In the post-consolidation world, slot manufacturers are bigger than ever.
Big is often equated with slow, but a good argument can be made that, in this case, suppliers have grown more nimble when it comes to localizing game content. For one thing, their financial success depends more than ever on being able to maximize opportunities globally, and that won’t happen without some imagination and flexibility on the game development side. For another, the leading manufacturers are sourcing talent globally on a greater scale than before, with a growing emphasis on Australia, the mecca creative slot talent.
With ICE Totally Gaming, the wagering world’s largest trade show just around the corner next month, Slot Management & Marketing spoke with some of the industry leaders on the topic of localizing game content globally. Here’s what they had to say:
Like AGS, Andrew Burke, senior vice president of slot products, has roots in the Oklahoma gaming market. As the company looks to ramp up international sales in 2019 and beyond, lessons about game content that it learned early on will continue to play a central role.
“We understand that it’s important to look at each market individually and understand the various sub-markets that might exist,” said Burke. “Class II is a great example of that. There’s content in Oklahoma that only works there and nowhere else. I was fortunate to start in gaming in such a market, which has a really unique dynamic. You have sub-markets there of players who really appreciate competitors’ products or our legacy games such as Royal Reels and Cool Catz games that you can’t play in other markets.”
On the international front, leveraging existing game content will be at the heart of AGS’s market entry plan. “There are still a significant number of markets in the world where we haven’t placed product,” said Burke. “As we prioritize that list, we ask ourselves a number of questions: What are the costs; the time requirements; and, third, will the content we have today work in that market? And if the answer to that is yes, that market goes to the top of the list. If it’s no, that market moves to the bottom of our list because we have a very focused growth plan, even though we’re growing pretty dramatically. We want to be able to grow as much as possible with the content that we have.”
By way of example, the company’s biggest market outside the U.S. is in Mexico, which Burke characterized as two different markets: Class III and Latin bingo. This year, AGS launched its Alora cabinet and a library of game content, targeted to the Latin bingo player. “We’ve asked ourselves what other markets we can target with Alora,” explained Burke. “The Brazil market, if it opens, is really a Latin bingo market. The Philippines, where we’re developing a presence now, also has a Latin bingo-style player. So those are the key immediate areas of focus for this product line.”
There’s already a Filipino twist to the Latin bingo games, which AGS develops in partnership with Tic Tabs, a third-party studio with a presence in both Las Vegas and The Philippines. “They’re a group of people who have operated successfully in The Philippines, which is historically a bingo market, so they can really attack that opportunity.”
Adding to the content pipeline will be central to international growth because, as Burke put it, AGS will start running out of greenfield opportunities when it starts targeting sub-markets such as the Canadian VLT market, which has different game characteristics than the Canadian casino market and will require different game content.
Organizationally, AGS will be in expansion mode as well. The company has a vice president of sales for Mexico and about 10 salespeople. “We’ll use that as a launchpad for Latin America,” said Burke. “As we scale here, we’ll add to the org chart to get localized sales teams. In 2019, we’ll catch up to our product in Canada, where our games are doing well but we don’t really have enough physical bodies on the ground to service that market yet. Demand was way higher than we thought it would be in our initial year.”
On the R&D side, Burke said AGS has committed to hire the best game development talent, and their global reach has grown in the past two years. In addition to the Tic Tabs alliance, AGS opened a game development studio in Australia, with an eye towards exploiting the market for high-volatility Asian-style games. That studio’s first family of games is called Fa Cai Shu, with featured titles Eastern Dragon and Eastern Princess. Burke said these games were just recently launched in Las Vegas and “are doing very, very well.”
New developers will bring with them different styles of games. “If we want [a fictitious] Joe Smith because he’s the best, we’re going to build the games that Joe Smith builds,” said Burke. “That’s true of AGS’ culture in all areas—we try to find the best people and let them do what they’re great at. So our product portfolio is changing just based on the great game development people that we are hiring.”
At next month’s ICE show in London, Burke and his team will be focused on the potential for new European opportunities. “We’ll be busy with meetings day-in and day-out, mostly taking to casino companies and distributors in that market,” he said. “The goal is to really understand what these markets look like. It’s not just Europe; it’s every individualized market, and we’re in the process of mapping all that out. What I’d really like to have when I come back from ICE is a matrix of the markets, the requirements to get into each one, and the gap between where we’re at today and where we want to be, so we can start prioritizing.”
As a leading global games developer, Konami places a strong importance on localization of releases to reach more players and properties, according to Steve Walther, senior director, marketing and product management. Depending on the game, it can be adapted for markets across South America, Europe, Asia, South Africa and more; in order to mirror the local language, currency and appropriate denomination/jackpot scales.
Beyond its headquarters in Las Vegas and Sydney, Konami has maintained a long-term network of exclusive international distributors spanning more than 50 countries. “Because distributors are immersed in the local market, speak the local language and provide a strong local support presence, they allow Konami to remain closely in-tune with any shifts in local market needs, trends and performance.” Walther said. The company’s exclusive international distributors help ensure that local customer needs are effectively observed, analyzed and addressed to support the delivery of new entertainment abroad.
Speed-to-market is another emphasis. “In the past three to five years, we have made strong improvements in compressing the timetable for localization of Konami games abroad, and in the coming year we expect even greater gains in speed of release,” Walther said. “By leveraging new internal efficiencies in our development cycle, we plan to empower international operators with greater access to the latest content with appropriate slot options for their local market.”
To fit games to local tastes, Konami gives operators a number of options. By way of example, a year ago Konami’s Smash Smash Festival linked jackpot game hit international markets for the first time, with a unique mechanic that progresses the number of mystery prizes in a central prize pool in lieu of incrementing progressive meters. “To localize the product for delivery abroad, we equipped international operators with flexible configuration options including a variety of selections for language, currency, denomination and jackpot values,” Walther said. “In addition, Konami developed Smash Smash Festival with SeleXion multi-game compatibility, which allows operators to feature up to eight or 10 different base game options on a single machine in addition to the linked progressive bonus. With these localization measures in-place, Smash Smash Festival has become an extraordinary international success. International operators have the flexibility to configure the series according to their unique market needs and optimize each game position with a custom multi-game mix, therefore delivering the highest experience for players while maximizing performance potential.”
Next month at the 2019 ICE London event, Konami plans to leverage the success of Smash Smash Festival with an entire lineup of original new linked progressives, from SeleXion-compatible extended ROM progressives to integrated symbol-driven progressives. All will offer localization options. Magician’s Charm will be among the highlights, making its ICE debut on Concerto Slant with SeleXion multi-game and sign display. This four-level linked progressive features a mystery-trigger pick ‘em progressive mechanic multi-denom options, and configurable jackpot amounts.
Slot Management & Marketing had an e-mail exchange regarding localized slot gaming content with Guenter Bluemel, vice president content and product marketing, international, for International Game Technology PLC (IGT). What follows are some of his responses:
How important is localization of game content to optimize results of your global slot business?
BLUEMEL: For IGT, developing localized game content for the many unique markets where we do business is critical to the success of our games, and fundamental to our position as a customer-first organization. We take this view for many reasons. For example, gaming venues, player preferences, floor space, appeal of graphics and cultural propensities for risk taking all vary in small and large ways from market to market, and from region to region.
What organizational changes have you made to support more effective localization on a global scale?
BLUEMEL: Last year, IGT made some significant organizational changes that positively impacted the company’s ability to meet the unique needs of our customers around the world. For example, my team now leads the content strategy for IGT’s International organization. We still leverage standout games from the North America studio teams, but we are driving the regional content strategies from studios that are much closer to our international customers. This localization effort is not just limited to content development. We continue to streamline operations and have also optimized our global offices to put our people and products as close to our customers as possible.
What new processes have you implemented in the last year to support localization of content?
BLUEMEL: We have instilled a tremendous level of discipline into our game development and deployment strategies. As a performance-driven organization, we only release games that we are confident will perform at our customers’ gaming venues. We gain that confidence through practical, on-floor trials at regional test banks at our customers’ gaming sites. After we’ve had the opportunity to assess 90 days of game performance data, we then determine if we need to release, refine or scrap a game. This process is not unique to IGT’s international organization, as my counterparts in North America do it too. However, each region has its own data and roster of high-scoring “Proven Performer” titles. IGT has many examples—Ocean Magic, Scarab and Wild Fury Jackpots just to name a few—that are excelling on a global level; however all these games still require some degree of localization to be successful in the individual regional markets.
Can you give an example of a game or games that you have recently tweaked to adapt to local market conditions?
BLUEMEL: Yes, we have many examples of this principle in practice. For example, Star Stax Eastern Lights and Vegas Nights are two IGT Proven Performer titles from the Australian market. We are making a series of adjustments such as such as language, math payload, RTP and max bets to both of those games and they will now be localized for the European, Latin America and North America markets.