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SLOT Juggernaut

Multimedia Games’ innovative games and popular international slots tournament are only the beginning

By John Grochowski

 

Austin, Texas, is not the first place you’d think of in connection with hot slot games. There are no casinos in Austin—in fact, there is only one tribal casino in all of Texas.

Nonetheless, Multimedia Games has used its Austin location as a springboard toward making a big splash with casino players and operators alike. Its Tournevent slot tournament system has grown by leaps and bounds, its new Twist & Win format gives the reels a creative new spin, and games such as Dracula and Valkyrie are packed with fun for players.

It’s such an attractive package that Global Coin Access couldn’t resist. A leading provider of casino cash handling solutions, GCA acquired Multimedia last year. And that attractive package is the result of nearly a quarter century’s work in Austin.

“We’re not close to a gaming market, but as we’ve grown up, we’ve embraced it,” said Linda Trinh, Multimedia Games’ vice president for marketing and promotions. “It gives us a different, fresh eye on it than those who are immersed in it. So instead of shying away from it, we’ve embraced it.”

For Multimedia, the embracing started in 1991. The company’s early focus was on Class II, bingo-style games for tribal casinos. Often, that involved porting games and themes from major slot manufacturer, then translating the math for a Class II format so that what you see on the screen or reels is the result of a bingo draw from a central processor.

In addition to tribal casinos, the company provided video lottery terminals in states including Washington and Iowa, and became the systems provider for the New York Lottery’s racino system.

When it took the plunge into Class III games—slot machines with random number generators—Multimedia had natural early partners in tribal casinos such as those in Oklahoma that were adding Class III slots to their Class II offerings. Entry into commercial casinos followed, with the Orleans becoming the first Las Vegas casino to add Multimedia slots in 2012. Today, you can find Multimedia Games in much of the U.S., with games in Atlantic City, Florida, Nevada and more. Multimedia has even gone international, providing slots and the Tournevent system in Peru.

“Annually, we’re heading toward 80 to 100 original titles that we generate out of Austin, Texas,” Trinh said. “It’s changed quite a bit. In 2010 or ’11, we were creating 20 original titles. The output has significantly increased in the past few years, and it’s definitely something that we are very proud of in that we’ve really built internally this great development community that is creating, I believe, some of the most stunning, most beautiful games out there.”

Rise of the TournEvent

The key product in Multimedia’s growth has been Tournevent, which can instantly turn a slot machine from regular pay-per-spin mode to tournament play. Operators use a pad device to set up tournament mode and register players.

In tournament mode, Tournevent is an eye-popper that’s packed with fun for players and spectators alike. Scores are kept in real time – you always know who’s on top. And beyond the standard “hit the button as fast as possible” game play that is typical of tournaments, Tournevent challenges players to be on the alert. With a “Pop and Win” feature, animated balloons float into the top box, and players have to be ready to touch the balloons to burst them for rewards that build their tournament scores.

“Our tournament system is kind our crown jewel,” Trinh said. “It’s definitely the system and product that made Multimedia Games what it is today and why GCA decided to scoop us up. It’s a system that has had a number of years internally, but didn’t get huge and really get traction until just 2012, 2013. We unveiled it in 2010 with about 10 casinos and 40 machines. Today we’re sitting at close to 400 casinos at over 4,500 machines across the country. In that short a time the traction it has made has been phenomenal.”

The added fun, Trinh said, is a key to Tournevent’s success.

“One of the great things is the interactive feature where you’re not just banging on the button, but you’re having to look up on the screen and hit balloons or targets that come up. Just something as simple as that has been a huge game changer for us—that whole Pop and Win.

“We’re constantly trying to think of new ways and other ways to get the player engaged into it. So we have the ‘Cash Boom Bang,’ which we showed last year at Global Gaming Expo. This year, we’re getting it out to the casinos. The screen will divide up into four sections and then it goes into what is called the Frenzy Mode. You’ll have balloons, every one of the sections and also you have other targets coming up, so it’s an overload of target and things you have to do when you’re already in that tournament mode. So it just brings it to that next frenzy level.”

With the soaring popularity of Tournevent has come the Tournament of Champions, where players across the U.S.—and now in Peru—play in qualifiers leading to an international championship. This year, for the first time, the top prize will be a whopping $1 million.

“We kicked that off officially in 2012,” Trinh said. “We started with one statewide in California where we wanted to test it out with 11 casinos; and then we went to Washington that same year with 13 casinos, and by 2013 we decided to go national and had 88 casinos participate across the country. This year I think we’re at 100 casinos with close to 190 finalists from around the world because Peru is sending three. Now it’s not just the national, but the international tournament of champions.”

A New Twist

Tournevent may be the system that made Multimedia Games, but the creative fun doesn’t stop there.

Take Twist & Win, which can turn losing spins into winners—even big winners—by taking a segment of the screen and rotating it. Vertical columns can become horizontal rows. Currently available on a game called Sparkle &Shine, the Twist & Win feature soon will be incorporated into other Multimedia games.

At random times, the word “Twist” to the left of the reels and “& Win” on the right start to shimmy and shake. A rectangle is drawn around a block of symbols, and the block is rotated—90 degrees in either direction, or 180 degrees. That creates whole new reel combinations, turning some losing spins into winners, some wins into extra wins, and even launching bonus events.

Many of the rotations will bring small wins, but the big twist comes when you have a stack of four wilds or four big-paying symbols. A90-degree rotation could give you four of the big payers across the same pay-line—a nice surprise bankroll booster.

Sparkle and Shine is on Multimedia’s Platinum MPX slot cabinet, with a huge 40-inch high-definition screen, special chair with motion effects and surround-sound. So are a number of new game rich in bonuses and other features sure to keep you coming back to explore what’s available.

“We have a number of titles that go in [the Platinum MPX], like the Valkyries, Haunted House After Dark and Dracula—kind of Halloween-type titles,” Trinh said. “It’s very immersive, with the vibrating seats, the immersive sounds, but those games in particular are just visually captivating, All manufacturers want to take players into a journey.

“So those games take you into it, and you get lost in those themes, with the cool bonuses that each one of those games have. Like our Dracula, one that we’re just now releasing, where you can win up to three progressive prizes in just one spin. Just something fun and different that we hope that the players are going to gravitate toward.”

All that has helped Multimedia make a name for itself—but that name soon will be changing. A rebranding is in the works that will bring GCA and Multimedia under one, new name.

Meanwhile, all will be able to draw on the lessons Multimedia has learned since its 1991 beginnings.

“We’ve been good at playing the underdog,” Trinh said. “We’ve been good at being that player where, ‘Yeah, they’re interesting, but we don’t know if they can really contend.’ I think that has given us the fire that our company has built on.

“We’ve always wanted to come out and show that we can go head-to-head with the best of them and we can make a difference. I think that’s what drives this company and has driven this company for many, many years from every person that works here. It’s that passion, wanting to do something, be something different.”

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