One thing was very clear at the Bally Technologies User Conference in early March at Pechanga Resort and Casino: the company is investing heavily in R&D. Spend has grown 45 percent in the last four years, a figure which is actually understated because of the cost advantages that the firm’s India development centers represent over those in the United States.
We got a glimpse of where some of the investment is going courtesy of Bryan Kelly, senior vice president, technology, whose presentation touched (no pun intended) on the area of sensory gaming and new machine inputs. Kelly sees his job as to “try to match the technology megatrends that are happening out in the world and bring them into the casino in a relevant time frame and a cost-effective way.” A summary of what we are and will be seeing from Bally in the next few years follows:
•Interactivity: The company is working on a lot of new game mechanics for bonus rounds on its Alpha gaming titles. “You’ll be able to shoot things, roll things, catch a fly floating in the air, hit a target; a lot of the great mechanics that have proven themselves in the arcade, Internet and home markets, we’re going to repeat in the casino space,” said Kelly, who spent about 20 years in the arcade and Internet spaces before joining Bally.
•3D: This is a major new trend happening around the world with television and mobile as well. The problem with 3D in the home is it requires glasses, which just won’t work for a casino marketplace. “We need a perfect 3D technology that doesn’t require glasses and works within the confines of the player and the machine,” said Kelly. “It also has to have perfect 2D and 3D at the same time. We’ve been hunting the world for technology; thankfully there’s a lot of really great stuff. We have flawless 2D technology with imagery flies right out of the screen.” Bally has been experimenting with this technology and hopes to bring it to market “within the next few years.” It will be glasses-free, which is the way in-home televisions are moving.
•Haptics (touch sense) immersion: This is a whole new range of technologies that allow you to sense a person and how they touch. “There’s technology, for example, that allows you to sense how hard people are touching,” said Kelly. “Why would we care about that? Imagine a deck of cards; if you press hard, one card can slide behind another one. If you press lighter it stays on top. This opens up a whole new realm of game and user interaction just because we can pick up a sense of pressure.”
There are related new technologies called hover touch, which enable game developers to modify graphics on the slot machine in real-time as a player’s hand gets closer to the screen. “If players can see graphics modify as they touch the screen it creates a much more compelling experience,” said Kelly. “3D-interactive touch is coming as well.” Bally will be using such technologies to bring force-feedback to the iDeck; when players interact with the iDeck it will create a vibration based on touch.
•Cameras: This will be another key input device on gaming machines. “We can use cameras to create 3D gaming for example and track the player’s face as they move around and project objects to them based on where their head is,” said Kelly. “We can do biometric scans; imagine walking up to a game, identifying yourself and immediately engage with your game state and/or player set. We can also track players’ eyes as the move in front of a bank of games with cameras hit them up with multimedia and engage them to sit down.”