Valentine Slots Frank Legato, CDC Gaming Reports · February 13, 2020 at 8:50 am Oversized slots with dual bash buttons have created a new class of game – and these are no niche products Since Valentine’s Day is this month, we’re going to focus on a relatively new genre of slot machine that is practically made for the day. In the past, there were two basic styles of slot cabinets, regardless of manufacturer: the core cabinet, which placed the main game screen in front of the player and was just tall enough that it could be played sitting on a standard stool or standing in front of the game, and the “Big Bertha”, a comically large slot cabinet with a huge handle that someone standing would have to use his or her entire body to pull. The latter was a novelty item many casinos chose solely to draw a crowd to a given area. In the past 10 years, though, a third cabinet size has emerged, with new games designed specifically for it as it gained popularity. It’s referred to in the trade typically as a “large-format” cabinet, or, in some cases, a “jumbo” cabinet. If it’s a video slot, the monitor is perhaps 55 inches, if not larger. If it’s a stepper, the reels are oversized, and there’s usually a big monitor above the reels for displaying bonus features. And most of them are equipped with a bench seat and dual bash buttons, making the games perfect for play by two, even if it’s a single game. “Jumbo slots have been around for decades as a novelty attraction for casual players, as well as couples and pairs, but the evolution of this category to reach and engage core slot players over time has been more recent,” Greg Colella, vice president of product management for Konami Gaming, says. “Konami’s Podium Goliath was one of the earliest machines to achieve this, because it took popular Konami slot titles and showcased them in a big-screen format, giving core slot players greater entertainment value from their favorite games.” “Community-style slot machines started to appear more frequently in the early 2000s,” says Jon Hanlin, senior vice president of commercial strategy & business analytics for Aristocrat Technologies. “In addition, many casino operators have been placing bench seats in front of premium slot machines to increase performance and time on device. “The problem is that many of these formats required expansive spaces on the floor, so locations were limited. Aristocrat wanted to modernize this concept but do so in a way that allows for a great presence at minimal space cost.” Mike Brennan, vice president of product management for IGT, says he recently conducted a thorough review of the jumbo style of game. “IGT has always been at the forefront of large form factors, from Super Spin to Center Stage, the giant 100-inch monitors (of the MJ 103 series); then we kind of picked our spots. By the middle of the decade, the market was pretty much saturated with large video screens and large-format cabinets. Everybody had some. “We made a conscious effort to go with our flagship brand, and to go with some white space and player opportunity to put in stepper, high-denom products. The future is open to more of these configurations, but for us, two to three years ago we went with stepper products (in this genre).” That “flagship brand,” of course, is the venerable Wheel of Fortune. IGT has placed the brand in the oversized Megatower cabinet (seen at right), large enough for two or more people to play and watch that familiar spinning mechanical bonus wheel on top. While the Wheel of Fortune Megatower is unique among jumbo-style slots in that it is a stepper game, IGT has extended the jumbo style to video with the Megatower Universal cabinet, staying in the game-show genre with a new version of The Price Is Right. “They are similar cabinets, but The Price Is Right on the Universal has a convex video monitor, which does a good job mimicking the iconic Showcase Showdown wheel from the show,” Brennan explains. “We’ve got The Price Is Right on multiple cabinets, but with the jumbo on Wheel of Fortune, we’re taking advantage of the stepper part of the market, because there is no competitive stepper jumbo. “Right now, both of those product lines are doing really well for us. It’s just been a successful launch. Wheel of Fortune Megatower has been yielding some of our greatest performance of any cabinet we’ve ever had, and Universal’s right there with Price is Right.” For Konami, the jumbo genre resides on the Concerto Opus cabinet, featuring a 65-inch 4K portrait video monitor. “Opus is Konami’s most popular big-screen cabinet on the market today,” says Colella. “For the past 10 months running, it has consistently performed 1.9x index nationwide, according to third-party performance reports. In addition, Opus has more than double the number of unit placements than other oversized slot formats, because it provides a big-screen experience without requiring a massive footprint. “Many of our casino customers combine the cabinet with bench seating, to encourage enjoyment by couples, friends, and pairs.” According to Hanlin, the new Edge X jumbo cabinet has been one of Aristocrat’s highest performers in the Eilers-Fantini cabinet performance reports. “We designed the product to have an ultra-large presence that fits onto the main gaming floor in a more compact fashion,” he says. “Ergonomically designed for maximum player comfort, the ultra-large presence provides players with the private feeling of an intimate play session. We’ve combined two expansive curved landscape displays for a grand cinematic gaming session that is familiar to the player, because they have large-screen televisions in their home today. “We believe this large-sized cabinet provides players with personal space that maximizes their comfort and engagement. It has the best ultra-high definition 4K displays we’ve ever put into a curved landscape machine.” Designed for Two? The growing popularity of this game style means that manufacturers are placing their top games in large formats including bench seating, and even designing games specifically for this style. “To give casino operators the greatest flexibility, Konami has opened its Opus and KX 43 game libraries to allow the latest 4K titles to appear on either cabinet, so casinos have the widest array of game options when configuring their floor,” says Colella. “At the same time, certain series were created with shared experiences and a super-sized format in mind. “For example, Treasure Lounge is a stand-alone progressive with a tropical tiki lounge setting that doesn’t use a traditional reel-spin mechanic. Instead, large tikis randomly slide up the screen in stacks to award credit amounts, unique bonus features, and jackpot opportunities. The nature of the game’s design is especially fitting for Opus’ big-screen format, because its character, animation, and sounds are uniquely experiential. Diamond-izer is another standout title for a big-screen machine like Opus.” “Designing games is a multi-factor process,” says Aristocrat’s Hanlin. “The game play experience is a huge factor for us in determining the cabinet. We consider feature interaction, signage and bonus mechanics when selecting the proper cabinet for a game. The cabinet must fit the gaming experience. “These games definitely serve a purpose. Novelty products come and go just as quickly as they get placed. Our goal is to provide a needed solution that is a mainstay. There is a segment of players that enjoy playing these larger-format cabinets, and we want to be sure to provide operators with a great solution.” “Wheel of Fortune does use a larger version of the single-player game, but The Price Is Right Showcase Showdown in the market is exclusive to that cabinet,” says Brennan. “The new Jeopardy game will have a smaller, single-player version as well. We are trying to create some unique experiences on this product line.” “It is an experience that one person can play, but the buddy seat is very conducive to couples play, and impulse play, and group play.” Placement While the old Big Bertha machines almost always represented a single-unit purchase, the jumbo machines are generating multiple buys for casinos. “We were surprised,” says IGT’s Brennan. “When we first conceived of Megatower, we thought it would be single units, but we were very surprised at the demand; casinos are hosting more and more of these. One Strip property went to double figures of these. We’re seeing a lot of three-pods, along with single units placed near doorways, or in an end cap—high-profile locations that inspire impulse play. “These are more than niche products. We couldn’t build the Wheel of Fortune Megatower fast enough based on customer demand.” “Depending on the type of entertainment, property player demographics, internal strategy, and placement considerations, some properties feature select single units in high-traffic areas,” says Konami’s Colella, “or they may bank several oversized machines together to increase excitement and interest in a certain area of the slot floor.” These placements bode well for the future of the buddy-play – or romantic couple play – genre. “Consider that gaming is a social experience,” says Aristocrat’s Hanlin. “Players go to the casino to be part of the excitement and energy of the gaming floor. Today’s world is a very social environment with players sharing pictures of their experience and posting videos of their favorite games online, so it is natural that building a cabinet for players to sit and enjoy together in a social manner makes sense.” “We have a nice, robust forecast for both of these games,” says Brennan of the big IGT game-show slots. “There are some traditional core cabinets that lend themselves to bench seats. There is some anecdotal evidence that putting in a buddy seat has improved coin-in. Those will pick up more space. But definitely, you’re seeing more of three- and four-pods with buddy seats. Casinos are not as crunched for space as they were 10 years ago.” “The large-format slot category has grown because its ability to offer new game-play mechanics across a far greater canvas continues to perform,” says Colella at Konami. “For future growth, it’s essential that we drive new creative game content to the space and focus investment in areas of the machine that make the greatest impact on performance and profitability.” And Valentine’s Day.