On the Up

We’ve all seen Aruze’s titles on casino floors worldwide – most famously, probably Paradise Fishing, the striking fishing slot with a rod and reel for the player to partake in interactive bonus games and features. Aruze started life in Japan back in the late 1960s as Universal Lease Co. The name Aruze did not appear until 2005, and it has an interesting and unusual meaning. The “AR” in Aruze represents the archaeopteryx, a flying dinosaur that has been called the “first bird”, which is also featured in the company’s corporate logo. The company says it represents its ‘challenger spirit and the value placed on the thrill of attaining new heights’. The “U” stands for Universal, the name of the company’s previous incarnation and appears in red in the company logo, which matches the Universal corporate color. It further serves to signify the company goal of providing an all-encompassing range of universal entertainment to all people. The “Z” is of course the last letter in the alphabet and in this instance representing completeness. The “E” stands for the company’s major corporate theme: entertainment. Put the letters together, and Aruze represents their desire as a company to change all forms of entertainment. Kelcey Allison talked to Casino International about the company’s growth – and future… Casino International: It’s interesting that the name Aruze is an acronym, and not in the usual form where it’s kind of forced in order to make a name close to a familiar word… Kelcey Allison: The E being for entertainment says a lot really. I think the industry has lost the vision of what gaming is supposed to do, and that’s entertain our clients. That was one of the key philosophies behind Paradise Fishing. It’s a blast to play, with RealFeel technology, the rod that simulates catching a fish – it’s a fun experience. CI: Players that grew up on the old home computers, even the earlier consoles, are in their early 40s; a console now is hundreds of dollars to buy, it’s not for children any more. If someone with that background sits down for a playing experience they expect more in the way of entertainment, I think. They are clearly prepared to spend money; PS4 games are $60. KA: We still have to play by the rules of what gaming is in the casino environment, but we make it a thrill of a ride for as long as possible so you get the most bang for your buck. Interestingly, we just released a brand new game called Dark Samurai, and our designers were thinking of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, that kind of game; it has bonuses where a ninja fights a samurai and each strike to the opponent is a credit. You remember video games in the past, fighters had life or health metres and those are in our game too; as you strike or defend and get struck, the metre goes up or down accordingly. Whoever wins gets the jackpot, it’s really quite brilliant. CI: You’ve seen great success in recent years… Did that begin with Paradise Fishing or was there another door-opener for you? KA: The trajectory of our market share has been almost vertical over the last five years and I attribute that to us being “outside the box” and not copying anybody else per se. Our R&D is not even in North America, it’s in Tokyo. Our team focuses on trying to be innovative and totally out of the box on the gaming side. We try to drive home the true meaning of what gaming is, which is entertainment, the E in Aruze. Our factory is in the Philippines. Our boxes are manufactured there and they are shipped worldwide to our sales offices. We have offices in South Africa, Macau, Australia, North America and Europe, which is a brand new, emerging market for us. We recently signed a huge distributorship for the Latin American market. We are truly international. It did start with Paradise Fishing. It was a completely new, innovative theme; there was a lot of thought behind what we could do to target relatively younger demographics in a casino that have discretionary money to play. We designed that game in a six-unit configuration. A lot of the industry said, that’s going to be pretty tough because that’s a big footprint. However, the thought process behind the configuration was when people our age go out to casinos we don’t usually go out by ourselves, we go in a group with our spouses and friends. We designed games like Paradise Fishing as a communal game that people could go and have fun playing together, instead of as individuals. That’s worked really well in our favour. That was the ice-breaker for Aruze Gaming in North America, and then internationally. Then we took some old technology – the stepper – and completely re-engineered it from the inside out and renamed it the Innovator, a five-reel high-speed multi-light game unit that has basically taken us to the next level. The stepper market was on its way out and we brought it back in a multi-denominational form. That really took off, and our casino footprint started to grow rapidly. Most operators will put one Paradise Fishing in, which is six games. Now we see with the Innovator line we are capturing huge percentages of market share per individual casino. We also have two other business segments that have really caught fire. The next will be our video line. If you look at it historically, Paradise Fishing was really groundbreaking for us, then we released the Innovator, then about 18 months ago we put out a video line called Ultra Stack. Right now we have about 29 categories or titles available, and it’s absolutely flown out of our doors. Finally, we developed our electronic table games [ETGs] which were done with the Macau market in mind. Our biggest market in Macau is our ETGs, with lucky Sic Bo, Shoot To Win Craps, Lucky Big Wheel, all of which are beautiful attractions for a casino where we took games from the past and re-invented them. They’ve also taken off really well in North America. About 50% of our shipments are now Innovators and video in the slots sector. CI: Is Asia really big for you? KA: It’s absolutely huge for us. In Macau, we believe we have number two spot for market share in the area. CI: That’s a growing slot market too… KA: It is. It was all table games and nobody playing slots, but in the last few years that has significantly changed. A lot of slot machines have taken off in that market; we’ve jumped on that, and strengthened that with our ETGs. We have product all over Asia, we have great penetration there. It goes back to our Asian R&D department, they understand the market very well. CI: Europe is a difficult market, with so many different languages and cultures – how are you getting on in Europe? KA: One thing we do well is we start with good infrastructure. That’s important because we want to give a good response to our customers. We want it laid out so we can give really good customer service first and foremost. We have hired a new sales manager for the territory, and have signed some good distribution deals as well. We have market share growing fairly fast in France, Italy, Turkey and Cyprus. CI: What’s your domestic – North American – market share? KA: We are approved in around 45% of the markets in North America. In that 45% we hold about a 12% ship-share, and we are ecstatic about that. It’s huge for a company that’s only really been here since 2009. We’ve done a bang-up job creating the right infrastructure so our customers can trust us to support them; we have key initiatives with our customers too. For example, we have the Aruze University in Las Vegas which is our final assembly plant and we invite slot technicians to come in once per quarter to learn more about our products. We provide lunch and a three-hour course, informing them of new updates, new platforms and guidance on how to work on our games. We are in tune with not just the buyer, but the gatekeepers in the casinos. CI: What drives the company’s success? KA: What really drives a good company is two things. Passion and teamwork. With those two key fundamental objectives we believe we can accomplish anything.