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Case Study:
Program Management - Key Success Factors
Aristocrat Server Based Gaming

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Being a program manager is not easy. In fact, it can be quite challenging at times. However, there are certain things that you can do to increase your chances of success. Applying Key Success Factors is a very import skill illustrated by the successful Server Based Gaming Program at Aristocrat.

As a Program Manager at Aristocrat in 2009, I was responsible for leading and coordinating program Server Based Gaming. This was a world first technology for the gaming industry and Aristocrat. The role included developing the overarching Program for SBG at Aristocrat, developing the product ready for market introduction and the first installation in MGM Macau. I was charged with managing risks and issues and ensuring that programs are delivered on time and within budget. I worked closely with Aristocrat management, our development team in Sweden and our customer MGM in Macau. Such was the success that I was awarded Excellence in Program Execution for my part.

Aristocrat is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of gaming machines and software. They supply products and services to some of the most well-known casinos around the globe. Aristocrat also has a strong presence in the online gaming market, with a range of popular games that can be played on desktop and mobile devices with a market capitalization of $14.34 Billion (Oct 2022).

Server Based Gaming (SBG) is a platform that enables casinos to offer a range of Aristocrat games on demand. SBG gives casino operators the flexibility to choose which games they want to offer, and when they want to offer them. This means that players can enjoy a wide selection of Aristocrat games, on a machine of their choice and opens the possibility of new game forms. This keeps casinos fresh and exciting for both operators and players alike. In 2008 and 2009 it was the “hot” new technology showing signs of being the next big thing in gaming.

In 2008 Aristocrat invested $75m* to purchase the Server Based Gaming platform from Swedish company ACE Interactive AB. The challenge therefore is to offer a return on this investment to Aristocrat.

Charged with “the” SBG Program being loosely defined as “make SBG work” by the CEO was the basis of the charter. We began work on 2008.

The question therefore being, what quantifies success?

This is where KEY SUCCESS FACTORS (KSF’s) come in. The first step is to understand the business. How does Aristocrat make money from SBG and return back the investment. These are the steps we followed:

Working with subject matter experts in Aristocrat to define the assumptions. Assumptions such as how many Casino are operating with Aristocrat product (850), how many would take SBG (137), what is the competition. IGT was one of the main competitors to Aristocrat and it was determined that they would not be able to launch SBG earlier than Aristocrat. How many units can each Casino install (100). Over the 10 years of the Program with offers a top-level revenue of ($275m), but this displaces some Aristocrat product, but these are bought and paid for and would return similar or better support and service revenues.

From the above and through our analysis including interviews with Aristocrat leadership (stakeholders) a few top level KSF’s can be determined:

  • Demonstrate a positive business case in the first order, Revenues: $275m – $75m = $200m
  • Demonstrate leadership and compete with rivals see this article from 2008
  • Begin the roll-out as soon as possible

At this point is should be noted that Aristocrat had a Program Management Office (PMO) which provided leadership on Program methodologies, practices and leadership. This was a significant to helping the team “win the ear” of key staff at Aristocrat.

Going a little deeper in planning the initial steps, further KSF’s follow:

  • Demonstrate the first SBG products in a real Casino environment ASAP
  • Demonstrate positive user experience from players ASAP

With these defined the project plans were created covering:

  • Customer Trial at MGM
  • Development project(s)
  • Local Trial & Staging
  • Field Testing
  • Stakeholder Management within Aristocrat

One key factor (KSF) was having a willing and co-operative customer. In this case we found MGM in Macau. They had a willing floor manager and IT team ready to support the integration. It is always important to realize the human component. The floor manager was keen to move his family from Macau back to Sydney Australia and one possibility for him was to work with Aristocrat, even be part of SBG. So he was motivated to help us get this up a running too. In fact, I remember on one occasion him showing us his office and the list of VIPs these are “high rollers” that can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars at the Casino. He would keep tabs on them if they came into the Casino and made sure personally that their needs were met, even if that meant getting a chair for them more like the competitive Casino down the road just for them to sit on!

Another KSF was that the SBG system perform well on the floor. To put this in context imagine a floor with hundreds of gaming machines and thousands of players across and massive floor. The SBG system needs to have a compelling offering to attract the players and to keep them playing. One of the features of SBG was that the player could select the games they wanted from a range,  This was the hypothesis and needed to be tested in the field.

The trial was not without it issues. Pre-configuring, testing, shipping, staging, back-end customer system integration, floor placement and installation. This project required some real project management and I remember being a hot, smelly, dirty warehouse staging the system for days on end to make sure it would be stable on the floor.

One serious issue arose, when we arrived on the floor to find all 8 SBG machines down and offline. This really looks bad for a casino floor and the MGM team was not happy to considering removing it. We eventually solved the issues and the system worked fine and we coached the technical team how to make repairs if needed.

The results were good but not great. Successful as a Program and success across the multiple projects but as business venture the product was not ready. There was not the uptake of players that was hoped. For MGM or any customer to be interested they need to be able to demonstrate an increase in revenues for SBG versus a stand-alone machine.

After I left Aristocrat the MGM trial was concluded and Aristocrat went to work developing the new game forms and other compelling features that would make SBG a success later.

Some more subtle keys to success or KSFs were being there, developing relationships with key people and enrolling support both within the team and when needed outside.  One example of this was the need for resolving technical issues with the Swedish team of developers and having them onsite in Macau. Also, the ultimately people make decisions every day to support or not the Program and you always want them to be supportive even if only emotionally. Building bridges and positive experiences with people, offering real value to people are all key.

If you’re in need of a Program Manager for starting a project or are considering doing so please contact us today to learn more.

(*) The numbers in the Case Study are illustrative only not intended to be accurate.

Pete Cooper, CEO

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