All systems go
All systems go
Gaming manufacturers' management systems continue to alter the world of the traditional casino
Each fall, a buzz begins brewing about the latest slot machine themes, exciting new games and, of course, the many celebrities that show up at the Global Gaming Expo to endorse them. But this year, there's an equally healthy buzz about the systems side of manufacturers' offerings as well.
From hardware to software, new products-and advancements and innovations to existing ones-are helping gaming industry operators develop closer relationships with their customers, better manage casino floors and increase effective marketing efforts.
There are several underlying themes to manufacturers' systems offerings this year. Among them: creative partnerships between competitors; emphasis on complete systems solutions; and preparing for the future of the gaming industry as advances like server-based gaming begin to come to fruition.
"We want people to see that we have good technology and that it's going in the right direction," said Steve Walther, director of systems product management, North America for Aristocrat Technologies.
And manufacturers agree that process begins with understanding what their customers want and need.
What casino operators want and need on their casino floors can vary widely with regard to the casino's size, customer demographics and the casino's own goals and strategies. A complete casino management package powerful enough to run a Las Vegas Strip megaresort might be too much for a smaller riverboat casino in the Midwest.
However, many manufacturers offer both complete and modular packages of systems and solutions to casinos. And this year, the goal is to make those offerings even more functional and efficient for all operators.
Aristocrat Technologies is upgrading its Oasis Casino Management System with the company's Oasis PRIME product, a rewrite of all of its applications software into a .net environment using C-Sharp, Microsoft's latest development technology.
"We're showcasing the Nevada compliant version for our Nevada properties and that's the Oasis 11.52NV product, which includes Multi-Game Analyzer PRIME, Jackpots and Fills PRIME and Quickets PRIME (Aristocrat's ticketing solution)," Walther said. "We're also previewing BlackBart PRIME, which will be our Oasis 11.6 version product, available to all markets next year. Our Poller PRIME product will also be showcased as well. That's our floor network interface."
Multi-Game Analyzer PRIME, a module that helps track, analyze and adjust multi-games on casino floors, is the first product to become Technical Standard 3 compliant in Nevada.
"Really, the message I want to get across to our customers is that we have a great slot accounting base. That's what's built Oasis to what it is today. Now as the gaming industry evolves, so too do our needs with the gaming systems," Walther said.
Reno-based International Game Technology's systems division touts its Advantage Casino System, a full suite of applications built on the Microsoft Windows SQL platform that provides integrated management and function-ality on the casino floor.
The Advantage system incorporates several different modules, including EZ Pay (the company's ticketing solution), Table Touch (table game management), Patron Management, slot machine accounting, Advantage Bonusing, the NexGen player tracking panel, Coinless Transit, Mobile Data Access and Loot 66, the company's first offering in its Loyalty Game series.
"The day-to-day accounting and marketing is the biggest plus when you start taking about systems applications," said Ed Rogich, vice president of marketing for IGT. "If you really dig down into it and you learn about the reporting and the different reports you can create, the individual screens that let you track players on many different levels, it's a very deep product."
IGT just celebrated its 100th installation of the Advantage Casino System, while the company's popular EZ Pay solution has 228 installations.
Last year, Las Vegas-based Bally Gaming & Systems was still getting its hands around integrating the products and solutions of several companies it had acquired, including Advanced Casino Systems Corp., Casino Management Systems, Micro Clever Consulting and Honeyframe Systems. This year, Bally has complete integration among all of its product lines, meaning that offerings like its eSERIES (eTICKET, eBONUS, ePROMO, eFUND, etc.) can now be added to products from Bally's other divisions.
Now, with Bally's SDS casino management and accounting system serving as the core of its systems offerings, the company has an entire catalog of products to fit any casino's specific needs.
"It kind of came to a case of: there's a lot of products in our Bally Systems portfolio and the logical question that a lot of people ask is 'when is that all going to become one?' The answer we like to state is: not anytime soon. And there's a reason for that," said Derik Mooberry, vice president of systems sales for Bally Systems. "Each one of those products kind of has its own market, its own set of customers, etc. Our philosophy is that one system doesn't fit all. Whereas our competitors do sell as a 'one size fits all.' The same casino operator that operates a 100-game casino somewhere in South America isn't looking for the same system they put in at the Venetian. They're looking for things that offer them a basic suite of products. We give people options for what fits them."
Konami Gaming meanwhile is making some changes to its systems offerings, starting with the name. The company's Forcise system will now be known simply as the Konami Casino Management System.
One of the key features the company added to it this year is a language module that allows translation for both players and casino employees.
"For example, we've been awarded a large contract in Quebec. Of course in Quebec, one of the requirements is that the front-end manuals be in French. So the way we've done that is made it so that when a screen comes up, there's all the labels…if it's a patron screen, it will say last name, first name, etc. We've made it with Java, so we can have a translation table lookup," said Tom Soukup, senior director of research and development for Konami's Systems Division. "By solving the French translation problem, we now just have to do the same in Spanish and other languages. So multilingual is definitely a big thing that you'll see on our systems."
Another advancement is that Konami has embraced the Gaming Standards Association's System to System protocol, allowing all of Konami's systems to integrate with other manufacturers' products or modules.
"We're very good at integrating existing and new technology into the product to make it easier for the operator and enhance the player's experience" Soukup said. "What we tend to do compared to a lot of other vendors is we use off-the-shelf IT technology that is proven in other industries and use it in our product."
Other companies, like Atronic Systems, have complete package systems offerings as well. Atronic's GALAXIS product suite includes its Crystal Web slot accounting and management network, its Golden Eye network for table games management and its "Star" modules for marketing, player tracking and bonusing.
With the recent poker craze, table games are finding new life in casinos. With this resurgence comes opportunity for manufacturers to cash in on technology that can help make table games more efficient and profitable.
Among the biggest news on the table game front is the recent announcement of a collective effort between IGT, Shuffle Master and Progressive Gaming International to pool resources for the creation of the Intelligent Table System. Under the pact, Shuffle Master provides its automated card shufflers, card reading intelligent shoes, and card and chip sorters and verifiers. IGT provides back-end table game management systems, including player tracking, patron loyalty and rewards, and bonusing applications. PGI provides RFID bet recognition, automated gaming chip tracking and payoff recognition products.
"It's exciting bringing all of that together. We've got all the top players and all of the top technologies coming together for one system," Rogich said.
Meanwhile, Bally has made a number of advancements with its Table Management Systems. MindPlay, the company's chief table management component, has been extended from blackjack to other table games, the most significant being baccarat with its MPBac product.
The system uses VisionCore optical-imaging technology, built into each table that captures every player, every wager and every card dealt to completely report the actual results of each game. This eliminates the human error inherent in manual data entry, thus optimizing a casino's ability to comp players based on their actual skill and advantage to the game.
"What (MPBac) allows the customer to do is have complete confidence that the cards that come out of the shoe and are ultimately read by the game are authentic and that no additional cards were put into the game, or cards were changed or the sequence changed," Mooberry said. "One of the biggest concerns as an operator is card security on baccarat. You read about all these things about baccarat scams and how casinos have lost in some cases millions of dollars. This really provides a security measure for them to feel comfortable that the game is authentic. That's going to be one of our capstone products."
Already, Bally has over 50 MPBac units in the field in Macau.
Mooberry said that the difference between Bally and other companies' table game offerings is that Bally's are already fine-tuned and fully functional. Referring to the recent IGT/Shuffle Master/PGI partnership, he noted; "Our thought is: that's great, they can come together and build a product, but we have a product today. Our product is ready. It's sellable, it's deployable and it's in the field working today. We're going to really be touting that (at G2E)."
Since their inception, player tracking devices and the casinos' player clubs that fuel them have helped operators gain a much better feel for their customers demands, as well as foster improved relations between casinos and players. Today, as technological advances continue to sweep through the industry, manufacturers are finding new ways to deliver excitement and rewards to the gambler, and added revenue to the casinos' bottom lines.
Bally is touting new features on its iVIEW player tracking panel, including the ability to download credits right to the device. Another feature is the ability to deliver side games to the iVIEW, which let the player win not only at the slot machine's base game, but with a secondary game as well, earning credits, points or other rewards. "A player could play in a bingo tournament or a keno tournament against other players on the floor," Mooberry said. "The more you play and the faster you play, the more bingo balls you'd get. It creates a game within a game. Certainly, the player is playing the base game. But at the same time, on the top screen, they're trying to win a $5,000 bingo jackpot and they're playing against other players on the floor. We'll also get to a point where we'll create a toolkit where a casino can create its own game on the device."
Konami's HDStream interface with DATAStream (formerly known as the NAMB II) allows players to watch streaming video right at the slots. The system also can display animated marketing messages, static images or other offers to the players, all while providing detailed tracking of the customer's play.
"Other things that have been added, or will be shortly, include electronic drawing tickets." Soukup said. "That's the ability to, based on someone's play, be entered into a drawing. It's like a raffle ticket done electronically through the player tracking panel. A lot of casinos will run from certain hours or raffles. This allows them to do that based on people's play. Most now are done manually. A patron has to go to the club and request it, or fill out a raffle and place it in a drum, etc. This way, it's all electronic and right done with their player card."
Aristocrat's Sentinel III player tracking panel is the conduit for a host of tracking and bonusing applications. Some of the new highlights include Super-PlayMate, Personal Banker, Marketing Manager and SpeedMedia.
Super-PlayMate is a patron management system that helps enroll players into club or loyalty programs and track play by groups, performance or type of play they like to do. It allows casinos to calculate and earn comps and prizes and cash back for the patrons.
"It's really the heart of our patron management system. On top of that is what we call Oasis Promotions Technology. That takes the tools that we provide from the patron management systems and allows you to run promotions, rewards, bonuses, generate random winners on the floor, etc.," Walther said.
Marketing Manager allows casinos to put slot coupons directly into the bill validator. Casinos can customize rewards to their market or their particular operation.
Personal Banker allows players to manage all of their player club points, rewards, comps and credits through the Sentinel III. Personal Banker AFT (allowing advanced funds transfer) was just approved in Gaming Labs International jurisdictions.
SpeedMedia is downloadable content to the Sentinel III, deliverable in both still and streaming media to the panel's touchscreen TFT display.
IGT's NexGen touchscreen panel allows casinos to streamline their player tracking functions, while offering direct marketing messages and bonus games and rewards through IGT's Advantage Bonusing Tools.
IGT also touts its "Loot 66," the first theme in its Loyalty Game series. The game not only tracks play, but remembers where customers left off in the game should they choose to move to another game, then come back at a later time. The longer the game is played, the more rewards are earned.
Bally said it was rebranding some of its bonusing products, and showing some new ones under the new name, Bally Power Bonusing.
"We will have a new Bally Power Progressive that will allow for players to play up to a certain amount, guaranteed to hit by a value of "Y" that will all be controlled by the players" Mooberry said. "You could actually have unique player-centric bonusing events. We like to refer to all of our bonusing as player-centric for a reason. A lot of our competitors, when they do bonusing, they like to be very random or lottery-like.
"What this player-centric approach will be is that you'll have the opportunity to create different tiers or separate progressives based on club levels. Let's say maybe your platinum players have one set of jackpots, gold players have another set, etc. You're focusing your rewards on your best set of players."
Bridging off the player tracking and bonusing technology, Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, has been a hot-button topic. New technology by manufacturers and specialist CRM companies like Compudigm International and Venture Catalyst's Mariposa Software are allowing detailed information about casino patrons, analytical and predictive modeling, and strategic slot denomination and placement strategies.
Compudigm is unveiling its casinoPOWER, a package of CRM solutions that features a partnership between Compudigm and Teradata. Teradata provides all of its data warehousing resources, while Compudigm provides all of its CRM analytics, visualization and predictive modeling.
"We've put on top of it everything that Compudigm has to offer to make it the strongest, highest-value solution that we can," said Andrew Cardno, COO, CTO and co-founder of Compudigm International. "They key story is going to be around profitability and how we can drive it by customer or slot machine or table games." Compudigm's signature product, seePOWER, uses advanced data visualization technology and other business intelligence and CRM technologies to deliver insight into casino patron behavior, gaming floor performance and dramatically increased customer intimacy and loyalty. Currently, Compudigm is operating Version 4.5 of seePOWER. At G2E, the company will unveil Version 5.0, with new visualization techniques and enhancements to the analytical and modeling capabilities.
Compudigm has chosen to integrate a comprehensive training, support and education program called Compudigm University with seePOWER FastTrack made possible by architectural enhancements to the core technology.
"Since last year, our Compudigm University and Fast Track installation process have been huge steps for us," Cardno said. "When an organization is looking to adopt seePOWER solutions, it needs a serious commitment. Through the introduction of these programs, we've made it easier for people to get on board." When it comes to CRM education and training, Javier Saenz, senior vice president of information solutions for Venture Catalyst/Mariposa Software, couldn't agree more.
"I think if you ask people across the industry 'What is CRM?' you'll typically get different answers from everyone," Saenz said "That's one of our biggest challenges. Even within an organization, if you ask IT, or if you ask the marketing department or the operations team, you'll get different answers. It doesn't mean any of those answers are wrong, it's just that it means different things to different people. This type of software generally impacts the entire organization. It impacts them differently and they use it differently. We've been working hard to help define a single meaning for CRM in the industry and in some cases we've been successful. Our suite of products, while it is not everything CRM, it is the components of what a good CRM solution looks like."
Mariposa Software has assembled what it called its Business Intelligence Group. It focuses on post-implementation support for its customers, best practices and ways to get the most out of CRM implementations.
"It's beyond even training," Saenz said. "Training to me is basically 'if you click this button, this is what happens.' We certainly spend a lot of time on that, but what we're trying to do now is really more of an education. It's how we can take that what-to-do button and make the most of it. The BI Group has been a big push for us." As for Mariposa Software's new features, Saenz said the company is rolling out a new wireless version of its Player Contact System, dubbed PCSW. It gives the host the ability to walk the floor completely untethered with the floor map and all the other capabilities within Player Contact to locate their players, record contact with their players, schedule follow-ups and so forth.
Another new feature is Real Time Offers. It's the ability to build criteria that, in real time as customers play, they can qualify for offers or rewards that are set up in the system, similar to a bonusing system.
"We also have an executive reporting module that we call Scorecard. One of our goals is to close the gap between the historical, older information in data warehouses and real time data. Scorecard is a flash report that executives have on their desktop-like a digital dashboard-that graphically and statistically gives you all of your operational data about your company right at the desktop," Saenz said.
Mariposa is also working with a group from the University of Nevada Las Vegas on new features for predictive modeling for slot machines.
"What we're looking at doing is predicting into the future the coin-in potential of a game three, six and twelve months out. You can imagine what it will do to floor optimization decisions," Saenz said.
Several gaming manufacturers are working in CRM solutions into their offerings as well. Konami has its Virtual Floor application, which Soukup said it similar to Compudigm's seePOWER. It uses cloud technology to show where the hot machines are and where higher net win are.
"In a couple of casinos we actually are interfaced with Compudigm," Soukup said. "We didn't want to reinvent what seePOWER is doing, but for those casinos that don't integrate seePOWER into their toolset, this gives the slot manager a way of looking at his floor and seeing some trends."
Bally has introduced Dynamic Comping to its Table Management System, which allows intricate ratings of players to produce "player worth" evaluations that can be analyzed and grouped for modeling.
Perhaps the biggest touchpoint this year is the future of downloadable and server based technology, and what that could mean to the manufacturers of nearly every gaming device today. Several manufacturers will be showing some form of server-based technology-a preview of sorts to what may come.
IGT is showcasing its new "sb" products for server-based gaming applications including the "sb" system and "sb" machines that allow a casino to download entire games and configure game themes on any of its gaming machines.
"Today, if you have a hot game and you bring it out, you buy a conversion for IGT. You maybe buy five or six and you try them out. If the game does good and you test it for a couple of months, then you buy a few more of those games," Rogich said. "In a server-based application, you'd have the wherewithal to change games based on the demand of the players. That kind of functionality in managing the floor makes this huge."
It also aids in the basic managing of your floor from an operational standpoint, he added, whether that is updating the programs that run the bill validators, to running progressives on your floor, to running the signs on your floor.
"It's such a strong management tool that [eventually] it will really take floor management for slot floors to a new level."
All of IGT's Advantage products would layer over its "sb" product, Rogich added. Slot boxes, meanwhile would see dramatic changes.
"We'll be showing devices that, instead of having glass and a top box, will have a second screen where all the graphics can be loaded. You can transform the machine without having to change glass or reel strips. It all happens automatically," Rogich said.
As machines are changed to introduce new formats of displays, you expand the possibilities for communications, Rogich said. All of that information can be part of the slot's main screen going forward.
"We kind of view downloadable in terms of segments," said Bally's Mooberry, adding that his company is also demonstrating some downloadable and server-based advances at G2E.
The first segment is the downloading of content to player tracking panels like the iVIEW. The second segment is what Mooberry dubbed "configuration management."
"It's not taking a "Blazing 7s" game and turning it into a "Popeye" game. It's more about changing denominations, not changing title. It's yield management for slot systems. When you're a little slow mid-week and people want to bet only five lines a time on a penny game, let them do that. But when it's a busy Saturday night, maybe you want to make it a 20-line minimum bet. You can manage your slot floor based on occupancy."
The final segment is full game download, where you actually change the games at will on the casino floor.
"That becomes a little more complex," Mooberry said. "There's so many other things, in my opinion, that affect the player experience. It's more than just the game itself. It could be the glass, the signage above the game. It's not just as easy as changing the title and game itself. If you had 2,000 of those types of games in your casino and that's all you had, your casino would look so similar. I think that's part of the excitement and variables that go into casinos is that games look different."
Many companies are watching what manufacturers like IGT and Bally are doing with regard to server-based gaming. Some see opportunities to get in on the ground floor of the next big industry-changing technology wave.
"I'm very excited to learn about what all of the manufacturers are doing with downloadable games," said Compudigm's Cardno. "There is no doubt that the last five years have been huge in terms of change in the industry. The next five years are going to be bigger. To see some of that now is just going to be awesome."CJ