EveryMatrix’s US-based Armadillo Studios is putting up a strong fight with its new title, The Lioness, which is set for release on August 2.

Featuring global superstar Amanda Nunes, who regained the UFC bantamweight title this past weekend, the developers of the new slot are aiming to prove wrong the mantra that sports-themed slots will always struggle to claim top honours.

Here, David Stoveld, COO of EveryMatrix’s Armadillo Studios, explains the factors behind the decision to utilise the individual within the fabric of a slot, and the desire to land a telling blow across the industry, in the Americas and beyond.

CasinoBeats: Why did you choose to opt for Amanda Nunes as a brand ambassador and what is the nature of her appeal for a wide-ranging audience?

David Stoveld: In terms of global appeal, there are few sports that can compete with mixed martial arts and fewer still that create and cultivate such iconic personalities. You only have to look at a figure such as Conor McGregor, who has emerged as one of the world’s most recognisable sports stars in recent years, for evidence of that.

In the United States in particular, Ultimate Fighting Championship has gained huge ground and is now firmly in the mainstream. You now have MMA-themed movies with A-list stars such as Halle Berry, while in the opposite direction Ronda Rousey has made the transition from the octagon to the silver screen.

Part of the reason we chose Amanda Nunes, the world-famous UFC star, to base a game around was the ever-increasing profile of the sport. However, another key factor was its demographic appeal.

In the US, viewership is split roughly 50-50 between male and female, and is mainly concentrated within the 20 to 40 age range, which fits perfectly with our goal of reaching a much broader igaming audience than you might typically find in the traditional land-based sector. 

The aim was to create an online game that appeals to a wide range of players, with the help of a celebrity that appeals to as many people as possible around the world. With Amanda Nunes, we believe we have achieved that.

CB: What are the particular challenges developers face when creating games based around much-loved sporting personalities?

DS: History tells us quite clearly that it isn’t an easy process and, particularly with sports titles, many have failed. Often such games are sold as brand vehicles rather than revenue drivers and perform the function of getting other content noticed, rather than performing well themselves.

It is difficult to successfully mix what can be seen as incompatible spheres of entertainment and the tribal nature of sport, meaning that while a game featuring a certain player or team might succeed in one locality, it can be deeply unpopular elsewhere.

Given what we know about sports games, we decided to focus more on Amanda as a character and personality. We have seen how Ronda Rousey has achieved popularity way outside the boundaries of MMA and Amanda is well on the way to achieving similar status. Games that utilise popular figures from the world of entertainment have seen success and we believe that The Lioness has an excellent shot of performing very well.

Amanda is a rising star and as she continues to grow in popularity, so too will igaming as it rolls out across the US. She always appeared to us to be a perfect choice.

CB: In terms of The Lioness itself, what are the gameplay elements that particularly mark it out?

DS: We wanted to keep The Lioness intuitive in terms of how it plays, bearing in mind that we are hoping to bring in a lot of new players who may not be immediately familiar with complex mechanics. Every game element is built around Amanda. It’s a game that hits hard with big images of her, which we took from a photoshoot in Miami.

There is a simple multiplier feature on there in which the more she punches and kicks, the more money the player is going to get. In the free spins round, we included the same feature and this time the multiplier sticks and continues to rise – a mechanic that has worked very well in games like Bonanza, for example. It’s clear to the player that the potential is limitless.

Amanda is deeply integrated into the game, and we have even used her iconic signature within the prize pot feature. She actually commented to us that she was delighted we had used the outline of a lioness and not a lion, as she often gets, so that shows that we did our homework!

Amanda asked a lot of questions when she came to see us in Miami and was consulted on the mechanics on land-based games she knows well during development. She was certainly very excited with the look of the game when it came to signing off.

CB: Finally, how challenging is it to develop a game that appeals to players not only in the US and LatAm, but also in the more mature market of Europe?

DS: You always have to aim for the market you are centred around and try to get that extra edge and for us, being based in Miami, that means the US first and foremost. Experience tells us that the games that do well in a particular market tend to perform well elsewhere too.

While igaming in the US is in its infancy, our thinking was to create a fusion of what works in land-based environments and combine that with popular online elements, to create something that speaks to what we believe the future will look like.

The market is new, but our long history within the industry leads us to believe that we have a decent idea of what will and won’t resonate with the US audience. 

The fact that Amanda is Brazilian will certainly help us to promote the game across LatAm markets, while the widespread popularity of MMA across Europe will also help us gain traction. It is very important to point out that not every game has to appeal only to male players.

With half of US players being female, we felt it was important to recognise that fact with a game that provides serious, punchy fun. We can’t wait to see what impact it has with players when it launches on August 2.