WMS Gaming: Full Steam Ahead
WMS forges ahead on all fronts with a wealth of innovations
Several years ago, game developers at WMS Gaming began to get ready for the brave, new world of server-based gaming.
The approach to this mission was a bit different than that found at other slot manufacturers. Instead of concentrating on creating network infrastructure or download configuration systems, design engineers at WMS focused on one thing: What would networked gaming bring to the player?
WMS products released in the past two years have provided a preview of some of the game features that will be possible with server-based gaming. WMS engineers set up miniature server-based systems, each running a bank of slots in a casino, and created entertaining play experiences like “Monopoly Big Event,” in which all players go into a common linked bonus at the same time.
More recently, “Star Trek” provided an example of what can be done when a server-based network goes wide-area—players can pick up a game they stopped playing in Atlantic City when they’re in Las Vegas the following week, and not miss a beat.
In between, WMS has focused on using its unique and powerful technology to create play experiences that are like nothing seen on a slot floor in the past—from “Top Gun” to “The Wizard of Oz” and “Dirty Harry” in the virtual-reality-style “Sensory Immersion Gaming” series to “Cascading “Reels” and “Money Burst” in the “Innovation Series.”
Players have responded, making WMS arguably the hottest slot-maker of the day. Where other companies are laying employees off, WMS is adding employees. Where others are lamenting flat revenues, WMS is celebrating record sales.
“Doom and gloom in the industry? We don’t see it,” says Rob Bone, the company’s vice president of marketing. “We continue to have the highest multiple in our history. We’re starting to get recognized outside the gaming industry—we’re on Fortune magazine’s list of 100 Fastest-Growing Companies. We’re on Standard & Poors’ list of 300 companies with the potential to become blue-chip.”
WMS arrives at this year’s Global Gaming Expo on a bona fide hot streak. Its latest releases tell a story that belies the recessionary times in which the industry finds itself. For instance, Harrah’s Entertainment, which famously began removing participation games from some of its casinos recently, signed a multi-property deal with WMS to install Star Trek games. According to Bone, the operator plans to tie in its Total Rewards network with the wide-area network on which Star Trek operates.
There is no shortage of casinos installing the latest game in the Sensory Immersion series, either. “Dirty Harry: Make My Day” uses the Sensory Immersion system—vibrating chair, BOSE speakers in surround-sound setup—to the hilt in its bonus round. In case you don’t know, it’s a simulation of a police car chase through the streets of San Francisco. The player chooses his target as “Harry’s” car chases the criminal’s vehicle, and yes, you get to be behind the famous .44 Magnum as it causes the crook’s car to careen into “1,000 Credits” road signs.
At G2E, WMS will show up with new offerings in each of its successful current game groups, as well as some in completely new game styles. Many of the newest WMS games will be housed in a format that is the renewal of the cabinet-and-operating-system package that got WMS started on its path toward networked gaming—the “Bluebird” ergonomically designed cabinet and the “CPU-NXT” video platform, the setup that spread the WMS name into new markets around the world.
This year, WMS launches new versions of both the cabinet and the platform. According to Bone, Bluebird 2/CPU-NXT2 creates an operating system for slot games that is 10,000 times more powerful than a desktop personal computer.
Bluebird 2 provides what Bone calls the “digital cabinet of the future.” “It is the future of gaming today,” he says, noting that the dual-screen setup will allow customers to apply the technology of the networked floor in a seamless manner. The cabinet also features a wide-screen format with larger monitors.
CPU-NXT2, Bone says, was developed to give WMS game designers “a piece of white paper.” “It lets these guys innovate,” he says.
One of those designers is Ben Gomez, a legend in slot development circles who is credited with creating “Reel ‘Em In,” “Jackpot Party” and any number of other famous WMS games. One of the new game series on which Gomez has worked applies the Bluebird 2/CPU-NXT2 technology to the classic style of video slot that first brought massive success to WMS a decade ago.
“We’re trying to get back to where we started, with interactive, fun bonus events,” Gomez says. “We’re replacing our classic video series with this new series of games featuring interactive fun and time on device.”
The new series is called “I-Play,” for “interactive play.” It is a modernized version of the second-screen interactive types of games that WMS made famous. “We’ve reinvented the second-screen bonus experience with highly thematic games that will redefine the engagement of interactive video games,” says Bone.
Among the first titles in the new series will be “Airplane,” “MoneyHive” and, next summer, a new version of the venerable “Jackpot Party.”
The new I-Play series is a complement to the manufacturer’s “G+” series of games, which has gained popularity as a series of no-frills, basic video slots offering high volatility and simple free-spin bonus events. According to Bone, at G2E, WMS will showcase many of the 19 new titles for the G+ series to be launched within the coming year.
These new games will join new products in each of the categories WMS has established over the past few years. These products include new game styles within some of the categories.
For instance, the “Innovation Series,” the group of WMS video slots with special, innovative play features, gets a new member this year. The current series includes game styles such as “Cascading Reels,” in which winning combinations disappear and other symbols cascade down from the top of the screen to form new reel combinations; “Wrap Around Pays,” which employs a virtual three-dimensional reel setup (new line pays start on each reel); “Money Burst,” with the screen setup using two common rows of symbols that apply to all pays; and “Spinning Streak,” the hot new game group that re-spins non-paying reels to enhance wins.
At G2E, WMS will launch “Super Multipay,” a game style that displays four separate sets of reels to the player. They are all 20-line pay windows, with one large set of reels and three smaller sets. Bonus features and wild symbols appearing on the large game carry over to the other three reel sets for multiple payouts.
Bone says this game style was made possible by the wider pay window of Bluebird 2. “It’s the only format with a wide enough screen for this,” he says.
The company also will introduce a new technology for the “Bonus Bank” series, the game group in which an ante wager enables several special bonus features. It is called an “Advanced Random Intelligence Algorithm,” or ARIA. According to Bone, this enables trillions of possible game and bonus outcomes, with no two outcome the same. “Players love unpredictability, and this will enable the most unpredictable games in the history of slot machines.”
The ARIA technology will debut in a new series called “Premium Bonus Bank.” Highlighted at G2E will be a game called “Lucky Penny,” in which a bonus event can happen any at any time—an animated penguin will spontaneously row across the screen in a canoe to change symbols to wild symbols, or to change reel symbols to create a winning combination or trigger a bonus event.
“Goldfish 2,” another ARIA game, is a dual-screen game in which fish randomly jump into a fishbowl to launch a bonus event. Each of the fish has its own special bonus. This is another Bluebird 2 exclusive, utilizing the larger dual-screen setup for the bonus events.
The ARIA technology also is being used on a new version of the popular “Powerball” video slot.
Other video highlights this year include “Jackpot Party Keno,” a new twist on the standard video keno game that allows multiple ball draws on the same card. In this bonus feature, the player selects Jackpot Party balls to fill out a keno card, and there is no limit—the player selects balls until getting a “Pooper Ball.” This permits winning streaks not possible in standard video keno.
Rocking the Reels
The several new styles of video slot will be joined in this year’s WMS booth by an impressive array of mechanical-reel games, including three-reel and five-reel versions of new games, the first reel-spinning versions of popular video formats, and some totally new stepper styles.
Games like “Extra Extra Luck” will add new features to the classic three-reel format. In this case, it is a 15-coin reel-spinner with mystery bonuses resulting in free spins with multiplied jackpots—a classic video gimmick applied to the stepper genre.
There also is a new series of WMS steppers called the “Top Box Bonus Series.” This is WMS Gaming’s first series of reel-spinners with mechanical “light-box” top-box bonus events.
Another highlight in the reel-spinning genre is a new version of the company’s popular “Hot Hot Super Respin” game, in which clumped symbols lock reels in place and all other reels re-spin to create additional pays. This bonus feature can go on and on, resulting in huge credit jackpots.
Other five-reel mechanical slots (the “5RM” series) include reel-spinning versions of the G+ video series including two stand-along progressive levels; and a five-reel mechanical version of the popular “Goldfish” video slot.
Bone says the company has increased its production of reel-spinners by popular demand. “Forty percent of our shipments in the last quarter were mechanical reels,” he says. “Our five-reel mechanical players are people who love both video and mechanical slots, so our executions of these games appeal to both sides of the spectrum.”
“There is a whole slew of products for the mechanical player that are crafted for both the traditional mechanical player and this new-wave mechanical player who wants bonusing and merchandising,” adds Gomez. “We’re really branching out the mechanical area for every player.”
That includes, of course, the groundbreaking Transmissive Reels series—mechanical reels with a video overlay, a technique pioneered by WMS—which is being used in a number of totally new applications. “We’re leveraging all the technologies we’ve commercialized in the past,” says Bone, “to completely change the environment in reels with the Transmissive technology.”
One of the new products will be a Transmissive Reels version of “The Wizard of Oz,” last year’s monster hit in the “Sensory Immersion” series. There will be two separate themes, “Wicked Riches” and “Glenda the Good Witch,” with a whole new set of bonuses.
(In the “Glenda” game, there is a “Tornado Bonus” that awards one of four local-area progressive jackpots.)
Also new in Transmissive Reels is “Super Grand Hotel,” which applies the ARIA technology to a reel-spinner in what Bone calls a “kitchen sink” of bonus features. “This has every feature on it that we currently have available in any game, except for the BOSE chair (from Sensory Immersion),” says Bone, who notes that it includes a “Big Event” community bonus with a multiplier that is increased by reel combinations. “This is going to be a home run,” he says.
Community to Adaptive
The Super Grand Hotel game employs elements of many of the unique, specialized game formats that WMS has introduced in the past few years. The slot-maker will display new games in each of these special categories.
Up front in the Sensory Immersion series will be “Dirty Harry: Make My Day,” which was still spreading across the industry as we went to press.
In the “Community Gaming” series, in addition to the Super Grand Hotel Monopoly-themed game, WMS will launch “Big Event Poker,” a video poker version of the community-style game genre. Players on a linked bank of poker games will be able to make an extra wager of two coins to qualify for a communal bonus round. As in the Monopoly Big Event video reel game, each player adds to an individual multiplier amount through normal play.
When the bonus is triggered, every player is dealt four to the royal. The fifth card is dealt to each player from a separate deck—a one-in-47 shot at the 4,000-coin royal flush. If a player hits the royal, his jackpot is multiplied by whatever multiplier he has achieved through standard video poker play. Bone predicts this will drive coin-in like no other video poker game before it, since the bonus payments are funded through the ante wager and players will seek to drive the multiplier up as high as possible before the bonus.
Another new take on a proven favorite is a community-play version of the venerable “Reel ‘Em In” called “Reel ‘Em In Compete to Win.” The popular fishing-themed game is placed in a bank under a “virtual fish tank” formed by two 52-inch plasma video screens. A linked “Tournament Bonus” will put all players at the bank in a fishing tournament.
This is also the next step in what WMS has come to call “Adaptive Gaming,” the series launched this year with “Star Trek.” The Reel ‘Em In bonus fishing tournaments will be linked to the wide-area network used for Star Trek to create a national “Leader Board” for the fishing tournament. Players will be able to log in and see who the top Reel ‘Em In fishermen are around the country.
It is one more application of the network WMS calls WAGE-Net, for “Wide-Area Game Enhanced Network.” This technology is being broadened to include customer-relationship management features, says Bone. “WAGE-Net will offer customers a CRM tool that allows casinos to reward players enterprise-wide,” he says.
Bone says the push for WMS at this year’s G2E show will be to offer “freedom of choice, and true interoperability.”
“Players are younger now, and they have a higher entertainment bar,” comments Bone. “We’ve been evolving one step at a time, providing products that show you how a networked slot floor can work. We’re showing individual player applications that demonstrate how the 100-percent networked floor can work in the future.
“We were looked at as a provider of niche products five years ago. We’re a different company now. We’re the thought people in the industry and we have the technology to move forward as a major player.”