In the second part of the mini-series, Nachi Kurizki, business development director at Skywind Group, continues his deep dive in to the realm of branded video slots.

Which brand categories are the most attractive for slots?

Movies – branded slots based on movies, mostly Hollywood ones, are highly common. In those slots, the protagonists of the movie are likely to become the main symbols featured on the reels, also acting as wilds or scatters.

Original soundtracks and some cut scenes may also be included, allowing the players to relive the best moments of their favourite films. Examples of available movie themed slots include prominent titles like The Matrix, Rocky, The Karate Kid, Grease, The Mummy, Ted, The Magnificent Seven, Gladiator and Terminator.

“Branded and fully licensed slot games are definitely here to stay and on the increase”

One of the great upsides is that with every instalment of a popular movie franchise the corresponding slot is likely to experience a surge in popularity; if there is a talk about a revamp for certain films or a sequel is in the works then that is a good timing to leverage the buzz and ride on the frenzy surrounding that release.

We should keep an eye out for the first in the industry to release a game at the same time as the movie it is based on. If the movie is completely new and unproved then such a synchronised launch would be somewhat of a gamble, but one worth taking for a big budget film, as the opportunity could be huge and unique.

The shortcomings of going with the film option are usually difficulties to get all talent, exclusions of theme music, and various union payments associated with the use of video clips and sound.

TV shows – The latest trend for branded slots is to have TV show themed games that people are familiar with. These games are filled with characters and scenes from the popular shows, with theme music often playing in the background and characters saying their popular catch phrases. TV is also a good direction vs films, as the duration is longer and thus the brand is more frequently in the mind of the players.

A few video slots based on popular TV shows are Star Trek: The Next Generation, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Downton Abbey, Vikings and Narcos. There are also game show brands which work very well like Deal or No Deal, The Wheel of Fortune or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Video games – Slots and video games go hand in hand and many of the most modern slots tend to look and play just like the most popular video games out there. It is no wonder then that many video slots got their themes directly out of popular PC and console video games.

Microgaming was probably the first software developer to release video slots based on popular video game brands, with their Tomb Raider: Lara Croft series and Hitman. Those slot games really took off and more than a decade after its release, the Lara Croft: Temples and Tombs sequel remains one of Microgaming’s most popular online games.

Skywind Group released earlier this year a Resident Evil 6 slot game, featuring realistic 3D sequences licensed from the video game; the game flow and story line is also tied closely to the original.

Playtech licensed retro video game Space Invaders and did a slot version with stylised graphics, Blueprint made a slot based on the video game Worms.

Big name video game brands will likely bring in younger players and hence are great for mobile player acquisition which tends to be young demographics.

The only concern is the view that video game brands appeal to kids, but with the right design it should be clear that the game targets adult audiences. Unfortunately, many video game companies are still not prepared to enter the gambling space, but this approach is gradually changing as the commercial potential grows and the positive influence of regulation appeals to licencors.

Sports – In order to reduce acquisition costs, many operators with a sportsbook product heavily focus on gaining additional gaming revenues through cross selling their sportsbook databases to casino. Due to declining margins, it is just not commercially viable for online operators to spend the same volume of marketing budgets on both sports and casino. Instead, they usually invest primarily in sports punters and then try to cross sale those to casino.

Cross-promotional opportunities that target existing players are much cheaper and far more effective when the promoted game is branded with popular sports stars and events that appeal to sports customers.

“By offering branded games, online casinos will stand out in an otherwise saturated market”

Generally, sports punters consider themselves to be skilled bettors thus playing a slot game is not as attractive to them, also because of the considerably lower profit margins (roughly double than slots for in-play betting and three times more for pre-match betting). A branded sports slot, however, has a better chance to attract these punters who consider slots a purely luck dependent game, simply because they are passionate for sports.

The cross-sell opportunity is also appealing to punters who want to gamble without waiting for a sports event to take place; in casinos there is always nonstop gambling going on.
Frankie Dettori’s Magic Seven, a horseracing themed game from Playtech, has not only helped drive players to casino from sports, but has remained a top performer over the ten years since it was launched.

And then there is football of course. Global football stars do not come cheap but get sports fans very excited; when pushed massively in sportsbooks this theme is perfect for targeting a demographic not necessarily associated with online casino play.

Skywind Group created a Lothar Matthaus: Be A Winner slot, keeping in mind this legendary footballer has been central to the German team for many years and is generally a consensus in the public view. The cross-sell purpose is clearly demonstrated in the following promotion that has been offered in connection with the game:

“Bet a £5+ single, pre-match or in-play, on any Bundesliga match on Saturday at odds of 1/2 or greater, Get a free spin on Lothar Matthaus slot for every goal scored across all games!”

One of the great merits in engaging an individual sports celebrity is the ability to use him for marketing purposes to promote the branded slot – Skywind has done that with Lothar Matthaus who attended a live event for VIP players, boxer Mike Tyson appeared at the G2E Expo in Las Vegas on behalf of Inspired and Ronnie O’Sullivan did the same for Playtech at the ICE gaming conference in London. The publicity around these appearances for the game producers is just priceless.

Nevertheless, not only individuals but also institutions are harnessed, usually with the clear intent to take advantage of ongoing offline events. Again, horseracing seems to be the primary focus with an Ascot game from Playtech coming soon and The Grand National by Inspired already available, both UK centric and with the aim to entice sports bettors into online casinos.

Music artists – One of the more interesting moves recently in the igaming sector has been the licensing of music to add a depth of play to games. For example, we have seen a series of slots from NetEnt featuring a variety of big bands and rock musicians such as Guns N’ Roses, Jimi Hendrix and Motorhead (with Ozzy Osbourne soon to join this suite), while Leander created an Alice Cooper-themed slot game. The great thing about these slot formats is the soundtrack and music videos, which add a very appealing aspect to the game experience.

“The simple fact is that branded games bring players in”

The only downside really is that image rights are usually separate to music rights, and so the clearance process tends to be quite complicated and costly. Furthermore, in most cases the owner of the music cannot include in the grant of the license performance rights, which means additional ongoing payments to third party music collecting societies. The obligation to pay royalties in each jurisdiction for the communication of the music to the public can certainly cause issues with many operators, if they refuse to take on this commitment.

What does the future hold? Is branded content worthwhile?

Branded and fully licensed slot games are definitely here to stay and on the increase. It is true that branded games are big and expensive productions, but this will not put off software companies or stop them from using one of the best acquisition drivers available, particularly among the more casual players.

By offering branded games, online casinos will stand out in an otherwise saturated market. It is a very powerful way to attract players to a new title and, combined with the correct game mechanics, will keep providing excellent acquisition and retention opportunities to operators who incorporate branded slots into their growing business.

Be this due to loyalty toward the brand or simply because it was the first name they recognised is irrelevant, the simple fact is that branded games bring players in and continue to prove useful in establishing a strong bond with players.

What I am sure of is that online casinos who do house the big names will have a significant advantage over those who do not. For as long as branded slots remain extremely popular with players, the operators offering them will benefit from increased traffic on their websites and more leverage to acquire new players at a reduced cost, while adding a substantial degree of endorsement for their offering.