plays like one with lots of volatility,” says Wilson, “along with some pretty unique bonus elements.”

The central bonus feature involves the 3D wheel, which displays two concentric circles of awards. The bonus symbols are also wild symbols, so the bonus is triggered by a winning combination, and the wheel spin can augment the payout.

The outer ring on the wheel contains credit awards, and multipliers to be applied to the spin. On the inside ring are multiplier numbers from 5 to 50. “If you get a big win in the base game such as five of a kind, what you’re hoping for is a multiplier, and on the inside wheel a 50X,” says Wilson. “These are huge potential wins.”

Orchard says Super Wheel Blast is indicative of the company’s dedication to improving the core series with more than reprises of classic games. “A product like this represents real innovation within the core,” he says.

The “Legends” series continues this fall, with more classic Aristocrat games presented as two games in a machine—one in the unchanged classic version and a “Deluxe” version with modern, enhanced features. (Company officials have said players have preferred the “Deluxe” versions by a wide margin.)

At G2E, the company will launch “Wicked Winnings Legends,” giving the Deluxe treatment to the classic Aristocrat game that came in fourth in the Goldman Sachs operator survey of best slots.

And finally, core-game additions will be found this year in Aristocrat’s J*Series (J for jackpot) of progressive games. Notably, Olive designed a new progressive link called “Cash Explosion,” with four core base games under a common progressive link—the first Aristocrat for-sale progressive link in the North American market. “It’s something our customers have been requesting for a long time,” says Wilson.

Also in the J*Series is a new version of Aristocrat’s popular multi-game product, “Wonder 4 Jackpot.” Wonder 4, which has been one of Aristocrat’s hottest products, gives the customer a menu of four games for four different reel sets, and players can mix or match the games any way they like, spinning all four reel sets simultaneously.

Wonder 4 Jackpot places this game menu under a five-level progressive jackpot. Core games included in the Wonder 4 Jackpot menu are Wild Panda, Miss Kitty, Wicked Winnings 2 and Buffalo.

Aristocrat is launching two new links in its iconic Cashman series, “Cashman Fever II” and “Cashman Takes Flight.” Both feature the familiar multi-level progressive feature, but on the latter game, the popular Mr. Cashman character flies across the top boxes of various games on the link, dropping down wild symbols, multipliers and various mystery awards to the individual games. Base games are Buffalo and Five Dragons.

The other key game group, the E*Series—E for entertainment—grows from the initial games provided by Marks, the longtime game designer for High 5 Games who began working exclusively for Aristocrat last year.

This year, Aristocrat arrives at G2E with extensions of successful E*Series products from last year, and a featured new game family, “The Romance of Fire and Rain,” which applies Aristocrat’s multi-play format to the entertainment genre.

Gaming Operations

Aristocrat’s Gaming Operations division is hitting its stride this year, with the help of new technology to go with the company’s legendary design talent.

Spearheaded by game studios run by Kaminkow—whose hits from last year include “Batman Classic TV Series” and “The Rolling Stones,” among others—and Ted Hase, whose credits include the “Tarzan” series and “The Walking Dead,” the Gaming Ops section got a wealth of new additions to its hardware toolbox this year.

There were already five hardware configurations being used in Gaming Ops—the VERVEhd  portrait cabinet, Wonder Wheels, MVP, Viridian WS and Feature Top Box. This year, the company adds two more—“Arc” and “The Behemoth,” each with dedicated launch titles.

The Arc cabinet includes dual 42-inch curved, high-definition touch-screen LCDs, “bringing an immersive and holistically unified gaming experience to the player,” says Wilson.

Featured on the Arc will be “Britney Spears” and “Buffalo—The Next Generation.” Britney Spears features the pop diva’s greatest hits in an immersive game with booming sound. The new Buffalo game uses the super-sized format to bring home the sights and sounds of stampeding buffalo in one of the game’s signature bonus events.

The Behemoth is just what it says—according to Orchard, at 10 feet tall with an 84-inch LCD monitor, it is the largest of the large-format slots ever to be introduced to casinos. “Aristocrat has been urged to get into the Big Bertha space for some time,” Orchard says, “so we decided to create the biggest Big Bertha in the marketplace.”

For the launch, Aristocrat chose a core game with particularly booming sound and large, immersive features—“Buffalo Stampede.”

Other Gaming Ops launches this year bolster Aristocrat’s licensed portfolio with “Sons of Anarchy,” “Ted” and “Superman the Movie.”

Sons of Anarchy, based on the hit FX series about the lives of a close-knit outlaw motorcycle club in California, reprises the VERVEhd cabinet, which was used to great effect on last year’s The Walking Dead slot game.

Ted, based on Seth McFarlane’s raunchy 2012 comedy about a living adult teddy bear, and Superman the Movie, based on the first installment of the film series featuring Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel, are both on the “Wonder Wheels” format, the giant setup featuring multiple spinning bonus wheels created by Kaminkow for last year’s Batman game.

Other new recurring-revenue titles slated for 2015 release include “Pixie Wishes” from Dan Marks and “Can Can Paris” from Ted Hase, leader of the Studio 54 design team, and a few others that the slot-maker is keeping under wraps until the G2E show.

All the new games, of course, will be accompanied by a complete display of new products from Aristocrat’s systems division. Featured will be new developments for the Oasis 360 casino management system that have added enterprise-wide bonusing features.

Available to Oasis 360 customers as well as casinos using other systems, Aristocrat’s new Oasis Halo suite and enterprise-class loyalty management solution will be on dispay at the show, boasting the industry’s most advanced loyalty-building software.

The company also will demonstrate the new Oasis Onelink enterprise media management system, which is available for deployment across multiple CMS providers. Onelink can support an unlimited number of slot machines and can integrate directly with Onelink slot and table software modules to display real-time jackpot and bonusing odometers on digital or LED signage.

Additionally, Aristocrat will show its new floor-wide Elimination Bonusing Module, in which players can use the nCompass media window or LCD to compete through multiple levels of a “rock, paper, scissors” game. The last player standing wins first prize.

Finally, Aristocrat will show its award-winning Episodic Bonusing, which leverages mobile technologies to engage players beyond the walls of the casino.

The advancements in the company’s systems division are a bonus to what will be the largest game display ever staged by the company—nearly 200 new titles in all.

“After the great G2E last year, the challenge for this entire year has been, ‘How do we beat that?’” says Orchard. “And we believe we have. We’re in a fantastic position as a company—we’ve got six of the top 10 performers in the marketplace right now.

“All of our investment has paid off, and G2E 2014 is setting up Aristocrat for the next level in 2015.”

Frank Legato
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 recently published book on gaming, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying.