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Bally Technologies had a very strong presence at G2E Asia 2012, with an eye on increasing already-healthy market share in the region. Luis Pereira found out how for Casino International…
There’s more than a touch of energy about the Bally Technologies Inc. booth at G2E Asia in Macau.
It’s day two of the event and there are some heavily caffeinated people buzzing through what has to be one of the biggest booths – maybe second biggest – at the show. A giant Michael Jackson towers over the booth, belting out Beat It.
“We think it will have a presence. I think it will get noticed,” says Bally’s vice-president for product management Jean Venneman.
It’s a substantial understatement by Ms Venneman but you get the feeling Bally has been coy about its talents for too long. She is here to help change that mindset and help execute the company’s three-point plan to win market share.
Bally is a major player in Macau – top three – where it enjoys a 10-percent share of the growing electronic gaming segment. But Ms Venneman understands it should be doing better both here and throughout the fast-growing Asian market.
“We’re making a concerted effort to create unique content as well as local content. We’re translating as many games as possible and we also have a lot of products that are themed for this market,” she says.
In its June Investor Presentation, Bally said about 18 percent of last year’s sales came from outside North America. It was far lower a decade ago but the 80-year-old company has big ambitions.
It has been aggressive in Macau, where the US$4.4 billion Sands Cotai Central development has just opened. It will be the biggest opening in Macau for the next two to three years.
At May’s opening, reports said Bally had secured about 29 percent of the order from operator Sands China Ltd, the Sands Las Vegas Corp subsidiary. While the big money in Macau still lies in VIP baccarat, EGMs are building an audience, particularly as mass-market destinations open – such as Sands Cotai Central.
Slot machines accounted for about 4 percent of gross gaming revenue measured by the government in the first quarter of this year. That represents a 21.4 percent increase over the same time last year.
The Michael Jackson King of Pop game is an exclusive Bally brand. Creating unique brands represents one third of the company’s strategy to grow.
“A few years ago we weren’t really a company known for having brand strategies,” Ms Venneman says.
Branding and marketing were seen as Ms Venneman’s strengths when she joined Bally about two years ago from International Game Technologies. In an 18-year run with that company, she built a reputation for developing licensed products.
“We didn’t want a lot of brands we just wanted something that made sense to the player. The first we selected was Grease. We picked that for the US market. We didn’t expect that to resonate all that well here. We felt that Michael Jackson would.”
King of Pop is an interactive, touch screen game on the Pro Series V22/32 cabinet, that is deeply immersive. A custom, surround-sound chair offers vibrating feedback. Gameplay is intense, offering everything from mystery wilds bonuses and free games. Jackson’s music and video clips feature prominently throughout and comes to the fore in “U-Spin” platinum record bonus.
Grease is inspired by the Paramount Pictures’ film about late-1950s America. Housed in the ALPHA 2 Pro Hammerhead cabinet, the wide-area progressive features two 25-line games, enabling the player to play two games at once. It has been a strong release, with 127 installs in March, the first full month since its release.
Emphasising a rich interactive gaming experience is another strategy Bally is working on. Perhaps the most innovative technology here is the iDECK, a fully programmable, horizontal touch-screen button deck with three levels of player interaction.
“The button deck allows the player to interact with the game. This can also show the features and information to players easily and clearly,” says Srini Raghavan, Bally’s senior vice-president for the Asia-Pacific region.
The technology is shown off to its best in a new game, All That Jazz, that involves playing piano on the iDECK. It’s a feature on the Pro V32 cabinet called U-Play. It is in the same style as the “Rock Band”, the interactive game for home console play, with virtual piano keys.
“Even if you are completely not musically orientated, you can handle this game,” says Mr Raghavan.
Since last November, Mr Raghavan has been responsible for the Asia-Pacific region. He replaced Cath Burns who left to become TCS John Huxley’s chief executive officer.
Mr Raghavan established the company’s Indian development centre, recruiting the core team and steering its growth to a headcount approaching 1,000 full-time staff.
Part of his mandate is to drive the trio of creative studios in China, Chennai and Sydney. It is from these regional centres that Bally hopes the final part of its growth strategy will spring: specialised, regionalised titles.
Mr Raghavan said the studios would spend time understanding the needs of Bally customers throughout Asia, working on research and design of games suited to individual markets, forming a vital link with operators.
It a bold initiative. Bally is one of the first gaming companies to set up a regional network to create and translate gaming titles.
Work from the studio set-up is coming through. At G2E Asia last month, a handful of Asian-themed slots filled the stand. They had exotic names, such as Moon Dynasty and Sakura Festival, storylines that run deep and keep punters playing. Golden Empire and Jeepney Joyride mystery progressive links were developed specifically for Macau and the Philippines. Chinese-language versions of popular titles Break the Ice and Cash Wizard are on the way.
Mr Raghavan says the game and renewed Asian outlook are important to Bally progressing in Asia’s developing markets. “We have our eyes on the Philippines, the big concession out there,” he says. “Things are looking good for us but it’s too premature to make any kind of comment.”
Mr Raghavan sees a bright future for systems. Bally has gained market share in Macau with installations for the Galaxy Entertainment Group, Sands China and Macau’s former-monopoly holder Sociedade de Jogos de Macau.
The recently overhauled NagaWorld casino resort in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh has a Bally back-end system. The 1,300-slot casino selected Bally’s CMP player-tracking and promotions system, iVIEW customer displays and TableView automated table tracking.
While small by Macau standards, gross gaming revenue at NagaWorld grew by 51 percent last year to US$211.5 million and the property’s owners have an exclusive license in the booming Southeast Asian city that runs until 2065.
“NagaWorld, that has gone well. They’re growing too and are trying to look at how our systems can help in the long term. When they purchased a Bally system it was for a smaller type of an operation and now they are becoming more of a casino,” he said.
“Bally is probably the only system in the business that is in a position to be able to do that.”