As is usually the case, the International Game Technology PLC (IGT) booth at the recent ICE London show was a sight to behold, chock full of the company’s latest introductions and innovations for its games and systems product families.
A number of IGT executives were also present at the company’s ICE booth, including Walter Bugno, CEO of IGT International. Bugno took some time away from his tradeshow obligations to sit down with Casino Journal Executive Editor Charles Anderer to discuss IGT’s international market strategy and product development. What follows are some excerpts from this conversation.
What international markets does IGT have its eye on for growth and how are the company’s products performing in them?
BUGNO: The Eastern European market is important because it’s sizable, and it’s one where we have been under-represented. During 2019, we started to put more emphasis on distribution there and this has continued into 2020. We’re happy with the progress we made last year. We started developing specific game sets just for that market and a cabinet, the Cobalt 27, that was intended for the region and which has been rolled out to a number of emerging markets. Eastern Europe is a multi-game market and, compared with some of our competitors, we were behind in that space. Multi-game in that market isn’t about four games, or 12, or 20, it’s about 40 to 60 or even 100. The market there is also very specific on content; fruit games are very strong, for instance, and that wasn’t an area that we had emphasized. So 2019 was a very important year game-development-wise and that continues this year. Eastern Europe is a good growth market for us.
Outside of Eastern Europe, Asia is very important. I’ve been on record for some time as saying that we are under-represented there. The second half of 2019 was very good for us in Asia. We started getting some new games out into the market that are resonating and performing and that continued into the start of this year.
In Australia, which is a 200,000-machine market, we’ve had good growth over the last three years. It has been a major focus for us and we expect that growth to continue.
I understand that IGT has strengthened its game development studio in Beijing. What impact has this studio having on the company’s game mix?
BUGNO: Our Beijing studio had been primarily focused on quality assurance and software support. Over the last 18 months, we resourced it up to become a fully-fledged cradle-to-grave design studio. It has currently put out two games. One that I’m putting my money on to be a major success is Ying Cai Shen. In December it won Best Electronic Gaming Solution at the G2E Asia @ The Philippines Product Awards. We’ve had some fabulous performance results where we’ve placed it so far. The second game will come out at the end of this quarter.
The Bubble Blast game has a prominent spot in your booth. How did this game come about and how is it performing?
BUGNO: This is a game that came from Australia. The studio there is focused on how we compete with popular mechanics that have taken the world by storm and were developed in Australia. We have a studio in Australia so we see what these games do before anyone else. The driver of our growth in Australia in 2019 was Bubble Blast, and now it’s ready to go elsewhere. The ICE show is its first outing outside of Australia.
IGT’s game design studios in the U.S. rely a lot on information provided by focus groups. Does this go for the company’s international studios as well?
BUGNO: We do player focus groups everywhere around the world now. We partner with our customers to tap into their player base. We do player focus groups and we get them involved very early in the development of the game. Internationally, exactly like the U.S., we develop a game, put them out on test banks. We run them for three months, get feedback from the players and our customers and then we decide if we launch the game as is, tweak it or throw it out because customers have decided it has limited potential. The process increases our potential to hit the bullseye.