Aristocrat is on a mission to diversify in Macau—and to grow well beyond it
Aristocrat arrived at G2E Asia 2014 confident in its leadership as an innovator across all markets and game segments, and it backed it up with an array of new game titles and platforms, perhaps the most diverse lineup ever for Asia’s dominant slot-maker, and in terms of enhancements to the core portfolio, perhaps its most creative as well.
A highlight was the new E*Series. Aimed at the casual player—a lucrative space across Asia and a growing one in Macau— and incorporating maths geared to time on device, it represents something of a strategic pivot for Aristocrat in the region.
“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,” says Mark Aubrey, director of Asia Pacific sales and business development whose arrival last year from Warner Bros. Entertainment, where he was group marketing director for Asia, signaled a new approach for the New South Walesbased slots and systems giant in building on its redoubtable position in the region.
The series was unveiled in two colorful game lines—Sky Rider and Storm Queens— both of which have performed strongly in the US and were released in Asia outside Macau only this year. Developed in partnership with the studio of Dan Marks of High 5 Games fame, it encompasses eight titles in all, each fitted with stacked symbols added to the reels on every spin, with both the symbol and stack generated randomly—a technology that’s all the rage across the region’s slot floors—and additionally spiced for local palates with 5 Dragons-style selectable free games and an Xtreme Mystery three-level jackpot across the top.
“We’ve added a bit of Aristocrat DNA into it,” as Mr Aubrey puts it.
Regional Marketing Manager Nathan Drane rates the E*Series between “7” and “9” on a scale of volatility, a notable departure from the likes of 5 Dragons, which he places at around an “11”.
“So they’re a little less volatile than what we traditionally do at Aristocrat,” he says, “but what that provides is an opportunity for operators to create entertainment banks because they’ll provide higher occupancy on those banks. You put them near an entrance and create foot traffic and flow.”
The series hasn’t been seen in Macau yet, but it’s coming. Macau is, after all, the largest market in terms of casino slots in Asia—good for US$1.79 billion in revenue last year. It’s the bedrock underlying Aristocrat’s strength in the region, and the company controls around 60% of it. It’s a market that also is becoming more diverse and complex in terms of tastes and experiences as it reaches deeper into China.
“There is an increasing amount of mass-market, average players that maybe have never walked into a casino before,” notes Mr Aubrey. “Aristocrat recognizes that we need to evolve.”
It’s a mission for which the company is well-armed with a global reach that is all but unmatched among its competitors and a seasoned global perspective, demonstrated by E*Series and similarly diverse offerings, that success in Macau may have obscured to some degree. Parent Aristocrat Leisure posted a 9.1% increase in after-tax profit for the first six months of this year, and it was largely driven by growth in new unit sales in the US, where its American subsidiary is taking bigger and bigger bites of the replacement market, together with new sales in its home market of Australia and sizable growth in revenues from its operating partnerships across an array of licensed games, which are invisible in Macau, banned by government regulation, but occupy a big space in the rest of the slots world.
“Aristocrat made demonstrable progress in its product-led, share-taking strategy,” the company said at the time of the earnings release. “Across key markets, the Group closed portfolio gaps, better targeted game development and technology resources at key segments and improved front-end sales execution.”
New openings in the months ahead in places like Southeast Asia and the Philippines should see this play out in significant opportunities for new unit sales while enabling the company to continue to present a fresh face to its core Macau constituency, as it did at G2E Asia with a
wealth of new ideas for its Legends series, like 5 Dragons GOLD, which features a livelier graphical interface, a potent mix of multipliers up to 40 times in the base game, stacked wilds in reels 2, 3 and 4 that are activated as players bet up, and a top-box feature where max credits extend the middle reels up one to take the player from 243 ways to win to 576.
The show also saw the launch of 5 Frogs, a 40-credit Reel Power game that expands on the vaunted math of 5 Dragons with an optional 10-credit ante bet that triggers a Super Feature bonus that randomly adds up to 15 free games to the player’s chosen multiplier. Super Feature can also remove the two lowest multipliers from any selection, ratcheting up the volatility to the point where if 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.
The global perspective was evident at the show with Sunset King, which incorporates the North American edition of Super Feature popular with Buffalo repackaged for Asian audiences and supported by a second title, Indian Dreaming, thus allowing casinos to cluster Super Feature in banks of games.
“It’s a great math model from the US,” says Mr Drane. “The idea is to find a theme that works in this market.”
Standalone progressives were another highlight. A new Jackpot Streak game was shown (Sparkling Royal) along with two new Jackpot Reel Power titles (Choy Sun Jackpots and White Tiger), a new Quick Fire title (Golden Peach) and two new titles, Golden Festival and Golden Princess, in the popular Gold Pays series, which extends to the player a Hyperlink-style invitation to bet up “Gold” symbols to buy better pay tables.
The concept is developed further in a new Hyperlink—Good Fortune—featuring the return of Choy Sun Doa, the Chinese god of wealth best known for his starring role in FA FA FA, the game that established the linked progressive in Macau.
“This is our latest iteration of that character,” explains Mr Drane, “and in this instance we use him not only to host the jackpot, but he’ll also deliver wealth to the players; so he’ll come in and deliver jackpots, coin showers and free games.”
Underneath is a Good Fortune edition of 5 Dragons developed specifically for the link and a new title called Dragons of the East. Both are uniquely integrated into the five prize levels with stacked wilds on reels 2, 3 and 4 on any spin. Each also functions independently as a standalone with its own jackpot within the link. And unlike previous Hyperlink games the jackpot trigger is symbol-driven by four “Gold Reels”.
“It’s all about wealth,” says Mr Drane. “It’s all about creating wealth. It is ‘good fortune’. We’re really using that god of wealth character that resonates across the Asia-Pacific market. It’s a proven model for us.”
In all, it was a show that will be remembered as a turning point for Aristocrat in the region, the one when the company’s longstanding commitment to maintain its connection with its core players became a two-pronged strategy dedicated to penetrating new player segments. It will find the company in a better position to expand beyond China and will ensure that it has what it takes for making fans of the Chinese players of tomorrow.
“Our traditional strength has always been the core gambler-style product,” says Mr Aubrey, “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.”