Outside the Game - non-slot game products and innovation at G2E 2016
As I write this article, it has been a few weeks since Global Gaming Expo (G2E) 2016 shut off its lights, tore down its booths and vacated the Sands Expo & Convention Center in Las Vegas.
There is no better time to review all the new products and technologies introduced at the event—enough time has passed to be a somewhat introspective on the new items, but not so much that the details of each booth visit and press conference have faded.
So, what were some of the emerging trends at G2E? From a slot game perspective, cutting-edge skill games concepts hogged much of the limelight, as did large-scale, arcade-themed offerings new licensed themes. For more details on slot game innovations at G2E, please see the November/December issue of Slot Management & Marketing that is included with this issue of Casino Journal.
Of course, there was plenty of non-slot game news at G2E as well, involving game cabinets, systems, cash handling devices, table games, peripherals and social games, just to name a few. Below you will find brief descriptions of some of the non-game trends that caught the eyes of Casino Journal editors, and will surely impact the gaming industry in years to come:
Slot machine providers, both doesmtic and international, used G2E as a backdrop to their latest gaming cabinet innovations. One such company was Ainsworth Game Technology, which showcased its new A640 cabinet that features optimal viewing on a 40-inch high-definition LCD game screen and an attractive design creating powerful game experiences with eye-catching game art. The cabinet comes standard with a touchscreen LCD button deck with a mechanical “bash button” to combine the ease of new technology with the excitement of traditional slot play. Operators can also opt for a 27-inch LCD topper that will attract players across busy casino floors.
Ainsworth also displayed its recently introduced A600 cabinet line, incorporating the company’s deep and long-standing knowledge into an exciting new product for its casino partners. According to a press release, the A600 takes existing Ainsworth technology to the next level with larger game screens, dynamic lighting effects and a state-of-the-art LCD touchscreen button deck. At G2E more than 50 titles were shown on the A600 or A600 Slant Top, further demonstrating the company’s commitment to a long-term pipeline of successful content.
“We believe the A600 can be a game changer,” said Mike Dreitzer, president-North America for Ainsworth. “The early feedback from customers has been tremendous and the new game content can truly take Ainsworth to the next level.”
Meanwhile, the company’s most popular cabinet—the A560SL—was also at its booth, featuring a new game series that expands upon Ainsworth’s successful Sweet Zone themes, such as the new Sweet Zone Xtreme game series, which has improved graphics, massive reel strips in bonus features and even more Sweet Zone features. Sweet Zone Xtreme two hot games—Rumble Thunder and Toro Treasures.
AGS came to G2E with Orion, its new premium cabinet. Orion features a 42-inch HD LCD portrait monitor encircled by 498 game-controlled emotive LED lights, which amplify the thrills of new games Fu Nan Fu Nu, Wolf Queen and River Dragons, according to a company press release. Accompanying AGS’ new Orion cabinet was the immersive, eye-catching, core cabinet ICON, which has powered the company’s expanded Class III footprint across the county. New core-gambler style titles for ICON—FireWolf II, Fu Cat and Queen of Wonderland with Fierce Factor—back-up an already proven game library.
“This year’s G2E is historic for us… we’ve never introduced so many game-changing products on the world’s biggest gaming stage,” said David Lopez, president and CEO of AGS.
Konami Gaming made a big splash at G2E with its complete Concerto cabinet lineup—Concerto SeleXion, Concerto Slant, Concerto Stack, and Concerto Crescent, all of which were displayed together for the first time.
Konami’s award-winning Concerto has shown strong global momentum since its G2E 2015 debut, with powerful new KP3+ platform titles as well as a deep library of high-performing, backwards-compatible KP3 platform games, according to a press release. The company is now expanding the machine’s proven features to a complete lineup of Concerto video slot products including multi-game, slant, curved single screen, and flat single screen—all displayed with signature elements of the popular upright cabinet.
“The core elements of Concerto were designed with the player in mind and engineered to optimize revenue potential,” said Matt Reback, vice president, marketing at Konami. “As guests discovered during the 2016 G2E show, we’re now extending those key components to more industry-leading video formats to equip operators to diversify their casino floor with a robust variety of cabinets and game content.”
Aristocrat Technologies brought a new stepper cabinet with versions of the chart-topping Britney Spears and the runaway hit Buffalo, as well as the original Diamond Link linked product. Sale games offerings for the new stepper included two new collections: Burning Spins and Forever Free Games. Aristocrat subsidiary VGT showcased a new platform at Ovation, which brings player-favorite Aristocrat content to the Class II space, combining market-proven brands with field-proven math models and comes to market with seven strong titles and a roadmap to expand the library.
Aristocrat did not forget new content for its established cabinets. According to press materials, the company’s C*Series of core games expanded with the new Flaming Tiger, Mystical Sands, More More Chilli, More More Hearts and Wicked Winnings V. New in the E*Series were 8 Petals and The Romance of Fire and Rain II. The J*Series had four new collections: Fantastic Jackpots, Quick Fire Flaming Jackpots, Spin It Grand and Wild Fortune. The M*Series expanded with Player’s World High Limit, and Gold Star Emerald Edition, Gold Star Ruby Edition and Gold Star Diamond Edition.
Everi Holdings demoed its new Empire MPX premium participation cabinet. It also displayed Core HDX, the company’s first new base game cabinet in over eight years. Core HDX features dual widescreen 23-inch monitors with 1080p HD capability, integrated touchscreens and a premium three-way sound system, according to press materials. It also includes game-controlled lighting, ergonomic controls and an integrated LCD button panel that can display a mini bingo touchscreen for Class II settings. The eye-catching cabinet is topped by a custom premium LCD top box with game-controlled lighting and can even be fitted with Everi’s Apex N topper which enables the display of synchronized video content across banks of up to sixteen cabinets.
The Core HDX games on display also featured Everi’s award-winning Everi Bet technology. Everi Bet is a unique wager configuration feature that allows casino operators to optimize their gaming floors for maximum returns. Casino operators can easily configure Everi Bet-enabled games and preserve their hit rate by keeping the original number of lines, thus maintaining the game’s intended volatility. Each Everi Bet-enabled game title is also offered in natural low-, mid-, and high-denomination configurations.
As is usually the case, International Game Technology PLC (IGT) had a plethora of new cabinet introductions at G2E. One newcomer was the CrystalCurve ULTRA cabinet, a towering hardware solution that features 32-inch, curved landscape touchscreen display that is topped with a 50-inch, curved portrait display. Both displays host pristine visuals via Ultra HD, 4K resolution graphics, according to company literature. The cabinet includes an embedded camera that gives players the opportunity to incorporate their images into gameplay. The CrystalCurve ULTRA cabinet is also equipped with intelligent lighting and is paired with an ergonomic multi-media sound chair. Marquee titles to launch on the CrystalCurve ULTRA cabinet include: The Ellen DeGeneres Show Sharing the Love Video Slots and THE GOONIES Video Slots.
IGT also debuted its CrystalDual + Stepper cabinet and its new content library. The CrystalDual + Stepper cabinet combines the mechanical reels from the S3000 cabinet with a 40-inch upper LCD screen, and its top box can be paired with custom facades to make the hardware stand out on a casino floor. The CrystalDual+ Stepper cabinet comes with game themes such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Slots, How to Marry a Millionaire Slots, and IGT heritage themes Top Dollar Premium Slots and Megabucks Double Gold Slots.
Making its first G2E appearance, IGT’s CrystalSlant cabinet is a compact, upright hardware solution that comes in two versions—one with a 27-inch top box and one with a 32-inch top box. The CrystalSlant cabinet is backed by a rich pipeline of new and heritage themes created on the Ascent platform, including Rainbow Goddess, Volatile and Glacier Hammer games.
IGT also took the wraps off its first large-format mechanical reel hardware solution, the S3000 XL cabinet. The colossal cabinet is a scaled-up version of the company’s S3000 cabinet, features three oversized 9-inch mechanical reels, and is designed to be compatible with the vast S3000 cabinet content library.
Scientific Games was another company that introduced multiple new cabinets at G2E 2016, including three new configurations for its popular TwinStar family. The cutting-edge TwinStar J43 gaming platform features a 43-inch curve portrait display. Delivering a cinematic, 4K Ultra High-Definition game-play experience, the TwinStar J43 entertains with highly integrated, game-synchronized, emotive lighting, the latest stereo surround sound and numerous other features, according to press materials. Exclusive content developed for this platform includes Dancing Drums, Heidi’s Bier Haus and Quick Hit Ultra Pays.
The TwinStar 3RM is a spinning-reel cabinet highlighted by a 24-inch top screen, three reels, integrated USB charger, optional handle and the expanded iDeck multi-touch button panel. Exclusive content for this platform includes the 88 Fortunes, Fu Dao Le, Life of Luxury and Blazing 7s Gold themes.
Finally, the TwinStar Slant features two 27-inch screens, an integrated USB charger and the iDeck, and is compatible with all TwinStar dual-screen games.
Other companies introducing new cabinets of note were:
• Merkur Gaming unveiled its latest signature gaming cabinet, Evostar. According to company literature, Evostar is an evolutionary advance step to its Avantgarde SLT and Merkurstar cabinets; the forward looking electronic gaming machines that have become runaway global success since their respective launches at ICE 2015 and ICE 2016 in London. The cabinet is a unique hybrid service-friendly upright with the added player comfort factor of a slant top player position. As an added player attraction, Evostar features a built-in USB port that allows guests to conveniently charge their mobile devices as they play, free of charge.
• Aruze Gaming showcased its Cube-X Vertical 80, which uses two 42-inch vertical monitors to create a more realistic visual experience. This cabinet was launched this past summer with two new games—Ultimate Eruption and Caribbean Rose. At G2E, five new titles were offered, including Tower Stack Lion and Tower Stack Dragon.
• Apex Gaming displayed the latest cabinet to its Pinnacle line, the VIP Premium. This cabinet has a 43-inch carved monitor and an integrated VIP chair that offers first-rate comfort and includes gaming buttons and sound-sound speakers as well.
IN THE SYSTEM
Major slot suppliers also unveiled their latest systems innovations at G2E. For example,
IGT’s displayed its updated systems line, which focused on mobile technologies that can complement and augment existing casino management systems and streamline the player experience. One such offering was Cardless Connect mobile systems technology. According to company literature, Cardless Connect technology can be embedded into to a casino’s mobile app, enabling players to initiate patron loyalty sessions using their mobile devices, and seamlessly transfer funds from their existing player accounts—eliminating the need for physical loyalty club cards and TITO tickets. Compatible with iOS and Android, Cardless Connect technology is developed to engage a wide player base, including the important younger demographic. For operators, the solution can help further solidify relationships with players while enriching the value of the property’s brand and mobile application.
“By offering players the simplicity of tapping a phone on a slot machine to begin play or transfer funds, Cardless Connect technology elevates casino applications to a new level of ecommerce potential, convenience and functionality that is consistent with mobile applications from some of today’s strongest consumer brands,” said Sina Miri, vice president casino systems for IGT.
IGT even announced an important product placement for Cardless Connect at IGT—MGM Resorts agreed to install the solution, with the first deployment taking place at MGM Grand Detroit in Q4 of 2016.
IGT also highlighted several of its new mobile systems solutions that enable operators to quickly and efficiently respond to a variety of customer and EGM events in real time. Mobile Notifier enables operators to set and monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) and provides event notifications such as a large cage withdrawal. Mobile Dashboard allows operators to have a comprehensive real-time overview of progress toward KPIs, and Mobile Voucher Redemption facilitates a seamless redemption experience for the player
IGT also updated its TournXtreme automated tournament solution with Spin-Splosion!. The Spin-Splosion! solution is a video reel tournament solution for the CrystalDual cabinet that is fueled by Tournament Manager 5.0. It enables operators to efficiently host single or multi-site tournaments, while offering players a fun, upbeat carnival-themed tournament experience with real-time leaderboards and ongoing activity that inspires engagement.
Scientific Games also came to G2E armed with a number of new systems solutions and technologies designed to empower player engagement and operating efficiencies. The iVIEW4 In-Game Display Manager is a major advancement in the use of on-device messaging, featuring state-of-the-art web widgets and connectivity to web services, enabling opportunities for casinos to communicate with their players like never before, according to a press release. Whether it is floorwide bonusing, secondary wagering, customer service, or accessing websites and promotional kiosks, the feature-rich iVIEW4 enables casinos to manage their own content dynamically.
Sci Games also offered demos of its Live Sports Wagering Virtual Racing and Sports software and kiosk solutions at G2E. Designed to drive incremental revenue for casinos, racinos, and lotteries with both kiosk and mobile-wagering opportunities, the solution allows players to enjoy high-quality virtual racing and sporting events and live race and sports wagering where allowed.
Updated cashless solutions technology was also shown at the Sci Games booth. The new features will enable casinos to move into electronic funds transfer functionality so players can use mobile devices to put money directly on the slot machine or onto a prepaid card. Meanwhile, Sci Games’ Bally HUB offered a solution to manage multiple disparate casino management systems by integrating player data and player rewards.
At the heart of Konami Gaming’s’ 2016 G2E systems exhibit was its award-winning SYNKROS casino management product, equipped with the latest tools and features to optimize a complete spectrum of connected operational aspects. These new tools included SYNKROS Offers Management, which gives players the choice to select from multiple available bonus awards—such as comp vouchers, free play, drawing tickets, tournament entries, and extra point prizes—and receive personalized notification across a variety of touchpoints including kiosk machines, SMS, e-mail, direct mail, and EGM displays. In addition, this enhancement gives operators the flexibility and control to maximize marketing promotions, with seamless, real-time tracking across their player base, according to company product literature.
At the show, Konami also unveiled a new strategic systems partnership with Acres 4.0, designed to create more meaningful, interactive player experiences by delivering industry-leading Kai mobile solutions driven through powerful SYNKROS data interfaces. This collaboration brings the core strength of Konami’s award-winning casino enterprise management system to Kai’s intuitive employee mobile app, so on-site staff are equipped with robust player loyalty and service information. Under this partnership, powerful interfaces between Acres and Konami result in a tight coupling of Kai and SYNKROS to support a new generation of incentives and bonuses. These interfaces allow casinos to uniquely reinforce behavioral objectives and attract new players, while retaining cost efficiency.
“Acres and Konami are recognized as innovative, casino industry leading providers and through this partnership, we can enable our customers to generate loyalty by using the data collected by SYNKROS to create differentiated customer experiences for their guests through Kai,” said Tom Soukup, vice president, research and development, systems at Konami Gaming.
Aristocrat Technologies also had systems news it wanted to share at G2E, in this instance, a major deal with the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma to install Aristocrat and VGT games as well as the Oasis 360 casino management system. Under the agreement, Aristocrat will replace the existing CMS with the award-winning Oasis 360 to monitor 2,000 gaming machines at Downstream Casino in Quapaw, Okla. and another 500 machines at Quapaw Casino in Miami, Okla. According to press materials, Oasis 360 has been customized to meet the specific needs of Downstream Casino and Quapaw Casino, and will include the following features: Oasis Core; Oasis nCompass and Media Window on-screen feature technology, which enable players to self-service at the machine; Trackit tables solution; Integrated SpeedMedia and One Link bonusing and progressive solutions; and related installation and professional design services.
“Understanding the specific needs of the tribe and property management helped us to develop a solution combining systems, Class II games and Class III games that will best help Quapaw meet their business goals,” said James Starr, executive vice president of sales for VGT. “That is the essence of Aristocrat and VGT—applying our passions to create the best possible solution for each of our customer’s unique business needs.”
Everi offered booth visitors a chance to experience an improved TournEvent system, with new features that enhanced operator flexibility and efficiency along with player entertainment. In addition to the 16 distinct Core HDX cabinet themes for TournEvent on display, new innovations for TournEvent that debuted at G2E 2016 included the next-generation Nitro media system. Nitro features a visually exciting panoramic video display system and big win bank celebration that brings slot tournament gaming banks to life. A first of its kind tournament-mode, skill-based game element leveraging the Fruit Ninja brand was also unveiled for TournEvent, taking the slot tournament solution to the next level.
Everi also displayed new bonusing and hardware offerings that help increase player entertainment and engagement. These included Jackpot Jump, a new series of premium progressive games with sleek signage and an LCD topper that highlights progressive win celebrations and cascading promotional videos. The new series leverages the proven Jackpot Jump bonus feature with a larger linked progressive. Jackpot Jump was shown with with three unique themes: Fire Jewels, Golden Riches and Payday Jackpots. Meanwhile, Everi’s Super Jackpot Series is a new premium linked progressive mechanical reel game banked solution. The Super Jackpot Series features a five-tier linked progressive and uses the company’s eye-catching foundation sign.
NOVOMATIC Americas also showcased some new linked systems technology at G2E. Developed in cooperation between NOVOMATIC game studios in Illinois, Austria as well as other international competence centers was Tales of Darkness—a series of four linked progressive jackpot games.
But the big systems news for NOVOMATIC at G2E was the launch of its World Championship of Slots (WCOS) tournament concept. Developed by NOVOMATIC Group, Emmy award-winning game show producer Gary Hunt Productions (GHP), Entropy Entertainment and media sales company Trifecta Entertainment & Media (Trifecta), WCOS that turns a casino, its employees and players into stars. Casinos in North America will have the opportunity to host their own qualifying events as often as they like and the winners will move onto the WCOS television show qualifying events. The competitions are for anyone who is of legal gambling age and wants to compete on television for $1 million.
“This tournament adds a competitive energy and excitement to a casino floor that has not been experienced before,” said Rick Meitzler, CEO of NOVOMATIC Americas. “We’re excited to be partnering with such an accomplished group of people to bring a reality style slot competition to the gaming industry and create a truly entertaining offering for slot players and a unique marketing tool for our customers.”
Some smaller gaming companies also displayed systems innovations at G2E. Incredible Technologies offered its latest iteration to its award-winning Infinity Skybox linked display lineup, including the Super Skybox form factor. Infinity Super Skybox transforms four standard Skybox units into a shared, bank-wide display spanning across each cabinet’s 55-inch vertical monitor to create one unified overhead display—equivalent to a 123-inch screen—leveraging a groundbreaking game-to-game communication and video director technology. Infinity Super Skybox features high visual impact and a compelling digital attract mode, including an operator adjustable big win leaderboard.
Gaming Technology Group offered UltraLinx System, a full-floor slot and loyalty systems solution for small- to mid-sized gaming operators. UltraLinx offers the best features of the larger gaming systems, but in a smaller more affordable package, according to a company press release.
Hardware provider Ganlot brought the concept of Smart Casino to G2E. The product combines automation, A.I. and IoT together, to help optimize casino operation. From environmental adjust to gaming machine control, Smart Casino can greatly enhance player’s comfort and convenience; while helping operators to more easily maintain their floors and save costs.
MicroFirst Gaming came to G2E with its Speedy Serve Mobile system, an all-encompassing, user friendly, turnkey beverage ordering solution. Speedy Serve Mobile revolutionized how Hollywood Casino Toledo patrons, staff, and management experience beverage service, according to a press release. Their patrons enjoyed enhanced customer service features and a fast drink delivery. Their staff enjoyed the automation, ease of use and organization. Management enjoyed the reporting information, accountability and efficiency of staff productivity; all while offering complete mobile device support, point of sale interface and universal compatibility with any casino floor.
Editor’s Note: Part two of the Outside the Game G2E product review, which will cover analytics, table games, eGaming products and much, much more, will continue in the December issue of Casino Journal.