Having recently been appointed President and CEO of Sega Sammy Creation – the casino supply arm of Japan’s Sega Sammy Holdings – Scott Winzeler tells IAG about the company’s plans for Asia and beyond.
Ben Blaschke: First of all Scott, congratulations on being named Sega Sammy Creation’s new President and CEO. What does this mean for the direction of the company?
Scott Winzeler: Well, to give you a bit of background, Sega Sammy Creation is an entity of Sega Sammy Holdings and was formed a few years back to specifically approach casino gaming.
The company was licensed in Nevada around two years ago and that’s when I came on board to lead that US operation. The gentleman previously running the Sega Sammy Creation out of Japan took the approach, “Let’s bring something new and unique to casino gaming. We’ve got great experience in the arcade world and with PlayStation, let’s see if we can introduce something new and unique.”
That was a good concept, and they released into Macau a sic bo multiplayer station which was a very big and bold approach, and it was well built. They installed over 100 units and the positive is that there haven’t been any maintenance issues, no service problems whatsoever. I mean, the Sega Sammy Group has made millions of boxes, be they pachinko or whatever, so they definitely have their engineering down.
Unfortunately they just didn’t hit the mark with what the market wanted in that multi-player station.
So although I was originally responsible for just the US market, the powers that be thought having someone with true casino gaming experience should take a swing at the game development stuff, and I took on the role in March.
BB: What direction do you want Sega Sammy Creation to take in terms of product development?
SW: I still like the idea of us using and leveraging our experience in pachinko and the home console world. There is tons and tons of content there. Unfortunately a lot of it is not well known by non-Japanese.
Obviously the most popular one is “Sonic”, but there are a few others like “House of the Dead” and “Virtua Fighter,” titles like that. As far as a library of assets goes it’s pretty unbelievable, so I’ve told the guys that we already have the art and the concept with bonuses and symbols and such, all we have to do is tweak the math to be more familiar with what the Asian markets are looking for or the US market is looking for. Instead of looking at a blank sheet of paper, why not jump in with some of this content that’s already formulated?
I still like that idea, I’m just struggling with the content style. I don’t know how familiar you are with the Japanese anime or the manga culture. That style is quite different and although very popular in Japan, there will be many outside Japan who might just think it’s off.
But there is a lot there so it’s just sifting through it and finding stuff that would be readily accessible to a middle-aged woman in America or a fairly aggressive betting style of player in Macau.
What are we going to do? I still want to use that expertise and tap into those experiences we have in those other non-casino gaming environments but I think the biggest thing I’m bringing to the guys is to say, “Look we can’t continue to just play with our own ideas and think we’re having fun.” We need to think about the player. We’re trying to bring them a good experience, so what do they want? Until we satisfy that, it’s hard to bring something new to the table.
I do think Sega Sammy has the ability to bring some skill game concepts to the casino world and some new novel ideas, but we also have to be able to address the core player. In the US, the 40 to 60-year-old woman is probably the primary target, people that are regulars. It’s about trying to get the players’ needs into the mind of our developers a bit more, because sometimes they have something really cool but then miss the mark with a jackpot level that isn’t going to meet the needs of a local player.
BB: You mention the core US player – do you see the US as your primary focus or is Asia still a big part of that?
SW: Our charter is both. Asia probably has a little bit more growth opportunity as new projects are in the works. Vietnam is coming up. We’re talking with Cambodia but haven’t placed product there; we’re talking to Malaysia. As a company we’re still quite new to Asia. We’ve put some machines in the Korean testing lab to at least be considered for the next round of bidding.
So Asia from a market growth potential is pretty good, but the US market is obviously 10 times bigger on a total unit install basis. What we’re doing now is running around doing regulatory license applications. We got the Nevada license two years ago, we’ve got several tribes in California, Arizona, Florida – we’re just moving around to the markets that are sizeable and accessible.
BB: What is the biggest challenge for Sega Sammy Creation in Asia?
SW: We did a pivot with Asia in regards to that multi-player station game we didn’t quite get right, so we came back with a standalone version. Our “Baccarat Maximum Fortune” has over 100 units installed in Macau now, which was on trial, and all of those have now converted to sale. Those are doing quite well. We’ve placed them in the Philippines right at the end of the calendar year, and we’ve even started placing them in Las Vegas because some of the casinos have an Asian corner with baccarat and sic bo, so the game addresses that need.
One thing we introduced was an option that allows the player to create their own history card, because they can be quite superstitious in Asia, so we allow players to cycle through the RNG without actually wagering and hit it two or three times, 10 times, whatever they want, and see what that cycle looks like.
Then they can decide based on their superstitions when the right time is to bet. I think allowing the player to generate that histogram is the thing that has made this game quite popular in Macau.
The other thing we’re doing in Asia: as you know linked progressives are ubiquitous – especially in the Philippines – and a lot of these linked progressive games are quite popular. We’ve got a link that is just being released now called Volcano Link with a couple of titles underneath.
Then in our product development line-up we have a series of linked games that we will release one by one in the coming months, so as an operator you can be confident that you will always have content without having huge changes to your floor. You could either just upgrade those, or if you like one link you can just add the second link. So in addition to standalone game development we are doing this series of linked progressives with that bonus link.
We also have a couple of standalone games in the pipeline that we plan to roll out every quarter.
BB: Is that still the plan given the COVID-19 pandemic? Will you have to alter those timelines?
SW: Yeah, I was in Japan just before they closed down the world, and I talked with our CFO and President who are both very concerned about the state of the world and the state of business in general.
Sega Sammy will not be immune to what this will do from a business perspective, but both were very confident in our financial status and our ability to weather this storm. Both said, “Look, this is the time for us to keep going.”
We are continuing to pursue license applications so when things do open up again we can approach more markets. Our R&D game development is not changing at all. We may choose to roll things out at a slightly slower pace because, of course, right now I can’t even ship a machine let alone try to sell one.
The fact that we did have a pipeline of games coming out means now we may have a slight surplus at the end of the year. But at least it gives us some flexibility on how we roll that out.