Gaming giant Aruze Gaming America Inc. was established in 1983, with roots tracing back to 1969 in Japan. Since then, its history has been peppered with innovation and a proven track record of creating machines that are cutting edge and appealing to players. Today Aruze has offices in North America, Australia, South Africa, the Philippines, and branches in Japan, Macau and the Philippines. True Blue, a gaming company based in Australia, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Aruze that conducts research and development, and even more research labs exist in Japan and the Philippines. All manufacturing is done in the Philippines, with integrated peripherals and software installed in a Las Vegas facility. And Aruze is still growing. “We are very much focused on getting licensed, investing, and generally getting our ducks in a row,” says Kent Young, executive vice president of Aruze Gaming America. “We are planning on adding 25 commercial jurisdiction licenses by the end of the calendar year, bringing our total to 150. We have embarked on an extremely aggressive strategy—probably the most aggressive licensing strategy of anyone in North America.”
Kent Young, Executive VP, GM
Young himself has a long and successful history in the gaming industry, most recently serving as founder and president of True Blue Gaming. Prior to that, he served as global general manager of Aristocrat Technologies Inc. During his time as the vice president of marketing for Aristocrat Americas, he was responsible for the successful launches of many breakthrough products and for building the company’s market share in North and South America. This past experience has taught him that overcoming barriers to entry and being everywhere you can be in an industry should be top priorities. Hence, goal No. 1 is to get Aruze licensed in all of the key gaming jurisdictions.
Judging a Book by Its Cover
Aruze offers gaming solutions in two cabinets, the G-COMFORT™ slant and the G-ENEX™. The G-COMFORT Slant, which rolled out during the first half of 2010, is a very innovative product. “From a hardware perspective we are getting a higher level of performance over the upright,” explains Young. “The player really gets into it. It almost has a theater-type look and feel when you’re playing it. You sit in the game. It’s right in the forefront, in your line of sight. The sound is very much in your face and the player experiences the game.”
Sean Evans, COO
The proof, however, is in the performance. In comparison to the same games in an upright cabinet, the G-COMFORT is receiving 20 percent more revenue.
The slant-case game is larger than the upright, however, even though many manufacturers are in a trend to reduce the overall footprint of their cabinets. Young doesn’t feel that this is necessarily the best course of action. “I think it’s extremely important that the product displays the artwork adequately,” he notes. “The players have an emotional attachment to the cabinet—it’s an essential component.”
Aruze therefore designs cabinets with personality, a feel and a front-end that reaches out to the player. “We have a slim-line cabinet,” explains Young. “And some manufacturers have done a very good job integrating wide monitors in smaller cabinets. But in the end, it’s not the size of the cabinet that is important, butrather the ability of the cabinet to display artwork and the theme of the game so that it enhances the emotional attachment that is derived from the game.”
Jamal Azzam, VP Business Development
Aruze has found this to be true with players. How the games are displayed, what is being displayed and how this display reaches the player has an impact on the rate of trial. Games with corresponding signs have a higher level of trial, and toppers further increase the trial. If you remove these, take away the belly glass and make the cabinet more generic, these variables will have a negative impact on the player’s likeliness to try the game.
Young explains the company’s general philosophy on cabinets: “They must have a good ergonomic fit, display the game itself in an adequate format and when the players are playing they need to receive the optimal experience due to the design. They need ease of use and comfort.”
Johan Stoop, VP Latin America
Aruze’s lighting around the game, high-processing power and high-resolution graphics capability enhance the design. “We have one of the highest levels of graphics capability in the industry,” Young says.
Aruze’s games are a bit louder than most of the other manufacturers’. With the company’s roots in Japan, however, this is not surprising. It’s an integral part of the gaming experience in Japanese pachinko parlors.
Japanese slot machines, or pachislots as they are commonly called in North America, work quite differently than North American slot machines. In fact, due to the requirements and legislation, they cannot be called slot machines by any North American definition. The pachislot games typically have three spinning reels with a button under each one to stop them. The player has control over where the reels stop, to a point. The
Kazuo Okada, CEO
Japanese regulations require them to stop within a prescribed time period—several microseconds—which means the game has the flexibility to stop within about six symbols of the button being pushed. Designers use this to control the positions where the reels stop in a similar manner to North American slots, but implemented considerably differently. The wagers are also quite small, typically around three credits, and the maximum payout is also low, generally around 15 credits. In order to pay out higher amounts, the games go into a special mode where a certain number of games are set to pay out in sequence. The games can also control when the top award is available and give notifications of the potential of a big win. All in all, it’s a considerably different beast from the standard Class III model. Yet the Japanese influence is finding its way to North America, and to other parts of the globe.
Notification of potential wins is very well accepted in Japan, and is something that could, with proper implementation and jurisdictional approval, make its way to North America. Overlaid LCD screens, now found on games from several manufacturers in
Sam Basile, Executive VP, General Counsel
North America, were first implemented in Japan by Aruze. One of the most successful models, “Hanabi Hyakkei,” manufactured by Aruze, was introduced in March 2003. Graphics are very important in the Japanese market, and much of what has been learned overseas is being brought back to North America. Sound is also a much more integral component of the games.
Not surprisingly, the math model is also considerably different in Japan. Many of Aruze’s models have come from experience in Japan, especially in terms of volatility and hold percentage strategy. “We have a way to return a higher percent with increasing wagers,” explains Young. “A maximum-bet special can provide a 95 percent return, while a normal bet on the same machine could return 90 percent. This has come from the Japanese market. And the utilization of graphics means there is a lot more going on in our games from the norm.”
Steve Walther, VP Marketing
These games have a lot more going on in front of the screen, behind the screen and on the side. In some games, characters will run across the screen, indicating good things to come. In Rock You Queen™, a 5-reel video slot, a bicycle comes across the screen in order to indicate to the player that on the next game there is a very high chance of getting the bonus. This is not only a very innovative addition derived from the Japanese groups, it’s a complete change from the standard slot model that has existed in North America all along.
“On the product side,” Young says, “recurring revenue has been very successful for us. The Queen product has been extremely successful. A lot of other products within that category, such as Bow Wow Buck$™, Beauty and the Beast™ and Vampire and Beauty™ are giving us exceptional results.”
Aruze is beginning to roll out new games from a successful trial and is optimistic about the future.
Showgirl™, one of Aruze’s G-SERIES™ video slots, features an animated showgirl who will jump out on the screen, dancing and awarding extra credits to the player. The games are developed with a significant attention to player interaction and to break the standard mold of a slot machine.
Many of Aruze’s games feature Japanese themes. Giant Panda™, The Last Emperor™, Legend of the Qin Dynasty™ and Shen Long™, to name a few, have produced excellent results. They are different enough to attract the attention of players, yet innovative enough with a good math base to keep them playing.
With a number of successful games in the library of the G-SERIES, Aruze has also introduced seven games in the G-DELUXE™ series. These feature the standard case with large video screen, ergonomic design and lights around the bezel, but they also offer compelling top-boxes, complete with catchy toppers. The top-boxes may include progressive jackpots, graphics and bonus games that the players find compelling. Some resemble the European fruit games with lights that move around and bonus amounts awarded to players. “We’re putting the top-box in a high-end, high-frequency bonus, down to bonus games occurring as frequently as one out of 30 games,” Young says. “They are highly visible for the floor. We have games that have a bonus within bonus that then leads to a bonus within the top-box. There is a lot of top-box interaction with the player.”
Another popular type of game finding its way onto floors in North America is the interactive table game. These feature a number of stations and large screens where dealers are animated. Aruze’s G-STATION range of products offers these games in blackjack, baccarat, roulette, craps and sic bo. “We have had good penetration with G-STATION products in Asia for some time,” explains Young. “In Macau and Vietnam, these products are very well received. We recently introduced Lucky Sic Bo™ into Macau and the results are excellent.”
Aruze is also introducing innovation in these games in order to set them apart from the competition. One patented concept allows the person with the highest wager to press the button to start the game, and depending upon how long they hold it down, a random number generator determines how long or how high or low the table that is holding the dice will go.
With G-STATION, Aruze is delivering a group gaming feel and experience that brings new money into the casino. It gives players the ability to play a more complex table game in a less inhibitive format. They don’t have to worry about making mistakes, being embarrassed or upsetting seasoned players at the same table. In Asia, Aruze reports that it is seeing a different type of player on these games—people who had not been in the casino previously.
“The multi-terminal segment is very exciting, and more of our customers are installing multi-terminal products for cost savings and increased player acceptance. We have good win on the product and it seems to be an evolving segment of the market,” Young says.
Players report that they find the multi-terminal games fun instead of intimidating, as they can learn how to play the game without embarrassment. Many eventually move on to live table games once they feel comfortable with the game play. A segment that integrates table games and slots, multi-terminals have a lot of upside in the future. They’re rudimentary in that they’re replicating table games, but have a lot of potential for value added, anti-bet, jackpots, bonusing and features that the slot players are familiar with and demand. “The current focus is on replicating games as close as you can to a table game,” adds Young, “but there is a category for expansion of the game with huge potential.”
Aruze has several other product offerings to further enhance their game platforms and libraries.
The eXchanger™ is an innovative bill validator that accepts up to seven different currencies. The centrally managed property exchange rates take care of conversion and assist in the gaming operations audit process for exchange reconciliation. In jurisdictions where multiple currencies exist, or neighboring communities use different currencies (such as the U.S. and Canada border), the eXchanger simplifies the procedure for patrons.
The eVOIP™ is an easy-to-use, long-overdue feature. It allows the players to communicate with VOIP technology from the LCD panel in the slot machine to casino staff. Whether it is to order a beverage, have a slot attendant confirm that they are en-route to fix a ticket jam, or to provide assistance to the player, it is another way for the operator to make personal contact with the players. Customers who have seen it have given it tremendous reviews.
The eCARD™ offers functionality and innovation to patrons. Designed to both work in conjunction with or to replace TITO, it is an alternative cash-handling system. It can be used as an anonymous cash system, just like TITO. The player can insert a card in the machine and if they use up all of their funds, they can simply leave the card in the machine. If another player inserts currency into the machine, they can cash out onto the card, allowing them to be recycled. You don’t even need it in the machine. You can swipe it over a reader then place it in your pocket. The game will download credits from the card, and another swipe of the card can take the credits from the machine and put them back onto the card.
The final offering is G-LINK™, an addition to several base games. There are currently four G-LINK games: Jackpot Battle Royal™, Link Craps™, Manny Pacquiao Link™ and Dragon’s Fortune™.
Link Craps, as an example, is based on the popular table game. The mystery bonus feature allows players on linked machines to play craps on a virtual craps table. The outcomes of the rolls of one player determine the wins or losses of other players. It features an easy mode for novice craps players as well as a professional mode for advanced players. According to Aruze, “Players share in the special bonus event, and rather than compete against each other, they play together for a winning outcome. The suspense and thrill of rolling the dice builds excitement on the gaming floor. The bonus game awards a number of credits based off of a share of a progressive pool of credits which grows as base games are played.”
In keeping with Aruze’s design philosophy, the G-LINK games feature top-boxes and toppers with advanced graphics and colorful lights. The top-boxes also explain the bonus games to allow those participating to enjoy the experience. The boxes also serve to attract players when the bonus game is not in play.
With a history of innovation, intrepid math models and a global positioning, Aruze no doubt has a bright future. Given the long history and track record of the company, coupled with Kent Young’s own proven track record in the gaming industry, casino floors in North America—and around the globe—are likely to experience a bit of Japanese influence. Or a lot.