Scientific Game

Asia: Straight Ahead

The maths, the themes, the links, the play mechanics—they’re all aligning for Bally in Macau and across the region

Thursday, 10 July 2014 15:16
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G2E Asia 2014 provided the region with its first look at the new Bally-SHFL combination, and it was clear from the wealth of new games and proven performers on display there that two of the most creative and accomplished design and development teams in the business will be making their presence felt in a big way in the months ahead.

The exhibit covered a full 600 square meters and encompassed so many new slots—more than 100 in all—that it’s difficult to know where to begin.

Duo Fu Duo Cai is as good a start as any, the four-level linked progressive that took Macau by storm when SHFL entertainment unveiled it at G2E Asia 2012 and continues to grow in popularity across East and Southeast Asia, even building a sizable audience in North America. It’s been enhanced for 2014 with higher minimum and maximum bets and a beefed-up pay table and an all-new title underneath, Diamond Eternity, featuring the same exciting “All Up” play as stalwart Reel Wave performers 88 Fortunes and 5 Treasures with the addition of a “Diamond” wild in the feature that multiplies wins up to five times and delivers yet a third distinct volatility experience.

For sure, Bally knows a winner when it sees one, and three more titles are being prepped for release on the link.

Likewise, Bally will continue to produce the SHFL Equinox cabinet. Mike Trask, Las Vegas-based senior manager of corporate communications, notes that its solid mechanics and player-friendly button deck have “struck a chord” across the region, and he says the company is excited about manufacturing it. “It’s been very successful. It’s kind of a new formula for us.”

 

Equinox provides the platform for a new three-level progressive, Emperor’s Seal, which debuted at G2E Asia with two new titles, Beijing Opera and Forbidden Beauty, in the innovative Block Pays series, in which any stack of nine symbols pays a scatter prize regardless of whether they’re stacked right to left, as in most games. With substitute symbols on reel 5 the block also acts to trigger the jackpot feature, where players try to match three “Seals” of the same color, each color corresponding to a prize level. As they bet up, the more symbols they load on the reel, and max credits ensure it’s always the substitute, and then only a block of two reels is needed elsewhere on the screen.

It’s a variation on the mechanics that made Duo Fu Duo Cai the regional phenomenon that it is, particularly in the similarities to “All Up,” where all lines are always in play even at minimum bet, and as players buy more “Gold” symbols they access a higher-paying scorecard with more chances at a progressive.

Importantly, Emperor’s Seal embodies all the best of that lure of the “chase” that so intrigues Asian players, and Macau’s Chinese players especially. It has been a learning experience for Bally.

 “With Bally games the criticism has kind of been that it’s based a lot on free games math,” Mr Trask noted at the show. “That’s not necessarily so popular over here. So we’ve added a lot of things like Block Pays, like mystery stacks, so a lot more going on in the base games, along with the mystery progressives that are so popular.”

Key lessons all and each of them turned to good account in an array of artfully themed titles—Fu Dao Le, Super Red Phoenix, Super Rise of Ra, Fu Lion and Aztec Dawn among them—shown at G2E Asia on the unique Alpha 2 Pro Wave, a cabinet unlike anything on the floor, a sleek, almost liquid extension of Bally’s workhorse Alpha 2 Pro Series V32 but with eight inches added to the portrait-style LCD touchscreen monitor in a player interface that curves inward a full 40 inches in height.

The Asia focus is notable in the prominence of stacked symbols, in Fu Dao Le, for example, where they appear as game logos at first and then are revealed as a line or wild symbol, and with the Reel Blast concept incorporated in Aztec Dawn, a free games mystery feature in which reels 3 and 4 become a single big reel with one symbol covering 12 game spots on each of three reel sets.

Fu Dao Le, translated as “Good Fortune Has Arrived,” was a highlight of the show, a five-level standalone with an engaging play package aimed squarely at the Macau market. It offers eight re-triggerable free games and jackpots that are awarded in the Progressive Pick feature, which is triggered by three stacked wilds that can be “nudged” up or down. Players pick from among 15 “Coins” until three of the same kind (“Mini, Minor, Major” or “Maxi”) are matched up to a top prize of 888,800 credits. But the big-money action doesn’t stop there. Every spin at any bet level has the potential to land a player in the Red Envelope Banked progressive when any combination of two scattered “Red Envelope” symbols appear on reels 1 and 5.

Bally’s reputation as a leader in licensed branded games was on display as well, led by Titanic and Michael Jackson Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, both available as wide- or local-area progressives and geared to providing the casual player with an experience that is truly theatrical in scope.

Titanic, based on the blockbuster 1997 film, delivers cinema-quality video and sound powered by the Alpha 2 Pro V22/32. There are four base-game mystery features and an array of bonus features that include a 3D tour of the doomed luxury liner and highlighted by Bally’s uniquely interactive U-Spin technology.

Michael Jackson Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ is the sequel to the hugely successful Michael Jackson King of Pop and combines the dazzling, music-filled play of the original with mystery wilds and free game bonus events that unfold to a fresh batch of hits culled from the late superstar’s legendary catalogue. U-Spin features prominently as well, and the quality of the audio delivered by the Alpha 2’s surroundsound chair is heart-pounding.

“King of Pop did pretty well in the Macau market, which was fun,” says Mr Trask. “One of our first branded games that really found a home here. We think we’ve found a brand that players here are really passionate about. And the math and game play are second to none. We’ve been going almost two years with Michael Jackson, and they’re still out there. So you know you’re on to something special.”

The same certainly can be said for the table games side, where the SHFL acquisition saw table products (utilities and proprietary table games) generate 13% of the company’s record US$338.4 million for the 12 weeks ended 31st March, the first full quarter to reflect the impact of the acquisition, up from 7% in the previous three quarters combined.

Placements of Fusion Hybrid, the stylish and flexible live dealer multi-game, are on the rise across the region, and the fivestation virtual dealer TableMaster Fusion is ready for deployment in a new multi-game format that’s been graphically enhanced and includes a Chinese version of SHFL’s Ultimate Texas Hold’em dealt by a Mandarin-speaking dealer. Five new proprietary table games also were shown at G2E Asia. They include a fast-paced variant of Casino War called One for the Money; a variation on Caribbean Stud called Six Card Poker; Double Draw Poker, which features three rounds of ante betting in which players can throw back cards in each round to try to build the best possible hand; Fortune Asia Poker, which pits player against dealer for the best two out of three four-card hands; and Dragon Bonus Baccarat, which could well prove the star of the bunch: it’s an intriguing twist on the traditional game in which Banker bets are a push if the Banker hand wins with a three-card total of seven and winning Banker bets are not charged commission. It also comes in a commission-free version featuring a side bet called Fortune 7 that pays if Banker wins with a three-card total of seven.

A Macau focus was evident also in utilities—a business that SHFL dominates just about everywhere in the world—principally with the new i-Score, a double-sided portrait-style table display for baccarat measuring almost a full 61 centimeters and colorfully themed around dragons.

Speaking of the prize that Asia represents for Bally, Mr Trask readily acknowledges the importance of the acquisition.

“SHFL’s given us a much bigger foothold here than we’ve ever had before, and in Australia as well,” he says. “So we’re excited about making inroads.”

 

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