It’s a different game for IGT in Asia, playing catch-up, and the company that is emerging from the experience, if not a leaner one, is certainly as innovative, as determined to adapt and as eager for the chase as it’s ever been
What International Game Technology had in Asia at this time a year ago mostly was a strategy—“market-attuned,” it went—a fairly obvious reference to IGT’s belated recognition that emulating its North American success in this part of the world was going to take a lot more than successful North American games.
Fast-forward to last month’s G2E Asia 2013 and the slogan had become reality in an exhibition swarming with visitors, splashed with Chinese reds and golds and pulsing with the sights and sounds of the Far East, the big draw being the Macau debut of two specially themed MegaJackpots Game Changer linked progressives.
“The first year we were still getting our feet wet, still trying to sort out how to approach the market,” says Mark Michalko, the 36- year industry veteran whose mission as sales director of IGT Asia commenced in the winter of 2012 with a determination to turn around the slot giant’s local fortunes.
And it’s an apt metaphor, as he tells it. “Truthfully, it’s a function of being an enormous company such as IGT is. We’re a little slower to move. We’re a big ship at sea. We turn a bit slowly. But once we get in the right direction we’re full steam ahead.”
A lot of on-the-ground research in Macau has gone into setting that course, and it has shown with the success of titles such as Four Great Chinese Beauties, Big Dragon Lounge and West Journey Treasure Hunt—high-volatility, feature-rich standouts on IGT’s robust AVP platform that were developed in collaboration with the renowned High 5 Games to deliver the mechanics, mathematics and requisite cultural nuances to enable IGT to nibble at the floor shares of more entrenched competitors.
These represent one side of “market-attuned,” that of games designed “from whole cloth,” as Mr Michalko puts it, “starting with a blank sheet of paper and trying to design the theme, the graphics, the math models, et cetera, specifically for this market.”
The other side finds the company continuing to experiment with “international” releases, either by reconfiguring them with Asian graphics and maths or seeing how they fly on their own. Golden Goddess has been one of the big successes in this second category, a North American perennial that made the Pacific crossing with ease a couple of years back and continues to perform well on the strength of its visually compelling Multi- Layer Display interface and extras like Selective Stacking, which locks a major symbol on each spin for larger base-game payouts, and Super Stacks for bigger wins in the bonus, and an “all-on-one” game program that enables configurable line options. Big hopes rest this year with the ability of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, a licensed title based on a popular police drama on US television, to resonate in the same way.
“It’s not that everything from the US is going to do terrible here,” Mr Michalko says. “Some things you’ve seen do well. But then we tweak a few other ones to make them fit this market. So it’s kind of a two-pronged approach.”
Between now and next May when G2E Asia rolls around again, the two prongs will have become three, the way IGT is mapping this. As the company’s Beijing game studio ramps up, the region will be seeing a steady release of new standalones. Six titles shown at the stand last month are already primed to go. Highlights include Money Idol—a five-reel, 20-line, 1,000-credit max-bet game with an MLD-enabled 3D player interface and wild reels in the free games bonus to kick up the volatility factor— and Silk Seduction, an even more volatile AVP ride, a 60-line, 495-credit max-bet offering where higher bets trigger a “1,024 Ways to Win” feature and Bettor Chance invites players to make a separate side bet to play for a distinct group of extra wins. Expect at some point to see both as base titles under the two new Game Changer progressive links that represent the second prong of the strategy—Pearl Dragon and Great Zodiac Race, they’re called, and they’re coming in the fall—the “really big breakthrough,” as Mr Michalko describes them—the opportunity the Asia division has been waiting for to compete in a space that is coming to dominate the Macau market.
“What we wanted to do is not lose the benefit that we’ve gained with standalone games that are performing well,” he says. “The question was, how do we now migrate over to the market trend, the linked product? And I think we’re on track to do that very, very well.”
So it’s all but certain that Golden Goddess, Big Dragon Lounge, Four Great Chinese Beauties and West Journey will be reappearing as Game Changers also. Combined with Money Idol and Silk Seduction, that’s a creditable lineup, one that should prove effective in drawing players in to the unique way that Game Changer blends the excitement of mystery bonusing with a four-level progressive and directly engages players in the action by letting them choose symbols to reveal points that could bump them up to bigger jackpots. The G23V2 Premium Widescreen cabinet won’t hurt either with its spacious playing area, enhanced sound effects and optional high-definition 23-inch LCD or 22-inch MLD for a memorable visual experience.
Playing catch-up and loving it: Mark Michalko (left), director of sales for theMacau office of IGT Asia, and Macau Sales Manager Gavin Jones.
IGT is also gunning for the competition on the systems side. It’s the third prong of the Asia strategy, and it revolves around the novel idea of selling the powerful solutions collectively known as IGT Advantage in discrete, customizable and affordable pieces.
“We’ve made a very concerted effort to try to go after some of those smaller venues here in Macau,” says Mr Michalko, “to provide them with what is essentially a subset of our overall Table Manager system. Because they don’t need all the modules. They don’t need to spend a big pot of money. What we can do is deliver that system, but only enable a subset of it, maybe it’s the one or two functions they need, for cage and table accounting, for example, or rebates and commissions.”
This is an about-face for IGT, a company that normally doesn’t do “niche,” as Mr Michalko will be the first to tell you. It’s emblematic of the very real strategic shift that Asia represents for slot giant, prompted by a growing awareness, reawakened only a year or so ago, of just how complex and interesting the region is.
“One of the things that happened when we first got here,” he says, “and I had the same mentality as everybody else who comes here in the beginning, you go, ‘It’s like Vegas. It looks like Vegas.’ And you start to think in terms of those big properties, the megaresorts. In reality, Macau has very distinct sub-markets, very robust local venues that cater to the local player. There are very different dynamics there.”
The implications are enormous, and he likes them all.
“I’m very confident that we’re on the right track, very upbeat about where we are now in terms of our positioning for the future, not just in Macau, although that is the bellwether for all of Asia, but we’re looking pretty good for the future everywhere.”