Casino operators and slot manufacturers are exploring ways to energize the slot floor and make the player’s experience more personal, meaningful and enjoyable.
“Obviously the big challenge is to design a product that appeals to the core demographic and try to pull in some new players,” said Phil Gelber, vice president of game development for Waukegan, Ill.-based WMS Gaming.
The need to satisfy the video slot player’s thirst for new games is a challenge for manufacturers and operators. “Gone are the days where people go to their old favorite game. You still have some mechanical space where that’s probably true in some places, but video there’s really not a lot of loyalty to the game. So truly our jobs as game designers is really to kind of come up with always something new to keep moving the industry forward from a game play perspective.”
Now it hopes to break new ground with its Pirate Battle competitive team gaming experience, part of its Metascreen products. It’s just one of many new games, products and technologies gaming manufacturers are deploying to take the slot experience to a new level. What’s presented here is just a sampling of some of the creative new directions moving the industry forward.
Pirate Battle consists of four side-by-side Bluebird xD cabinets with special overhead monitor screens. The monitors join to form a massive, singular screen on which competitive Team Compete to Win bonus rounds play out at a bank-wide level.
“We did our first compete-to-win product with Reel ’em In about two years ago. That was a community game, but people had an individual pursuit.” That was followed last year with Monopoly Bigger Event, which involves collaborative gaming, in which one person on the bank of games really controlled the destiny for the rest of the bank of games. “Now, with Pirate Battle, the goal is to really take all that to the next level,” Gelber said. “So what we did was create a unique package of four screens and really kind of create this red team versus blue team pirate battle.”
The graphics- and sound-rich product involves a community free spin bonus, in which players have their own individual pursuit on the reels, and if one team member gets five treasure chests, both teammates share a jackpot. “At the same time, you’re competing against the opposite team to try to sink their ships to try to get their treasure chests jackpots so you can then share those.” Gelber said Pirate Battle was expecting its first regulatory approvals in June and to start rolling out in GLI jurisdictions this summer and then make its way into other jurisdictions such as Nevada and New Jersey.
Casino operators, he said, like the presentation and the fact that Pirate Battle uses WMS’ Portal Technology that will allow WMS to put this Pirate Battle experience over a variety of current and new base games. “It’s a big new, larger than life experience that always kind of draws people in, but also we can draw people in with very familiar games as well as add new games to the bank and still keep the pirate battle portal running.”
Using its Lord of the Rings Twin Towers game, Player’s Life creates an online destination for players that would in turn drive play back to the casino. “Players like the fact that they can go home, play a casual game and unlock a bonus round in the casino.”
Chris Satchell, chief technology officer of International Game Technology, said he believes game designers must reach out to develop products targeting different segments of slot players. “Some like familiarity; some like high volatility,” he said. One thing is clear – “there is an increased focus on the gaming experience. They’re not disregarding gambling but they like their gambling experience to be richer,” Satchell said.
Having the right brands can bring new players into the fold. “Players want a brand that gets them excited,” Satchel said. “You’ve got a player who really wants that deeper, richer game play experience. What they’re going to start expecting is a connected experience where people think, ‘Well OK, I’m part of something. Center Stage tries to deliver that with Wheel of Fortune and its communal bonus,” he said.
He also sees the need for a hipper, physical experience on the gaming floor going forward. “I don’t think you’ll get Gen x and Gen y males if all you do is add a communal experience. It’s going to have to include how the physical area is on the gaming floor”.
“There has to be more of that physical cool, communal experience, with lounges, clubs and table games. If you really want to address the male side, you’re really going to have to address several things at the same time,” Satchell said.
In the future, he believes casino operators and slot vendors may partner in creating such environments.
For now, one way IGT is reaching out to a male demographic is through its development of a slot game based on the hit movie, “The Hangover.”
The game IGT has developed offers more interactive bonuses, he said. “Giving people more choices in the game and giving them more ways to interact can really add to the gaming experience,” he said.
For instance, in The Hangover game, one of the bonuses features a stun gun experience. “It’s hard to play it without laughing,” Satchell said. “We had a prerelease of the game and people just loved playing that game, getting to play the scenes, seeing the clips and hearing the music is really resonating with people.”
Making the gaming experience more engaging for players is at the forefront of what Bally Technologies is doing with its products.
“One of the areas we’re looking at is to bring interactive gaming into the space,” said Bryan Kelly, senior vice president of technology, Bally Technologies, and who heads its Innovation Lab in Pleasanton, Calif.
One way it is doing that is through its iDeck multi-touch player interface that allows Bally to create more immersive and engaging player experiences by using multiple touch points on the gaming machine button deck and synchronizing with game play.
That includes a skill type of mechanical experience to make it “more of a fun interactive experience rather than just manipulate a button and see the outcome,” Kelly said.
Bally also will continue to much more with its iDeck, which can effectively become something akin to a virtualized arcade control.
Kelly notes the technology allows Bally to up the ante on a pick ’em bonus game. For instance, with its Fishing For Loot bonus, “now we have this ability that you’re not just directly picking that object, but you can create a bubble that will fly up and hit a fish, and [you can try to determine] which fish you hit. It adds an element of fun.”
The iDeck also allows a player to manipulate the spinning of a wheel or other gestures on the iDeck.
“Today you spin the button. We’ve demonstrated the ability that you can use a gesture on the iDeck and it gives them the feeling of control.”
Kelly noted other competitors are moving toward the virtual button deck, but he said, “We are ahead of the curve by a year and a half. Where the difference is going to be is how you use it, how the game mechanisms are going to come out.”
Kelly, whose background includes involvement in the arcade and early online casual gaming arenas, said Bally’s Innovation Lab has been important to game development because it affords his team the freedom to explore emerging trends and visualize what might be the next wave in gaming.
“The iDeck originated in the Innovation Lab,” he noted. Bally also has come up with a virtual Skeeball game. “It’s just fun watching it launch up. Those are timeless games. They’ve been out there for a hundred years. You can look at a lot of real existing games [that now] can be virtualized.”
Bally has released games in the past that use skill, including Pong, and Bally as well as others believe that it will be part of the gaming experience. “We know that that type of game where your skill will influence at least a portion of your payout and will be viable in at least some markets,” Kelly said.
Bally also has been at the forefront of system-driven bonusing and tournament gaming across the slot floor. At its annual Systems User Conference held at Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, Calif., the company demonstrated both its Virtual Racing bonusing across the floor and tournament play on different manufacturers’ games.
Kelly believes systems products such as Bally’s Virtual Racing helps differentiate a casino by creating new, exciting floorwide experiences. “It’s been a real big hit,” at both Pechanga and Barona Resort & Casino. “We think that’s really going to figure prominently in the future in community gaming,” he said. “It’s all about how do we create an event that creates excitement in a landbased casino. You’ve got to give them something different than they can get on their mobile phone or in their home.” SM