Bejeweled, Zuma, and Plants vs. Zombies – all PopCap titles – are the three most-played games in the free-to-play online sector of recent years – and by a long, long way. SPIELO International’s acquisition of these titles may have two major impacts on the casino market: first, it may underpin their growth into the US market, and second, it may actually be the first step into bringing a younger, more savvy gamer into the casino. John Pacconi spoke to CI…
Casino International: What’s your installed base in the US?
John Pacconi: We’re still going through a period where we have our legacy Atronic products in the market; since the transition to SPIELO International we have rolled out a new box. Our installed base is quite small, but on the recurring side we have a larger and constantly growing installed base.
We feel there are few companies better positioned for success and growth in the US than SPIELO International. We’re supported by a very strong parent in GTECH, who wants to grow the gaming business segment, and really over the last two years or so the level of investment and focus that has gone into this has increased exponentially. We’ve put in hard work to expand the width of our product line and to bring some depth to the core and recurring sides of the business.
The new PopCap titles, new slots based on online social games, are part of this growth – Plants vs. Zombies, Zuma, and Bejeweled, which we’re launching throughout this year.
Across the board, there are a lot of very exciting things happening, and customers that have been partners with us over the last 11-plus years have seen and appreciated the efforts that have gone into the new product line.
CI: Is there a manufacturing base in the US?
JP: All of our manufacturing globally occurs at our operations base in Moncton, Canada, to take advantage of economies of scale; then we do final customer configuration in Las Vegas for the North American casinos.
CI: We were excited to see the PopCap tie-in games at G2E. Slot companies have dabbled with merging online free-to-play with a slot structure but this is the first time I can think of where a slot company has looked at what people are actually playing online; we’re talking about, in terms of player numbers and recognition, the three biggest games of the last 15 years in Bejeweled, Plants vs. Zombies, and Zuma. Brand recognition has huge potential with younger players as many recent licenses have been ‘evergreens’; are there plans to take games from different gaming sectors and adapt them for the casino market?
JP: There is a lot of strategic planning in the company when we look at what brands we want to move forward with. We’re fortunate in that because we have a smaller market share, we can take aggressive risks in the direction we can take our business, and we don’t have to follow what other manufacturers are doing. We can chart our own path. We felt with PopCap that it gave us an opportunity to step out in a new direction.
The industry is littered with branded licenses, most of which are designed to attract the gambler to his or her favourite movie, musician, TV show or give the player a feeling of nostalgia. The PopCap license has a different approach. Our PopCap slots bring familiar game mechanics, characters, and sounds from the casual tablet or smart phone arena and deliver them to a casino floor. This has a two-fold effect.
First, for traditional players, the PopCap brand stands out in a crowd. This different license genre encompasses and differentiates a good game under the traditional gaming guidelines. Secondly, the PopCap brands have such a rabid long-standing following that slot versions of the games may draw in a non-slot player. For example, if we can get a non-slot-gamer leaving a casino concert to sit down at our Zuma slot because they love the casual game, that’s a win. We may be able to attract and create new slot players with this brand.
We’re excited about the PopCap brands, and we have grander plans to incorporate different versions of the games into our portfolio.
CI: Does it help to have a selling tool like the player numbers for these games online and in other free-to-play arenas?
JP: Definitely. The brand awareness outside our business segment is phenomenal, and to be able to bring that into a conversation then relate it back into an operator’s business makes the conversation so much easier. And not from just a product perspective, but for the whole conversation, because the customer is now fully aware of the product in a social environment. As we explain the game to them, they see the connection with the game itself in the gaming environment and see that they are very close, very similar, and true to the social aspect of the original games.
CI: Are there plans to cross-promote with incentivized free-to-play on the new PopCap titles? It seems like a wonderful opportunity to exploit the ever-growing social gaming sector to attract new customers and use bonusing so players can be awarded coupons to attend the bricks-and-mortar casino…
JP: We’re working with our SPIELO G2 group to explore our opportunities in that respect. As a company, we have so many channels available to us; we’re branching into uncharted territory and there are many possibilities. We’ll continue to work with PopCap, who are owned by Electronic Arts. EA has not done a lot of cross-licensing in this space, so we are excited by the opportunities that it presents in the longer term.
CI: There is a recognition in many companies that the slot experience has to slightly change, while still appealing to its core market. Younger players demand a lot for their ‘leisure dollar’, they’re used to having Xbox, PS3 or 4, Wii… The thinking seems to be that there will be a degree of evolution in the way a slot machine works because players are no longer so passive, for wont of a better term. SPIELO International has a strong history of developing licenses, Deal or No Deal being the obvious example that springs to mind. What are your thoughts about the potential for merging skill- and traditional slot-style gaming?
JP: The initial title at launch, Plants vs. Zombies, has no skill element, but both Zuma and Bejeweled do introduce physical and mental skill. In Zuma, players get to time shots as they battle a boss, while in Bejeweled players can make strategic gem matches and think moves ahead. We wanted to stay true to the brands. However, we’ve balanced this by always allowing the player to opt out of the skill elements, and we must adhere to the regulations that govern things like skill in slots.
Regulations and new gaming features continue to evolve and must evolve, especially if we as an industry want to capture that next generation of player. We’ll continue to learn and adapt in our commitment to be an influential part of the future slot floor. A major step is intertwined with these phenomenal and popular PopCap games.