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The Next Step

Aristocrat strengthens its gaming operations business while rejuvenating core brands

The Next Step

With a five-year turnaround plan approaching its final phase, Australia’s Aristocrat Leisure Ltd. is focusing on repeating the trends that have brought the company new success in its most important market, North America.

Aristocrat CEO Jamie Odell, who announced the turnaround plan in 2009, says the return to profitability for the world’s second-oldest slot manufacturer has been made possible through a focused effort over the past few years to design games tailored to each market, especially in the U.S.

There was a time when all Aristocrat games in the U.S. market were titles that had found success first in the company’s home market of Australia. No more. “We have four game studios in the U.S., manned by people who live there, go to the local casinos and understand the U.S. gaming experience,” Odell says. “So, we don’t try to force the successful Australian games into the market. We try to understand what the U.S. players want.”

Odell says U.S. sales are running on all cylinders. “We’re working with three revenues streams in the U.S.,” he explains. “The first is our gaming operations side, which is really our top producer. We’ve made great progress there in the last few reporting periods. We’ve been looking to drive the install base and deliver better products. This represents the tailoring of games for specific markets. Games like Tarzan and Superman have done very well there, with more to come.

“We’re still strong with the tribal casinos and the locals operators. Great games like Buffalo continue to be market leaders in that segment. We’re going to focus more and more on the core Aristocrat games, the things that made us successful in the first place.”

Branding Success

One big boost for Aristocrat’s profits has come from a series of high-profile branded slots such as the “JAWS” series, “Mission: Impossible” and “Tarzan: Lord of the Jungle.”

“Three years ago, we started a big push into this segment,” says Dallas Orchard, Aristocrat’s vice president of gaming operations. “We’ve been able to do it without abandoning core sales, and we’re experiencing our biggest penetration yet. We’ve built great diversity from a hardware standpoint and from a content standpoint.”

The trend continues at this year’s Global Gaming Expo, as Aristocrat introduces sequels to its most popular participation brands and introduces new ones.

“Superman The Movie,” which debuted this summer exclusively at the Station casinos in Las Vegas, will be prominent in Aristocrat’s G2E booth. The game is packed with video clips from the first modern Superman film, 1978’s Superman: The Movie starring Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman.

Superman The Movie catches the eye from the start—the Viridian Hybrid cabinet is decked out in a sculpture making it look like Superman’s arctic hideaway in the first movie. The Viridian Hybrid stepper format, launched at last year’s G2E, combines physical reels with a “shutter” overlay system that can switch between three-reel and five-reel format, or completely cover the reels for a total video bonus event.

In the Superman slot, the format is used to trigger bonuses by players touching a video door over one of three reels to reveal features like “Lex Luthor Lair,” in which the player puts himself in the scene where Superman crashes through the arch-villain’s wall—you pick chests looking for Kryptonite—and the “Save Lois Lane” free-spin round. The bonus events are all interspersed with clips of the most memorable scenes from the film.

Next up in the Superman series, says Orchard, will be a video version—based not on the movie series, but on the familiar DC Comics version of Superman. “The comic-book version has a unique bet structure,” Orchard explains. “If your betting reaches a certain level, the entire game switches to a Lex Luthor theme—new reel symbols, new bonus features—and the jackpot goes to $2.5 million.”

The game, slated for a December launch, “has the ability to revolutionize the space,” Orchard says.

Another movieland theme getting play this year is “The Mummy,” a stand-alone progressive video slot in the “Feature Top Box” series, based on 1999’s The Mummy film starring Brendan Fraser.

The new participation brands are joined by sequels to hit brands including “Tarzan & Jane,” the follow-up to last year’s two Tarzan hits, “Tarzan Lord of the Jungle” and “Tarzan: The Adventures Return.”

“This is part of our strategy to provide a follow-up link while the original is still in the field,” explains Orchard. “This is a completely separate product, with a different top award (a multi-site progressive link resetting at $250,000), and I think it will be the best game in the market over the next six months.”

The new Tarzan game—as with the others, based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels as opposed to any Tarzan movie—is a Reel Power scatter-pay slot in the Vervehd cabinet, which features a vertical portrait-style LCD monitor. It is a multi-play game—there are two sets of reels, each with 243 was to win on every spin. There are eight high-frequency bonus events, including two separate wheel bonuses.

Aristocrat’s branded games move into the TV space for the first time with “Let’s Make A Deal,” based on the modern version of the iconic game show starring host Wayne Brady. “We felt we had a gap in our lineup in the game-show slot,” says Orchard, who notes that this version of “Deal” is slated for a Q1-2013 release—one of the few slots Aristocrat will display that is not already approved, available now, or soon to be available.

Home-Grown Brands

The big licensed brands haven’t been the only ones on which Aristocrat has capitalized during the company’s resurgence. If the company has been known for anything, it is its collection of proprietary game-brand franchises. This year, they are represented both in new lease/participation entries and new for-sale brands.

“Crazy Taxi Fare 4 All,” Aristocrat’s community version of the game first popularized by Sega in home-video versions, is joined by “Caribbean Treasure,” a community version of a theme that dates back to Aristocrat’s early multi-line video in the 1990s. Like Crazy Taxi, the new game provides mini-features and three community-based bonus games that lead to multiple progressives. There is an easy conversion path between the two games.

“Cash Express Gold Class” brings back the four-level train-themed progressive that was one of Aristocrat’s most popular games around a decade ago. A multiple progressive with a top jackpot resetting at $10,000, the new link features seven popular Aristocrat base games, including standouts like “More Chilli,” “Buffalo” and “Pompeii.”

The slot-maker’s lineup of for-sale games for G2E also makes the most of some of Aristocrat’s legendary proprietary brands—most notably, the “Cashman” series.

Aristocrat’s booth will have an entire section devoted to the Cashman brand, which features the “Mr. Cashman” coin-man character popping up to award the player a variety of random bonus events.

There are three new Cashman game groups to be highlighted at the show. “Cashman Live” uses the shutter-reel technology of Viridian Hybrid to bring the iconic brand to a stepper game for the first time. With base-game titles “I Heart Diamonds” and “King 7,” the new Cashman slot features a higher bonus frequency than the original Cashman—Mr. Cashman pops up every 21 spins on average, compared to 1-in-30 for the original—and additional features such as random awards after losing spins.

Cashman Live has the four original Cashman bonuses plus one new one. In between those bonuses, sophisticated animation bursts over the reels in the Viridian Hybrid format.

“We’re facing two audiences with this brand,” says Orchard, “fans of the original Cashman and players who like a five-reel stepper. We want to let everyone know we are here to stay in the stepper market, with new brands like Superman and Cashman, our strongest-ever proprietary brand.” (Aristocrat now has one studio dedicated to steppers with another one under construction.)

The Cashman brand also will make a G2E appearance in a new series on the Viridian WS video cabinet with four different base games; and in two additional games—“African Safari” and “Red Crane”—for the Cashman Fever progressive link.

Other standouts on the for-sale side include “Phantom,” a U.S. version of one of Aristocrat’s most successful Australian releases of the past decade. According to Orchard, the game combines the sculpted-topper Phantom character with a math model similar to runaway hits “More Hearts” and “More Chilli.”

“With the sculpted topper, we’re really trying to get their attention and drag them to these products,” Orchard says. “Then, it’s all about the math model.”

A clone of that math model will be on display with “Zorro: Tale of the Lost Gold,” one of the rare instances in which a high-profile licensed brand is available in a for-sale unit.

“It’s something our competitors are not doing,” comments Matt Wilson, Aristocrat’s vice president of marketing. “It catches the essence of what Aristocrat is all about—core games with volatile math models, along with that ‘Z’ topper to catch attention.”

But the for-sale game that Orchard and Wilson call Aristocrat’s “ace in the hole” this year is “Wonder 4,” a unique style of multi-game unit. It is a multi-play multi-game unit. There are four base games in the initial release, including popular Aristocrat titles Buffalo, Pompeii, “Firelight” and “Wild Splash.” There are four reel sets. The player can choose to play any or all of the four base games at once.

A unique “Drag and Drop” technology allows the player to drag any the game titles from the menu and drop them on any of the reel sets—you can play one Buffalo and three Pompeii games, four Firelights, or any other combination. The choices include one standard payline-based video slot, two original Reel Power scatter-pay slots (243 ways to win) and one Xtra Reel Power enhanced scatter-pay format (1,024 ways to win).

In addition to the four inaugural titles, Aristocrat will display the next batch of games for Wonder 4—“Wicked Winnings II,” “Timberwolf,” “5 Dragons” and “50 Dragons.” Orchard says the first two batches of games “blew everybody away” at a recent customer conference, so the slot-maker had the customers themselves pick the third batch of games for the format.

Called “Wonder 4 Special Edition,” those choices are Buffalo, “Indian Dreaming,” “Wild Patagonia” and “Golden Zodiac.” However, since customers couldn’t get enough of the games in this format, the company will also display “Wonder 4 Deluxe,” featuring “50 Lions” and “5 Dragons Deluxe” along with Timberwolf and Wicked Winnings II.

“Wonder 4 represents the next evolution of multi-play,” says Wilson. “It is a game-changer.” Adds Orchard, “We want to own this space, and we have enough proprietary content to own it. I think we will.”

Legends

One more nod to that wealth of proprietary content is a new series called “Legends.” As the name indicates, these are legendary Aristocrat titles—many still in the market since the 1990s—in a new format.

The Viridian WS wide-screen format is used to display two versions of each of the legendary games—the original, unchanged in any way (“Classic”); and an enhanced, modernized version of the game (“Deluxe”). The first two games in the series are dual versions of “Queen of the Nile” and 5 Dragons. Next up—Pompeii, Timberwolf, Buffalo and “Geisha,” which are Aristocrat’s historical four top-sellers in North America.

The idea is to offer an unblemished version of each game for devotees—only with modern hardware—and a new-and-improved version. According to Wilson, in Australian and Asian markets, 90 percent of the play on the Legends games is on the newer “Deluxe” versions of the games.

The Oasis Factor

One section of Aristocrat’s G2E booth will be devoted to one of the company’s biggest success stories, the award-winning Oasis 360 casino management system, recently named “Best Player Tracking System” in a Goldman Sachs survey.

The big news this year for Oasis 360 is what Kelly Shaw, vice president of system sales and marketing, calls “convergence”—meaning the convergence of brick-and-mortar casinos with all the various new media on which games and bonuses can be delivered, including mobile applications, the “nCompass” media window and “nLive,” the industry’s first successful free-play casino available on the website of an operating casino.

The nLive module is up and running with the new Maryland Live! casino, in the form of an online free-play site including video table games and several of Aristocrat’s classic slot titles. The Maryland Live! casino had its Aristocrat-designed free-play site up before the casino opened, and used it for player’s club sign-ups. The casino had a ready-made database before it opened its doors, thanks to the nLive module.

According to Shaw, the nCompass media window is the result of extensive customer research. “We asked customers what they want to see in a media window,” she says. “They told us they wanted to see kiosk functions at the game itself. Players can access their offers, their point balance, drink menus, valet parking tickets. At Maryland Live!, they’re using nCompass to advertise a lot of their food and beverage outlets.”

Maryland Live! is also designing proprietary bonus games to send through the nCompass window as player rewards. “The system is really flexible,” says Shaw. “It features complex engines that can be customized by the operator.”

The bonus module that lets operators customize their bonuses—or use bonus games designed by Aristocrat that can be channeled to any number of players on the floor—is called “nRich.” A business intelligence module in the system is known as “nVision.”

Shaw notes that the Oasis modules—particularly the nLive free-play casino—are there to support the games. “All of the great-performing content coming into the system side of the business will ultimately drive players back to the brick-and-mortar properties to try those themes,” she says.

And that sheer number of themes—whether classic titles, new game franchises or high-profile licenses—are one area in which Aristocrat has very few equals.

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.