The annual Southern Gaming Summit (www.sgsummit.com) recently took place in Biloxi, Miss., and front and center at the event’s tradeshow floor was the International Game Technology PLC (IGT) booth, which was loaded with the latest slot, video poker and electronic table game offerings from one of the world’s leading gaming providers.
Ken Bossingham, senior vice president of sales for IGT was at Southern Gaming Summit (SGS) and took some time with Slot Managment & Marketing Editor Paul Doocey to discuss the strategy behind some of the company’s recent product enhancements. Below are some excerpts from that conversation:
Why did you decide to show your CrystalCurve cabinet at SGS? What are you plans for this product in the southern market?
Bossingham: CrystalCurve is a very important new hardware release for us. It is IGT’s first large-format, for-sale cabinet. Previously, if you looked at any of the large-format portrait boxes that we presented to the market, they were typically in the premium space and never offered for sale. We were very disciplined in how we brought this product to market… what we wanted to do was prove that we have strong performing content available when we launched the product. There had been a disciplined effort leading up to NIGA, where we released it first. We have two titles: Wild Fury and Star Rise. We tested those at six different properties throughout North America and that went very, very well. That was when we made the decision to launch.
We are offering it as a controlled launch so that we can make sure that out of the gate everyone gets a very positive recognition of just how strong that box is. We are very excited.
Sticking with the Crystal line of products, you also showed CrystalSlant with a couple of different game concepts. One of these was Big Five Safari… could you explain the concept behind this game and what makes it unique?
Bossingham: We are excited about the CrystalSlant hardware, which comes in both a 27-inch/27-inch dual screen format or in a larger screen 27-inch/32-inch format. There is some content which presents itself much better with the 32-inch topscreen, so we have made positioning decisions on how we offer that. For the game library on our for-sale product, we followed the same disciplined format as we did with the CrystalCurve, where we tested the product and assured it would perform before we released it to market. If it doesn’t test at a certain level at one of our 32 test sites across North America, that product will not be released to market.
As far as game features, we are trying to create a lot of balance within our portfolios. So you have games like Big Five Safari that are for the jackpot chaser. There are other games that we offer like Ocean Magic which have “persistent features,” certain events that happen on the reels that make it a bit more exciting for the player to stay at the game and continue to play.
What you are trying to do for a player is to help them understand very clearly how the game creates entertainment value for them. There are a lot of games where that is not presented well. I think whether it is Big Five Safari or Ocean Magic, it is very clear to the player what is going on and I think that is the power of the game… it is represented very clearly and the value is achieved as a player is willing to sit there and bet longer.
IGT’s new S3000 and S3000 XL concepts were also displayed at SGS. Please explain those concepts a bit…
Bossingham: I think when you look at the stepper gaming space, there have been a lot of large-format offers from many of the other manufacturers. We have probably been a little slow in coming up with our own version only because we have so much large-format product in the premium side of our business. We saw a big opportunity with a large-format stepper however, since we already have the best-in-class stepper product… nobody can match IGT when it comes to stepper whether it’s hardware or depth of library. So we decided to create a large-format offer in that space, and that is the S3000 XL.
The S3000 XL is scheduled go to market in August. I have no doubt that that box is going to preform very well.
With the endcap presentation showcased at SGS, the S3000 XL did set off a row of slots very well…
Bossingham: I call the S3000 XL a “tweener,” because usually when you talk large format, it is very large. This box is actually between very large and normal size, which I think sets it up not to be offered as a niche product. You look at some of the floors today… you are starting to see some of the larger format product sitting in the middle of the floor, and that provides an opportunity to not put not just one S3000 XL in this space but to put in three or four. I think this box sets up very well to do that.
IGT also showed its Texas Tea Pinball skill-based slot game. What is IGT’s approach to the whole skill-based market?
Bossingham: We are trying to find our way in the skill games market with a game like Texas Tea. It is a semi-skill game that allows us to get that style game in front of the player, to understand what they like and don’t like, which will allow us to continue to evolve that strategy. I think we are trying to build a stronger product and player proposition toward that kind of product and a pinball-style slot is one of the first approaches.
It will be a long journey. I think skill-based slots will go through an evolution in the next three to five years and this is our first step.
I also noticed some video poker games at the booth—Ultimate X Spin Poker and Ultimate X Poker Bonus Streak. What is IGT doing to innovate in the video poker space?
Bossingham: With video poker, you see this evolution from your basic poker product to one that has opportunities to bet up in the game and earn additional chances to win. I think there is always a foundational strength with poker, and with Ultimate X we have found huge success and the next logical step was to use that and add features that we think bring more value to the player.
Fundamentally, when you look at IGT and how we are approaching game creation, there is not a company that is going to spend more money in research and development in this space over the next five years. It is very critical that we spend this money in the right areas; and the way you do that is by having the discipline to understand and listen to your players. That will define what your future is going to look like. That is what we have been doing here in the last 24-36 months, and it will allow us to chart a very positive path.
Electronic Table Games (ETGs) were also a showcase product at the IGT booth. What is the company’s strategy in this space going forward?
Bossingham: When you look at our past strategy, we had a product we called MPS [Multiple Player Stations] but we really did not invest in that product area. We made a strategic move about 18 months ago and decided to build a next generation product in that space. We signed a technology deal with another company from the Far East, and that has given us a platform that will allow us to put ourselves in the game with all the other strong manufacturers that represent the ETG space.
We have introduced our Dynasty product, which is a live version ETG. The live ETG product has performed really well outside of North America, so we decided to bring that product into the U.S. and have had placements at Sands Bethlehem and The Palazzo at The Venetian. Results have been positive, so we decided to add both baccarat and roulette products to this line.
This is just the first chapter of our ETG strategy… we have a lot of resources dedicated to evolve this product.