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IT Hosts Operator Summit, Unveils Mini Golf Viddie And Other Product Developments

Posted On: 7/20/2008

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CHICAGO -- Incredible Technologies revealed a new cabinet design, a miniature golf videogame and several other developments during its seventh annual Operator Summit, held at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare here this spring. Some 140 representatives from 80 operating companies attended, making this the second-largest summit to date, and received a firsthand report on IT's product and marketing plans for the coming year.

President Elaine Hodgson confirmed that the company will stop producing cabinets with built-in CRT monitors in the near future; a new waist-high, pedestal-style cabinet will replace these. The change will give a fresh look to IT's videogames while allowing operators to source and select monitors and stands at their discretion, Hodgson said. She added that the new design also will be less expensive to ship.

The company is continuing to work on attracting casual players, an issue it addressed last fall with the rollout of Golden Tee Unplugged (see VT, November 2007). IT previewed a new trackball-controlled viddie called Power Putt, which offers simple controls -- essentially aiming and "putting" with the trackball. This straightforward play appeals to patrons who prefer a relaxed challenge, officials noted, and reaches demographics that the flagship GT golf game does not. The title currently is undergoing field-testing and will likely be shown in production form at the fall trade shows.

Plans to add a new lawn dart-style game to the Target Toss Pro platform, introduced last year with the beanbag toss game Bags, also were disclosed. The company showed prospective play structures for this concept, including a poker-themed dart toss game.

Artist rendering of new pedestal cabinet for Golden Tee golf viddies.
Larry Hodgson, VP of product development at IT, led off the overview of the 2009 Golden Tee software. He summarized the company's past and future goals for the title, and the benchmarks that have been achieved thus far.

Senior game designer Jim Zielinski announced that the update will add realistic clouds to course scenery for the first time, as well as two new surface types: dusty dirt and mud. He also described the five new courses: Bonnie Moor, set in the Scottish countryside; Woodland Farms, inspired by the terrain of southwestern Wisconsin; Grand Savannah, an African course enlivened by grazing animals; Sunny Wood, with a theme-park setting; and Black Hills, prominently featuring the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Zielinski explained how improvements to the software have "made it easier to provide more detailed, realistic graphics without affecting the speed of gameplay," which enabled many of the new visual elements.

Project manager Brian Jandula reviewed how the game selection process was simplified in the 2009 software, so that patrons need only press three buttons to initiate casual play. He also explained how a new "quick shot" option lets competitive patrons speed through play, which can make games 25% faster. Mulligans (which allow a player to redo a shot) have been re-added to casual and "sample" game modes as well.

A significant new feature available for online-connected Golden Tee LIVE games is a quick-play tournament option called Closest To The Pin LIVE, based on the familiar play mode. For $2, a patron joins a pool of 50 players competing for a $50 prize pool. Each participant is given one shot per hole, and nine holes are played. The single best shot of all those taken wins the money; players who tie split the prize.

Golden Tee master Steve Sobe observed that "any time you shorten the game, it gives the less-skilled player a better chance," and said that this tournament mode will allow "non-pros" to win with greater frequency, bolstering interest and participation.

IT marketing manager "Duffer" Dan Schrementi summarized the company's current marketing strategy, which he compared to that used for the popular Madden football videogame for home consoles. "The overall goal is to keep our brand and your investment relevant," he said, noting how targeted partnerships and cross-marketing will strengthen the Golden Tee brand's position in pop-culture entertainment.

The flagship Golden Tee Golf game will celebrate its 20th birthday in 2009, and a slew of promotions are being organized around this milestone. A "Happy Birthday, Golden Tee" montage will be deployed to online games through the attract mode, and several celebrity fans of the title -- including the Dave Matthews Band and a number of well-known sports icons -- made videos expressing their good wishes.

The company outlined results and plans for its national tournaments and promotions. The 2008 SSBC National Championships, staged in late June, had more than 1,300 qualifying participants complete more than 250,000 games (100 plays were required to qualify) while attempting to earn a spot at the final event: a Las Vegas gala staged in the Kingpin Suite at the Palms Hotel. The competition stimulated more than 1 million online plays overall, officials noted.

Regarding the Golden Tee World Championships, currently underway, VP of marketing Scott Morrison explained the company's intent to publicize the event more broadly and make it easier and more appealing to enter. Players will need to complete just 50 games to qualify for the regional tournaments, and a change in structure will allow any player to become the "world champion." The largest single prize offered to date -- $20,000 -- will be part of a $100,000 prize pool.