To say the least, it has been a rather hectic few months for Reno, Nev.-based slot giant International Game Technology (IGT), highlighted by the company’s $6.4 billion sale to Italy-based international lottery provider GTECH, a deal that is expected to close in 2015. In the meantime, executives from both companies are likely strategizing on how best to merge the two sprawling business entities.

Such deals are usually fraught with uncertainty, especially in the company that has been acquired, but you wouldn’t know it from a visit to the IGT booth at last month’s Global Gaming Expo (G2E) trade show and exhibition held in Las Vegas. The space was packed with an impressive array of new and re-imagined slot machines and systems, company executives excited to talk about these products, and swarms of visitors looking to view and test the gaming machines.

Joe Sigrist and IGT CEO Patti Hart cut the ribbon officially unveiling the Ellen DeGeneres slot machines at G2E.
Joe Sigrist and IGT CEO Patti Hart cut the ribbon officially unveiling the Ellen DeGeneres slot machines at G2E.

Joe Sigrist,vice president of game development for International Game Technology (IGT), took some time from a busy G2E schedule to sit and talk withCasino Journal Editor Paul Doocey about IGT’s latest and greatest games, and the company’s emphasis on re-inventing the reel slot experience for both players and operators. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:

At G2E this year, it appears IGT has delved really deep into the reel product. Why is that?

Sigrist: With the launch of our new mechanical-reel cabinet, the S3000, we made a very conscious effort to re-invent a really important but somewhat forgotten category, the mechanical-reel player. Our goal was to really re-invigorate that category; bring excitement to both the traditional mechanical-reel player and also attempt to attract the non-mechanical reel player by providing this amazing new cabinet that we are building lots of great content for.

What makes this reel cabinet different from what you have done previously?

Sigrist: I think the technology piece is really important. We made the cabinet very interactive and immersive. There are video displays that are integrated with the reels. There is a top video display that is completely touch. That video screen extends in front of the reels, so in the future you will see games where you actually interact with physical reels and can change symbols, colors and do all kinds of really interesting things because of the interactive nature of that screen.

The whole look of the cabinet is also different—the lights, the way the feel of the cabinet is represented. We use the analogy of the car: we can run it at 30 miles per hour with classic, three-reel, one-line games. We added bonus elements to some of those one-line games to make them a little more hip and maybe hit 50 miles per hour. And then we have five-reel games and things that run the car at 100 miles per hour.

I also noticed you have brought a community gaming element into this cabinet with special lighting and music…    

Sigrist: Yes, it’s not just about a cabinet, but creating a bank; an area on the floor that really speaks to the mechanical-reel audience. We have the ability with a simple Ethernet cable connection to link these cabinets together, and in attract mode, for instance, you can have this amazing light show to pull people into this bank or area. We have added sound that not only plays across the entire banks, but is synchronized with the lighting…to really bring a party atmosphere to the space.

What kinds of games and themes have you revised for these new mechanical reel machines?

Sigrist: For the mechanical space, first and foremost, we wanted to make sure the traditional mechanical-reel player was comfortable playing their favorite game on that cabinet, games like Red, White and Blue and Double Diamond. We made those games play the same, but we made them better because we have adapted them to the cabinet. We did usability tests; we took Double Diamond players from their classic favorite S2000 Double Diamond game and put them in front of the Double Diamond version that is on the S3000 and players, to a person, they said would rather play the game on the S3000.

We have also done some games that are really innovative in the three-reel multi-line and five-reel space. They make full use of the cabinet and are really entertaining…. [they help bring] the video player across.

Overall, our strategy was to make mechanical reel cool again. That is what we have been looking to accomplish.

I also noticed you have Centipede and other joystick-style games on the trade show floor. What type of player are you trying to attract with this slot line?

Sigrist: We are all looking to bring the non-traditional demographic onto the casino floor and that includes the younger player. For a couple of years now we have had our Video Reel Edge series that features a joystick on the cabinet. The player has the ability in the bonus rounds to play 100 percent skill to interact with the game in order to collect coins… they can do various skill-based elements using the joystick.

This year we’re showcasing Race Ace, which takes [the skill-based element] to the next level. It is a car race with animated fun characters. You chose your character and you are racing against the other characters for various levels of bonus awards.

Another video slot you’re showing on the floor is tokidoki. How did it come about?

Sigrist: We are always looking to expand our portfolio to include Asian-themed games. This is a licensed brand that not a lot of people know about, but the people that do are very passionate about it. It is called tokidoki and it is something very well-known in Asia and in places like Southern California were Asian games do quite well. It is a lifestyle brand and we work very closely with the licensor. The game is visually very different; it’s animated, it’s got great color, and it really brings out the best of these characters, which are part of the brand. We also set this game up to be more on the higher volatility side, because of the need to expand our portfolio toward more gambler-style games. We thought given the demographic for this game, we want the higher volatility profile.

Feedback has been great. In general, what operators have said is, “wow, that is different. Not sure, but I am glad you guys are doing games like this to really push the envelope of what is possible to be on our floor.”

Double Diamond in the new S3000 mechanical-reel cabinet; Race Ace for the Video Reel Edge machine; the tokidoki video slot machine concept.

A trio of new IGT slots: (left to right) Double Diamond in the new S3000 mechanical-reel cabinet; Race Ace for the Video Reel Edge machine; the tokidoki video slot machine concept.

You also have a new signage program that highlights the volatility of your slot products. Could you explain how that came about and what its goal is?

Sigrist: We have done some tests to use various imagery and icons to be able to message to the player the style of the game. It is always hard to be really precise about that within large categories and we have tried things like the roller coaster motif and how steep the roller coaster goes up and down. I think one of the things the industry needs to do is be better about communicating to the player what they should expect in a game before they put their first $20 in. These are things we are testing out and trying to do better.

IGT also introduced the Ellen DeGeneres line of slot machines at this year’s G2E. How did that deal come about?

Sigrist: We licensed the Ellen DeGeneres Show and that means Ellen DeGeneres as well. It is an example of us getting really excited about a license that we think really fits the demographic of casino players. At the same time, the theme is incredibly relevant. Folks know about her from her great Oscar Awards MC and the selfie and all that. Her show has been around 10 years and is at the height of its popularity. We worked very close with Ellen’s team; her writers and executive producers were involved in the creative process. We also used a SWAT team approach internally—we challenged a very highly capable group of people to come up with two different games with this license and develop them in less than a year so that not only can we show it here on the floor at G2E, but also take order and start installing it in November.

 It was a great example of a good license, creative ideas and then great execution by the teams.