Aristocrat will be at G2E Asia to reaffirm its leadership as an innovator across all markets and in every game segment
Aristocrat has a lineup of new Asia-focused games that is possibly the most expansive in its long run as the region’s dominant slotmaker, highlighted by an array of feature-rich additions to the brands so popular with its core Macau customer and includes a bold foray into an increasingly lucrative space in the market populated by a growing number of casual players.
“For us the mantra as we go into G2E Asia is content depth and portfolio breadth,” says Mark Aubrey, director of Asia Pacific sales and business development whose arrival from Warner Bros. on the eve of G2E Asia 2013 heralded a fresh approach for the New South Wales-based slots and systems giant to building on its enviable position in the region.
“What we want to be able to show is that we have new content across a number of different segments—covering links, covering core gaming products, but now covering things like standalone progressives, covering the entertainment market, covering new technologies.”
Mr Aubrey is in many ways the embodiment of this more expansive strategy. He was Warner’s group marketing director for Asia, managing home entertainment, video games, TV, HBO and digital sales and shepherding brands of the likes of Star Wars, Batman, Harry Potter and Call of Duty into release across all media during a 10-year career that also included executive stints at Activision and LucasArts.
His move into casino gaming, while a first for him, doesn’t speak so much to a new direction for Aristocrat, as he sees it; rather it affirms the thinking the company has always pursued to achieve the successes it enjoys in markets worldwide.
“This is still ultimately entertainment,” he says. “So whether you’re marketing or selling a movie or a video game it shares a lot in common with what has a slot player sitting in front of a machine and what attracts a player to your machine. The core principles are exactly the same. It’s about creating an experience and making people feel entertained and happy and excited about that experience. And I think that’s where what Aristocrat is doing and some of my experience comes into play.”
It’s an approach that will stand out at G2E Asia with the debut of the new Sky Rider and Storm Queens lines designed in partnership with Dan Marks of High 5 Games fame. They’re part of a portfolio fittingly titled the E*Series— as in “E” for “entertainment”—eight titles in all, each as creatively themed and graphically rich as anything you’d expect from High 5 and with mechanics underneath that emphasize fun, accessibility and time on device.
“They’re noisy, they’re in your face, the animations are out there, the features are really exciting,” as Mr Aubrey describes them.
Sky Rider takes Aristocrat’s popular Max Stacks technology—stacked symbols added to the reels on each spin, with both the symbol and stack generated randomly—and spices it up for the gambler with some of the company’s vaunted 5 Dragons math in the form of selectable free games. “We’ve added a bit of Aristocrat DNA into it,” as Mr Aubrey puts it. Storm Queens offers a less volatile experience that innovates on Max Stacks with an oversized block symbol, the MEGA SYMBOL, that unlocks the feature when it appears on reels 2, 3 and 4 and can combine with stacked symbols on the ends to fill the screen.
Macau is the target for both, but then that’s hardly surprising. It’s a US$1.79 billion machine gaming market, the largest in terms of casino slots in Asia, and Aristocrat controls around 60% of its floors. It’s also a market that is growing in numbers as it reaches deeper into China and growing with that in terms of the scale and diversity of its consumer preferences.
“Aristocrat recognizes that we need to evolve and that there is an increasing amount of mass-market, average players that maybe have never walked into a casino before,” says Mr Aubrey. “I think when you’re looking at the mass market, and you’re looking at someone coming to the machine for the first time, it’s about creating an accessible experience.” With Sky Rider and Storm Queens, he says, “It’s very simple for the player to understand what they’re chasing. We’re incredibly excited about the E*Series of product. We feel it brings something entirely different to our portfolio.”
Not that the company is conceding anything of its popularity with the serious gambler. New ideas continue to flow into its Legends strategy for bringing enhanced graphics and play mechanics to the brands and math models that elevated it to dominance in Macau. Legends was born three years ago with a beefed-up version of the Reel Power classic 5 Dragons. It offered higher win multiples and an exciting free games feature that lets players choose their volatility from among different game sets and multipliers. The reception was enthusiastic, and 5 Koi Legends joined the series in 2012, and Legends versions of 50 Dragons and Fortune King followed in 2013. This year will see the launch of 5 Dragons GOLD, which brings to the series an even livelier graphical interface and a potent mix of multipliers up to 40 times in the base game, a unique Reel Power layout where increased bets activate stacked wilds in reels 2, 3 and 4, and a topbox feature where full credits extend the middle reels up one to take the player from 243 ways to win to 576.
“It has that nostalgia of the Dragon Head, of what 5 Dragons looks like as a game, but it’s very clear that you’re playing something very different,” notes Mr Aubrey. “It’s an exciting proposition.”
It doesn’t end there. The show also will see the unveiling of 5 Frogs, a 40-credit Reel Power offering that expands on 5 Dragons’ math with a similar choice of games and multipliers in the feature but with the excitement of an optional 10-credit ante bet that triggers a Super Feature bonus that randomly adds as many as 15 games to your choice. There’s an extra kicker, too: the Super Feature might also burn off the two lowest multipliers in your selection for “a whole bunch of volatility,” as Mr Aubrey puts it. So say you’ve opted for the biggest gamble—10 free games and a multiplier up to 40 times— you could end up with 25 free games, all times 40.
This commitment to product depth is reflected in Super Feature with a second title and yet another proposition for the gambling minded player. This is Sunset King, and it’s the latest attempt by Aristocrat to successfully cross the International Date Line with the high-volatility formula that is working so well for it in North America with Buffalo.
“It’s incredibly popular over there,” Mr Aubrey says. “It’s one of those funny things about differences in tastes, I guess. We haven’t to date been able to get the Buffalo brand or the math model to work in Asia, but it’s a model that we are confident in, and we just feel we probably haven’t put the right theme or the right mechanic around it.
” The company also sees a wide berth for new titles in standalone progressives. It’s a sector that’s drawn a lot of Aristocrat’s most innovative thinking with series like Jackpot Streak, where players continue to win games as they ascend to the big prize. A new Jackpot Streak game will be shown, Sparkling Royal, it’s called. Two new titles will be shown (Choy Sun Jackpots and White Tiger) in Jackpot Reel Power, where the top prize can be won randomly and free games are awarded with three or more symbols on a line. There will also be a new Quick Fire title (Golden Peach) and a new title in the Gold Pays series (Golden Festival).
“In Asia particularly we feel it’s quite an underutilized category,” says Mr Aubrey, “and we feel that we’ve got a whole depth of product to be able to capitalize on that.
” In a similar vein the company will use the show to take the wraps off its new Players Choice multi-game platform, VIP Deluxe,which unites four of its best-performing titles in the region within a single box: Choy Sun Doa, 50 Lions and the Deluxe versions of 5 Dragons and 5 Koi.
“So if a player is playing 5 Dragons and goes into the feature and then decides they want to play 50 Lions they can do that,” Mr Aubrey explains. “It improves utilization. If you’ve got a constrained space like a VIP room you can have a greater amount of games in there.”
Topping off the exhibit is a new Hyperlink, Good Fortune, featuring the return of Choy Sun Doa, the Chinese god of wealth whose beaming, well-fed smile in FA FA FA became synonymous with the linked progressive in Macau. Exclusive versions of 5 Dragons and a game called Dragons of the East sit underneath, both uniquely integrated into the five jackpot levels with stacked wilds on any spin and each functioning independently with its own standalone jackpot on offer within the link.
“It’s our next big Asian-themed Hyperlink product that we’re really excited to show,” says Mr Aubrey.
Certainly it exemplifies how Aristocrat continues to embrace the challenges presented by its dominance in Macau to seek out ways to translate those challenges into opportunities. A year into a new job in an entirely new industry, certainly Mark Aubrey gets it. “Our traditional strength has always been the core gambler-style product,” he says, “and while that will continue to remain a key focus for us, this is a market that is maturing, it’s a market that is evolving, and as the leader in it, if we want to maintain our position in this space, we need to continue to innovate and evolve as well.”
The experience he brings from the wider world of entertainment suggests Aristocrat is looking at regional expansion in new ways as well.
“I think if the right license presented itself—and it was an Asian license—we would absolutely be open to bringing more of that content in. … Mega Manny Jackpots was a Manny Pacquiao-themed link, a mystery link that we did last year, clearly built for the Philippines. But, you know, Manny’s a superstar right across Asia. So it had an appeal in broader markets as well. So we will try and capitalize on individual opportunities in key markets, and wherever possible we will try and add or evolve those products or innovate around those products to make them resonate more broadly across Asia.”