Three slot machine executives discuss highlighted games and technology displayed at last month’s NIGA event in San Diego, Calif.

The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) Tradeshow and Convention has long had a reputation as a “relationship” show—an event that was more about establishing and reinforcing important business ties in the tribal gaming community than showcasing new casino products. 

This perception of the show has undergone a change of late however, as gaming suppliers now see value in unveiling and displaying slot games and systems technology specifically designed for the rapidly expanding tribal casino marketplace. Slot Management & Marketing Editor Paul Doocey toured the booths of three leading slot manufacturers at NIGA, sitting with a company executive at each to discuss featured slots, new game introductions, advances in technology, systems upgrades and much more. What follows are some edited excerpts from these conversations. 

EVERI

Dean Ehrlich, executive vice president and games business leader

Standard video highlights and what sets these games stand out on the slot floor… 

EHRLICH: If you look at our standard video, single portrait screen-type product it is really focused on a banked, link progressive strategy. Three such games are represented here at the show—Lazer Lock, MoneyBall and Cherry Bomb—all of which are either out now or will be so in the next two quarters. These games were designed with the gambler mentality in mind… our approach is to key on player psychology, making sure that the game is designed with the mindset that the player is going to gamble more than once on the device, so they better enjoy the ride if you want them to keep coming back and playing the game again and again. Those are the elements we continue to perpetuate in the product we are designing.

Standard mechanical games and the need for merchandizing packages…

EHRLICH: We’ve got a real hot hand right now when it comes to our standard mechanical line. We resonate specifically to the high-denomination mechanical player. The goal is to continue this momentum so we’re doing some innovation in this category, but also focusing on merchandising so it’s easier for the player to notice and get excited by the game from a distance instead of having to walk right up to it to figure it out. There is a lot of noise on the slot floor, and it’s getting harder to separate one product from another, so finding better ways to catch the eye of the player and get them to go to that product is a now major part of the game development process. Obviously, once they go to the game you have to keep them there with a play experience that find desirable… 

Shark Week and other premium video offerings…

EHRLICH: We have three brand extension products that launched within the last six months that are really doing well. A couple of them on our Empire E5527 hardware platform are Smokin’ Hot Stuff Wicked Reel and Shark Week; both of which use a server that allows games to communicate between one another and lends itself to bonuses that can be either shared or jump from screen to screen. Those have launched recently and are doing extremely well and are helping to grow our install base, so we are very pleased. 

The other product is the Renegade 3600 hardware platform, a wide-area progressive that features three 43-inch convex curved monitors. We introduced the platform with our Diamond Blaze game and are flowing it up with a couple of games we are really excited about and will unveil soon. In this particular genre, it is hard to get one really good game… we are very proud of the fact we have been able to create three. 

Premium mechanical slot innovation…

EHRLICH: We’ve gone back to what has been successful: simply putting a mechanical reel in a cabinet—not exactly the most novel thing. Our Skyline Revolve is a really successful mechanical reel game. The thought process was that we wanted to leverage the success we are having in standard mechanical with a premium top box that resonates with the player… quite frankly, we probably should have done it years ago, but better late than never.

Everi’s Class II gaming strategy…

EHRLICH: All of the games in our booth can be configured in one of three ways—Class III, Class II or central determination, which is really for the State of Washington. Class II is a giant business for us and is very popular in Oklahoma, California and other tribal markets. We have spent years building traction within this segment, and we would be doing the market a disservice if we did not do all we can to sustain theme bandwidth.  

KONAMI GAMING

Steve Walther, senior director of marketing and product management

Linked products for the Concerto cabinet line…

WALTHER: The Concerto Upright and Slant had some new games that were released at G2E, specifically the Money Galaxy games, and we have rolled out over the last half of last year and the beginning of this year. It has done pretty well for us out in the field…. it has really refreshed the banks of Concerto cabinets that have been there for quite some time as well as add a new progressive twist and flavor to them. The game has three rounds of bonuses, and if you are lucky enough to get to them, they multiply one, two and three times as the player advances. We also have got a fun generic sign package at the top of it to attract and draw people to it. 

In addition to Money Galaxy, we are starting to roll out a new companion game called Thunder Arrow, which takes the concept to the next level. We are also really excited about some of the linked products we are bringing out on the Concerto Dual Screen and Stack; we are looking forward to people trying those out.    

Evolution of sight and sound packages for slot machines…

WALTHER: People now have contact with numerous entertainment concepts across multiple devices, all competing for the casino customer’s attention. So when a patron enters the casino, we have to make sure we work in partnership with the operators to create the right gaming environment for patrons and players. Remember that just 20 years ago, the typical slot player was someone who was off playing in the corner and did not need glitz, glamor and attention. But over time, the player profile has changed and gaming has become much more social… even the one-on-one playing experience of a slot machine  is becoming more social—people are communicating and interacting with those playing around them, cheering with the people sitting next to them. Sound has become very important… when you hear people on the bank hitting and winning jackpots, you are actually sharing in that experience. We as manufacturers now need to create the right packages, so with Thunder Arrow, you hear the arrows hitting the target so you know targets are being hit around you and you have the ability to hit those targets as well. We’re creating an environment that is not possible playing solo on other channels and devices.

The latest developments with the Opus Cabinet…

WALTHER: When we introduced the Goliath cabinet, which was the oversize version of the Podium cabinet, we really created that mid-tier oversize cabinet, the “right size for being oversized” cabinet niche. We have continued this philosophy with the Opus—it is not so big that it is prohibitive to place on the slot floor, in fact, it can be placed in various different banking options. At G2E, we showed it in a bank of six, flat and back-to-back. At NIGA we are showing it in a “football” shape, where it is a little bit arced and rounded. It does not take up that much room on the floor and can really make a nice centerpiece. In fact, it is the centerpiece of our NIGA booth. We are also showing it in a three pod and single bank with sign as well so you can see all the various available configurations that we can offer.

The Opus has been quite versatile for us in being able to offer just that right size in oversize cabinets, as well as providing a new pallet for game design. We have our Treasure Ball game here at the show on Opus’ big, gigantic monitors. It features this huge dragon that flies through the monitors as an attraction. We even have our Dragon’s Law line games—Dragon’s Law, Dragon’s Fever and Dragon’s Law Boosted—playing on the Opus as well and they really draw peoples’ attention.

The KX 43 Cabinet and new content…

WALTHER: The KX 43 4K gives the operator the  flexibility to bank in various different ways—four pods, six pods, banks of six, two-by-two, back-to-back—it is a little more flexible than Opus based on its size. It is more of a traditional core cabinet, but it also gives you the flavor of the 4K the Opus cabinet does.

One of the KX 43 games we have at NIGA is Chili Chili Fire Boosted Wins & Wilds. It derives from the base game Chili Chili Fire from our Concerto series, but Boosted Winds & Wilds give the player extra added oomph, and opportunities to multiply winnings and jackpots. 

In addition to Chili Chili Fire Boosted Wins & Wilds for the KX 43, we also are showing Treasure Lounge, which is not your traditional reel spinning game—it actually showcases five levels of Tiki that rise out of the ground and however high they go determines whether you win a jackpot or free spin of a reel. Our developers spent a lot of time in lounge bars understanding what makes the right flavor of a good Tiki lounge-themed game, so Treasure Lounge has interesting Tiki bar music playing in the background.

SYNKROS and how it is evolving…

WALTHER: SYNKROS continues to get amazing amounts of placements in the casino marketplace… people are really starting to see the power of that Oracle engine. Now, with our recently announced collaboration with Gaming Analytics.AI, we are able to take all the data that the system collects and report it in way to maximize its use. We also have employee enhancement technologies from the retail space bolted onto SYNKROS to help drive player information and game information real time into the ear of the employee. 

We are also doing some other things, with NFC being the big one we are showing here at NIGA. That is a near-field communications system using our SYNKCONNECT technology, which allows player information to be displayed on your phone or any other NFC-enabled device. You can register at a game with the NFC, see points, status, offers and so on. It is giving player information in the palm of their hand…

IGT

Mike Brennan, vice president of product management

IGT product display strategy for NIGA… 

BRENNAN: NIGA does take place at kind of an odd time; at the end of the first quarter, after you have already showed your shiny tools and toys at G2E. So at NIGA, we take more of the approach that we’re displaying stuff that is ready right now, that operators can touch and fell and take home. We have 88 games squeezed into our booth.

Fortune Link concept and its performance thus far…

BRENNAN: It’s no surprise that, globally as well as domestically, multi-level progressives and links have become so very critical. It is a segment of gaming that you can make one version and it can satisfy almost every market in the world. So we put the bedrock together a couple of years ago to be fully committed to multi-level progressives, and our library and portfolio is as deep as it has ever been. It takes a while to create a development cycle for these products, so you are starting to see the fruits of this exercise today, highlighted by Fortune Link and some other exciting games you will see at the upcoming G2E show in Las Vegas. 

Fortune Link is a unique looking game that fully embraces the hold and spin mechanic, which has been making its way through industry for the past couple of years. Admittedly, we were a bit slow to embrace it because we wanted to blaze out own trail… our Harley Davidson slot had progressive free games, in Golden Goddess we had a stacked mechanic to win progressives—we were trying a lot of different mechanics as progressive delivery vehicles. We didn’t realize that hold and re-spin is something players have totally embraced—it has become a very popular jackpot delivery mechanism. It was a really quick and nice development for us—we went from soup to nuts in about nine months. We have it out in the field and it is currently getting installed across North America. 

Fortune Link is all about that player contribution in the progressive playoff—what you see is what you get, money on the reels, hold and re-spin and in Fortune Link we’ve got it along with some nice twists such as t player-select multi-denom so they can bet up and get value. We have also integrated a multiplier symbol that adds a little pop to the game. The game is gambler friendly, has a great merchandizing package, just launched and we are excited to be getting it out there.

New core game concepts such as Hyper Hits…

BRENNAN: A lot of our commercialization models are evolving as we listen to customer comments about better ways to deliver our diverse library. Hyper Hits is the first time in IGT history that we’ve made a linked game available for sale. This is a core link segment we are developing and this is the kickoff game. Our second game in the line, Golden Dragon II, is also on display. Hyper Hits is available now, it is a multi-level progressive and kind of ties into Fortune Link in that both games originated in Australia. Some of the best linked products over the past decade have come from the Asia Pacific region. We were able to take Hyper Hits from Australia, North American-ize it a bit and offer it as our premier into linked core games.

Hyper Hits is three base games, two math models and it focuses on reel five. We really keep the player moving through the game, so as you spin the four reels, if you get five of a kind you can win the credit amount on the reels or one of the progressives. It is also unique in that patrons can play either ways or lines…there have not been a lot of games that do this. For 50 credits players can select a line game, and for an extra 10 centers they can play a ways game—it gives the player a wide amount of variety. When we tested that internally in North America, we got great response.

The continuing evolution of the 4D line of slot products…

BRENNAN: We pride ourselves on offering some of the best technology in the industry. We have a research and innovation group within the company, and the 3D product line was born out of the creative processes of that group. As we go forward, we have some recently released products that that embrace new research from this group. One is the PowerSight Sex and the City game, where you can control game action by just looking at the screen. We have shown that at the last couple G2Es and are now releasing it at NIGA. 

There is also our 4D line of technology, which we are improving as we go along. We’re open with our partners, and admitted to them that we were probably too aggressive with the technology on Sphinx 4D—it was an intricate, amazing story with multiple levels of play that utilized air haptics, but we maybe went to deep with the technology and the game wasn’t as intuitive as we would have liked. What we learned from that was to scale back a bit, which we did with Ghostbusters 4D, and now we feel we’ve developed the crown jewel of the line with American Gods 4D. The air haptic gestures now utilize three perceived skill bonuses within a seven bonus game, and they are nice, intuitive fun gestures—one involves a character that slices items, another moving an Easter bunny around to collect eggs and the third flicking a coin to play quarters.         

As a manufacturer, one of the balances you need to find is between innovation/technology and game content. In our library of 3D games, if you turn the technology off, people still love the ability to bet up to unlock bonuses. That is now what we are trying to do with 4D, the game in and of itself is a great, fun ride where people feel they have a chance to win along with all this variety… but still has technology they are going to tell their spouse and friends about. So while technology will provide the word of mouth, it needs to balance with the game behind it and we feel with American Gods 4D we have a great package.