For decades, slot tournaments have been a useful tool both to reward loyal customers and to bring dedicated slot players into the casinos. But from the beginning, they either required maintaining a bank of special tournament machines or, as a tournament approached, roping off an area of the slot floor and changing game chips and reel strips so all entrants could play the same game.
“When we did our research on [the Bally DM tournament system] a couple of years ago, we asked slot directors, ‘Why don’t you use tournaments more often if they’re so successful?,’” said Ted Keenan, director of systems product management at Bally Technologies. “And the overwhelming answer at that time was they were a hassle. They were difficult to set up, they were difficult to manage.”
Advancements in technology are eliminating that hassle, involving not only game setup but player signup, scorekeeping and division of awards. All are automated in systems including Bally’s DM, International Game Technology’s Tournament Manager, Multimedia Games’ TournEvent and Konami Gaming’s True-Times Tournaments.
With the new ease of slot tournament setup come extras to enhance player involvement and excitement, such as real-time leader boards, video of players in action and new tournament formats. The games included also have to be right. Part of the fun for players is seeing a high frequency of big-paying combinations, and when the payoff is in tournament points rather than cash, operators are happy to offer that experience. Modern tournament systems allow the efficient change to high-paying tournament-style games and back to revenue-producing games.
“We don’t have a scientific study, but anecdotally, I think because of these systems, there seems to be a resurgence in interest in tournaments,” said Joe Sigrist, vice president of game development and global product management at IGT. “I think there is a belief that these are being done more frequently and that, in a sense, the technology has infused new life in the tournament concept as a promotion for the operator.”
TRIED AND TRUE
Every tournament system manufacturer has its own particulars. At Konami Gaming, Inc., True-Time Tournaments are delivered by KONAMI’s SYNKROS management system. It uses the picture-in-picture capability of the company’s True Time Windowing Hardware, and allows tournament games to be played on the full game screen of any touch-screen enabled machine.
Included is a Tournament Director module that is designed to manage operational functions such as tracking players, leader board management and tournament start and end times. Players can earn tournament entries based on criteria established in the Advanced Incentives Bonusing Engine and can be based on variables including amount wagered, machine denomination, game type, particular day of the week, gender, ZIP code or new card sign-up
Through a Player-on-Demand function, competitors can play as they earn entries without being tied to specific tournament times or locations.
“Depending on how the tournament is set up and designed, players are able to receive multiple entries into a particular tournament and compete to achieve their best score,” according to Michael Ratner, director of product management-systems at Konami Gaming. “A player will be notified of their tournament entry via the same messaging service that alerts players about other incentives earned.”
“Player-on-Demand tournaments allow players to play their tournaments at will and at their convenience,” Ratner added. “Once the player inserts their player card into a machine that is capable of playing tournaments, they will be able to then retrieve their entry and elect to play their tournament on demand. Once the tournament game has completed, the game will switch over to normal game play. Tournament leader boards will track and automatically rank players as new scores are posted onto the leader board.”
THE BIG EVENT
Multimedia Games has brought a flow of upgrades and innovations since adopting the TournEvent name in 2009 for a system that grew from an earlier product called Casino Commander. At Global Gaming Expo 2013, new features included a holiday games package that includes Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Spring and Halloween themes, as well as a wireless tablet that allows operators to run all features and functions on a wireless basis. That includes the ability to register players via a card swipe device on the tablet.
TournEvent is a turnkey promotional system that enables casinos to convert in-revenue slot machines to tournament games in less than 60 seconds. With the conversion capability, casinos can run tournaments in high-traffic areas, where all customers can see the excitement, then convert the machines back to in-revenue games immediately after tournament play is finished. There are 210 TournEvent installations with more than 3,200 electronic gaming machines across the United States. The success of its product has allowed Multimedia to run a national TournEvent of champions, in which a player from Grand Casino Mille Lacs in Minnesota won the $100,000 first place prize in the national finals at the Palazzo in Las Vegas last October.
“It may sound crazy but we have changed the traditional slot tournament ‘stance,’” said Linda Trinh, director of marketing and promotions for Multimedia games. “In the past, players would just aimlessly hit the play button but with TournEvent we have players who are out of breath, sweating and absolutely loving it.”
“TournEvent adds an interactive spin on the traditional slot tournament play with our ‘Pop’n’ Win’ feature, where players physically have to hit balloons or targets on the screen for additional points,” Trinh added. “After being in the field and visiting 77 casinos just this year for TournEvent of Champions, some players we’ve talked to have told us they have a very particular way of playing TournEvent tournaments—some need to stand up with one hand hovering over the play button and the other over the game screen and others have called it their ‘bongo drum’ stance with both hands tapping the play and max bet button while hitting the balloons.”
Bally Technologies runs its DM tournament application through its iView technology suite. Through the iView, Bally tournament games can run full-screen on machines from any manufacturer, a capability used to great fanfare in April when the Guinness Book of World Records certified a 3,001-player event at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut both as the world’s largest slot tournament and as the most machines running the same game simultaneously.
“The basic thing about our DM tournament product is that it’s unique in that any IVDM-equipped machine can be converted to a tournament machine in a matter of seconds,” Keenan said. “So we’ve had casinos that have successfully run DM tournaments on Aristocrat, Konami, WMS, IGT, and of course Bally machines. Most any manufacturer’s cabinet, if it supports IVDM, it’ll support the tournament product.”
There are eight DM games designed for various tournament formats, including both video slot and video poker games. Keenan points to Bally’s experience in developing the math that keeps players excited about tournament play.
“For years and years and years, Bally has been developing tournament games, we’ve been able to take all that tournament math we’ve learned over the years, and put it into our tournament products,” he said. “It’s not just a rehash of games that we’ve done; these are proven math models for tournaments.”
“The other key part for our product is being part of an integrated system, being part of that floor system and the player tracking system the casino already has, it allows the DM tournament product to have automated player enrollment so all the players have to do is insert their card and we can verify that they are in fact is eligible,” Keenan added. “So in terms of administration, the DM tournament product is much easier for that operator to administer. Once that eligibility is taken into consideration, then you have things like the automated scoring, the scores kept by the system and you’re getting real-time updates on the game screens as well as on the signage. That really helps in that it makes the entire tournament process easier for the operator.”
Currently, DM tournament installations are all at casinos that use Bally floor management systems. However, Keenan said, “We now have a product we’re rolling out called Tournaments Express that will be a tournament product for non-Bally floor systems. So any of our casino customers, whether they’re a game customer or a floor system customer, will be able to use DM tournaments.”
At IGT, Sigrist said, “Our main product in this area is our Tournament Manager solution. We call it our Tournament Management system, which is a centralized web-based application that streamlines the management administration of tournaments in a software solution. It really manages things both from a player perspective and from the operator perspective, so from a player perspective, there’s no need to sign up on a clipboard. You can use a kiosk or go to a work station that’s part of the product or do a card swipe at the management terminal to automatically sign yourself up. From a player perspective it’s really easy to get involved and sign up for a tournament.
“Our solution requires versions of games that are optimized for tournaments as opposed to the normal revenue-generating version,” Sigrist added. “So whether it be Siberian Storm or one our video poker products, we customize the games to create a tournament version. But those are very easy to deploy. With our server-based solution that’s a very easy thing to do; to quickly upgrade a set of machines to have that version of the game available.”
Sigrist pointed to real-time scoring, the elimination of clipboard signup, automated setup, establishing entry criteria—solutions to the old tournament hassle.
“One of the things we’re adding in our next version is the ability for an iPad swipe to signup for a tournament,” he said. An attendant or a casino employee could be walking around, generating interest in a tournament, and if somebody’s interested they could simply hand over their players card to swipe on an accessory on an iPad. Again, it’s more convenience, greater automation for doing a sign-up.”
Sigrist said the system is evolving, with features that change the way tournaments are played.
“The idea behind tournaments is to have players in the casino and engaged in the tournament, to be able to have them spend time there to go to the next round and hopefully the round after that,” he said. “But what happens when your round is not a very high-scoring one? You lose interest and you won’t stick around. But we have a wild card feature, which is the ability to have a randomly chosen, lower scoring, non-qualifying player or set of players be chosen to go to the next round. It adds fun and excitement to the tournament and gives people who didn’t have a great round a reason to stick around and see if they were chosen.”
And while installations are growing, with Sigrist pointing to an Italian placement as IGT’s first in Europe, there’s plenty of room for growth.
“Based on our understanding of the market, there still are a lot of operators who either don’t do tournaments or do tournaments in the manual way,” Sigrist said. “Our estimate of the market is there’s less than 25 percent of applicable properties have an automated solution. I think this speaks to this trend of automating tournaments still being somewhat new and that, I think, we’re going to see the market for this continue to expand.”