Sega Sammy Creation Chairman and CEO Scott Winzeler discusses the challenges the industry has faced in 2021 and how his company plans to stand out from the crowd in the coming months.
Ben Blaschke: It’s been a long two years, how are you feeling about 2022 heading into the new year?
Scott Winzeler: As you know, things are starting to come back around but it still looks like it will be well into 2022 before we really see some movement. I mean, independent of our business there has been some significant news around junkets which could have a bigger impact on casinos than gaming devices or other travel, but from
BB: We spoke a year ago and were probably both more hopeful than confident about what 2021 was going to hold. Looking back, how was the year for Sega Sammy Creation in Asia?
SW: We had a couple of hundred machines installed across the region and most of those were turned off throughout the year, so it’s hard to say what kind of performance they had, but we did have a couple of games that we put out virtually – talking with the customers remotely and then either working with a local support group, or sometimes the casinos were able to do it themselves.
We placed two different games. One was called “Wealth Rush” which was a series of games that had a common link to them. That one didn’t perform quite so well.
The other one was called “Dragons Foo” and that one has performed quite well. We’ve got a few installed in Macau that are either matching or exceeding floor average and some in the Philippines as well that are doing well. That was the extent of our business last year – we placed a few of these on trial.
The one thing that has been our bread and butter the last few years is that our standalone baccarat game, “Baccarat Maximum Fortune”, continues to generate anywhere from two or three times floor average to a couple of places that are five and six times floor average compared to other ETGs.
We think leaping into this year with social distancing, operators will probably put those sorts of games in. We saw that in the US they were moving some machines to make more space for social distancing and a lot of the casinos took “Baccarat Maximum Fortune” because they knew they could use it. They liked the flexibility of the product. We assume it will continue to perform well in Asia. It performs well on its own but with Asia opening up it is also a good social distancing tool.
BB: Looking at Asia in 2022, what’s the strategy heading into the new year?
SW: We’ve still got some product that was intended to roll out this past year so we’re going to go with that. Probably the biggest single product that we’re excited about is called “Lucky Fruits”, which has two titles. It’s a tree game with perceived persistence so when you get a Wild symbol it throws another coin or fruit into the tree and sometimes it will shake and drop a bonus out of the tree, so it builds excitement. This game was ready to go out last year but we held it back. That will be our push here as we come out. We do have some commitments around that game so we expect that will start to roll out early in the year.
BB: Has COVID given Sega Sammy Creation pause to reimagine your products’ development and how players interact with them on the casino floor?
SW: Not so much for the slot machine. I know the systems guys are providing cashless and wallets to minimize tickets going around but that doesn’t play into our business model. But once you’re sitting at a machine, the anticipatory hooks you need to put in and beautiful graphics and all of that, I think that’s still applicable today regardless of the corona situation.
BB: What sets Sega Sammy Creation games apart from the rest?
SW: One thing our team has a long track record of is fantastic graphics. Their experience with pachinko and pachislot as well as the Sega world – everyone is universally complimentary of the good look of the product.
As far as the games go, some of the games we came out with early on … the team was trying to bring something new to the market and some of those concepts didn’t work, so for the last year or two we’ve been trying to iterate on what’s proven and trying to establish ourselves.
We’ve got some Hold and Respin features and the tree with the perceived persistence – that’s been good, the players seem to like it. We are using those and then trying to take it a little bit further to differentiate ourselves. But until we can establish a core following, I think we have to follow those industry trends that all manufacturers are releasing.
The other thing worth acknowledging though is that we’ve had absolutely no field problems. It’s amazing to me. I know our guys have built millions of boxes over the years and the engineering team is solid, but nothing is breaking. That’s a huge thing because if a bill acceptor fails you just swap it out but that’s harder to do with a machine, so it’s great to see no platform issues, no power supply issues, no mechanical hardware or buttons or graphics problems. We couldn’t be happier with that.
BB: Looking ahead to 2022, what are your thoughts on what to expect from the casino market in Asia?
SW: I would assume some of the trends we see in the US will make their way over. Cashless is becoming quite a thing. In regard to our games, “Dragons Foo” is a cool game and we are getting that out in Asia. It allows the player to select volatility, it’s got a dice feature, so if the dice lands on reels one and five it will spin. The good thing about it is, while it may be hard for the player to understand this at first glance, the dice does actually roll to true dice probability. It’s not just a graphic representation of dice, it’s actually going through a true RNG of what a dice would roll. That determins the number of Wilds you get, so if you roll a 3 on the first reel and a 4 on the fifth reel you get seven Wild symbols. It’s kind of a cool game feature that we’re bringing out. It’s been doing well in the US and it’s a product we’ve been pushing out into Asia.
BB: Are there any specific jurisdictions in Asia you feel good about for 2022?
SW: Macau, the Philippines then the others – the others being Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia. It just seems that the others are another step behind and aren’t coming on quite as quickly.
I’m also sure you are familiar with us having an investment in Paradise City in Incheon, South Korea. Up until now we haven’t placed any product there but we are getting ready to go through that process.
BB: Are there any other Asia-related plans you’d like to share?
SW: We had hoped 2021 would come to life sooner and we would have been rolling product out at a faster pace, but the ETGs with the baccarat game that has done well – people are happy with it and we are going to continue to provide that, whether it’s helping them with their social distancing or just using the product because it serves their needs. And then we have moved away from some of the more unique and challenging concepts that we came to market with a couple of years ago and are looking instead at what’s working – higher volatility games, the Asian themes, well known features that are working –and then putting a twist on them from our perspective.
We’ve done a lot of work to bring our games closer to what the traditional player wants, both in Asia and the US. Since the US came online sooner, that strategy is playing out well for us. I’m hoping that will also apply as we start to bring Asia back online.