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Incredible Inroads: How IT is Paving a Path to Slot Success

Incredible Technologies co-founders Elaine Hodgson and Richard Ditton say their company is poised for a breakout year in 2015, on the heels of a successful launch of a new gaming platform last year.
Incredible Technologies co-founders Elaine Hodgson and Richard Ditton say their company is poised for a breakout year in 2015, on the heels of a successful launch of a new gaming platform last year.
Incredible Technologies, long a successful leader in the coin-op arcade game space with its iconic Golden Tee Golf game and other titles, has come a long way since its founders made a 2005 decision to enter the casino gaming space.

It wasn’t always an easy trek, but officials at the Vernon Hills, Ill.-based, privately held company are hoping 2015 will be a breakout year as the company capitalizes on the strong debut last year of its second-generation gaming platform.

The Infinity® platform and its U23™ cabinet, already showing strong performance in initial releases, continues to generate positive buzz and high demand from casino operators, according to Elaine Hodgson, chief executive officer and president of Incredible Technologies (IT). “2014 was the year we showed that we’re a contender. I think before this we were out there, and people were starting to believe that we were going to stick it out, but I think 2014 was the year we showed that we can do it,” she said.

It’s a climb that hasn’t been without challenges, said Hodgson, who cofounded Incredible Technologies with Richard Ditton, the company’s executive vice president. Learning the ins and outs of a different and highly regulated industry, experiencing the lows of a recession-challenged industry and striving to win the confidence of gaming operators that their company was here to stay and worth taking a chance on.

For IT, the Infinity platform and its U23 cabinet are of paramount importance. “The launch of this new platform is integral to the future success of the company. This is the foundation for our future growth,” said Dan Schrementi, IT vice president of gaming sales and marketing.

“We’re in a good spot. We’ve been pushing the boulder up the hill,” Schrementi said, noting the company only started actively selling games in 2011.

The company had a good year in 2012, and a similarly solid year in 2013. In 2014, IT saw its business, based on the performance of the new platform, rise 40 percent as of October. “We’ve still got a long way to go, but this is what’s getting us there,” he said.

IT’s Infinity U23™ cabinet showcasing Fired Up themed games.
IT’s Infinity U23™ cabinet showcasing Fired Up themed games.
The official coming-out party for new gaming technology platform, Infinity and its Infinity U23 cabinet occurred at the 2014 Global Gaming Expo, but the products were already outperforming the competition in beta test installations during the months leading up to G2E. IT also displayed new games in its new E-Play™, V-Pro™ and I-Series™ family of games and showed its Simple Sign™ Display Kit, an economical slot bank signage solution. Among the popular new titles for Infinity are Fired Up and Lady of the Dead.

Major Move
It’s a gratifying time for the company’s founders, who had already taken the company to stellar heights in the coin-op video/arcade game world with the Golden Tee game. Now in its fifth generation, the game remains a strong-performing fixture in sports bars and pool halls around the world.

With its Golden Tee and other popular arcade games, Incredible Technologies mined a rich vein for many years. A 2004 New York Times article pegged the company as a $65 million business, with 100,000 games installed and roughly $350 million the expected coin-in on Golden Tee games. At the time its Golden Tee Fore! was being called the most successful, coin-operated arcade-style game since Pac-Man, based on revenue from player use. The Golden Tee and other IT titles have also been released on video game consoles, PCs, plug-and-play devices, cell phones and apps.

But with the rise of new technology, in-home entertainment options and smartphones, Incredible Technologies’ core industry slowed, and Hodgson and Ditton made a strategic decision to expand IT’s offerings into the Class III gaming space.

“The arcade industry has been very good to us, and it still is, but it is declining because people can play games in their homes and on their phones,” Hodgson said. “So we looked at what our core competencies of our people were, and we saw we could segue a lot of things to gaming because it’s still filling the box with software and entertainment.”

The company is now active in 16 U.S. markets and also maintains an international presence in Macau, Peru and the Philippines. Its game titles are earning revenues on more than 150 casino floors, with more than 1,000 games deployed to date.

That’s not to say it wasn’t a challenge to begin making inroads into casino gaming, Hodgson noted. “It’s not anything unusual to this industry. You just have to pay your dues and learn everything. And we tend to learn everything the hard way, but we learn it really well,” she said.

Among the challenges faced were those dealing with ensuring the math was correct, and with licensing and regulatory requirements. In the arcade business, Hodgson said, the iteration process of a game is quick and enables fine refinements. “We could make a game; we could put it out, watch it and see its flaws and take it back, make a change and put it out there the next day,” she said. “In this world, you have to go through GLI or Nevada labs and it has to be just-so to get out, so your iteration process is months.”

Hodgson said the regulations are necessary to ensure the integrity of the games and protections for players, but she laments that the process can be time consuming and inhibiting for the gaming industry.
Among the keys to IT’s success in breaking into the casino gaming space, Hodgson said, were to “just be patient and get to know people and ask them questions and let them know that you’re real and you’re not going away, and then they start to trust you.”

Incredible Technologies’ Money Rain™ game.
Incredible Technologies’ Money Rain™ game.
When Incredible entered the market, it showed six new titles, a gaming cabinet called Breeze and its Magic Touch operating software.

Among the first games to catch on were Crazy Money® and King of Bling®, games that featured new play features and a modern video gaming experience. Crazy Money, for instance, proved a big game from the beginning. “That was maybe a little lucky for us because we were still learning,” she said. “Through the process of still learning, we didn’t always have good games, and now we’ve come up with tools—specifically my partner Richard has come up with some good tools to analyze math, and it’s helping us come up with a higher percentage of good games.”

Hodgson noted that it has always been important to Incredible Technologies to stand out from the competition and demonstrate its plan to be in it for the long haul. Those two things, she said, have helped the company build trust among gaming industry customers and earn placements. “I don’t think you have to make 120 games if you have a few good games. It’s about the percentages. You know, for our size company, it only takes a few games to footprint the sales that we need to sustain ourselves and grow a little bit.”

The new platform’s units that are already out are earning a higher floor average than IT has had before, Hodgson said. “Part of that is the cabinet and part of that is the Simple Sign, too, and the really good games that we have learned to develop.”

Ditton heads the game development operations at IT, and notes the company focuses on packaging great math with unique themes and play features.

“We go out and tour the casinos quite often and look for niches that haven’t been filled and look for different game play,” he said. “Our math team is busily developing math packages constantly and then you take the math package they present to you and you try to put a theme you think is going to be compelling around it. It’s a very individual process and each designer does it a little differently. I personally am always looking for different play mechanics for my age group—what would compel them to sit down at the game?”

One game he’s particularly proud of is Money Rain, which has a video reel feature that harks back to the old number-flipping signs used at train stations. That feature goes back to his childhood attraction to the signs at the train station that signaled which trains were arriving and departing. “When I was a little kid I would just stand and stare at that sign because it was so intriguing to see the sign just spin around until the numbers locked in,” he said.

The game has been doing quite well, three times house average in some places, Ditton noted. “The visual display is what gets you to sit down, and the math is what keeps you there,” he said.

Looking Forward
Hodgson noted that the gaming industry continues to grapple with the question of using skill-based elements to reach out to not only current players but also younger players who don’t seem interested in playing traditional slots.

“They are looking for the answer, and I’m not sure what it is. I wish I did, but I know that the skill component is a slippery slope,” she said. “With our Golden Tee game and other amusements, we’ve been doing skill-based gaming for over 25 years, and what you have to realize is when there’s any skill element to a game, the same people are going to win over and over.”

While many people enjoy playing skill games in their homes and people who play games like IT’s Golden Tee game in bars, there are “a whole lot more people who just want to have a random chance.”

For many, random chance slot games represent a form of gaming that’s more comfortable. The slot floor has been a haven “for older people who may just want to relax their brains for a little while and play and not have to worry about competing.” Young people, Hodgson noted, aren’t there yet. “They have high energy, and they want to compete,” she said.

While its main focus is on developing good games for the current player, IT also is exploring ideas and concepts for the new generation. “We’re trying to think of anything and everything just like everyone else,” she said.

Hodgson said the industry can’t afford to ignore new technologies—allowing mobile and online gaming for instance—that are transforming the rest of our lives. “I think the natural thing is for us to embrace the technologies that exist and use them for gaming,” she said, noting IT games are on legal platforms in New Jersey and in Europe and gaming is starting to show up on mobile platforms, such as iPads or smartphones. “It’s coming. It’s just that because there’s a lot of people entrenched in the way things are, so it just takes a long time for things to change.”

The recession also changed the way the slot industry does business, she said. “I think that the industry has realized that maybe it has cannibalized each other enough with the casino openings and now it’s been stabilized, and they’re going to be more cautious about what they’re going to buy, and even though they’re still going to buy, it’s not going to be as rampant as it probably once was.”

That means slot makers will continue to be challenged on how to deliver the return on investment for casino operators. “It’s very cost sensitive, I think, more than it used to be from what I hear,” she said.

That, Hodgson said, should be to IT’s benefit, as its premium products are all for-sale products, not leased games with daily fees and are delivering strong results.

IT’s Valkyrie Legends™ game, featuring a Norse mythology theme, includes a 4×6 reel configuration and 4,096 ways to win.
IT’s Valkyrie Legends™ game, featuring a Norse mythology theme, includes a 4×6 reel configuration and 4,096 ways to win.
Another aspect that Hodgson predicted would give small companies such as IT a boost is the uncertainty surrounding the megamergers of 2014. As GTECH and Scientific Games absorb their acquisitions of IGT and Bally Technologies, respectively, smaller companies may get more attention. “They’re very open to helping the small guy and having a lot of choice, and we’re a beneficiary of that,” she said.

For IT, smaller casino operators that gave the company’s products a chance have helped pave the way for IT’s growth. “They believed in us early on. Now we’re being able to sell to the larger corporate customers,” Hodgson said.

That has positioned the company for growth. “We’re going to grow two ways—we’re going to grow by percentage, get another bank at casinos we’re already in, and then also expand into some new jurisdictions,” Hodgson said.

The reception to the new platform and cabinet, as well as the sign kit, has been positive. “One of the best compliments I heard was from someone [a casino slot executive] who looked at it and said that doesn’t look like a second generation cabinet; it looks like a fourth-generation cabinet, which made me happy because it took a while for us to get it out,” Hodgson said. “It’s a very sleek package that’s very eye-catching.”

The company launched the new platform carefully, with a three-month test period using controlled proven content—games such as King of Bling and Crazy Money—at casinos in Iowa, Florida and Michigan, Schrementi said. “The earning went through the roof with that, and we were happy with that. Then we put the launch content on it, which would be games such as Fired Up and Lady of the Dead, and earnings went up another 20 percent.”

The first national rollout started happening in August, and by the time the Global Gaming Expo rolled around, Schrementi said casinos with the new platform were reordering more games. Interest was so high that IT sold through its existing inventory at that time, he said. “It’s been amazing,” he said, noting that some 300 games went out to casinos in the fourth quarter of 2014. Schrementi said the company expects some 100 games a month going out during 2015.

Hodgson, like others in the industry, has seen openness among slot operators toward putting games from a variety of manufacturers on the floor.

Hodgson noted that the company’s new cabinet has generated strong performance and operator demand through the cabinet’s sleek design, quality graphics and sounds, bank-wide lighting effects and its Simple Sign Display Kit.

IT is cognizant of the need to deliver more value, hence the company’s development of display kit, which allows casinos to easily add their own monitors above a bank of six or eight IT games, as part of its offerings for the new platform.

“We’ve really made it a very cost effective way to market the games, and then our very good marketing department has put together great videos that play on those monitors to advertise the games that are beneath that. It really does attract the players to the banks,” she said.

“I think we’ve got something unique and innovative and extremely simple and effective. It’s been great,” Schrementi added.

A Promising 2015
2015 is already looking very good for the company.

Incredible Technologies’ Infinity U23 cabinet showcasing Lady of the Dead™ themed games.
Incredible Technologies’ Infinity U23 cabinet showcasing Lady of the Dead™ themed games.
“For me it’s always been the game, the game, the game, along with really good manufacturing, sales and marketing,” Hodgson said. “We’ll just keep trying to get more banks on the floor and a lot of that depends on the quality of the games that we get out. If we have the same success rate in 2015 that we did in 2014, I think we’ll be able to sell another bank to every casino we’ve been in and then expand it to a few more jurisdictions.”

That may not be as difficult a sell as it was when the company was first starting out in gaming, judging by comments from two slot executives who are already have IT games on their floors and are planning to add more.

Warren Davidson, slot director at Coushatta Casino Resort in Louisiana, recalled that he had been following the offerings of Incredible Technologies for quite some time in the trade magazines, just “biding my time until they received their license in my jurisdiction.”

“As soon as Incredible Technologies received their license, we put together a deal to bring in six games on a 90-day trial in early 2012,” he said. “They were a big hit with our guests. Within just a few weeks, we made the decision to purchase them. We later purchased more machines, including an eight-game test bank.”

Last year when Incredible’s new cabinet first became available, Davidson said he jumped at the chance to get them on Coushatta’s floor.

“We were the first casino in the region to install their new U23 cabinet, and they are performing very well,” he said. “When paired with the Simple Sign kit, it provides a compelling and economical package that is able to compete with the best cabinets from much bigger companies. We are looking forward to adding more U23s in 2015.”

Another slot executive Juan Martinez, vice president of gaming operations, Seminole Gaming, said Seminole Gaming initially was attracted to the IT games after seeing them in California.

Seminole Gaming first installed the games in its Florida casinos a year ago. “They have performed very good right from the start,” he said. “They perform very well when compared to like games.”

Asked about the company’s new Infinity platform and the U23 cabinet, Martinez said it is very attractive and not a cookie cutter look like some others’ offerings. “Ultimately, player appeal and performance will drive our desire for more U23 cabinets,” he said.

One of the aspects of IT’s new line that is important to Martinez is the Simple Sign Display Kit. “It provides a very clean look to the bank and provides easy player recognition,” he said.

For Davidson, relationships with IT employees have had a big impact. “I always enjoy doing business with IT as it truly feels like a partnership,” he said. “As I became acquainted with the sales and marketing staff, it became clear that they were passionate about slot machines and really cared about their customers.”

Another important factor is IT’s understanding of the importance of social media marketing, he said, noting the company offers a YouTube video for every game it releases.

“This makes it easy for us to introduce new games to our Facebook followers,” Davidson said. “The icing on the cake is their people go out of their way in delivering creative solutions and great service.”

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