Phil Gelber, Vice President of Game Development, WMS
Phil Gelber, Vice President of Game Development, WMS
WMS has traditionally been seen as a slot manufacturer, yet there seems to be significant movement into systems operations for the company as well. How would you describe the company’s position in the gaming market today?
With the advent of system-based gaming, obviously WMS had to adapt to the change. The last couple of years we put a lot of effort behind system-based gaming starting about four years ago when we acquired Big Foot Software in Reno. They developed our wide-area progressive system. That was kind of the start of our WMS Network Systems. Since then we’ve just been adding people and technology. About five months ago we launched our first server-based product in the field, which is MONOPOLY Big Event Gaming®. This is our communal game product, which is the first of its kind where all the players play and win together, and the bidding is controlled by a server.
We are moving into a system based world, but we look at it differently than some of our competitors. We look at it from a game enablement perspective. How can we make a better game with this technology? That’s where we spend a lot of our functionality. How do we make a better game for the player and ultimately a better performing product for the operator?
WMS is doing something fairly unique with its Monopoly Big Event Promotion—letting customers play the games at home for free first before coming to the casino. Describe the thinking behind that concept.
We feel that customers not only make spontaneous decisions on the casino floor but that they also make a lot of their decisions prior to coming to the casino. They have a fixed budget and many times they decide which games they’re going to play on their way out of the casino, on their way to the casino, or idle times in between. We feel using the Internet (is a great way) for them to connect with these complex games. Community gaming is a deep, rich but complex game, so we want to give them the opportunity to interact with the game in the comfort of their home. We want them to understand the benefits and the advantages to them in the form of enhanced game play, interactive elements, communal bonus rounds, sensory emersion gaming, etc. This gives us the ability to develop a connection with them with our brand—but more importantly to get them educated with the game so that they are not intimidated by it and actually seek it out. And the more comfortable they are with the game, they’re going to sit down and play longer.
A lot of your recent enhancements to games center around the added elements that enhance players’ experiences. Can you share some of the company’s thoughts behind these?
We’re kind of blessed at WMS right now where we have a handful of very smart game designers who work with technology partners like Bose®. The goal for the designers every time is to one-up themselves.
Our Bose® 3Space Surround Sound Chair—which is just launching with TOP GUN—brings a whole new entertainment factor to the casino floor. It’s still a gambling machine. It still delivers high volatility low denominational action that players are playing for, but now they get to step it up a notch with sensory emersion. The chair in Top Gun really brings the player into the game. Our CPU-NXT2 processor brings real-time 3D graphics and opens up the door for our game designers to do even more creative things working in this video game space of three dimension. Combine that with the chair and you can really pull people in emotionally with the sound.
Your company’s development of Transmissive Reels has generated a buzz. For the benefit of our readers, can you describe this technology and what it allows?
Transmissive Reels gives us the power of the best of both worlds. It allows us to give a traditional five-reel mechanical experience that players know and love, but with a little added video flair. It’s a transparent LCD. This does a couple of things: It helps communicate the wins to the player better by digitally drawing the pay lines on the glass. It allows us to give interactive bonus rounds to a mechanical player which they’ve never seen before, but more importantly interact with those reels. Now you can give them bonus rounds, free spins and other things that make their game more interactive so that they have more control over their game. We’re really excited about it because it opens up a whole new world of game ideas. My game designers are foaming at the mouth. At G2E people walked away with their jaws on the ground. Until you experience it you don’t really understand it. It’s a great technology in any industry, especially slot machines, but there are parts of the industry that don’t even have technology this advanced.
Where does WMS stand when it comes to downloadable and server-based technology?
It’s a technology we’re fully embracing. We’re fully interoperable with G2S. Our system has the ability to work with other manufacturer’s systems. But really it’s about the game. Again, we focus on ways to utilize the technology to make the game better. MONOPOLY Big Event is just the tip of the iceberg of what we are able to do.
In the early stages, WMS had licensed certain aspects of Cyberview Technology’s server-based systems. Today, is WAGE-NET a wholly-owned WMS product?
We licensed a piece of technology and intellectual property from them and we kind of rolled that into WAGE-NET. At WMS we’re not shy about looking at other people’s technology and such. If there is a good solution for something we haven’t developed yet and we have the ability to license it, we will. That licensed piece is just a slice of the complete product. Cyberview had a lot of knowledge and intellectual property so it helped us build our system quicker. WAGE-NET is our own wholly-owned system with integrated parts from others. It’s a technology transfer.
The company recently unveiled a new branding initiative. Can you describe these efforts and what they entailed?
You’ve got to look at the story around your company. What’s the promise to your customers and your players? The fact of the matter is we have drastically evolved from where we were when we were WMS Gaming or Williams Gaming. This small, entrepreneurial company that brought out Reel-a-Minute JACKPOT PARTY® has grown to a $1.6 billion dollar company that‘s vying for as much market share as many of our main competitors. We have gone through a complete metamorphosis as a company. We’ve brought out a new cabinet in the form of Bluebird®, we have all new people and process. We’re a different company. So we want to send this incredible message about our company and the people who make up our company, and the products and services that we bring to the market. We’re all about providing advantage—advantage in the product, advantage in the services. It’s a promise. Max Your Edge really is a promise that we’re going to provide distinct advantages to our players and customers, to have one leg up on their competition. These days it’s a competitive field and we want to enable them to be successful as possible. The products we’re providing are cutting-edge and we‘ve got some ammunition in our guns that we think is going to put us in that leadership position once server-based and WAGE-NET comes online. Inspiration is really what we want the message to be.
From an industry perspective, about four years ago every manufacturer was guilty of overproducing licensed theme games and they paid the price. At WMS we were always selective. We’ve always had the quality over quantity approach. We had great success with our MEN IN BLACK® brand. We were able to take a great movie and license that people enjoyed outside of gaming and build interesting and entertaining gaming with it. TOP GUN is another great example. We were approached years ago with the Top Gun brand and we passed on it because we couldn’t see it working four years ago. As we started to get into develop all these wonderful enhancements we realized we could do a great Top Gun game, simulating an F-14 at the bonus round.
We’ve been fortunate to have great success with the Monopoly brand and Hasbro has been a great partner in working with us to keep it as genuine as possible. We use Monopoly whenever we launch a major technology because it is such a familiar theme.
I think theme games are here to stay, but only the quality games will continue to be successful. People like themed games because of the familiarity, and if we can deliver a new experience with new technology then themed games will warrant staying on the casino floor.
Phil Gelber is vice president of game development for WMS, overseeing production and quality at the company’s four studios located in Chicago, Las Vegas, Sydney and London. His background with companies like Atari Corporation and Sega combined with his UNLV bachelors degrees in science and hotel administration give him a unique edge in the gaming industry, affording him the position he calls his “dream job.” Casino Journal contributing writer Regina Lafay recently spoke with Gelber about new WMS technologies, past successes and the future of the company.