Like most companies displaying slot products on the tradeshow floor of the most recent G2E show in Las Vegas, International Game Technology PLC (IGT) emphasized its latest licensed themes and new content for established brands. Where IGT truly set itself apart from the crowd, however, was by its willingness to demo cutting-edge technology concepts that dramatically improve the slot player experience—everything from gesture and haptic technology to more ergonomically-designed game screens.
IGT Vice President, Premium Studios, North America Gaming and Interactive Kurt Larsen took some time while at G2E to meet with Casino Journal Editor Paul Doocey to discuss the company’s improved 4D game lineup, new play mechanics and its latest cabinet advances. What follows are some excerpts from that conversation:
I have toured the IGT booth and was shown the latest 4D versions of Sphinx and Ghostbusters. Please explain how your 4D format games have improved over the past year and what your plans are for the technology going forward.
LARSEN: I think with 4D the difference between what you saw last year is a lot of what I call “smoke and mirrors”… What you saw with the Sphinx game was a lot of trial and error. The technology really wasn’t up to snuff. Now it is.
Everyone is familiar with our 3D technology, Sphinx 3D was the first game you could walk up to, and utilizing camera technology, it automatically tracks your eye and distributed the content to each eye independently to give you that parallax, that 3D content. What 4D does is take it to the next step… having 3D technology in the display, but giving you that player interactivity with the haptics and gestural controls. You may remember the Kinect technology in the Xbox 360, where you could wave your hand and things would happen on the screen… that was gesture control. The haptics was also in Xbox controls…. you would hit things and get some sort of feedback to your hands.
So we have this really cool technology that when you place your hands in front of a game sensor, it realizes where your hand is and we can mimic and place that on the game screen. In Ghostbusters 4D, there is now a bonus that plays out in a ballroom where you find the ghosts and zap them. A player can put their hand in the middle of the game and they can control the zapper gun without having to touch the screen. The haptics are a tactile feedback… acoustic sensors that vibrate and, by the frequency of the vibration, mimic the feel of things. You put your hand on top of this acoustic device and it feels round or sharp or whatever.
We have incorporated all that into Sphinx 4D and Ghostbusters 4D. The idea is to make it a more immersive experience for the players and give them something they can’t get at home. There is no consumer product that does all this.
Why did you decide to use the 4D technology in a Wheel of Fortune-themed game?
LARSEN: Well, Wheel of Fortune has been our bread-and-butter game for decades. It was a no-brainer for us to add 4D, and a way to take the game to the next level. It mimics how it feels to be a player on the show and actually spin the wheel. We have done hundreds of Wheel of Fortune games, so how do you make the next one different? What is the next step? Technology enables you to do things like create a 4D version of the game.
Another great technology piece displayed at the IGT booth was PowerSight. Please explain what that is and how IGT is incorporating it into play mechanics.
LARSEN: The 3D technology we use means there are cameras in cabinets of those games. These cameras track your eyeballs so we can properly display the content in 3D fashion. The next step for us was, since the cameras let us know what you are looking at, why not control the content and action on the screen just by using eyesight. That is PowerSight. A player can now walk up to a game, in the case of our show demo Sex and the City, and when you get to the bonus round involving champagne bottles, just by looking at the bottle for a certain duration, you can get the corks to pop and bubbles to come up; then as you look at the bubbles they begin to pop showing bonus values. In our focus groups, some people have said it is like mind control. In a way it is…. when you sit and play it, it really does seem that way; you look at things and things happen.
It’s a pretty infinite technology that we are just debuting at G2E. We are getting as much feedback as we can. And like Wheel of Fortune, having this technology on Sex and the City, a popular premium game with lots of iterations, makes the game different. This technology allows you to change it up.
I would be remiss if we did not touch upon cabinet strategy for IGT. These days, seems like the industry demands a new cabinet line every three years or so. How is IGT dealing with this going forward?
LARSEN: We want to marry the type of cabinet to the content we are delivering. The cabinet we debuted last year that we are really showing off this year is the ULTRA cabinet. The ULTRA features two 4K monitors; the bottom player screen is a curved monitor that is more ergonomic than those offered by competitors because it is curved in the right direction—around the periphery in a landscape format instead of a the standard portrait setting. It brings you into the game and makes the whole experience more immersive.
When you see the 4K monitors, it’s stunning… especially for our players who are in a casino environment where we are really competing for eyeballs. How do we stand apart from the competition? Well, the sharper and more saturated the graphics, the better.
Also, at this point, bigger is definitely better when it comes to cabinets. I really think you can’t go too big in the casinos these days.