SEGA SAMMY CREATION INC. President Hisao Oguchi wants to get Asia’s electronic gaming machine players excited about the process rather than the outcomes of the games. His vision is for casinos to become meccas of communal entertainment, and he’s got big things in mind to achieve it
Baccarat in Asia is all about the process. In a drawn-out ritual known as “squeezing,” Chinese players slowly and deliberately peel back their cards to reveal the outcomes. It’s a titillating striptease that elicits oohs and aahs from players and onlookers. Although casino operators would prefer to dispense with card squeezing at their tables in order to run more hands per hour, that would destroy the spirit of the game for many of their customers. After all, going by the cold, hard stats of the outcomes alone, a bet on “Banker” or “Player” is pretty much equivalent tocalling the toss of a coin.
By contrast, on the majority of Asia’s electronic gaming machines the process could arguably be done away with. If Macau’s gaming regulators had not decreed the deactivation of the auto-play function on the city’s slots, the biggest players would probably continue sticking guitar picks into the spin buttons while they either dozed off or went and played a table game, only returning after their credits ran out or a bonus feature was triggered.
Hisao Oguchi, president of SEGA SAMMY CREATION INC., is on a mission to get those players excited about the process again.
Mr Oguchi, a legendary video and arcade game developer now intent on creating revolutionary gaming machines, has been visiting casinos across the region and checking out what’s currently on offer. He concludes that “Although the games had variety in the past, now they all tend to be more or less the same.
” He understands the rationale for homogeneous products—they make development and production more efficient for manufacturers— but the result is “Players are no longer interested in the process because on any game they play it’s almost the same. So they would rather just press the button and have an outcome.”
Mr Oguchi observes: “Right now a lot of the people gambling in Macau have dreams of winning enough money to buy a home, raise their children, and so on, but I believe a casino floor should be a place where people don’t just win or lose but enjoy the process.
“It would be better if you spent $1,000 and got $2,000 worth of entertainment, not spent $1,000 trying to win $1 million but probably lost it all.”
Mr Oguchi has a 30-year track record of creating highly valued entertainment. He joined SEGA in 1984—his first job after graduation—leading the development of some of the company’s most popular video and arcade games and rising up the ranks to the position of president. In 2003, Japan’s largest pachinko machine manufacturer, Sammy Corporation, bought a controlling interest in SEGA, leading to the formation of SEGA SAMMY HOLDINGS. Mr Oguchi held various posts within the new entity and was eventually appointed chief creative officer in 2008, charged with overseeing all the creative endeavors of the group, including development of both new video games and pachinko products. When SEGA SAMMY CREATION was established last June as a new division to make EGMs for casinos, he was the obvious choice to lead it.
At his disposal are many of the talented game developers he worked with at SEGA, and he has instructed them to throw out all the established concepts and come up with entirely new ones. He told them to imagine a keno game consisting of a huge tank of water filled with numbered balls, with a real dolphin inside bringing up random balls to determine the outcomes. “Of course, it wouldn’t pass GLI,” he quips, “but that’s the example I gave them to get them thinking completely out of the box.”
SEGA SAMMY CREATION will unveil its first products to the global industry at this year’s G2E Asia at The Venetian Macao in May.
Breaking into the Macau market is the holy grail for any new Asia-focused EGM supplier, and SEGA SAMMY will come knocking at an opportune time. Construction of the next wave of Cotai is in full swing, and owing to the Macau government’s imposition of a 3% annual cap on the growth in the market-wide number of live gaming tables—which stood at 5,750 at the end of 2013, according to official figures—the table allocation granted to most of the new resorts slated to open from 2015 will be much smaller than operators had hoped for. Cotai’s upcoming casinos will therefore need to install more electronic games to meet the shortfall.
Furthermore, the limit on live tables has been driving up minimum bets on Macau’s mass-market floors—it’s hard to find tables offering minimums lower than HK$1,000 (US$128) these days. That compares with minimums ranging from US$7 to $50 at most casinos in Las Vegas and around the world. Electronic table games offer the perfect means to serve the large segment of customers currently not contributing to Macau casino revenues because of the prohibitive minimums.
SEGA SAMMY CREATION is keeping most of the details about the machines it plans to exhibit at G2E Asia under wraps until the big unveiling at the show, but Mr Oguchi can share that there will be three games: Sic Bo, baccarat and a big wheel-style product, all of which will come in an extra-large format. “Having machines of that size is the best way for us to show our creativity and what SEGA has to offer,” he says. “But of course that doesn’t mean all our games in future will be so huge.”
Inside Asian Gaming was privileged to get a glimpse of the wheel game during a visit to the company’s Tokyo office last month, when Mr Oguchi stated his basic development principles: “Game rules should be simple. In the simplicity of the games there should be a dream of winning big and also fun and excitement in the anticipation of the outcomes.”
SEGA SAMMY CREATION’s big wheel encapsulates those principles. It consists of three concentric rings with numbered positions around which a ball spins. The first and second rings feature black positions marked “Go” that allow the ball to progress to the next ring. As the ball moves to each successive ring the payouts at each numbered position get bigger, and on the third and outermost ring are four positions triggering a four-level progressive jackpot. The bet screen is simple—players simply place a wager on a single number. No side bet is necessary to chase the “dream” of a big win, but larger bets have a greater chance of hitting the higher-level progressives.
“The game is full of anticipation as the ball moves around the rings. For us, that anticipation is entertainment,” asserts Mr Oguchi. “Put simply, a gaming machine is just a method of determining who wins and who loses. On each of our games we focus most of our time and effort in making the determination process as entertaining as possible. Of course, there are some people—the hard-core gamblers—who don’t want to be part of the process. But our focus for now is to serve the people who want to have fun.”
That segment of fun-seekers is set to grow rapidly as Macau’s gaming market matures, he contends. “As China’s economy grows, Chinese people’s standards of living are changing, and we believe they will change in what they want in life. We want to be ahead of time and already provide the Macau market with the products that Chinese and Asian people will learn to want.”
In Macau, casinos still have broad appeal across age groups, but in the US the younger generations appear increasingly uninterested in casino games, particularly slot machines. “Young people are smart enough to know the operators are the ones that win,” observes Mr Oguchi. “Macau will change like Las Vegas did into more of an entertainment hub.” Thus, while he acknowledges many regional operators are currently unwilling to meddle with the profitable status quo, he is confident “They will change as Asia changes”.
In the future, he would like to create gaming machines for casinos that incorporate elements of arcade games, such as the driving or motorcycle games that SEGA used to produce. Pushing the envelope further, he proposes a game intended to take center stage on a casino floor “where the player has to go up steps to a podium and everyone is watching. Then the player has to play a certain game in front of everybody. Maybe the player has won $1,000, and he can either take it or double it, but because the public is watching and everyone wants the player to keep going he has to decide whether he takes it or he has the guts to go ahead. So, again, making the casino a place where everyone’s enjoying themselves and entertained.”
The casino of tomorrow, in his view, should also be more communal. “One thing I learned during my time creating pachinko and pachislot machines for Sammy is that the gaming industry must find its place in society. There are about 12,000 pachinko halls dotted around Japan—they are so connected to each neighborhood, and they also function as places for people in local society to meet up and communicate. Pachinko is only able to be so widespread because the public is comfortable with it. That’s something the casino industry can learn from. They have to be seen not just as places for people to go and gamble, but also to have fun, to be social and to network.”
A Rich Parentage
SEGA SAMMY CREATION’s primary objective at its inaugural G2E Asia “is to show the public our philosophy, what kind of company we are,” stresses Mr Oguchi.
Across the various divisions of SEGA SAMMY HOLDINGS, from pachinko and mobile games to toys and animation, the focus is entertainment, and Mr Oguchi can draw on creative talents across the group to help realize his vision. Having a deep-pocketed parent company provides obvious advantages. “We didn’t start out by budgeting the products we wanted to develop,” he notes. “We just set out to show how SEGA SAMMY has something different to offer to the industry.”
While striving to break the mold, Mr Oguchi is, however, mindful of the need to make products “that fit the culture of the market.” He adds, “Because our initial focus is to go into Asian markets, the products we’ll display at G2E Asia are designed specifically to attract Asian and Chinese players.”
Recently, SEGA SAMMY HOLDINGS has proved well in tune with what Asian consumers want. The group’s mobile games business is going gangbusters across the region, particularly in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. The company is also co-developing a US$800 million integrated resort near South Korea’s main international airport at Incheon with that country’s Paradise Group. Mr Oguchi’s development team will undoubtedly benefit from the insights gleaned at the foreigners-only casino there, where Chinese players will likely dominate.
“We would like to do something original for that casino,” he says, though it’s not yet clear what that will be. He had wanted to do a giant projection of a casino game on the side of the property, “But that won’t be possible because of local restrictions,” he says. “Also, we wouldn’t want to distract the pilots landing at Incheon airport.”