At last year’s Global Gaming Expo (G2E), IGT was one of many large gaming manufacturers adapting to a recent megamerger; in this case with GTECH and its existing slot machine products lines. Fast forward to 2015 G2E and the merger has been completed with the new combined company, re-christened IGT, showcasing new product in the gaming machine, electronic table games, casino systems and iGaming markets.

Victor Duarte, global chief product officer, gaming for IGT took some time during G2E to sit with Slot Manager editor Paul Doocey and discuss IGT’s latest endeavors in the slot game realm, including an expansion of its highly successful  TRUE 3D™  and Wheel of Fortune® product lines, as well as the introduction of new licensed games. Here are some excerpts from this conversation:

IGT has really blown out the 3D slot machine concept. What new 3D concepts are you showcasing on this year’s G2E show floor?

Duarte: Well, to start, no matter what shiny new products you see on the floor at any booth at G2E this year, I still think our 3D is the best technology.

The first 3D game we launched was Sphinx 3D™. When we launched it, everyone thought the product was Sphinx 3D when it was actually the TRUE 3D product line with Sphinx as the first title. There was such an overwhelming response to it… we knew this was going to have a lot of demand and pull into the market, and we were very quickly going to build up an install base that was going to be significant. When it launched, we thought that 3D would work well with very high-entertainment games with rich bonus features that would leverage the 3D effect. So it was Sphinx and then Bejeweled, which we brought to market about a year later.

Our TRUE 3D product line, follows the concept of a machine configuration with a dedicated content stream.  The first content stream for TRUE 3D was these high-entertainment games. Last year, we decided to create a second content stream on the same product line, featuring more volatile games. Dragon’s Temple™ 3D, Aladdin’s Fortune™ 3D and Dreams of Asia™ 3D all came out under this format. But Sphinx and Bejeweled were doing so well…we held back on the high-volatility line; we kept those bullets in the chamber, so to speak.

This year we decided to do a few things to continue down those paths. So the entertainment-style content line now includes Plants vs. Zombies™ 3D Ancient Egypt, which I think will be the sleeper hit of the show. We also unveiled some new gambler-style games. On top of all though, we have also created a third content line, which are higher-denomination, stepper-reel like products. On the floor now we have Wheel of Fortune Double Diamond® 3D, which is a three-reel traditional stepper but is now a video product rendered in 3D so… it can have enhanced bonuses and other features. We also have a game called Return of the Sphinx 3D on the floor, which was a legacy GTECH stepper product. So now we have 10 TRUE 3D titles that are either issued to the market or are in some form of development and that is relatively well-balanced between entertainment-style, volatility-style and now emulated stepper-style. This product line has a lot of potential to expand on the floor because they can be targeted—maybe you put some of the entertainment product on a carousel or bank and place the volatility games somewhere else and then put the 3D steppers near the existing Wheel of Fortune area…

So you see 3D as something more than a gimmick, as something that has got legs on the slot floor of the future…

Duarte: Yes, and that is a pleasant surprise because we felt it could have been a niche product but we have found it to be so much more… it is not one of those large-format cabinet games of which you can only have one or two in a casino. I think you could have 10 or more of these machines on a floor if you are willing to separate them. The potential of this line is much more than we would have anticipated in that first year, and because of that, we have added all these content streams.

What’s the latest on the Wheel of Fortune theme? You have mentioned a 3D product, is there anything else going on with this line?

Duarte: Wheel of Fortune is another highlight of the show for us. This year we have 14 new Wheel of Fortune titles compared to 10 last year because we have expanded the product line. This year we have four new hardware platforms that Wheel of Fortune did not exist on one year ago.

This allows us to do a number of things. We are going to convert some of the existing Wheel of Fortune fleet already in the field into new titles. We can also now begin to expand or convert to new machines.

So we have got these four new hardware configurations and things like 3D which really adds a sizzle to it. We have released Wheel of Fortune Jackpot Paradise on our CrystalCore®   cabinet, and that has been performing very well in the field for the last couple of months since we have released it. On the floor now we have a 3D version of Wheel of Fortune, which is new hardware for Wheel of Fortune, and the CrystalWheel™ and the CrystalWheel stepper cabinets. So really we have four new cabinets that can reinvigorate that installed base going forward with an expanded title portfolio compared to prior years.

Wheel of Fortune is our flagship, and something we are really invested in from a hardware and content standpoint.

Last year IGT dug deep into upgrading stepper cabinets and content. How has that worked for you thus far?

Duarte: Not to sound too bullish, but it has been fantastic. It has brought loyalists from the S2000 machines over to the S3000 cabinet. There are a lot of smart operators out there who  take a “wait and see” approach, saying stepper players tend to stay loyal to their machines and are not easy to switch, but have been willing to try some out to see how they perform. And we have been fortunate in that they have performed very well. Out of the initial customers that tried the S3000, 20 percent have done repeat orders. There is a lot of buzz about it.

I think we have the best mechanical reel product on the floor today, but that does not mean we should be complacent. We are really investing in content to consolidate that leadership position. There are no free rides… it is a very competitive environment and I am very proud about what this team has done to release that product. I think it is the best in class, but we do need to continue to put new content in it. At this show, we have about 30 new games for that mechanical reel line. We are definitely amping it up.

What’s up next for the Ellen series of slot games? They made a big splash last year…

Duarte: Ellen allowed us to create some demand for the CrystalCore product as a recurring revenue product. We have nearly 1,000 units of that product line installed today, really on the back of two Ellen titles that were released a year ago. So the CrystalCore product line has had a huge penetration because of Ellen, but now we can offer it with Jackpot Party, which is a Wheel of Fortune concept, and we also offer Jurassic Park and House of Cards. We will continue to enhance that product portfolio so we can expand the penetration of that machine.

In addition to being on your CrystalCore cabinet, House of Cards is a new licensed theme you’ve unveiled at G2E, along with TMZ, Breaking Bad and Orange is the New Black. Why did IGT decide to license these television shows for slot content?

Duarte: You create a strategy for brands that augments your product line and content roadmap and then you go out there and try to get them. That is generally how it works…but of course there is the supply side, and you have to make sure that a company is willing to offer the brand for a slot machine—sometimes they are not—or that you win out the bid to obtain it. Both of these things have to come together—it has to work strategically with the product line and you also need to have a willing partner to work with you.  It also has to have content that is relevant to the casino gaming experience, such as particular visual icons and cues that translate well to gaming.

Are the four new licenses just for CrystalCore?

Duarte: No. At launch, TMZ and House of Cards will launch on CrystalCore. Orange is the New Black and Breaking Bad will launch on the Center Stage Duo. There are brand extension strategies we will consider going forward…like Ellen, which launched two games on CrystalCore and there is a third game on the floor now for CrystalCore. So we always consider additional extensions of that brand or maybe moving it to other hardware as well.

What is the timeframe for these new licensed games?

Duarte:  It depends. Generally we like to have what we show on the floor be market available within the next two quarters. We are not into creating a lot of buzz on the floor solely for the purpose of marketing.