WMS eyes a younger audience for slot machines

Dec 15, 2009 5:00 PM

WMS Industries changed the face of slot machines when it introduced its Monopoly game more than 10 years ago. The game was unlike traditional slots, because of its unique story line and bonus rounds.

That was probably the gaming industry’s first step towards making its machines more appealing to younger players, who grew up on Nintendo video games.

WMS hasn’t rested on its laurels; they’re constantly coming out with new interactive games for its players.

One of them unveiled last month at G2E is its new Lord of the Rings game. In this video slot, players follow a map through Middle-Earth, scoring points and bonus rounds. Lightning bolts flash and strike the earth on screen while speakers under the seat provide a thundering rumble.

The Lord of the Rings slot takes players on a journey based on the storyline of the motion picture trilogy, and along the way they unlock new and exciting elements of the legendary adventure.

Typing in a user name and password, players can store their scores and return at a later time – or casino – to continue playing.

Although the epic gaming experience sounds like an arcade game, it’s a slot machine that potentially can pay out thousands of dollars.

WMS’s Lord of the Rings follows on the success of the company’s "adaptive gaming" product category and continues a trend that started 10 years ago.

It was in 2000 that Illinois-based WMS Industries – a former pinball machine manufacturer – decided to tap into the technology and techniques of video games. Chairman Brian Gamache began hiring video-game industry veterans – such as Larry J. Pacey, a former Sega executive – to fill newly-created positions such as chief innovation officer.

WMS set up 10 internal studios, each with a studio head, a stable of mathematicians and graphic artists, with their collective goal of finding new ideas and new technology.

What they found came from the existing video game industry – 70-inch video screens, 3D graphics, compelling sound effects, interactive games and group competition.

"We asked ourselves, what would a casino look like if it adopted the technology everyone else had: interactivity, networked devices, IMAX-like screens, digital sound," Pacey told Business Week magazine.

The obvious answer, which was apparent at last month’s G2E, is that the casino floor of the future would look like a video game arcade.

The stated goal for manufacturers such as WMS is to "create technology advancements … that deliver next generation gaming products with high player-appealing entertainment," according to Chairman Gamache.

In other words, manufacturers seem to be reaching out beyond the casino industry’s core customers – mostly women 55 years and older – in hopes of developing a younger demographic.

That might be a sound strategy, although there’s been no indication of Generation X and Generation Y customers flocking to casinos.

Perhaps the manufacturers should keep in mind that slot machines are gambling devices and need elements that are attractive to gamblers. That doesn’t necessarily include epic journeys and battles with alien beings.