As G2E finalizes arrangements for its upcoming edition taking place next month, October 4-7, exhibitors too prepare themselves for a return to the prestigious Las Vegas industry meeting. Returning as an in-person event since the pandemic forced the Global Gaming Expo to go virtual-only from March 2020 onwards, G2E 2021 promises to present the latest in gaming development.
Among the exhibitors guests will find at the Venetian Expo is IGT. The international supplier of retail and digital solutions for gaming, sports betting and lotteries will bring its latest offerings to the event. Boris Hallerbach, Director of Premium Product Management, spoke in a video interview with Yogonet on what to expect from the company at the expo. “We are really looking forward to G2E this year, our first in-person G2E since 2019, so it’s going to be great to see everybody,” he says.
Earlier this year, IGT announced the 25th anniversary of one of its flagship products: Wheel of Fortune Slots, an influential slot theme that has paved the way for hundreds of additional licensed slot games to appear in land-based and digital casinos worldwide.
“It will be central to the premium lineup at G2E this year,” Hallerbach tells Yogonet. “We’ve got great new themes launching for Wheel of Fortune this year. We’ve also got events and promotions lined up at the show. We’ll have a tournament at the show featuring Wheel of Fortune, as well as the great wheel promotion that will be running every day.”
The company started the year with the creation of a Wheel of Fortune Zone in partnership with the Plaza Casino in Las Vegas, which has been “a great draw for players. “We’ve been doing online promotions, social media contests with players, engaging players and operators,” adds Hallerbach. “We’ve also been doing some promotions at casino sites as well, some of our great Wheel of Fortune partners. So it’s been a really exciting year leading up to G2E and we’re looking forward to it.”
When asked about the new Wheel of Fortune games to find at IGT’s booth, Hallebach tells Yogonet: “We’re bringing twenty-five EGMs to the premium lineup that are Wheel of Fortune this year, and that represents about 13 unique new themes. On the video side, one of the debut themes that we have is Wheel of Fortune High Roller. And this is a theme that we’ve based on one of our really strong video slot concepts of the past several years, and that was Hexbreaker 3.”
Featuring a variable multi-way interface where players can climb reels to achieve wheel bonuses, it offers a “really great frequent wheel bonus” for players that accentuates the reason that the players are there to spin that wheel.
“We’ve also got great content coming on our peak 49 nine cabinets with Wheel of Fortune wild spins. We’ve got two 4D games that we’re debuting, Collector’s Edition, and we’ve got Wheel of Fortune Money Spin,” describes the executive. “Those will be great additions to the library. So great stuff on the video side.”
On the physical reels side, IGT has Wheel of Fortune Diamond Spins Two Times Wild, “a great new nine-line theme that we’re debuting at the show for the first time,” says the Premium Product Management director. “And this one really takes a modern math approach for that nine-line player that’s out there. So we’re focusing on the dollar denominations and higher and creating a game that really accentuates the wild chase and, of course, the wheel bonus that players are looking for.”
What has kept Wheel of Fortune slots games at such a competitive level for so many years? “Wheel of Fortune has been a great brand for us and this was the first licensed brand in slots in the market, so when we launched Wheel of Fortune, it was something absolutely new on the casino floor,” Hallerbach tells Yogonet. “We had the benefit of Wheel of Fortune on television every day and that goes on today. Wheel Fortune is in its 38th season now doing shows and it’s got a solid fan base, and it continues to rank at the top of viewing charts. And I think that popularity spills over onto the casino floors.”
“When players come onto the casino floor, there is an instant touchpoint with the Wheel of Fortune brand. And then throughout the years we’ve created many different versions of Wheel of Fortune slots, but along the way, we’ve really taken care in the design,” he further adds. “So we are staying true to the things that are important to the Wheel of Fortune fans out there. So it's the sights, the sounds, the Wheel of Fortune chant that you’ll hear on any casino floor out there that really draws players in and the wheel bonus.”
The executive considers that, as a bonus device, the wheel is one of the strongest “because players can look up and see the potential of that bonus and hope to hit that top wedge and really have a great bonus experience.” As one of the company’s flagship products, Wheel of Fortune has seen IGT developing over 250 Wheel of Fortune game teams, and one of the keys has been staying “true to the brand” and evolving with the brand “from a presentation standpoint.” This is a process that found the company collaborating with the Sony Pictures Television team.
“Sony has been a great partner to work with over the years. They are very strong in their branding and they create a style guide for us, almost every year,” comments IGT’s executive. “We keep up to date with the style guide and make sure that the content is on-brand and relevant to what people are seeing on the show on television. But then we combine that with great slot mechanics, and I think that’s one of the keys that makes Wheel of Fortune and the IGT partnership so special, where Sony is obviously the expert on the Wheel of Fortune brand, IGT is the expert on slot content, and we’ve been able to adapt the Wheel of Fortune brand to some of the key slot mechanics that slot players love.”
Much has changed since the first days when the product was introduced to the industry. “When we launched the Wheel of Fortune game, we started with an IGT-based game theme like Double Diamond, for example, and we added the wheel bonus to that and the branding components of the game, and that created a very compelling game for players. And over the years, we've taken the recipe of strong wheel bonus with a fairly high bonus frequency and tied it to the Wheel of Fortune brand,” he explains.
“And we've done that on the reel spinning side, we've also done that on the video side, taking great IGT slot mechanics and bringing them forward into Wheel of Fortune. Most recently, one of our big successes on the video side, for example, was Wheel of Fortune 4D, featuring Vanna White,” describes Hallerbach.
Wheel of Fortune 4D takes the company’s Golden Egypt math model, which was a strong core base game theme. “We were able to create a very compelling Wheel of fortune experience using that base game math ride and slot players respond to that. So when they come on to a Wheel of Fortune game, first they're attracted to the brand,” adds the executive. “But as they get on the game, they recognize features of the game that they've enjoyed in other Wheel of Fortune core games, and it creates a really great combination.”
But while Wheel of Fortune slot titles are a staple in markets like the US or Canada, casino guests based in other regions, such as Latin America, don’t see as many titles. When asked about this, Boris Hallerbach says that the fact that the Wheel of Fortune show in the US and Canada has such a strong media presence could be the reason. “It’s on television still daily weeknights. So players have essentially an advertisement on TV every night for the Wheel of Fortune games.”
“The show doesn't quite have the exposure in South America, or in Latin America than it does here in the US and up in Canada, so that's one aspect. Here the show and the hosts Pat and Vanna have been involved for many, many years, and many of the viewers are wheel watchers and have an emotional connection to them,” he further adds. “And I think that translates to the casino floor when they see the Wheel of Fortune games on the floor. But there are pockets of interest. I mean, we do have some Wheel of Fortune games in Argentina, for example, at several casinos there too. We're not giving up hope yet.”
But while massive jackpots are a distinctive feature for Wheel of Fortune, the same is true for Megabucks, another key IGT product that also will be an integral part of the company’s exhibition at G2E. “Megabucks is definitely the granddaddy of wide area progressives. It's the one that started it all, and we're really proud of Megabucks,” says Hallerbach. “We will be launching a new Megabucks title at the show this year. It's Megabucks Mega Vault and it's a video title, so this will be the first video title that we're launching for Megabucks in I think over five years.”
This is a big deal for IGT, according to the executive. “We're taking a great base-game-themed Mega Vault that has high volatility, kind of high-risk gamble experience to it, and combining it with the Megabucks brand and creating a great progressive playoff that gets players close to that life-changing jackpot,” he explains. “So we think it's going to be a real big hit, and we'll be celebrating Megabucks this year at G2E as well.”
Players and operators wanting to learn more and keep updated with the Wheel of Fortune promotions IGT is rolling out through the end of the year can do so through IGT.com, where they will be greeted by a big Wheel of Fortune 25th-anniversary banner. Clicking it will provide further information. Moreover, LinkedIn and Facebook are two other channels the company uses to keep its user base updated.