Gaming manufacturers deliver new, innovative twists on video poker

Gaming developers and suppliers know to tread lightly when creating new video poker games. The gaming machine graveyard is littered with products that colored a little too far outside the lines for most video poker players.

That said, video poker players have embraced some innovations that add more opportunities to win, or more variety to the gaming experience while preserving the traditional game. Action Gaming Founder Ernie Moody’s Triple Play Poker, for instance, spread like wildfire when it was introduced in 1998, creating a whole new category of video poker games exclusively manufactured and distributed by IGT.

“I think familiarity is what makes a good game. Video poker players are comfort players in my mind. They want to know what they’re playing,” said David Shultz, director of video game development for Las Vegas-based Bally Technologies. “The successful specialty video poker games take what the players know and enhance it.”

Bally Technologies’ GameMaker offers a host of video poker, blackjack, keno and video slots.

Bally Technologies offers a complement of its popular poker games, plus keno, blackjack and some video slots on its GameMaker multigame product, now also available in a high-definition, widescreen format. GameMaker HD also offers a Super Progressive that allows operators to link a game with multiple denominations. It offers one external controller and up to four additional progressive controllers each with up to eight unique progressive levels.

Bally’s multihand Pick ’Em Poker game is one video poker product that has generated a loyal following.

“Pick ’Em Poker game has resonated with video poker players,” Shultz said. The 10-hand video poker game lets players choose between one and 10 hands each game, with each hand played with a different 52-card deck.

Video poker players who play Pick ’Em enjoy its high hit frequency, he said.

“In the spots where video poker is very, very popular – Nevada, New Jersey, Ontario – Pick ’Em is very, very popular,” Schultz said.

IGT’s Super Times Pay gives video poker players the opportunity to enjoy a bonus multiplier of 2X to 10X their winnings.

Change, but not too much

Making incremental wagers for multihand games such as Pick ’Em Poker doesn’t represent such a major leap for video poker players anymore. “Players are willing to do that because they like those big play opportunities, Schultz said.

Video poker players are a unique breed, according to John Daley, director of video poker for International Game Technology. “They don’t like drastic change,” he said, noting casinos often face complaints from players even when they merely want to move a bank of video poker games to another location on the slot floor.

Developing a great video poker game requires a delicate balancing act – to, in effect, “change it but keep it the same.”

“The key is to try to pique their interest and grab their attention without running them off or scaring them off – to keep things fresh without changing them too much,” Daley said.

Triple Play Poker represents a great example of video poker innovation done right. “Triple Play Poker was probably the single biggest market changer that there was,” Daley said. “Of course it was wildly successful and still is.”

The reason for its success, he said, is its simplicity and the simplicity of the variations that followed. “It was really their [video poker players’] same game. They just got to play three, five, 10 hands all it once. It didn’t take a strategy change.”

The success of Triple Play and other multihand games has helped in getting players to accept incremental wagers. Daley noted that giving value for the incremental bet is essential. “The players have to see the value of that incremental bet and see that they get whatever that bonus is or feature that they’re paying for often enough.”

Super Times Pay and Ultimate X Poker represent two of IGT’s most popular video poker products, Daley said, noting the installed base of both together accounts for some 2,500 games.

IGT’s Super Times Pay Poker has captured solid support from players, Daley said.

IGT’s Super Times Pay multiplier concept came from a third-party developer Raw Thrills Inc. IGT combined the concept with multiple-hand games developed by IGT partner Action Gaming to offer the Super Times Pay game that allows players to choose among Triple Play, Five Play and Ten Play options.

With Super Times Pay, players play their favorite multihand video poker games with the pay table they normally play using this “buy-a-pay” pay-table model, and enjoy a bonus multiplier of 2X to 10X their winnings. Players bet six coins per hand to qualify for the Super Times Pay multiplier feature that awards up to 10X the standard pay. For instance, if a player hits a 3 of a kind and receives a 3X Super Times multiplier, the player would win 45 credits, instead of just 15.

IGT touts Ultimate X Poker as offering the potential for more action than any other multihand video poker. The Ultimate X multiplier feature, available with base multihand games of Triple Play, Five Play and Ten Play, offers a buy-a-pay wager that qualifies players for bonus multipliers – from 2X to 12X. A bonus multiplier is awarded to each active hand ending in a winning combination. The value of the multiplier is determined by the pay schedule and is applied to any wins received in that hand in the next game. This feature, the company says, makes Ultimate X Poker a theme in which each successive hand is almost guaranteed to be more exciting than the last.

Players love the opportunity to receive the bonus multiplier for their winnings, Daley said. “For an extra credit played per hand, they see it [the multiplier] quite often.”

One of the newest IGT video poker products, Build a Wheel poker, builds on the success of Wheel Poker games.

“I suspect Build a Wheel will be almost as popular as Ultimate X and Super Times Pay,” Daley said.

IGT’s Build a Wheel video poker game represents one of its newest entrants coming into the video poker market.

Build a Wheel is essentially a variation on IGT’s popular Wheel Poker games, but in this case, players create their own wheels. At the beginning of the game, just two slices on the wheel are filled with bonus amounts. Each time the player is dealt three of a kind or better, another slice on the wheel fills. When all slices are filled, the wheel spins for bonus credits.

Another interesting twist occurs when a player is dealt a full house or better. When that happens, all the slices fill and the player receives an immediate bonus spin of the wheel. The base game features standard video poker pay tables, while an extra wager pays for the bonus event. “It just adds a little bit more of an interesting, different dynamic,” Daley said. “We’re giving them a little bit more excitement. It certainly increases the risk and reward.”

Another video poker game that has shown promise for IGT is Quick Quads, a single-hand incremental wager game. In that game, a sixth-coin wager activates a feature that allows two card values to be added to complete four-of-a-kind hands. For example, a player who gets a hand of 5-5-5-2-3 will receive a payout for a four of a kind because the 2 and 3 add up to 5.

“In some places it’s got a really good following; in other places not as much,” Daley said.

Now it is coming out in a 100 Play version, and that may boost its popularity, said Daley, who notes he plays it when he visits M Resort Spa Casino in Las Vegas. “It’s probably going to be really strong in 100 Play.”

Daley noted that another key to extra wager video poker games is that if a player doesn’t want to play the bonus feature of the game, the player doesn’t have to play it. “You just don’t get the feature of the game, and there’s not really a penalty for not playing it.”

While video poker players tend to hate major change, there is interest in seeing a little bit of something new, Daley said. IGT usually releases between 10 or 15 new video poker games a year. Not all make it, he said.

It’s always a challenge to get video poker players to even try a new game, so introducing a game can be tricky. “We have to be very careful that we don’t stray too far from their game,” Daley said. “You’ve got to make sure that it catches their interest and offers value. They’ve got to see the value in their first introduction or they’re not going to play it.”

Sometimes IGT will retool and relaunch a product that initially showed potential but didn’t take off in an initial introduction, but those face an uphill battle for acceptance, Daley said. “You see a box you’ve already played and you didn’t have a good experience, you’re not as likely to go back to that,” he explained.

American Gaming Systems recently acquired all rights, trademarks and patents for Pay it Again Poker game for exclusive distribution to its customers and installed base of AGS machines.

Innovation infusion

Truly new innovations in video poker don’t come along that often, so when American Gaming Systems’ Robert L. Miodunski spied game developer Rocco Tarantino’s Pay it Again Poker video poker game at last November’s Global Gaming Expo, he immediately saw its potential to hit the right notes with video poker players.

“We saw this game at G2E and it was definitely a ‘wow’ moment. I think those of us who have seen thousands of slot and poker games come and go are very encouraged when something really jumps up and makes you take notice,” said Miodunski, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Las Vegas-based American Gaming Systems.

The company announced in February that it has acquired all rights, trademarks and patents for Pay it Again Poker game from Tarantino for exclusive distribution to its customers and installed base of AGS machines.

The game features a 10-coin max bet and unique bonus payouts for commonly hit video poker hands. For instance, if a player hit a flush, that player would have 20 hands to make another flush. If that happened, the player could earn an additional bonus of approximately 300 credits.

The game has five bonus payouts along with the ones typically found in video poker. The bonus payouts are Two Pair, 3 of a Kind, Straight, Flush, Full House and 4 of a Kind. As long as a player is playing six to 10 credits, when that person hits those hands again within a specified number of hands, the payout is much larger than the normal payout for that hand.

“It’s a good fit for AGS because we have a large installed base of mostly revenue-share games in Oklahoma and that route needs regular refreshing with new content,” Miodunski said. “Pay it Again Poker fits into our strategy of acquiring creative new content while also developing our own titles through our existing internal game team.”

Miodunski said he recognizes that video poker players can be tough to please but believes that Pay it Again Poker has what it takes.

“What’s special about this game is there is a real incentive for the first time to play 10 coins,” he said. “I know 10-coin games have been a hard sell in the past, but in this case that extra wager is largely returned to the player through the bonus payout that occurs within a certain number of hands after hitting some of the more basic poker hands. Plus, the double-double version really provides for a great bonus for hitting a second four of a kind during that set number of hands.”

A recent focus group confirmed American Gaming Systems’ hunch, he said.“We did have a chance to solicit real feedback from players right off the floor of a top Las Vegas locals casino, and the improvements that resulted from that session I think will make the game even better,” Miodunski said of the game, which will soon be submitted to Nevada regulators.

Among other recent video poker innovations is WMS Gaming’s Big Event Poker, which includes a two-coin incremental wager on a community bonus round. A two-coin extra wager offers players a chance at one of four community bonus events – new experiences for video poker players.