Innovate Gaming took the opportunity to speak with Sabby Gill, IGT Sr, VP of International Sales, at this year’s ICE in London. The discussion focused on new products and innovation driving the global gaming industry.
IG: What new innovation is IGT demonstrating at ICE 2014?
SG: Every three years in the UK there is a change in stakes and prizes, in relation to what the minimum jackpots can be rewarded at, and this was signed off two weeks ago. IGT was first to market. They signed it off on Thursday and we had our machines on the floor on Friday. We are one of the only vendors that are able to do that; some of the other manufacturers are two or three weeks behind. What this gave us during that period was first-to-market, so people walked into a casino, looked at our machines and saw a higher jackpot potentially than competitors. IGT definitely took a lion’s share during the period and our findings so far lead us to believe we will continue to maintain some element of that share.
One of the other things we have done in the UK is a new concept around trying to show individuals the volatility of the game they are playing. It is so easy today to go up to a slot machine and start playing a game, but for the first time you won’t know the volatility – Is it more time on device? Is it entertainment play? Is it high volatility? What sort of ride and wave am I going to get by playing this machine? So in the UK as part of the triennial release, where we had to update every machine on the floor up and down the country, we introduced a Volatility Index.
Now, when you go into any game, there’s a small icon, similar to a ride on a rollercoaster, which shows whether it is a low-, medium- or high-volatility game. If it’s a green icon, the player knows there will be lots of small wins; if it’s a yellow icon, there will be some bigger wins but maybe over a longer period; and with a red icon, it’s over a longer time, but when you hit, you hit big.
This concept wasn’t just an IGT idea that we rolled out, we worked specifically with operators, who have taken it a step further and asked us to put different volatility games into different cabinets, and they’re putting different coloured chairs and piece of carpets at the cabinets, all to help players understand the type of ride they will get. We’re watching this space with great expectations and from the feedback we’ve had so far from the operators, every single one of them believe this will be a material difference for them in the foreseeable future.
The other piece that sometimes I think everyone forgets is the responsible gaming element of this as well. You’re now able to tell people how they are going to be spending their money, whereas before, I think people have potentially played games without necessarily knowing the outcome of what that means to them. Now you’re basically saying to them, “you have the choice and you can decide,” and we’re telling exactly how you will earn money or lose money, and the wave you’ll have. I think its being much more responsible in the way IGT are making their games. We are trying to put in more features and functions that help the operator to be more responsible as well as ourselves.
IG: What key games are on IGT’s stand at ICE 2014?
SG: The biggest thing that nobody’s seen before, in the European market, is AVATAR™. Normally what happens is not as many European customers go to G2E so the first time they get to see all the product information is at ICE. But one thing we were able to do is leverage what came out of G2E and bring that message to ICE, so when customers do come here they don’t necessarily see it for the first time, they’ve already heard about it. We got the message out a lot earlier across all the operators that weren’t at G2E, so we’ve already done placements.
From the games that have never been seen before, the most exciting one is Jenga™. We’ve produced a slot machine themed around Jenga and the great thing is, the base game and a lot of characters are built around a theme that allows you to bonus around the Jenga blocks. When you’re in the bonus game, you’re able to choose which block you want to pull out and as you pull it out it gives you bonus points related to that block; the more blocks you start taking out, the more it starts to wobble and gives the same feeling as if you’re playing the game. That’s a really, really cool feature and we’ve had a lot of interest from a lot of people.
The other is Video Reel Edge™ and here what we’ve been able to do is the Atari Centipede, but in addition to that we’ve also come up with an Aladdin theme, where somebody is flying around on a magic carpet, collecting coins and jewels in the bonus round. This has also gone down extremely well, especially when you’re trying to appeal to that younger demographic, that individual player, both Jenga and the Video Reel Edge play really well into that category.
The other real significant piece is that about 30 or 40 brand new game titles that have never been at G2E are all out on the show floor. In addition, we’ve got market-attuned content, some specific games for the Latin American and Asian market, also being shown here for the first time. There’s a game-changer product called Bollywood Dreams, which is very appropriate for the European market, African market, and Asian market. There’s also Venture to Never Isle™, a progressive-type game that a lot of people resonate with; Into the Wild™, a high-volatility progressive, which is something we’ve never come out with before.
IG: Are there any other exciting IGT projects at the moment in Europe?
SG: Yes, where do I start! On the systems side, the product we predominantly have in Europe is CasinoLink®. What we’ve done now is introduced some of the great bonusing that our North America customers have been leveraging under the Advantage™ platform and ported it over to CasinoLink. The main bonus features are Lucky Coin™ and Random Riches™, which takes players on a scavenger hunt across the casino floor to find specific games and once found, rewards the player. It also allows operators to market direct to players through bonusing, being able to pull the player data and use the marketing tools. So that’s a cool feature, which a lot of people have been looking at throughout Europe.
If we go down to specific markets, there haven’t really been any unique regulatory requirements. A lot of our themes and games tend to work across markets, so we haven’t had to do anything specific. Under our strategy of trying to create the best content, our games could work in any market. This has allowed us open our eyes and allow operators access to our entire library to try different games for their market. Traditionally, we have always excluded certain games, but now we’re offering everything. We continue to work with operators on type of games, but we are now more open and flexible on how we deploy. Who would have thought the second-best performing game in Germany would be Huevocartoon, which was built specifically by us focused on a demographic related to Latin America.
IG: Has IGT made any advancement on server-based gaming?
SG: There’s been a big evolution around server-based gaming recently as a lot of manufacturers are now saying they offer server-based solutions. Interestingly enough, I was on a panel during this week’s ICE conference with Ian Gosling, COO of Regency Entertainment Group. He explained that there are multiple manufacturers across his entire floor; if IGT has a server-based product, he is required to buy the server with the complete software infrastructure; then another vendor goes into sell, and then another, and another.
As Ian’s whole IT infrastructure is maintaining all these servers, systems and databases, why can’t manufacturers come up with one that will allow everybody else to take games from theirs, so that he only has to invest in one server? And as much as that would be great for operators, there is an element of coopetition between vendors that not everybody wants to make their games available on every platform. Some platforms aren’t open standards, some require levels of IP connection and no one really wants to give away data, because it’s protected.
So, to answer Ian’s question – when you’re in a cloud environment, all the problems go away. In the cloud, he is not responsible for the servers, they’re already installed somewhere else in a data centre that he would never see. All the information is piped back to a user interface, and analytics. If everyone’s got a cloud infrastructure, then for Ian, if he can see a diagram of his floor, all the hotspots, the statistics, and wants to change a theme, it’s just a case of drag and drop right into a machine and it automatically happens on the floor. If all the vendors could come together on that type of approach it takes Ian’s issue away.
I think that all the manufacturers would love to get there but today, IGT is the only one that has the solution. We’ve now rolled out cloud across the Aspers estate, we’ve rolled it out with Codere in Latin America, and we’ve now gone in at Rank in the UK. So we’re trying very hard to make sure operators get the message of the cloud. It’s not only the cost of deploying games, it’s the cost of technical infrastructure and so, we’re not only looking at the player, we’re also concerned with how operators reduce their costs of running a casino.
IG: Where is IGT’s current focus on gaming convergence?
SG: We look at convergence as two parallel streams. There is what operators would call convergence and what we call convergence from a product-game perspective. Operator convergence is all about how to give the same player experience regardless of game, whether they’re land-based, online, mobile or social. It’s about bonusing and player ID, in order to give the same sort of experience. When IGT looks at convergence from a manufacturer perspective, it’s so closely aligned it’s scary. Here, it is all about content; manufacturer convergence is about how to design and produce a game once and then put it onto any platform.
Today, we talk about mobile, tablet, PC, online, social and land-based EGM; there are so many different ways to potentially put content our there but what you don’t want to do is develop 80pc and then change 20pc five times for different elements. IGT has really been working to produce a game once that can be deployed across anything. This is really important when you think about what operators are trying to do, which is give players the same experience.
An example is that someone is playing Wolf Run in a land-based casino and then suddenly leaves. Casino management knows the player has left, so sends a quick link to play Wolf Run on his mobile. He goes home, he’s able to log in online and that information is potentially known because he’s come in on Facebook or his status has changed, so the operator sends something else that allows him to play online. Then there is the whole element to social gaming, with operators being able to send the player to DoubleDown Casino, giving them a social experience, but all on the same game. Wolf Run, for instance, is available everywhere.
One of the things that we do is, when developing games from the beginning, the math you end up putting in the game is still the same math, whether you put it land-based, online, mobile, or social. Therefore the experience is still very much the same and what it really comes down to is the wagering. With convergence, the important thing is about any time, any place, anywhere, and getting the content out there to the player in any medium that we can.
International Game Technology is a global leader in casino gaming entertainment and continues to transform the industry by translating casino player experiences to social, mobile and interactive environments for regulated markets around the world. IGT’s acquisition of DoubleDown Interactive provides engaging social casino style entertainment to more than 6 million players monthly.
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