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Reports of “Experiences that move the heart”
“Experiences that move the heart” is the value SEGA SAMMY Group has been pursuing that exceed customers’ expectations. We introduce the scenes you can only find here such as behind-the-scenes of the development process, feature articles and others.
- Reports of “Experiences that move the heart”
Sammy's Development, Production and Sales Capabilities that Overcame a Number of Crises to Create the Hit, Smart Pachislot Hokuto No Ken [Part 1]
Announced in January 2023 as Sammy’s first Smart Pachislot*, the Smart Pachislot Hokuto No Ken started to be installed in pachinko halls in April. Since then, it has enjoyed high utilization in pachinko halls nationwide and the total number of units installed has exceeded around 60,000 (as of July, 2023). It took around two and a half years between the commencement of development and installation in pachinko halls, during those period there were a number of crises, such as a shortage of parts due to the COVID-19 pandemic and so on, despite the positive factor of regulatory revision.
How did the Smart Pachislot Hokuto No Ken become a smash hit under these circumstances? In this report, we interviewed six members from Sammy’s Development, Production, and Sales division to find out how they collaborated to navigate these challenges, and to learn the secret story, from its development to its installation and utilization in pachinko halls.
The interview will be divided into two parts.
Producer of the Smart Pachislot Hokuto No Ken. Responsible for the planning of the title and overall development, cooperating with each person in charge of payout design, image and visual effects, machine design and sound, etc. Also in charge of PR activities before and after sales.
B (Hardware Development)
Responsible for hardware (machinery and mechanism) design. At the development of Smart Pachislot Hokuto No Ken, also work on verification of alternative parts* due to a shortage of parts in cooperation with the Procurement and Production division.
*The use of alternative parts is not ordinarily permitted, but in response to the global shortage of electronic parts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, etc., it is permitted under some special conditions including limit on period.
C (Production Planning)
Responsible for the planning and general management of the production process, including the formulation of production plans, delivery of parts, and management of materials.
Responsible for the overall procurement of parts, including the formulation of purchase plans of parts and the selection of suppliers.
E (Sales Planning)
Formulating sales strategies and considering and implementing marketing & PR activities in collaboration with the Development department.
Conducting sales and marketing activities and providing follow-up services to pachinko halls.
*C (Production Planning), D (Production/Procurement) and F (Sales) will appear in the second part.
Reproduction of the first Pachislot Hokuto No Ken today
-- First of all, could you tell us about the background on how the Smart Pachislot Hokuto No Ken project started?
Hokuto No Ken series is one of our popular series which has been released on a regular basis. When our team discussed what kind of machine should the next Hokuto No Ken be, the idea of reproducing the first Pachislot Hokuto No Ken was suggested. So around June 2020, we started the project.
The background for this idea was the movement to review regulations for pachislot and pachinko machines. Pachislot machines are regulated by the rules of National Public Safety Commission and voluntary regulations within the industry*. Their technical standards such as pay-out rates and other performance and structure are defined in those rules and regulations. The specifications of pachislot machines are dependent on these rules and regulations and have a significant impact on gameplay.
Released in 2003, the Pachislot Hokuto No Ken was one of the biggest hit pachislot machines, with total sales of approximately 620,000 units. We had tried to reproduce the first Pachislot Hokuto No Ken in a No. 6 model machine, but due to the revision and tightening of regulations, we were unable to achieve this. Then, as regulations were being revised, we decided to take this opportunity and give it a try. We decided on the concept of “reproducing the first Pachislot Hokuto No Ken” and then put forward a proposal that had been reviewed many times to the management.
--What was the response from management?
Hokuto No Ken is one of the top-branded series for us. In recent years, however, the series has not produced the mega-hit that the first generation did, and the management team also had a strong desire to revive the series. If we could revitalize the brand and attract a wide range of fans, including the users who enjoyed the game back then, there should have been a good opportunity to revitalize the overall pachislot and pachinko market – this is why we decided to take on the challenge of reproducing the first Pachislot Hokuto No Ken.
We started full-fledged development in October 2020. With high expectations from within the company, we felt a lot of pressure, but the entire team embarked on development with a strong desire and determination to bring the fun and enjoyment of the first Pachislot Hokuto No Ken back to users.
The Simpler, the Better -- Aiming for the Gameplay of the first Pachislot Hokuto No Ken
-- What was the development like, with an eye of the voluntary regulation changes?
Though there was a move to ease regulations, in the following year, 2021, regulations still remained strict. What attracted many users to the first Pachislot Hokuto No Ken was the Battle Bonus with its high gameplay. It was difficult, however, to achieve high specifications like this when we started the project, so we proceeded with a balance of bonus probability and payouts as close as possible to the first generation.
As we also do not know how and when the voluntary regulations will be changed, we always proceed with the project with an eye on voluntary regulation changes, not only for the Hokuto No Ken series but also for other brands. In fact, during the development of the Smart Pachislot Hokuto No Ken, the voluntary regulations were changed many times, which forced us to repeat the process of throwing away everything we had built and starting over from scratch. However, even more than such work, the major obstacle was the very mission of “reproducing the first Pachislot Hokuto No Ken.”
Compared to the pachislot machines in the pachinko halls today, the Pachislot Hokuto No Ken has simpler specifications. When we started the project, we were faced with a conflict about whether we should adopt the specification elements of the latest popular machines. However, looking back at the past Pachislot Hokuto No Ken series, adding unnecessary gameplay features sometimes resulted in the loss of the good qualities of the first generation and such new features were sometimes perceived negatively. Based on these experiences, this time we decided to try to reproduce the first Pachislot Hokuto No Ken.
While actively incorporating the good points of the past Pachislot Hokuto No Ken series, we also carefully scrutinized gameplays to be added and gameplays that did not match the first generation were not included; through trial and error, we aimed to reproduce the gameplay of the first generation.
--What about the development of the cabinet?
At the beginning of development, the cabinet was developed as a conventional pachislot machine with physical medals. We focused in the design on the first Pachislot Hokuto No Ken style, with the same lower panel and red and blue lamps as in the first generation. We wanted to make users entering the pachinko hall feel that “the Pachislot Hokuto No Ken is finally back!”
B (Hardware Development)
One of our strategies is to improve business efficiency through the improvement of development efficiency and cost reduction. The Smart Pachislot Hokuto No Ken, for example, has newly adopted a 15.6-inch LCD with a 16:9 aspect ratio, which is more efficient in terms of sharing animation and reuse of the cabinet, instead of the conventional rear projection method.
“Please Keep the Battle Bonus Continuation Rate of 66% of the first Pachislot Hokuto No Ken at All Costs”
--At this point, what were the requests from the Sales Planning to the development team?
E (Sales Planning)
In early 2021, we requested the development staff to “keep the 66% battle bonus continuation rate of the first Pachislot Hokuto No Ken at all costs.” We couldn’t compromise on this point in order to appeal to pachinko halls and to meet the expectations of users.
In developing pachislot and pachinko machines, we need to make sure that they are not only popular with users, but also attractive to pachinko halls. To achieve both, we are working closely with the Sales Planning division to receive feedback during the development stage.
E (Sales Planning)
We usually try out a prototype at this stage and provide feedback to the Development division based on market environments and other factors, but this time we increased the number of the trial plays in order to develop better new machine. In addition, for the first time, we invited sales personnel, who are in direct contact with pachinko halls, to participate in the trial play to provide feedback and requests to the development staff.
Some of the participants know the first generation and their opinions were very valuable. The first Pachislot Hokuto No Ken was released in 2003, about 20 years ago, so although we were developing the machine while recalling the first generation, there were still some subtle differences. For example, one of our sales personnel pointed out to us that the screen showing the continuation of the battle bonus was slightly different from the first. We had not noticed this and actually made improvements based on that opinion.
I believe that a strong tie was forged between the sales and development divisions, and the fact that they were able to work together as one on the same vector, was a cornerstone of the success of the Smart Pachislot Hokuto No Ken. When I met with the sales personnel later, I was pleased to hear him say, “You adopted my feedback!” and I feel that it was truly a good initiative for both sides.
--How was the test-shoot evaluation at the "Parlor Sammy," your unique evaluation system?
In our efforts to create hit products, we are placing greater emphasis than ever on being “user-oriented.”
In the past, only a limited number of divisions, such as Development and Sales Planning, conducted test-shoot evaluations. Few years ago, however, we set up a mock pachinko hall “Parlor Sammy” that is similar to an actual playing environment within the company and in which not only Development and Sales Planning but also other divisions can conduct test-shoot evaluations. Using this unique evaluation system, we are working to promote user-oriented product development.
About 100 to 150 people in their 20s to 50s can try out prototypes at Parlor Sammy. We use anonymous questionnaires to collect opinions, which are then reflected in the development. When the prototype of the Smart Pachislot Hokuto No Ken was developed, we conducted a test-shoot evaluation at Parlor Sammy, and it was very well received; we had comments from users in their 20s and 30s that its gameplay was “fresh and interesting.” The fact that the machine was well received not only by the generation that knew the first Pachislot Hokuto No Ken but also by the younger generation gave us confidence for subsequent development.
--Why and when did you decide to make this title to smart pachislot?
Around November 2021, the topic of introduction of smart pachislot was brought up, and in 2022, we began discussing internally whether to make the Smart Pachislot Hokuto No Ken a medal machine or a smart pachislot. If the upper limit of games during advantageous sections for smart pachislot machines were completely removed, we could achieve the Battle Bonus closer to the one of the first generation. In light of the review of the voluntary regulations that had been conducted prior to that, we appealed to the management that developing this title as a smart pachislot is must to reproduce the first Pachislot Hokuto No Ken.
Although there were various negative factors due to COVID-19 such as the shortage of parts, the number of supply of smart pachislot machine-specific units, and the production system, the decision was made to “go with the smart pachislot,” which was highly expected for not only by the Company but also by the industry. Aiming for release in January 2023, the development of the Smart Pachislot Hokuto No Ken was accelerated.
(Continue in Part 2)
In the second part of the interview, we asked about the process of the Smart Pachislot Hokuto No Ken from the late stages of development to its installation in pachinko halls nationwide. The interview is scheduled to be released around end of November.
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