ALL SYSTEMS GO
It has been a hot summer for iVIEW DM.
Bally Technologies scored huge back-to-back sales wins in June, with Sun International and the industry’s largest operator, Caesars Entertainment, both of which will be implementing the company’s picture-in-picture player-user-interface product across their respective enterprises. It’s the clearest indicator yet that iVIEW Display Manager (DM), a solution that many operators have been admiring for its technological and marketing capabilities, is ready for its close-up on an industry-wide scale.
“iVIEW DM has been in the field for two years,” said Bryan Kelly, senior vice president technology and networked gaming at Bally Technologies. “We believe in a crawl-walk-run strategy; more of a controlled introduction, gradually moving toward general availability. The Caesars deal really means that this product is ready for general availability. For more than a year, we worked with them to prove that the technology is battle-hardened and meets all of their requirements. Now, the product is ready for general availability across all different game manufacturers. It’s no longer prototype stuff.”
For Bally, the growing success of iVIEW DM confirms what the broader industry has come to accept: What’s really moving slot operators toward server-based gaming is not operational in nature, i.e. downloading games remotely and changing paytables on the fly, but the ability to market at the point of play, using the machine as a player-loyalty engine through systems software such as the player-user-interface. Bally cites results from a survey earlier this year by Roth Capital Partners and Fantini Research, which show that just a little under half of slot floor decision-makers (43 percent) are looking to purchase player-user-interface technology in the coming year, as further validation of their strategy. The survey covers over just more than 40 properties which operate 180,000 slot machines, or about 20 percent of the North American market.
“Would we like to sell a lot of new machines and return to the normal replacement cycle where every seven or eight years the floor replaces itself? Absolutely,” Kelly said. “But we recognize the reality of the world today and that our customers can’t justify that with the downturn in the overall economy. If they’re replacing machines at a rate of 5 percent, it takes them 20 years to replace a floor. They need a systems-based server-based gaming solution now that gives them backward compatibility.”
Bally also offers operators a streamlined, “one-throat-to-choke” approach that ultimately enables casinos to deploy new content and software functionality faster. “There’s one company to make sure that the system works; that the video mixing/scaling works, the touch-screen remapping work, that all the software functions work, and that players have a common ubiquitous experience independent of what machine they are playing on,” Kelly explained. “Whereas, on the alternate approach, it’s up to the casino operators, individual game manufacturers, testing laboratories, gaming standards bodies, integration labs, and regulators to all get aligned so that new functionality can be brought to the market in a timely manner.
“Without one throat to choke, just trying to get one bit of cutting-edge content or new software features to run uniformly across all the different manufacturers’ games and get it installed on the floor on the same day…good luck. When new game operating system software versions come out, you have to re-verify the casino-specific content all over again to ensure proper functionality. With our approach, there’s none of that. We take responsibility for new core features of iVIEW DM and make sure their floors work. Once our customers and Bally make the content and code work on one iVIEW DM, it will immediately work on all iVIEW DM’s across the floor.” And iVIEW DM is backward compatible on any gaming device with a touch-screen display, protecting casino operators’ previous investments in games.
Bally places the per-machine cost of iVIEW DM at 1/8th to 1/9th the cost of a new slot machine. In addition to Caesars and Sun, iVIEW DM’s existing customers are Pechanga Resort & Casino, StarWorld Hotel & Casino, Fantasy Springs Resort & Casino, Ocean Downs, and Casino Arizona. The company markets iVIEW DM to its approximately 640 systems customers worldwide.
AN EVOLUTIONARY PATHAs its name suggests, iVIEW DM builds on Bally’s iVIEW product, which was introduced in 2004. iVIEW offers an improvement over the typical two-line player tracking system greeting-and-points display with a richer multimedia audio/visual experience. “We have built some really compelling content, but this is a 7x3-inch display that’s on the machine; and with different machines, it is in different positions, so trying to get the player to focus on it has always been an issue,” Kelly said. “It is usually next to their player card, but after they put their card in, they’re mainly looking at the game screen, except when they want to do funds transfer, drink ordering, or things like that.”
Bally built popular applications for iVIEW such as Power Winners and other premium bonusing experiences, but Bally kept hearing from customers that it would be great if they could have these features on the main screen. That required a different technology, so Bally augmented its iVIEW with video-mixer technology. They built a prototype iVIEW DM, started showing it to people, and it has been out in the field since 2009.
Along the way, Bally had to learn to integrate iVIEW DM into different games because it directly interfaces each manufacturer’s touch and video screens. Casino operators enjoyed being able to implement a player-user-interface without buying a new slot machine and, depending on the casino, to even run iVIEW Display Manager on a non-Ethernet floor. As time goes on and they want richer applications, they’ll need to upgrade sections of their slot floor, or all of the casino floor, to Ethernet to support some of the applications.
“It really gives our customers a migration strategy and, in this economy, that’s a huge deal,” Kelly said.
iVIEW DM’s windows are able to interface with any application from Bally, the operator’s casino management system (CMS), or a third party. By way of example, if an operator wanted to do a personalized bonus game, they can create a Macromedia Flash or dot-net type game, install it on the iVIEW DM, and it would connect to their own system without having to connect to Bally’s system; they create a personalized experience based on their own CMS.
“It’s a completely open platform allowing any coding technology; html, dot-net, Flash, HTML5,” Kelly said. “You’re not put in a box where you can only run, say, Flash technology. As you’ve seen with the iPad and the battles out there in the tablet world, Flash is great for a lot of things, but it’s not the end-all solution. We can take rich applications, high-end 3D games, wheel applications, and live streaming events down to the floor. It can be any kind of content that streams from the server down or that exists on the client and point to any server to be that completely open system. And this is done without any performance degradation on the base game.”
Kelly emphasized that this last point is not a given. “The reality is that game developers end up using all the horsepower in a processor and all the video memory,” he said. “That is the rule of game development; whatever’s there, you use it. The base games of each manufacturer are going to use the processor to its limit. When a third-party application brought in from the server asks to do a secondary event, it can bring the base game to its knees. With iVIEW DM, it runs flawlessly because the iVIEW DM runs on a separate processor. The base-game processor doesn’t have to give up its high-end rendering of the slot to let the window happen. It can do both simultaneously and you get a common experience across the floor, even with game manufacturers using various processors, game processing loads, and memory limits.”
CUSTOMIZED ENTERTAINMENTWith iVIEW DM, operators are able to both add new forms of entertainment to the floor with events such as virtual horse racing, tournaments, and wheel spins, as well as customize the game experience. It’s a combination that adds value to loyalty programs and can build revenue.
Pechanga, to take just one example, uses Bally Technologies’ Elite Bonusing Suite Virtual-Racing application that goes floorwide. At a certain time of the day, if a player has qualified (i.e. done a certain amount of wagering), iVIEW DM takes over and opens up a window that says “pick your horse.” Everyone chooses one of eight horses, and then you see a live virtual horse race across all the digital signage and all the machines in the property, and the winners split the community prize.
(See sidebar for more on how Pechanga is leveraging iVIEW DM.)
Bally’s real-time bonusing system, the Elite Bonusing Suite, uses a very flexible approach, asking operators when and where they want the promotion to run, which player or player groups are eligible, which game experience is given, and what type of prizes are available to be won. The Elite Bonusing Suite knows not just what the player has done today, but can also use the long-term business intelligence and CMS data to create promotions that consider the total lifetime value of the player. Operators can build business rules that mix this real-time and historical data and deliver a targeted bonus promotion right to the player on the gaming machine once those business rules have triggered.
“Now that casino floors can do real-time tracking of wagering, how much you are winning and losing down to the last spin, we can trigger responsive and targeted promotions,” Kelly said. “One example is our U-Spin Bonusing, which is a personalized wheel. Once the player hits the qualifications criteria, the wheel pops in and you get to spin the wheel using a gesture. The wheel spins and you can win one of multiple prizes, and those prizes are tailored to the player.”
Qualification thresholds for all bonusing events are whatever operators want them to be; typically anything from as low as $25 wagered in the last hour on up. The threshold can be displayed on the screen or floor-wide using Bally’s CoolSign media-management system. Players who arrive toward the end of an hour have an incentive to stay and qualify for the next hour.
And, of course, communal floorwide bonusing is a powerful draw to get new members to sign up for the club.
Bally works closely with customers to help them navigate the technology and tap into its considerable potential. “We have a world-class professional services team that says to customers, here’s the core product; how do you want it to look and run?” Kelly said. “This team works with them to create a unique entertainment experience at their property to differentiate themselves from the competition, using their branding, logos, audio track; it can be completely customized. And many customers do the customization themselves without our services team being involved.”
The company has dedicated product development and product management teams that are responsible for the product roadmap of its bonusing and loyalty applications, as well as work-for-hire professional services teams that can build proprietary products for customers.
“If casinos want, we’ll build custom software and content that will only be delivered to them” Kelly said. “They run it, and it is not rolled back into the main code line. But, generally, a lot of these types of core features get rolled up in to the main core product roadmap. We maintain a never-ending list of new features that we build to meet client needs. Each casino and each market has different needs. They have different marketing departments with different backgrounds. They want the products to be tweaked for the way they think the promotions should run. Our company specializes in these customizations.”
iVIEW Display Manager is open and can interface with any third-party application. Based on commercial terms, either Bally or an iVIEW DM customer can work with a third party to put that application up on iVIEW DM.
Apart from incentivizing players to meet thresholds and qualify for bonuses, iVIEW DM can enhance revenue in other ways, some novel and others familiar. “The easier we can make it for customers to get access to services and get the information that they want, such as drink ordering, calling for an attendant, funds transfer down to the machines where the player doesn’t have to leave the machine; that’s a huge value to the casino,” Kelly said. “Then, if we can add new revenue to the machine by doing marketing at the point of play, that’s very powerful. When our customers put live streaming events down to the floor via iVIEW DM, like the Super Bowl, it can increase wagering on the floor because most people would normally stay at home on Super Bowl Sunday.”
A product such as iVIEW DM is a reminder at just how good the casino industry has gotten at loyalty marketing at the point of play. Now that things have gotten more competitive and marketing-intensive, operators must take their floor to the next level.
“When you think about the traditional bonus point accrual, it’s become an entitlement; everyone gets it, players expect it, and there’s no excitement,” Kelly said. “You get on the machine, you see your points grow without excitement. What we want to do is make you feel that you won your rewards through a compelling game experience. Take that player though the emotional curve of a win/loss game cycle. That makes the player bond with the casino property better than just, oh here’s your points.” SM
SIDEBAR:FULL SPEED AHEAD AT PECHANGAIn terms of early iVIEW DM adapters, no facility can beat Pechanga Resort & Casino, and their investments of time and money in the product are generating significant benefits to the property.
“We were I think the first in the country to use this and one of the challenges was to figure out how to do things,” said Buddy Frank, vice president of slot operations. “We did a focus group early on to figure out whether the window should be on the left, right, top or bottom. Then we had compatibility issues with a few machines. We’re well down the road from that now and it’s pretty much bullet-proof on manufacturers that have accepted Bally’s protocols. Right now, that includes Aristocrat and Konami. I’m pretty close with Multimedia and a few others. I still haven’t had official approval from WMS and IGT, but I have it on a couple of banks of their machines and it works really well.”
Pechanga settled on putting the window on the right-hand side of the screen. In the future, it will build a right- and left-hand preference into its tracking system and have it vary.
Implementation has been eased by Bally’s “one throat to choke” philosophy. “One thing I like is that the window is totally controlled by the Bally system,” said Frank. “They simply intercept the video signal, resize and remap it and drop their window in, so you don’t have to mess with the game at all which is a tremendous advantage to me. We’re on or fourth or fifth iteration with this window product. We just put it on the central system and it downloads to all the different manufacturers’ machines. Since they have separated the windowing from the game itself, it also has less regulatory exposure. When we get changes to that windowing software, it doesn’t really affect the game, whereas changes to the chip that affect the game often have to pass through the regulatory process. I like the elegancy of that.”
One of the simplest benefits is the ability to update welcome messages on the DM screen instantly, said Frank. “We update every two weeks or more often as necessary. In the past, you used to have to send out the techs to put in a little content card, now it’s pushing a button,” he said. “We welcome by name, with points, and also say, ‘don’t forget the concert tonight,’ or, ‘try the one-time buffet special.’ If the hotel has vacancies we can say, ‘Rooms tonight, $50 just for you.’ You have the ability to change your marketing message rapidly.”
TOURNAMENTS, RACES & FOOTBALL
Frank is also a big fan of the flexibility iVIEW DM has given him with tournaments. No longer does he need to allocate space to 70 or 80 of the same games that go unused during non-tournament hours, nor does he have to spend time and money putting special chips in tournament games, renting them from a vendor or warehousing them to liven up a dead area of the floor.
“The dream always was, why couldn’t I just take a section of the floor with a mixture of machines from multiple manufacturers, have them instantly become tournament machines and then go back to normal,” said Frank. “If players see different players playing different games in a tournament, they’ll think it’s unfair. I need all those machines to be the same in tournament mode and different when the tournament is over. The DM allows me to do that. I’ve got a bank of machines that is a competitive mix of product and, at the switch of a button, the window opens the entire screen and each full screen has the same video slot machine on it for a tournament. No matter what cabinet they’re on they’re playing the same game. Then when it’s over, we turn the switch again and they’re back to playing the original game. That’s just really cool, and something I wish I had years ago.”
Other bonusing events that Pechanga has used with success are virtual horse racing and the wheel spin, and Frank has developed proprietary products such as a birthday bonus (a birth date is displayed and customers born in that date, month, and/or year receive various prize levels) and a fantasy football product that will be introduced this fall.
“The birthday bonus is a very old school promo that I’ve used many times, but I did it all manually,” he said. “We had to post it with little numbers on a board and verify drivers licenses. But what it does is extend play. The system knows your birthday already because you have a card and you get an automatic $10 in free play. As with the horse race, if you’re playing next to someone who qualifies, you wonder how you can get into that as well; it’s a real incentive to get into the club.”
The fantasy football product is a third-party application developed by Las Vegas-based Fantasy Sports Promotion. Club members will receive a randomly selected roster of active NFL players which will be scored every 10 seconds from Thursday to Sunday based on actual player performance. Various tiers of prizes from the Top 20 on down will be distributed every week. “We’ll start that manually but it will all be automated on the DM window,” said Frank. “Also, you’ll be able to check your scores on your iPad, iPhone, Android or your at-home Internet. So it kind of takes your tie-in to the casino home.”
Pechanga has 1,200 of its 3,500 machines on iVIEW DM, and the plan is to add another 600 this budget period. The virtual horse race works on the DM window and the iVIEW, so, when it runs, every machine in Pechanga displays it, but “it looks better on the DM window,” said Frank. The tournament application only runs on DM machines.
The property uses overhead screens to display qualifying thresholds, but not necessarily on the slot machine during play because, “guests can choose to close that window if they want, which I like. You don’t want to force that thing open all the time,” said Frank. “So we display the threshold around the casino and when you’re playing there’s a little message that scrolls across the bottom of the screen that says you’ve qualified. With some of these bonuses, there’s a little education that happens, but once they do it, then they’re hooked.” SM