“It was the dream call.” Nik Robinson, CEO of Big Time Gaming and the man behind Megaways, among a growing number of slot innovations, is in a reflective mood, enjoying his morning coffee at the BTG offices in Sydney.
He’s talking about a meeting with Enrico Drago, SVP at IGT PlayDigital, at G2E Las Vegas, when the pair discussed the possibility of adding the Megaways magic to the cherished IGT Wheel of Fortune game brand.
On the other side of the globe, in San Francisco, sits Drago. “I just let him talk and share his ideas,” he says of that meeting with Robinson.
And so a key strategic collaboration was born. On one hand, perhaps the most meaningful innovation in online slots in a decade – Big Time’s all-conquering Megaways mechanic – and on the other, a giant of the land-based and online casino domains, IGT’s Wheel of Fortune. The game, a Vegas legend, represented one of Megaways greatest tests to date.
Both Drago and Robinson were talking to CasinoBeats managing director Stewart Darkin this week, to discuss the collaboration.
The chat is a fitting curtain-raiser for CasinoBeats’ Innovation in Slots series of webinars, interviews and presentations. Register and watch the whole discussion here.
Wheel of Fortune Megaways has already launched in the US and hits European casino lobbies at the end of this month. It is undeniably a big moment for IGT. “Wheel of Fortune is one of the biggest slot titles of all time and, in 2021, we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Wheel of Fortune property,” says Drago. “In those 25 years, we have made around 250 iterations of the game, making 1,100 people millionaires in the process.
“The game has paid out $3.3bn in jackpots in that time, with the biggest single payout being a $14m win,” continues Drago.
So how did IGT end up handing this prized property to Big Time Gaming for the Megaways treatment? “When you are talking about different game mechanics you need to figure out a way to stay at the top of the rankings,” Drago explains.
“I wanted a way to leverage one of our biggest assets, our distribution network in the US. After all, Wheel of Fortune has appeared in 30 states to date. So, taking the 25th birthday celebration and combining it with what Nik and Big Time have to offer, was the best kind of collaboration.”
For Robinson, it was a challenge to relish and one that highlights just what an excellent reputation Big Time Gaming has for innovation. “Wheel of Fortune is the ‘crown jewels’ of slot machines brands and we feel extremely fortunate,” he says.
“We could have quite easily just arranged a Megaways licence – like we do with many providers – and then consult with you and help you make the best game you can. But when it came to Wheel of Fortune and the preciousness of Megaways and that brand coming together, we, as a business, wanted to take the challenge on.
“That’s the really exciting thing,” says Robinson, “Enrico trusted me and our business to take on the brand.”
It seems trust has underpinned the whole process. “Enrico said to us: ‘You can do whatever you want to do as long as we feel it has the character of Wheel of Fortune’. That was a huge leap of faith that we wanted to repay and we got to work.
“On one side you have the TV game show but, on the flipside, you have Vegas. I wanted a gameshow feel, sure, but I wanted it to be the kind of slot you’d find in Vegas. On the floor at Vegas casinos, you hear that Wheel of Fortune drama and excitement playing out all the time, even after all these years,” explains Robinson. “So we doubled down on the Vegas factor.”
To see where that mission took Wheel of Fortune Megaways, watch the whole conversation by registering here. You’ll also learn more from Nik Robinson about Big Time’s plans for 2021.
Plus there’s more insight from Enrico Drago at IGT, who speaks about how the BTG collaboration is a template for similar future strategic joint ventures with third-party developers, with some exciting times ahead.
Learn more about the CasinoBeats Innovation in Slots series here