More celebrity than innovation: Analysts say gaming’s reliance on pop culture waters down products

People try out the new KISS-themed slot machine at the WMS Gaming booth during the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) at the Sands Expo Center Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012.

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2012 G2E: Opening Day

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Exhibit hall schedule

Tuesday, Sept. 24: 10 a.m – 5 p.m.

Wednesday, Sept. 25: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Thursday, Sept. 26: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.


A three-day conference pass costs $1,425.

Call it the year of movie-themed moneymakers.

Gambling insiders expect this year’s Global Gaming Expo to be light on breakthroughs but heavy on pop culture. The convention's most-anticipated games this year center around popular movies and pop stars of the last century.

And while the subjects are wildly popular, analysts say manufacturers' growing reliance on such a tried-and-true formula dampens investors’ interest in the industry.

“The show is becoming a little less mandatory,” said Chad Beynon, an analyst with Macquarie Research in Manhattan. “Now, so many of the companies are coming up with products similar to their peers.”

G2E opens today at the Las Vegas Sands Convention Center.

Last year, gaming companies rolled out slot machines branded with Willy Wonka NASCAR, Pawn Stars, Cheers, KISS, Family Guy, Judge Judy and CSI. This year, there will be more Hollywood.

IGT expects to turn heads with “James Cameron’s Avatar,” “Back to the Future,” “Bridesmaids” and “Jurassic Park.” Bally Technology will compete with a Cameron-influenced game, “Titanic.”

Bally also will roll out a Michael Jackson sequel, “ZZ Top Live From Texas,” “Grease Pink Ladies,” “The Magic of David Copperfield” and “Playboy Down Under.” In all, the company plans to unveil 280 games.

WMS Gaming will debut “Iron Man,” “Beetlejuice,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Wizard of Oz: Ruby Slippers 2,” and update “Clue” and “I Love Lucy.” Aristocrat will come out with “The Walking Dead,” “Superman 1978” and “Batman Classic TV.”

Bill Lerner, an analyst with Union Gaming, said visitors can expect other small improvements, such as new cabinet styles and brighter LCD screens, but likely nothing game-changing.

Konami, for example, is sticking to its conservative game plan with traditional slots, such as “Gigantic Wheel of Winning.”

“In our view, it is a bit of a crap shoot to gauge what games will go from the show room floor to become hit titles,” Lerner wrote in a recent report. “It takes some time in the field to accurately gauge demand as slot players generally don’t ask for specific new brands.”

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