Aruze Gaming focused on innovation to add more fun & excitement to the player experience
Aruze Gaming America CEO Richard Pennington relishes the opportunity to talk about what makes this nimble gaming development firm tick.
“We want to pack as much entertainment into an hour’s worth of play as we can, so we do an awful lot in terms of trying to appeal to all the senses and to give the player an experience that he or she is not going to get with the competitors’ machines,” Pennington said, sitting at a large table in the boardroom of the company’s Las Vegas headquarters.
He gives an example by explaining the allure of Paradise Fishing, one of the private company’s most successful slot products.
“There’s a sea of games on [any casino] floor, and often the differences between game A and game B are so minute that they just meld together,” he said. ”But you can’t say that about Paradise Fishing.”
The multimedia product puts the action of fishing into the palm of the player’s hands with its Reel Feel™ gaming technology integrated into the bonus features, and the banked game attracts and engages players with three 60-inch high-definition, LCDs featuring vibrant colors of a deep-sea coral reef.
“Not only do players engage with the game itself, but also with the players around them,” Pennington said. “I’ve played that game with my wife, and we’ll talk about what’s going on, and I’ve also played with perfect strangers and, bam, nine times out of 10 the guy next to you is talking to you during the game. And people can go to the rest of the floor, and they can spend two hours playing [on another game] and never say a word.”
That level of player engagement is difficult to achieve, and Aruze has been able to do it well, he said.
Paradise Fishing and its recently released iteration Amazon Fishing are emblematic of the types of fun, entertaining products Aruze strives to create for players, said Kelcey Allison, senior vice president of sales and marketing. Allison said the Reel Feel gaming technology has been a hit with players because it offers “Reel Feel interaction between the player and the game.”
Top of mind at Aruze is the importance of providing enjoyable, entertainment value to the players, Allison said.
“Our tag line is ‘All in the name of fun,’” he said. “It’s what we use on all of our brochures. We try to instill it in our work force—environmentally, spiritually, developmentally…That’s very, very important.”
It’s a philosophy that comes straight from company founder Kazuo Okada, who is also chairman and founder of Universal Entertainment Corp., which is a successful Japanese manufacturer of pachislo machines found in Japanese amusement arcades.
Okada also had success in the 1980s with Aruze Gaming under its former name—Universal Distributing of Nevada—in the United States, and abroad with its subsidiaries in Australia and South Africa. Universal Distributing of Nevada officially changed its name to Aruze Gaming America in 2005, and by 2009 a global manufacturing facility was set up in Manila, Philippines.
Aruze Gaming America has made strong inroads in a short period of time. “We don’t report our results publicly,” Pennington said. “But, from what I can see, I believe we are one of, if not the, fastest growing suppliers in the industry. We’re obviously starting from a smaller base than most people, but we’re growing extremely fast.”
Pennington said he believes Aruze Gaming is the leader in terms of product performance in the 5-reel slot machine category, and its diverse lineup of multi-station products, such as its Shoot to Win Craps™ and Lucky Big Wheel™, which takes on the classic Big 6 wheel.
“We’re seeing very significant growth rates in both of those segments,” he said. “And those segments are growing segments of the floor, so we’re growing into growing segments, which is a really great place to be.”
The company employs about 500 people in R&D, sales, customer service, administrative support and production, and continues to grow, he said. “Mr. Okada, as part of his approach to the market, wants to make sure that Aruze is as close to the customer as is practical,” Pennington said. “So we have made a very significant investment in additional salespeople and sales offices throughout North America and are continuing as aggressively as we can to identify new offices and hire new salespeople, and that’s been something we’ve been doing pretty aggressively for two years now.”
In addition, Pennington said, “It’s important to note the company has significant market share in Asia and South Africa. We’re in Australia, and we’re entering Europe and Canada. We’re a global company and we have a very diverse product line.”
The company currently has approximately 150 jurisdictional licenses, and in North America they have games operating in Nevada, California, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Kansas, North Dakota, Michigan, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, New York, Connecticut, Idaho and Florida, according to Paul Omohundro, Aruze Gaming director of marketing. In addition, the company sells games into Puerto Rico, Mexico and Latin America, and is licensed and preparing to place product in Canada.
Okada takes a hands-on interest in the company’s game development, according to Allison.
“No game is released until it’s approved by Mr. Okada. He is a product designer by trade, so it’s very important to him,” Allison said.
The company’s player-centric design philosophy also comes from its founder, Pennington said. “Mr. Okada has a design philosophy that goes straight to the players, and he’s always trying to innovate,” he said. “We don’t follow the competition, and so I think he has had a lot of success matching innovation with features that are attractive to the players. And it’s a lot easier to grow when you’re innovating than when you’re trying to copy popular features from somebody else because things tend to run their course quickly in this industry.”
Pennington noted that Okada invented transmissive reels, “which, I think, over the last 10 years has been one of the most popular and successful innovations in the industry.”
“Because we’re always moving to the next thing, we’re not mining that innovation as extensively as others,” Pennington said. The company’s foray into 5-reel stepper product has proved highly successful, as have the multi-station products. “Mr. Okada has this mindset that he wants to entertain the player. Really, if you entertain the player, give them good math, good graphics, more ways to win, then you’ll be successful.”
Aruze is coming into its own at an opportune time, said Pennington, who has been in the industry since 1991.
“It’s clearly far more competitive today than it’s ever been,” he said. “It is wide open. The operators are making their purchase decisions based on the popularity and the performance of the games, and that’s good for us.”
Players, he noted, aren’t fans of any particular gaming manufacturer, but tend to be loyal to specific games. Even that loyalty, however, has been tested in recent years. With the advent of video slots and more interactive innovations, players have a greater appetite for new brands and features.” Players want something new. Again, that’s good for us,” he said.
As a company, Aruze strives to stay abreast of the latest technologies. For instance, Pennington cited server-enabled gaming as a promising direction for gaming.
“We know it’s an important technology, and we’re looking at ways all the time to take advantage of that and use it to provide creative features for the players,” Pennington said. “I’m convinced that it will play a more and more important role in gaming as time goes on, but it’s not just downloadable. It’s going to have to involve features and functionality enabled by the server that you can’t do on a stand-alone basis, and I think we are [as an industry] in the very infancy of that creative phase right now.”
In the meantime, Aruze has been busy with its own innovations and with keeping up with rising demand.
“I don’t think a lot of suppliers have as much diversity as far as all of the multi-station product,” said Pennington. “[And] we have the video [product]. We have the 5-reel stepper, and we now are coming out with a 3-reel stepper product, so we have a lot on our plate, and so far I think we’re executing pretty well.”
Among Aruze’s latest slot products is Rich Life™, which places two players side-by-side in a head-to-head competition called the “Versus Event.” The Versus Event is displayed on a 60-inch LCD monitor that features a large game board showing the progress of the players as they move through the game. Players can select their own character, and during a randomly triggered Versus Event, the decisions one player makes can have an effect on the other player’s outcome. If the player makes it all the way to the goal in the individual game, that player is awarded a chance to win a variety of credit awards through the spin of a wheel.
“It’s totally out of the box,” Allison said, citing its two-pack configuration, the fact that a player competes with another player and its frequent bonus event every fifth or sixth spin.
Aruze also is ratcheting up excitement on the Paradise Fishing franchise with the Amazon Fishing product that offers a new “Choose Your Bait” option, which allows players to attract the types of fish they want, according to their own play style. Bigger bait means bigger fish and higher volatility, while smaller bait appeals to players looking for less volatile payouts. “It gives the player the ability to make his or her own risk/reward decision,” Pennington said. “It’s very unique, and we think that’s going to be a very successful twist on an already popular game.”
Yet another big game for Aruze has been Ultra Stack Lion, a 5-reel, 50-line video slot on the company’s G-Series™ product line. It features Ultra Stack symbols. Before the free games start, players select from one of five Big Cat silhouettes, and the revealed corresponding symbol increases during the free games. Prizes during the eight free games vary depending on the type of Big Cat revealed. “The customers just love that,” Allison said.
Among the popular titles on Aruze’s Innovator Deluxe™ 5-reel series that feature Radiant Reels™ is The Gold™, presented in a striking package festooned with gold bars. Like other themes in the series, it features large reels dynamically illuminated by 240 multi-colored LED lights and variable spin speeds that build anticipation for winning combinations.
“You put that in a sea of all these different titles, and it stands out like a monument,” Allison said. “That particular game grabs such a huge [player] demographic because it’s using the high-speed reel and the video, so it really opens that demographic quite wide. That’s one of our biggest performers in our Innovator Deluxe line.”
Another big performer on the Innovator Deluxe product line is the Aladdin and the Magic Lamp™ game.
“We actually took some of the new Reel Feel technology to create what we call the Rub the Lamp™ feature,” Allison said. “There’s actually a physical lamp that you rub and the genie comes out and does all kinds of magical things, and the customers absolutely love that.”
These games mesh with Kazuo Okada’s view of success for the company, Pennington said. “It’s very important to our chairman to have a positive impact on the industry and not simply to re-divide the pie,” Pennington said. “Fortunately in most respects, having a positive impact on the industry is well rewarded, so I think we have been rewarded. But his philosophy is first make sure you’re having a positive impact on the industry—make sure the player is having an experience he wouldn’t otherwise have. That gets back to the innovation. Don’t copy someone else because it’s not really doing anything for the industry. Move it forward, give the player something different like Paradise Fishing. Give them an experience nobody else has been able to give them.”
“Maybe we’ve been able to achieve that because he’s been so focused on innovation,” Pennington said, “whereas other people have been more focused on trying to repeat what has been successful in the past.”