Picking the top gaming products of the year is never an easy task, but 2008 especially has shaped up to be one of the best years. Many significant gaming innovations took place this year, but one company seemed to be generating the most universal buzz for its products

Konami’s Advantage 5 with 3-D visual effects

Picking the top gaming products of the year is never an easy task, but 2008 especially has shaped up to be one of the best in recent memory.

But one company seem to be generating the most universal buzz this year for its products – WMS – and one game in particular stands out as an example for innovation and the move toward a new direction – and that’s Star Trek, featuring WMS’ Adaptive Gaming technology. The game allows players to unlock new “episodes” in the STAR TREK adventure and save their state so they can “pick up where they left off” on their next visit.

Robert Allen, corporate vice president of slot operations for Grand Casinos Minnesota, said he initially thought the game would do well but might not have a universal appeal. That turned out not to be the case, he said. “We’re seeing players attracted to that across the whole range of demographics. It’s driving some of the strongest numbers we have on our floor,” Allen said.

Allen also gave WMS kudos for its Wizard of Oz Sensory Immersion game for being the best game on the Grand Casino slot floors. “Wizard of Oz is probably the best game we’ve ever had – it’s the convergence of art and science that nobody else can do. The theming just has great appeal across all demographics. Right now, with the economy, I think players are wanting to escape into a happier time.”

WMS plans to follow those successes with 2009 games such as Time Machine, Super Multipay and Lucky Penny.

Star Trek features WMS’ Adaptive Gaming technology

Nipping close on WMS’ heels this year is International Game Technology, with its REELdepth video slot games. Allen witnessed their performance firsthand as they were first installed in September at two Grand Casinos properties in Minnesota – Grand Casino Hinckley and Grand Casino Mille Lacs.

REELdepth video slots use Multi-Layer Display technology, a layering of two or more Liquid Crystal Displays that creates the visual effect of true depth without the use of 3-D glasses.

With REELdepth, IGT has created a product that gives gaming operators flexible configuration options, and a gaming product that will still have legs in a networked-gaming world.

Players can switch between three-, four-, and five-reel virtual spinning-reel games, to video slots and video poker all on the same machine. REELdepth games also have virtual reels that mimic the look and vibration of their mechanical counterparts, so traditional slot players will feel comfortable playing them.

The initial REELdepth games rollout includes nearly 70 of IGT’s classics, as well as several new AVP (Advanced Video Platform) themes.

“It is hugely popular on our floors with players,” Allen said. And since the Grand properties are all video, it gives Allen the opportunity to put already-proven reel titles on his floor in a video capacity and offer players an experience they otherwise couldn’t get.

“It’s got all the good things that you can do with a video but with the appearance of a stepper,” he said.

IGT's REELdepth video slots use Multi-Layer Display technology

Just a few of the other many interesting games and platforms capturing the attention of operators and players alike are Konami’s eye-catching Advantage 5 reel slots, which actually started making their way onto floors a year ago; Bally Technologies’ new million-dollar wide-area-progressive link for Class II, and Aristocrat Technologies’ Viridian Cabinet.

Players are attracted to Konami’s eye-catching Advantage 5, featuring five full-size spinning reels, and incorporating top-box lighting with 3-D visual effects and back-lit reels.

In October, Bally launched the first million-dollar wide-area progressive link in the history of Class II gaming at the Riverside Casino in Wetumpka, Ala.  The new Class II link went live on Oct. 22 with the installation of 10 of Bally’s new 1,000,000 Degrees multi-progressive games.

 “This is the first time anyone has offered this type of linked progressive game in the Class II market and reaffirms Bally’s commitment to investing in innovative product development for the Native American market,” said Gavin Isaacs, chief operating officer of Bally Technologies. “We are also launching this groundbreaking new Class II link with a brand new multi-progressive gaming product designed to appeal to players with its top million-dollar jackpot prize.” 

Bally plans to rapidly deploy this new Class II wide-area progressive link to additional Native American gaming properties throughout the country and capitalize on opportunities to place the product across the globe.

Aristocrat’s VIRIDIAN cabinet is proving to be a groundbreaking product, said Sean Evans, Aristocrat senior vice president of sales. Its success, he said, can be attributed to unique features as its dynamic scorecard, easy-play interface, and high impact cabinet presence.

Bally launched the first million-dollar wide-area progressive link

The VIRIDIAN cabinet is designed for optimal player comfort and operator serviceability and features a slimmer footprint, high resolution dual LCDs and unique, wrap-around belly art. VIRIDIAN embraces environmentally responsible design and production methods, resulting in a 100 percent RoHS-compliant product and increased energy efficiency.

Driven by an Intel processor, the innovative GEN7 platform features dynamic scorecards and an enhanced Easy Play on-screen interface, including player-selectable denominations. The new platform uses Smart card and flash card technology, and, in addition to offering an enhanced player experience, GEN7 paves the way for downloadable, server-based and wireless gaming, supporting the technology of today while driving the technology of the future.

Server-based gaming continued its forward press in 2008. IGT’s sbX Service Window and Bally’s Display Manager, are products gaming operators see tremendous value in. Operators and manufacturers say these will unlock the power of secondary experiences, such as second ways to win, customized content, marketing opportunities, and other service-oriented features. They also can provide a platform for third-party developers to create innovative content.

Recently, IGT and Las Vegas Gaming Inc. (LVGI) settled a lawsuit over intellectual property and announced a strategic alliance for LVGI to provide software applications on IGT’s Service Window and  on it's NexGen interfaces.

 “The strategic alliance with IGT makes a great deal of sense because a networked gaming floor gives us the opportunity to put very, very robust software applications out there that truly enhance the player experience,” said Jon Berkley, president and CEO of LVGI.

Community games, such as IGT’s eBay and WMS’ Press Your Luck, continued to find a strong niche on gaming floors, as the industry seeks to reach out to the younger player weaned on Xbox and Nintendo PlayStation games.

One of the more unique gaming concepts to debut this year is Personalized Gaming, from gaming developer Acres-Fiore Inc. Acres-Fiore has written more than 30 patent applications centered on a new technology the firm is calling Personalized Gaming, which automatically adapts the behavior of gaming machines to the physiographic profile of each player. “Players are individuals, and respond best to an individually customized gaming experience. No longer must players wander the casino in search of a suitable game. When a player sits down at a game built with Personalized Gaming technology, its characteristics automatically adapt to that specific player’s personality,”Acres-Fiore CEO John Acres said in a news release announcing a development partnership with Bally Technologies. “Each game behaves differently for each player. Personalized Gaming technology revolutionizes the casino floor by delivering heightened emotional gratification to players while simultaneously increasing play volume and profits for casinos. This requires a truly advanced and extensible platform on which to run.”

He said Bally’s Alpha Game Platform, combined with its Networked Floor of the Future, is the first platform powerful enough to deliver the promise of Personalized Gaming. The company planned to introduce the first of these games, Paychaser and Members Bonus, in southern California tribal casinos before the end of the year.