4-page Case Study - Posted 5/3/2012
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Entertainment Network Speeds Game Development and Enhances User Experience with Microsoft Platform
AMI Entertainment Network is a leading developer of touch-screen games for the entertainment industry. To stay ahead of the competition, AMI wanted to redesign its flagship gaming device and lineup of games. To gain advanced connectivity and
improve support for hardware and 3-D game development, AMI replaced its Embedded Linux operating system with Windows Embedded Standard 7. As a result, the company cut development time by 50 percent, and game operators have increased revenue. In addition, cloud-based
services enhance the gaming experience and give game operators enterprise management capability and better business intelligence.
AMI Entertainment Network reaches a global audience through its compelling portfolio for the commercial entertainment market. From touch-screen games and jukeboxes to streaming news and video programming, AMI provides content-rich entertainment solutions
to more than 125,000 bars, restaurants, and retailers.
||Gamer expectations have changed over the past decade, and the technology in Windows Embedded Standard 7 addresses these new needs.
| Brennan McTernan
Vice President of Software Product Development
To stay competitive, AMI wanted to develop a device with multi-touch capability and a new set of socially interactive online games. In recent years, the touch-screen gaming industry has faced challenges from newcomers in the marketplace, but it has also gained
opportunities to reach a broader audience. For example, the popularity of multi-touch mobile devices has increased the number of people playing socially connected games.
Now, people can play games anywhere.
“A decade ago, a bar was one of the few places where you could find an assortment of touch-screen games,” says A. J. Russo, Creative Director at AMI Entertainment Network. “Today’s typical bar patron carries around a mobile device with instant access to thousands
of entertainment and gaming applications.”
Furthermore, a new market has opened with social network gamers who connect to online virtual worlds through websites like Facebook. In addition, most of the United States has banned public smoking, and AMI believes that a smoke-free environment encourages
more sociability. Finally, several states have passed laws that allow for skill-based games with progressive jackpots, creating a new sense of consumer excitement around the types of games AMI develops.
To thrive in the new gaming market, AMI created a new flagship game device, the ML-1. The company’s existing device had been developed more than 10 years ago with Linux as the operating system because the device licenses were free. However, the operating system
had several drawbacks when compared to the Windows Embedded Standard 7 operating system.
“On the day I first arrived at AMI in 2010, I saw Embedded Linux had many serious limitations that we could not overcome,” says Brennan McTernan, Vice President of Software Product Development at AMI Entertainment Network. “It started with the lack of availability
of hardware platforms. Whenever we looked for a new motherboard, there would be two or three choices for Linux, as opposed to eight or nine more powerful boards for Windows.”
AMI also needed multi-touch technology to compete with popular smartphones and adapt to the new consumer gaming reality. “With Linux, we would have had to write the multi-touch code ourselves, which would be a complete waste of our resources,” says McTernan.
“Linux even made us dependent on a single source for touch screens, which inflated our costs.”
Development was another challenge—the company struggled with the lack of powerful, integrated tools and support resources. In addition, McTernan wanted to move away from the Linux-based 3-D game engine the company had used to develop its Megatouch games. “Above
all else, our game development process made it clear that the negative aspects of Linux were outweighing the perceived lower cost,” he says. “Our old thinking was that a single game took six months to develop. I knew we could cut that time significantly by
replacing our slow Linux game engine with any one of dozens of excellent Windows game engines.”
AMI sought to provide more dynamic and visually interesting games that connected to social media services. It also wanted to offer customers enterprise management and business intelligence capabilities. “To update software or configure machines, operators needed
to visit each site and make changes manually,” says McTernan. “It was also difficult to track revenue or collect other usage data from the stand-alone devices.”
||It took us just 16 months to develop a new platform with Windows, versus the 30 months I estimate it would have taken with Linux. During that same timeframe, we also rewrote a third of our games, essentially redeveloping 15 years’
worth of game code. In all, working with Windows Embedded permitted much better use of resources than if we had used or stayed with Linux.
| Brennan McTernan
Vice President of Software Product Development
AMI Entertainment Network
AMI migrated from Linux to Windows Embedded Standard 7 to take advantage of its multi-touch capability and its superior development environment. The solution would also offer improved hardware support and optimized connectivity. “We had a subsidiary using
Windows 2000 and a sister company using Windows XP Embedded, so we knew we would go with Windows. The only question was which version,” explains McTernan. “We knew we needed an embedded operating system with multi-touch and support to produce international
versions, which left Windows Embedded Standard 7 as the obvious choice.”
AMI developers used several Microsoft development support resources.
“The support started when the Microsoft OEM Engineering Services helped us decide which version of Windows Embedded was right for us,” says McTernan. “They were instrumental in educating us on the capabilities of Windows Embedded Standard.”
Microsoft helped with training too. “We also needed to get our team of Linux developers to become experts in Windows,” says McTernan. “Again, the OEM Engineering Services team trained our people on the latest Windows Embedded Standard 7 features, and we engaged
a set of ‘Develop-mentors’ to train our C++ experts in the C# language.”
Developers had support when they needed it from the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN). “MSDN was a frequent source for coding references, and we also turned to Microsoft Support to answer questions,” recalls McTernan. “Belonging to the Microsoft Partner Network
ensured that we always got the latest updates to Windows Embedded Standard.”
The AMI team rebuilt its gaming system around the Windows Embedded Standard 7 operating system. It created applications and drivers by taking advantage of its expertise in the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 development system and other products and technologies
including the Windows Internet Explorer browser, Windows Media Player, and the Microsoft .NET Framework.
The company created a more intelligent system that would meet the expectations of younger consumers. “Remember, the newest generation of bar patrons has grown up playing Xbox 360, not board and card games,” says McTernan. “Gamer expectations have changed over
the past decade, and the technology in Windows Embedded Standard 7 addresses these new needs.”
AMI was also able to adopt the leading Unity 3-D game engine, which does not run on Linux. “It took us just 16 months to develop a new platform with Windows, versus the 30 months I estimate it would have taken with Linux,” states McTernan. “During that same
timeframe, we also rewrote a third of our games, essentially redeveloping 15 years’ worth of game code.”
To improve security and management, AMI developers implemented features built into
Windows Embedded Standard 7. For example, AMI used AppLocker to control which apps can run on the device and BitLocker to protect disk drives and intellectual property from theft. The Enhanced Write Filter and File-Based Write Filter protect disks from both
viruses and power cycling. In addition, the Windows operating system offers better device management and supports end-to-end data collection and analysis.
| Megatouch Live on the ML-1 Game
Machine from AMI Entertainment Network
When the project was complete, AMI had created its first multi-touch gaming system, which includes a 22-inch screen and classic Megatouch games like Photo Hunt® in high definition. The ML-1 system also features a new class of social, multi-user games, so players
can compete head to head on the same screen using multi-touch technology.
The interconnected solution includes Megatouch Live, an all-new cloud-based service that enhances the overall player experience. Players can connect to the service and participate in global leader boards, purchase and earn virtual currency, unlock special power-ups
and abilities, post feats to Facebook, and more. This data is accessible through the ML-1 from virtually any location worldwide. Wherever users play, the device will have the feel of a personal entertainment console.
The new system is standing out in the marketplace. “The ML-1 has attracted great customer interest and is selling well,” says Russo. “In the first couple of months, after our September 2011 launch, we sold hundreds of units, and we are well on our way to thousands.”
AMI is already working on new enhancements. By taking advantage of Windows Embedded connectivity, AMI can collect data from the gaming device and use it to make better decisions. “We use the cloud-driven data from our ML-1 game machine as part of our business
model,” explains Russo. “The data helps us understand how players are using the system and discover which games and features are working, so we can target and focus our ongoing development efforts.”
Windows Embedded Standard 7 helped AMI to achieve a competitive advantage by delivering a more compelling device with an enhanced user experience, superior management capabilities, easier development, and more connectivity options.
Enhanced User Experience
||I can access and gain insights from the new Windows-based ML-1 machines from virtually anywhere, including my home PC, mobile phone, or tablet. Now we can proactively see problems as well as diagnose them which often saves us a second
or third service call.
| Rick Murray
Service Department Manager
Nebraska Technical Services
By offering a gaming system with online connectivity, AMI can attract and retain customer interest with new features and capabilities. “The fact that it's now online means the ML-1 is regularly refreshed, so there's a steady stream of new games, content,
challenges, and special features coming down the pipeline,” says McTernan. “It gives players compelling reasons to sit down and reconnect with the brand, to see what's new on a more frequent basis.”
The ML-1 also delivers value to the AMI chain of distributors and operators. Because operators can update the systems remotely through the cloud, the solution eliminates the need to travel and install software updates on site.
The new M-1 device has impressed game operators such as Nebraska Technical Services, a company that owns and manages touch-screen game machines in the Omaha area. “I can access and gain insights from the new Windows-based ML-1 machines from virtually anywhere,
including my home PC, mobile phone, or tablet,” says Rick Murray, Service Department Manager at Nebraska Technical Services. “Now we can proactively see problems as well as diagnose them, which often saves us a second or third service call.”
The new Megatouch games are also boosting revenue with increased “stickiness.” “The new games attract large groups, who tend to stay longer and spend more money,” explains Ryan Kruse, Sales Representative at Nebraska Technical Services. “We’ve seen a 15-plus-percent
increase in revenue over the last 120 days since we rolled out the new Megatouch system.”
Cuts Development Time by 50 Percent
AMI has simplified development and gained flexibility with a solution based on Windows Embedded Standard 7. For example, the company has a much wider choice of device drivers. “We found that when a hardware manufacturer makes a device, the first driver they
make is a Windows driver,” says McTernan. “At some point they may get around to making a Linux driver.”
In addition, working with Visual Studio development tools accelerated time-to-market. “Even basic Linux tools, like text editors, are not as fast or sophisticated as those available for Windows,” says McTernan. “The robust Visual Studio IDE makes it easier
to get at attributes as well as find files and libraries. This makes our development faster and more reliable.”
AMI has also eased development by taking advantage of the support ecosystem at Microsoft, which includes MSDN and Microsoft Services. “Theoretically, we could have done everything in Linux, but we simply didn’t have unlimited time and resources,” says McTernan.
“In a sense, we 'outsourced’ to Microsoft and ‘rented’ the power of 10,000-plus developers in Redmond for a very low price. We believe we got much more than we paid for with Windows Embedded.”
Windows Embedded Standard 7 also provides AMI with the benefit of long-term product support. “Some of our products are still in use after ten years, so we needed a vendor and support ecosystem that would be around for an extended period,” says Russo. “Windows
Embedded gives us 10 years of support, so we and our customers can have confidence in the product.”
Windows Embedded extends the power of Windows and the cloud to intelligent systems. Encompassing operating systems, tools, and systems and services, Windows Embedded enables enterprises to generate tangible, real-time benefits with anytime, anywhere access
to executable data. Microsoft entered the embedded marketplace over 15 years ago and continues to lead the evolution toward intelligent systems with an extensive suite of technologies for enterprises across a variety of industries.
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