The big one?

Has GameCo found the perfect title to bring video game gambling into mainstream casino floors? Blaine Graboyes speaks with Casino International.

As Blaine Graboyes describes it, SoulCalibur IICasino Edition is “the first triple-A videogame for the casino industry”, and he’s quite right. Will it be enough to get that new generation of players onto the casino floor? Just possibly. And even if it doesn’t prove to be the breakthrough, it’s a huge step in the right direction. Blaine explained to us how the game was developed and what makes it –and the third generation of GameCo games –so special.

Casino International: Why go for SoulCalibur II out of all the possible titles in Bandai Namco’s incredible back catalogue?

Blaine Graboyes: SoulCalibur II is the highest rated fighting franchise of all time by Metacritic. It’s a legendary and enduring game title within the fighting games community, both at home and in the arcade. We’re also coming up on the 20th anniversary of the original SoulCalibur and BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment is releasing an HD version of SoulCalibur IIfor consoles.It’s really differentiated on  the casino floor, there is nothing else like it anywhere and we wanted to create a product that would stand out; it will have an arcade-style fight stick and control scheme, so when you walk through the casino and see that on the floor you will know right away it is no slot machine, it is a videogame gambling product.

Another big reason for it, which ties into another product release which you will see at G2E, is that it’s a perfect fit for our upcoming Multiplayer Challenge Mode. This brings multiplayer gambling to our VGM platform. We think that fighting games in particular –given their popularity and the huge, underserved, fighting games community –are perfect for our multiplayer challenge mode. This version will launch in the first half of 2019 along with multiplayer versions of Nothin’but Net 2 and some of our other games.

Also, it’s just a great game for that experience on the casino floor.

CI: That sounds pretty sexy…Tell me more about the new mode.

BG: At G2E we will show a four-player tournament mode of Nothin’but Net 2 as a preview of what will come next year. When it launches it will include a number of tournament and competition modes, including brackets and winner-take-all…what’s really exciting about that for us is, GameCo and myself and our team have a long history in esports and video games. There is a lot of interest in esports at the casino, but to date all of that activity has been very distanced from the core business of the casino which is operating that gaming floor. This multiplayer challenge mode will be the first product that brings the esports style competition and tournament to real-money gaming directly on the casino floor.

CI: Have you added anything to SoulCalibur, like new moves or a new character to get fans salivating and into casinos?

BG: What’s interesting about this version is that it was produced by the original development team at BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment in Japan. It’s not an adaption or some gamblified version of SoulCalibur II, this is truly SoulCalibur II for the casino. For that reason we have decided to launch it with all the original characters, two of which are playable; the enemies and opponents are true to the original game. The original moves are there, there is no easy mode, it is truly the console or PC version for the casino. Same graphics, same experience, designed for true fans of the SoulCalibur franchise and fighting games in general. We want to pull them in and give them something unique on the casino floor.

It gives us great potential in the future to introduce new things, of course. But from the beginning, the basis of our partnership with BANDAI NAMCO was to make the game as true as possible to the original, and I think we have delivered on that.

CI: Do you have further collaboration with BANDAI NAMCO planned?

BG: We have a strong relationship with BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment. Our focus right now is bringing SoulCalibur II: Casino Edition to market and making it the best, truest experience possible. This is also the basis for broader launches and partnerships with other traditional videogame publishers that we will announce in the future.

We like to say we are the Xbox or App Store for casinos, and increasingly GameCo is seen as another outlet for traditional videogame publishers to bring their product to other markets and new customers.

CI: In the development process, how does it work when you are dealing with a company that has no experience of the casino industry and its regulatory setup? The math model in the average slot is mind blowing, so it surely must be more complex for this type of game?

BG: The math model and the gambling component are all developed internally by GameCo, but they do have to map that tightly to the game mechanic, so it is fulfilling and ties in with the gameplay experience.

The first thing we do is, on each game, try to experiment with new things. The math on a slot is highly optimized and has evolved over many years, and our existence with videogame gambling has been around for just two years; we have a lot of work to do to experiment, test, learn and optimize. We talk about how we will experiment, how it will be different from what we have done before; we look at who the customer is for that genre and what they might want.

Another important factor is, what is the bonus round experience going to be? I believe that GameCo is the only video game gambing company that incorporates progressive jackpots and bonus rounds into our games. If you think about what makes slot machines great, for many of them it’s the bonus round jackpot experience. Players love it. So we put a lot of thought into that facet of the experience, how it ties into the base game, the balance, the volatility, how it pays out.

This is all within the context of regulation, building games that are going to be accepted by a broad range of jurisdictions that have a lot of commonality but some differences in terms of payback percentages, communication to players, and more. We don’t want to make a game that is only good for a handful of jurisdictions, we want to make a game that can be broadly distributed.

See GameCo’s next-gen products – including SoulCalibur II: Casino Edition – at G2E in booth 5034.