Incredible Technologies makes a name for itself in the gaming industry with robust, easy to service and attractive slot machines. By Janice Hoppe-Spiers
On the slot floor, large 4K screens, flashing LED lights and sirens heard ‘round the casino may initially draw players in while the timing and unique features of the game keep them entertained for hours. For Incredible Technologies (IT), “IT was always all about the game.”
IT began as a bare bones operation in 1985 when Elaine Hodgson and her business partner, Richard Ditton, began writing lines of code for pinball games. Just three years later, IT developed hardware and software for its first coin-operated video game, Capcom Bowling, which Hodgson says became a big hit.
The Vernon Hills, Ill.-based company’s big break came in 1989 with the debut of Golden Tee Golf in bars and restaurants across the country. The cashflow from Golden Tee Golf allowed IT to get into the gaming business, and in 2007 the company began making its own gaming hardware.
“About four years ago we started getting real traction in the industry, competing against multi-billion-dollar companies,” Hodgson says. “The beauty of the entertainment industry is that if it’s attractive to the end players, they will play it. So, there is a level playing field as far as the fun factor of our game. We got in the door that way and our casino customers were looking for more vendors. We now have a good market share for our size.”
In September, IT’s record growth earned the company its place on the Inc. 5000 list for a second time. Named one of America’s fastest-growing privately held companies, IT ranks No. 2,104 with 191 percent growth. IT was also recognized in 1991 when it ranked 64th out of 500. “I attribute our success to the people,” Hodgson says. “We have had our fair share of really excellent people. People who have been persistent, which is the biggest foundation for success, and wanted to succeed.”
She admits the amusement and gaming industry is difficult and the company has probably made every mistake in the book, but it continues to move forward. “We have learned from our mistakes, learned the math techniques to make games people want to play and we grew fast in the last three years,” Hodgson says.
The gaming industry is highly regulated so people can’t cheat the system, but the hardware and software need to be inexpensive, robust, easy to service and attractive. Machines are put through casino testing labs and struck with a cattle prod that puts tens of thousands of bolts through the end, but the machine needs to take this shock without missing a beat or at least be able to recover at the state it was at originally.
“The recovery is not only software related, but the hardware has to be able to handle it,” Hodgson explains. “The hardware has to be robust and survive electric shock and people poking at it while being beautiful to attract people. It also has to last. The 55-inch 4K monitors have a long lead time and are difficult in terms of failure rate and things that can go wrong with them.”
IT’s circuit boards are manufactured overseas and the company buys a lot of components such as card readers and printers before assembling it at its plant in Vernon Hills. The company partners with contract manufacturers to perform the nuts and bolts of manufacturing the hardware before it takes over final assembly.
Every subcomponent has quality assurance procedures along the way before final testing is conducted by IT. IT’s quality assurance team ensures each machine meets the gaming industry’s standards before delivery. To ensure delivery occurs within a six- to eight-week lead time, forecasting plays a major role in IT’s manufacturing process as certain parts have long lead times.
Staying in Compliance
IT is the legal manufacturer in 150 state and tribal jurisdictions throughout the United States and Canada. Each jurisdiction has its own regulations that must be followed. For example, some jurisdictions require the manufacturer to notify them 15 days before shipping hardware. “Our compliance team works on that process to make sure we have notified and done all the regulatory things we have to do because if we don’t, we are in trouble and there can be fines,” Hodgson explains.
Additional safety measures are taken when it comes to shipping the final machine, including not sending the hardware and software together because one is not functional without the other. Some jurisdictions require a sealed truck, which can’t be broken until it arrives at the casino, so the customer knows it wasn’t tampered with during transport. IT’s logistics partners seal the trucks and an IT field technician meets the shipment at the location to open the truck.
After the machine arrives, IT prides itself on providing excellent customer service when needed. “Our sales staff and field techs are well regarded,” Hodgson notes. “We do our best to keep our games working all the time and service them when needed.”
IT got its start by building video games that had to withstand hostile bar environments where the machines had to work through being doused in beer or after chicken grease was smeared all over it. Although the casinos in general are less hostile because the machines are attended for the most part to ensure players aren’t tampering with the machines, IT still offers a simple design that is easy to service.
Moving forward, IT is heading into 2020 strong after debuting two new cabinets – Infinity Pilot and Infinity Summit – at the 2019 Global Gaming Expo. Infinity Pilot showcased cabinet-exclusive configurations including the Gear and Dogbone, each designed to be the centerpiece for any casino floor. Infinity Summit debuted as a towering addition to IT’s core product line. Summit’s overhead gaming space showcases frequent wheel bonus and compelling attract mode graphics.
The company will continue to develop new hardware and cabinets to stay competitive and incorporate the latest technology. “We have a long way to go before we have the floor share that large billion-dollar companies have, but we don’t need to have that and like to grow sustainably,” Hodgson concludes. “Richard and I are on the only shareholders and we want to give good livelihoods to the people we work with. We will have more product offerings and grow in a sustainable way so our customers trust us and know we are offering something good.”