February 2, 2021 Casino, Technology, Land-Based, Interview

The Thrill of Skill

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Gaming America speaks with Synergy Blue CEO Georg Washington about moving operations to Las Vegas, and how important it’s been for business to be closer to the action.

Located inside the second floor of a glass building in suburban Las Vegas, Synergy Blue’s headquarters initially resemble many workplaces in America. A recently renovated open floor space borders the offices of the higher-ups. There’s an easily accessible, brightly colored break room with proper social distancing, while HR is tucked away from the casual visitor. A coffee machine satiates the company’s caffeine urges and as a back-up, there’s always the mini fridge stacked with Red Bull.

But the true nerve center of Synergy Blue’s office is unique. In one room an audio engineer is set up with his own mini recording studio with the task of creating original sounds for the company’s slate of interactive casino games. Down the hallway, a team of artists create dazzling graphics that dance on screen. Nearby, a 3D printer churns out designs for SB’s in-house cabinets.

Then there’s the showcase game room where all of the company’s inventions come together. When CEO Georg Washington is not conducting the more day-to-day work of running an entertainment gaming solutions provider, he’s likely to be here, racing through a Joyride Jackpot course.

“It’s a favorite throughout the office,” Washington tells Gaming America. “We have a running leaderboard competition that’s been going on for a few months. While I can’t say I’ve

held the top spot for long, we love seeing that even our team, who has spent countless hours working on the backend of this game, still enjoys playing it again and again.”

Joyride Jackpot is the highlight of SB’s four new game titles released in October. Dubbed “Fun You Can Bet On,” the skill-influenced games range from Joyride’s arcade drive style play to blast style defense and progress (Blizzard Blast), slot style play (Royal Dragon Saga), and tower defense style play (Zombie Heat). They were released in four US jurisdictions as well as Southeast Asia.

“Skill-influenced games are the next logical step for casino games,” Washington says. “If you look at the rest of the gaming industry, they’ve been progressing and improving on their gameplay for years. The casino industry is a bit slower to evolve because of all the necessary regulations, but we’re heading in the right direction.”

Last summer, Georg Washington and his wife Amy, Synergy’s chief marketing and strategy officer, made a significant investment in the future of skill-influenced games by moving the company from Palm Desert, California, to Las Vegas. Moving from one state to another is never easy for a business, but the coronavirus pandemic added another layer of difficulty. Many Synergy employees worked remotely from California for parts of 2020. The whole staff is finally settling down in their new home.

For Georg Washington, greater proximity to gaming partners outweighed the logistical hurdles of the move.

“Being in the heart of America’s casino industry, closer to our clients and the industry overall, has been a ton of fun,” he says. “It’s helped us build relationships and allowed us to get a better idea of the challenges casinos are facing, as well as the opportunities for growth. No one knows their establishment better than a casino’s own team, so being here has helped us understand the specific benefits of skill-influenced games and to secure mutually-beneficial relationships with our casino partners.”

Synergy has a small but growing staff, allowing for “closer connections and a better sense of community,” according to Washington. The leadership team includes industry veterans Brian Dolan, senior VP of operations and Michael Low, VP president of technology & games. Pamela Matthews, formerly of IGT’s compliance department, serves as VP of compliance and licensing while former IGT senior product manager Andy Fisher is VP of product management.

The company also employs a staff of artists whose job is to bring color and excitement back to casino games.

“Casino games, just like the plethora of games all around us, are meant to create an experience,” Washington says. “We put a lot of thought into the atmosphere that we want people to experience while playing our games, so we tailor the art and music to reflect that. The soundtrack to Joyride Jackpot is fast-paced, exciting, and captures the thrill of the ride, while Mahjong is slower and more relaxing, like the game itself. “

For years skill-influenced games have faced scrutiny from operators and regulators, many of whom believe the games should be illegal. Proponents of these games argue that they modernize the casino floor and bring in new customers who are drawn to the skill-based aspects.

“We’ve heard this from industry leaders and casino managers, and we’ve done some serious research to get anonymous insight both from the industry and the players themselves,” he adds. “Today’s players want more interaction, and more fun incorporated into their gambling experiences. Increasing the thought, strategy and skill required to play, increases player confidence in winning. And casino operators agree that these games help them diversify offerings, cater to new demographics and create new marketing opportunities.”

The wide and evolving demographic of casino goers desires games that tap into nostalgia and offer greater interaction, Washington argues. From connect-three’s games targeted to Baby Boomers to arcade-style play designed for Gen Xers, Synergy wants to fill the demand for games that incorporate fun and risk.

The arcade drive style game Joyride Jackpot exemplifies the direction the company is heading in. “Joyride Jackpot is truly our most impressive game,” Washington says. “You can race through the city, mountains, or speedway tracks, chasing jackpots and even competing with your friends. The competition aspect of racing with friends and trying to climb the leaderboard, along with the immersive experience created by the 2600XL arcade driving cabinet with steering wheel and foot pedals, set it apart from many other casino experiences.”

A defining feature of the driving experience is Synergy’s 2600XL Modular Cabinet. The cabinet, inspired by the original Atari console, is geared toward digitally native players. It includes a touch screen, joystick, big buttons, trackball, poker buttons, arcade light gun and, of course, a driver.

“A lot of today’s players either experienced the magical dawn of the video game era, or grew up playing video games on those first generation consoles,” Washington says. “This cabinet is designed with them in mind. It looks, feels and acts as an arcade cabinet, and the games are quite similar to the games they grew up playing on their phones and TVs. The 2600 invokes that sense of nostalgia and adds to the excitement of wagering, with games that reflect the interaction and quality that these players are accustomed to.”

The 2600XL Modular Cabinet is one of two cabinets developed by Synergy engineers; the other is their 2600ST Slant Top Cabinet.

“The 2600 series is designed to transport the arcade experience onto the casino floor and the look and feel of the cabinet is entirely nostalgic to that,” Washington says.“When the pandemic changed the nature of casinos, we decided to create our Blue Safe Touch technology, with antimicrobial, germ inhibiting touch surfaces and UVC air filtration, and implement it into the 2600 series and all our cabinets going forward. The development of BST added a little time to our production, but we were able to stay on schedule. Now we have hardware ready for all those seeking a new, totally immersive gambling experience.”

Between innovative hardware and software, Washington is confident Synergy will continue pushing the skill-influenced gaming sector forward while giving casino customers a memorable experience.

Washington says, “These new games are highly interactive and reflect the quality of modern gaming experiences that exist outside of the casino.

"Players can zap zombies in a style similar to the mobile games they play, or race against friends for a chance at winning in a true, arcade-style driving game. Instead of pressing a button and letting the game play for them, they’re truly immersed in this new, gaming-gambling experience. These games are the ultimate example of our signature fun you can bet on.”

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