Annual gaming show yields new crop of cool innovative products



Editor’s Note: John Grochowski scoured the exhibit floor at the 2009 Global Gaming Expo, seeking out the latest and greatest new games. What follows is a report on the products that stood out to him.

Year by year, competition among slot manufacturers has heated up, and all continue to step up their games.

The fruits of their labor were on display at the 2009 Global Gaming Expo, which came in mid-November, toward the end of one of the most challenging years ever for the gaming industry. And exhibit hall attendance at the event showed signs that the industry may be turning a corner.

Expo attendance was up 7.3 percent over the previous year, indicating that more casino executives were interested in checking out the exhibit floor for new games and other products for their gaming operations. Overall attendance at the entire event was about 26,000, down 3.5 percent, which organizers said was due primarily to fewer exhibitor personnel.

“The strong exhibit hall attendance at this year’s event is a testament to the gaming industry’s resilience in the face of significant challenges, and to the confidence our key decision-makers have in the future as they look to create the unforgettable entertainment experiences our patrons have come to expect,” said Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., president and chief executive officer of the American Gaming Association. “As always, G2E 2009 provided the optimal environment for gaming professionals to procure the products and services, professional knowledge and contacts they need to stay ahead of the curve and at the forefront of new ideas.”

Gaming manufacturers brought out their best at the event, all trying to make the case for gaming operators to spend limited budgets on their games.

“After last year’s show we felt we really wanted to rev up what we were doing,” director of marketing Julie Brown said while showing off IGT’s booth at Global Gaming Expo 2009. “As a company, we felt like we were a little bit staid. We had to do things differently. We blew up our whole games development process. We had one big group and we broke it into five different studios that now have a friendly competition against each other. And we’re seeing such great work coming out of those folks. There’s a renewed excitement and energy in who we are as a company and what we want to bring to the player and the operator.” IGT had some of the most buzzworthy products at the show, including Sex and the City game, and the new Center Stage series that is launching with The Wheel of Fortune Experience, and with American Idol to follow in March.

IGT’s competitors showed they haven’t slacked off by any means, with WMS stepping up with new versions of The Wizard of Oz as well as a Lord of the Rings epic, Bally Technologies impressing with its U-Spin technology and Aristocrat Technologies’ feature-rich Beat the Bandits among the highlights at G2E 2009.

More fun and creative coming attractions could be found throughout the G2E exhibit floor.

Here are a few highlights, some of the best new slot products from G2E 2009:

AC COIN & SLOT SERVICE

AC Coin put its emphasis on community-style fun, with creative bonus events. Phat Cats uses cascading reels on a free-spin bonus, all to the sounds of “The Stray Cat Shuffle.” In Rock and Roll Legend, targeted at a younger demographic, one of several guitarists wails away on a classic rock guitar, sending out notes that then rise to meet bonus rewards or multipliers.

“We kind of go at it a different style, because a lot of people will take the math of the base game, and then create a bonus event for it,” said Jason Seelig, AC Coin executive vice president of corporate sales. “We actually create the event first, and then match up the math to what we feel will be best for the event.”

AINSWORTH GAMING TECHNOLOGY

The Australian manufacturer has a growing presence in the United States, complete with a new license to supply slot machines in Nevada and the announcement that it would be opening a Las Vegas office.

In the last couple of G2Es, Ainsworth has caught the eyes of slot executives with its Play 50 Lines/Play 40 Lines slot products. This time, Play 100Lines was new to American expo-goers.

Already a success in Australia, Play 100Lines gives game designers extra flexibility for frequent pays. Ainsworth has been an innovator with its long stacked wild symbol arrays, and that combined with 100-line play and free game features mean there’s always something going on for the player.

ARUZE GAMING

A Freddy Mercury impersonator drew attention to the star of Aruze’s G2E show, Rock You Queen. It’s a little “We Are the Champions,” a little “We Will Rock You,” with a little “Bohemian Rhapsody on the side. Hits by the classic rockers play throughout the game, layered with bonus features and the dry-spell-breaking “Rescue Spin” that Aruze has refined over the last couple of years. On one bonus event, the Greatest Hits feature, players get to choose their volatility, selecting a number of free spins and a corresponding multiplier from five options.

Shoot to Win Craps is an automated version of the classic table game. Dice are under a central dome, and when it’s your turn to be the shooter, you push a button to roll the dice. Each player at the eight-seat console has a video screen with a display of the craps layout - touch the screen to make bets. Beginners aren’t left out. Touching space toward the bottom left of the screen will launch a screen with basic rules for beginners.

ARISTOCRAT TECHNOLOGIES

Beat the Bandits is a Wild West experience, down to the woodgrain-like laminate on the sides of each machine suggesting a saloon door, to the curtains opening and closing in the windows in the display above. The button panel is gold rather than silver, and bonus rounds all are keeping with the theme. You might start with a roll of the dice against Madam Red. If either of you roll doubles, it’s on to a secondary bonus - perhaps a shooting contest against Grandma, gunning bottles and cans off the rails. A mystery progressive jackpot starts at $1,000 and must hit by $1,199.

There’s a choose-your-volatilty aspect to a three-level secondary bonus round, as players choose whether to go for a bigger progressive prize, or whether to give themselves a better chance of winning.

“You can go for the big one if you want more risk, or you can go for a safer one,” said Doug Fallon, director of marketing. “If you don’t succeed, we’ve added a bulk increment that goes into the jackpot itself. So everyone can see wow, somebody just missed that one.The jackpot jumps and everyone says ‘Wow, I want to win that one.’ ”

Kiss My Cash, the follow-up to Aristocrat’s Jeff Foxworthy game, drew a lot of attention with its brand of country fun. A Backyard Beer Hunt sends the player searching through junk in the backyard- an old refrigerator, a doghouse, broken-down cars - to find beer for bonuses. In a truck pull, trucks are linked and sent driving in opposite directions, with a bigger bonus when your truck wins.

“The game’s just funny,” Fallon said. “It makes you laugh.”

ATRONIC/SPIELO

The fourth title in the Stargate series is based on another of the main characters, Teal’c. Now in an upright cabinet instead of a sprawling slant top, Stargate “is resonating with players a lot more than people thought it would,” said Michael Brennan, product marketing manager for North America. Stargate is available in both video and on the Passion stepper slots.

Director of product management Cindy Hovey pointed to the new GameBox multifunction controller as a buzzworthy product.

“What we’re so excited about is that it’s basically three types of controller in one,” she said. “It can do tournaments, running our Tournamaster product, it can do community gaming, and it can do a also do a linked progressive. It’s literally with a few keystrokes you can change from a linked jackpot and run a tournament just like that. No chip changes, no software changes, no technician has to come around. The other thing it does is it runs the media package, so you don’t need that second media director to run your overhead signs.”

BALLY TECHNOLOGIES

U-Spin is a nifty piece of technology, and Bally has used it for interactive fun in its Cash Spin and Vegas Hits games. On Cash Spin, on the V32 slot cabinet with its elongated window and which uses Bally’s iReels to overlay video images on the glass in front of mechanical reels, an image of a prize wheel appears on the screen. Touch the wheel and move your finger, and you can move the wheel forward or backward. A sharp pull of the finger gives the wheel a good spin - it behaves exactly as it would if you were spinning a real wheel.

Vegas Hits, on the tall Digital Tower platform that has been an eye-catcher with Fireball and 77777 Jackpot, features two physical wheels at the top of the unit. In the bonus event, a half-wheel appears on screen. This time, when you spin the virtual wheel by touch, a physical wheel starts spinning up top.

Away from the games, Bally introduced a nice piece of systems technology with Biometric Recognition in slot cabinets. “It features a miniature camera in every slot machine,” Laura Olson-Reyes, Bally director of corporate communication, said. “What’s exciting for us is the responsible gaming uses of that product, especially in public jurisdictions and jurisdictions like Canada where responsible gaming is really at the forefront. In a case of self-exclusion, if a player who has chosen to be excluded tries to play at the machine, it will recognize them and lock up.”

CADILLAC JACK

Along with extending its hit So Hot title to So Hot 40 Line, Class II giant, Cadillac Jack is particularly excited about its new dual-screen, high-resolution slot platform. Jared Torres, director of game development, said he believes the 1680x1050 wide-screen format and an enhanced sound system will bring its primary markets something they haven’t seen.

“We’re talking tribal locations such as Alabama, Washington. California and Oklahoma, which are the key markets for us, along with Mexico, which represents half of our business,” Torres said, while noting that Cadillac Jack product also is available in Class III markets. “We are going top introduce a couple of new products on that dual screen cabinet that will compete against regular standalone single-screen cabinets. So this is something that is extremely important to us, because it provides to our customers something they didn’t have before, which is a viable dual-screen product.”

INTERNATIONAL GAME TECHNOLOGY

Sex and the City combines technologies: It’s the first Megajackpots game to use the Multiplay system introduced last year, with four sets of video reels in action on the screen at the same time, leading to a five-level progressive jackpot and nine different bonus events. The new MEGAfx Surround Chair with five audio channels and shaker effects enhances a full sensory experience. With Chris Noth, “Mr. Big” on the hit “Sex and the City” TV show doing voiceovers and acting as host for the game, and graphics, sounds and video clips featuring all four female leads, fans of the show should love it.

Center Stage brings a gala opening night feel to the slot floor. One version features a 103-inch screen - try ignoring that - above a bank of machines, with a 70-inch screen also available. IGT’s hope is that casinos will install both versions, with the latest and greatest production going on the big screen while the previous game moves over to the 70-inch stage.

The Wheel of Fortune Experience takes three players at the bank into a community bonus round, mirroring three players on the TV game show trying to solve a puzzle. Bonuses are multiplied by a factor that weighs both wager and speed of play, so players are encouraged to bet it up. American Idol uses five sets of video reels per screen along with AI personalities Ryan Seacrest, Simon Cowell, Kara DioGuardi and Randy Jackson. Its community bonus on the big screen involves auditions from the TV show. Each player picks one of three judges, and the bonus rewards rise and fall with their comments on the audition. A particularly bad performance brings out Simon at his snarky best..

KONAMI GAMING

Always willing to try something a little different, Konami introduced the Advantage Revolution, with three-reel games and a three-sided display. Depending on where you are in game play, a mechanical display rotates - now you see reels, now you see a bonus wheel instead.

“We’re really focusing on not just great games, but what’s attracting players to the games,” said Leah Steinhardt, Konami marketing manager. “We’re very excited about this product. It’s definitely a specialty product, it’s not a bank of 10, but we definitely feel there’s nothing like that in the market."

MULTIMEDIA GAMES

Multimedia Games’ Casino Commander tournament system has been tweaked and rebranded TournEvent. Easy to go from regular play mode to tournament mode in minutes, TournEvent now comes with cameras in each cabinet to display player reactions on the overhead display. In the G2E demo, the screen up top would show standings, then focus in turn on each player in the top five - the occasional player would be caught watching the pictures rather than the reels.

Slot Car Speedway is Multimedia’s second community-style game, following the horse racing-themed Sport of Kings. Market research indicated players preferred cars with personality rather than realistic autos, so Slot Car Speedway has the sports car with attitude, the flirty pink car and others for a little player identification.

“It’s fun, interactive and runs about every five minutes,” chief marketing officer Ginny Shanks said. ”You earn tickets on the base game to get into the race. You pick your car now you have an emotional connection to the race.”

WMS GAMING

At G2E, WMS showed games that continue to build on its technological and creative successes in its Transmissive Reels, Commmunity Gaming, Sensory Immersion and Adaptive Gaming lines.

The Wizard of Oz, a huge hit as a Sensory Immersion game, spawned two successor games, The Wizard of Oz: Follow the Yellow Brick Road, and The Wizard of Oz: Ruby Slippers. Follow the Yellow Brick Road uses Transmissive Reels in Dorothy’s journey, yes, along the yellow brick road as she meets the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion. Ruby Slippers, a video Sensory Immersion extravaganza where each of the four main movie characters trigger a different bonus event. Munchkins sing, the Wicked Witch brings thunder and lightning to the screen and, in the best of times, Dorothy enthuses, “It’s too wonderful to be true!”

“Those games are not coming off the floor,” said WMS executive director of marketing operations Candace Lucas, referring to the original Wizard of Oz games that continue to remain player favorites. “I can imagine these [new] games will be going onto the floor along with the games that players have come to love.”

In its private room, WMS was displaying Lord of the Rings, based on the first movie in the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy. It’s the first non-Star Trek title under the Adaptive Gaming umbrella - so far, Adaptive Gaming has consisted primarily of giving players the opportunity to unlock new Star Trek titles as they play. Lord of the Rings is a longer quest, with the chance to unlock up to eight bonus-event packages. On the plasma display overhead, a map of Middle Earth, with points on the quest highlighted, along with graphics and video from the first film draw players into the experience.

“The theme is beautiful,” Lucas said, “the graphics are amazing, and the feedback we’ve gotten from our customers so far is that they can’t wait to see this game on their floor.”