CLARENCE, NY - It was a little more than six years ago when Innovative Concepts in Entertainment introduced a game that would quickly become the highest-earning redemption piece to date.
That game, "Cyclone," is easily ICE's greatest success, with unit sales exceeding 6,000. While "Cyclone" sales have peaked, it remains at the top of the "must-have" lists at new site-based facilities. Existing locations also are receiving second and third games.
Today, ICE is seeking to repeat "Cyclone" history, perhaps even to surpass it, with "Wheel of Fortune," a new ticket redemption game unveiled during Amusement Showcase International.
Initial reports from enthusiastic distributors and operators indicate that ICE has another big hit.
It took six months for people to comprehend that a redemption game like "Cyclone" can generate big revenue. However, with "Wheel of Fortune" the reaction was completely the reverse during its ASI rollout, reported ICE president Ralph Coppola.
"Everyone was immediately enamored of this game, and it became clear to us after the first day of the show that we had a winner on our hands , a game that could potentially rival the sales of 'Cyclone' even in this tough market," Ralph said. "We came to the show thinking we'd start out with an initial production run of 300 units, a good starting point for a redemption game. After day two of the show, we called the factory and got the wheels in motion to step up that run to 700. By day three, we bumped it up to 1,000 units. This is far and away our largest initial production run ever, and it's very exciting."
Ralph explained that the game play of "Wheel of Fortune" is very similar to the hand-eye coordination features of "Cyclone." The objective is to stop the running-lights that form the wheel in the "Spin Zone," which automatically sets the wheel in motion; the number of tickets equals the number on which the wheel stops. If the player fails to stop the wheel in the "Spin Zone," there are operator-adjustable ticket zones that can be programmed to dispense a small quantity of tickets, a proven feature of "Cyclone."
Although they share a number of similarities, Ralph points out that "Wheel of Fortune" has certain factors working in its favor that "Cyclone" lacks, giving it a better chance for immediate success. Most notably, it possesses brand recognition since it's based on a top-rated syndicated TV show.
The TV game show Wheel of Fortune first aired in 1975 with original hosts Chuck Woolery and Susan Stafford. Current hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White joined the show in the early 1980s, around the time of its syndication debut, and it has since been a top-rated program around the world.
"Our new 'Wheel of Fortune' combines one of the most recognizable household names with the game play of the world's most popular redemption game," Ralph said, referring to "Cyclone."
He pointed out that the spinning wheel distinguishes "Wheel of Fortune" from "Cyclone." "I cannot begin to tell you how many people commented at the show that 'Wheel of Fortune' is actually more fun to play than 'Cyclone' because of the allure of the spinning wheel," he boasted.
Because of U.S. distribution's strong support of the game, ICE vice-president Joe Coppola predicts that "Wheel of Fortune" will be the most significant rollout in the company's 19-year history, which began in 1982 with the release of "Super Chexx."
"There were certainly some incredible 'Super Chexx' days when the company was building 50 to 100 units per day at a much smaller facility than our present one," Joe said. "But that was also the only product we were building at the time; and, like 'Cyclone,' 'Super Chexx' took some time to get off the ground."
When "Cyclone" was introduced in 1995, Joe added, many distributors were skeptical of the factory's claims that it was making as much as $500 per day not per week during tests.
"Many people were so astonished by the initial earnings reports for 'Cyclone' that they thought something was wrong, or that incorrect readings were taken, because they had no idea that a redemption game could make what this game was earning," he said. "In the case of 'Wheel of Fortune,' we got some awesome early test results, but distributors recognized very early that this game was going to represent a great selling opportunity and a fantastic earnings opportunity for their operator customers."
The obvious earnings potential of the game, coupled with a huge outpouring of distributor support, has Joe believing that it can realistically surpass "Cyclone." At the very least, he is certain that the first 2,000 "Wheel of Fortune" units will sell at a much faster rate than the first "Cyclones."
Joe noted that ICE will concentrate first on the U.S. market, with a goal of rolling out 1,000 units by the end of July. Until then, he added, the company is intentionally holding back on its sales and marketing efforts overseas.
"By then, we'll most likely have even more orders from the U.S. as some of the more conservative markets get wind of what 'Wheel' is doing out there; and then we'll start to focus on our international sales and marketing efforts, which should reap another very quick 1,000 to 1,500 orders," he said. "'Wheel' will be very popular in Asia; they love quick coin games in that part of the world, and we'll work closely with our distributor networks overseas to get maximum exposure for this game in all 52 countries in which we currently sell."
"Wheel of Fortune" weekly output has increased from 50 units in May to 100 to 125 per week in June. Past experience with the unexpectedly high demand of "Cyclone," Ralph said, has prepared ICE to fill orders for another hit title. He added that ICE operations vice-president Drew Krouse has set up the factory to maximize assembly efficiencies and quality control assurance.
"We have really been able to plan this out more thoroughly than some of our previous game rollouts, and this should allow for a very efficient and smooth release of 'Wheel of Fortune,'" he said. "We have been working with our suppliers since the Monday after ASI to improve lead times and make sure we have a smooth flow of materials and parts as we get rolling."
Ralph credited Frank Warzecha of Monaco Entertainment, the "Wheel of Fortune" property owner, for licensing the game to ICE. The ICE president noted that Warzecha worked closely on the project since its inception.
Innovative Concepts in Entertainment is based at 10123 Main Street, Clarence, NY 14031; tel. (716) 759-0370; fax (716) 759-0390; www.icegame.com