Scientific Game

Keeping It Reel

Aristocrat confronts the challenge of market leadership by uncovering new strengths in today’s classic games while laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s 

Friday, 31 May 2013 14:39
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Aristocrat is celebrating its 60th birthday this year with its gaze fixed firmly on the next 60, and that means there will be no resting on success.

The slot-maker that exerts so dominant a presence across many of Asia’s casino floors, whose market-leading share in Macau is built on games—5 Dragons™, Fortune King™ and FA FA FA™ spring immediately to mind—that have come to define the slot experience for most Chinese players, is continually finding new ways to engage an ever-changing marketplace. This means staying engaged yourself, with your customers and with the competition, tirelessly exploring the opportunities this presents to innovate, to push out the boundaries of what’s new and to think about established products, technologies and processes in different ways.

Aristocrat is exhibiting at G2E Asia 2013 under the banner “Creating Asia’s Legendary Games,” a claim that speaks succinctly to the company’s ability to keep its hand hot with a portfolio uniquely tailored to the preferences of the region— like with its Legends™ series for extending the popularity of proven brands with new features and enhanced play mechanics and graphics. The formula was first tested in Asia two years ago with a Legends version of the Reel Power™ classic 5 Dragons. It offered higher win multiples and a spicy free games feature that lets players choose either a set number of spins with up to a 40-times multiplier or a “Mystery Choice” that randomly selects the number of games and the multiplier. The reception was enthusiastic, and 5 Koi Legends™ joined the series in 2012. This month, visitors to G2E will get their first look at Legends versions of 50 Dragons™ and Fortune King. New graphics and sound have been added to create 50 Dragons Deluxe™, which features a “choose your volatility” option that guarantees longer stacked wilds to create an even more compelling gamble, leveraging, as 5 Dragons Legends™ does to great effect, that vaunted approach to game math for which Aristocrat is famous. Fortune King Deluxe™ will offer two new features plus bonus free games and a similarly enhanced visual package.

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Phoenix Riches on the Viridian Widescreen cabinet

“We have to be adapting to the changing environment,” says Asia Pacific General Manager David Punter. “We have to mold ourselves to what’s happening in the region and be ready to respond with the best games for Asian customers and players.”

The Asia Pacific division grew “significantly” last year, parent Aristocrat Leisure said in its most recent revenue report, which covers the nine months through 30th September. The division was instrumental in driving year-on-year revenue growth (+ 8.5%) and profit growth (+ 23%) for the company’s business segments outside Australia, the Americas and Japan. Aristocrat’s revenues outside Australia and the Americas were up 61% for the period. Profit generated by the Asia Pacific division was up almost 28% on a 19.5% increase in revenue.

The region’s importance to Aristocrat prompted the company to create a new director-level head of Asia Pacific sales and business development, Mark Aubrey, reporting to Mr Punter. Mr Aubrey, doesn’t come from traditional casino gaming at all. He’s held senior sales and marketing roles with LucasArts and Activision and most recently served with Warner Bros. as group marketing director for home entertainment, video games, television and digital. He’s managed franchises of the stature of Star Wars, Batman, Harry Potter and Call of Duty.

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King's Dynasty feature screen

He is, needless to say, a key hire. Player preferences are rapidly maturing, in Macau specifically, and Aristocrat knows it must respond with a more nuanced approach—more worldly might be another way to put it—to game design and development. As Mr Punter says, “You’re starting to see a player that will come to Macau for the first and second time and see slots and see electronic tables and, of course, see live table situations, so you’re getting players that have got a lot more variety to choose from. We’re seeing changes in denominations come into play, more animation and graphics, lower volatility games and higher volatility games. Where it used to be just stand-alone and link, now there’s licensed product in the marketplace, there’s features in the top box, and you’re starting to see more stand-alone jackpot-style games.”

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CEO Jamie Odell, Aristocrat Leisure

Aristocrat is hitting upon a number of creative responses. More Power™, for one, brings a new level of interaction to Reel Power’s stand-alone progressive format with expanding reels that shift from 243 ways to win in the 3x5 reels of the free games feature to 1,024 ways in 4x5 reels and up to 3,125 possible combinations in 5x5s.

Finding new ways to glean power from its stalwart Hyperlink™ multi-progressive platform is something the company also finds intriguing. The pairing of Hyperlink 2.0™ with a game designed specifically for the Asia-Pacific market, Dragons on the Lake™, brings together elements of 5 Dragons and FA FA FA in the form of a symboltriggered jackpot and selectable volatility that lets players target the prize they want to play for.

“That’s completely unique,” notes Mr Punter. “It’s quite exciting from a player’s perspective.”

Dragons on the Lake will be shown at G2E Asia on top of 5 Dragons Deluxe™, Fortune King, Choy Sun Doa™ and possibly some others, depending on approvals.

The region also will be getting its first look at an exciting reprise of Hyperlink’s legendary Cash Express™—the “Train Game,” as it’s known among Macau players—the game that proved that the city’s nascent machine gaming market of a decade ago was more than willing to be seduced by the lure of the big win. The new version, Cash Express Gold Class™, sports an eye-catching interactive top box in the shape of a locomotive smokestack and a randomly triggered “Multiplier Wheel Feature” that boosts base game wins up to 100 times. A “Gold Class Feature,” also randomly triggered, moves the player into a special three-reel screen for 20 free games. Jackpots are generated via a “Stop Reels” button that halts each of the five reels on a point total, the cumulative points corresponding to a progressive, and there’s also an additional prize level that resets to a higher amount than the traditional four.

Interactive button decks are one of the more important recent innovations in slot design. As Mr Punter notes, “You can change play dynamically and interact with the customers a lot more.” New York-based High 5 Games was a pioneer in rethinking slot buttons, and Daniel Marks, who was a lead designer for the company, will be one of the people taking Aristocrat’s R&D into the future. He’s chief operating officer of Chicago-based Spooky Cool Labs, the company behind the “Wizard of Oz” game on Facebook, and is working with Aristocrat as an exclusive third party. Spooky Cool’s chief executive, Joe Kaminkow, who built a reputation at IGT as one of the most influential designers of slot machines in history (think Wheel of Fortune, Ghostbusters and Sex and the City), joined Aristocrat earlier this year as senior vice president of Game Development. Scott Olive, one of the founders of Hyperlink, is also on board under an arrangement similar to Mr Marks’.

“To deliver the world’s greatest gaming content, we need the world’s greatest game development talent,” Jamie Odell, chief executive of Aristocrat Leisure, says. “Joe knows how to combine maths, art and brands to make great games that delight players and drive revenues for our customers.”

On Demand™, a downloadable solution for changing out game content with the touch of button (its first dual-language titles will be exhibited at the show) is a platform that should prove ideally suited to his talents.

Then there’s Wonder 4™, a “game changer,” as Aristocrat likes to pun, an entirely unique take on the multi-game concept that allows players to select one or more of four base games in any combination or all four at once. They can play a 5 Dragons and three 50 Lions™ or two 50 Lions and two Wicked Winnings™ or four 50 Dragons and so on. It’s a multi-game within a multi-game, actually, featuring an innovative drag-and-drop technology by which the player moves the titles from the menu onto any of the reel sets. Choices include two Reel Power scatter-pay games and an Xtra Reel Power™ game in addition to the standard pay-line game. A bonus-packed “Super Feature,” triggered when the symbols line up on reels 1, 2 and 3, gets four games going at once at heady max bets in the range of 1,600 credits.

Mr Punter says to look for the impact of the triumvirate of Messrs Kaminkow, Marks and Olive to be felt increasingly over the next 12- 18 months across a range of new and existing platforms.

Its ripples will spread beyond that, too, enriching what is already a prodigious store of human capital.

“I think we’ve had at least three of our design studios recently come out to the region, which has never happened before,” he says, “our top games designers, whom we consider some of the top games designers in the world, out for three or four days to Singapore and Macau. The idea was to get a better understanding of what the players are doing, watching them, seeing what new games are coming, what the trends have been in the last 12 months or so.”

For Aristocrat, market dominance is never the end game, it’s the point of departure.

“These are the things that are very key for me and for the business,” Mr Punter says, “to keep pushing what concepts, what games, what licenses and what operators want Aristocrat to focus on to entertain their players . But in saying that, we’ve got to be on our game. Our competitors are designing more specific games for this region. That keeps us pushing. It’s definitely keeping us busy.”

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