Ross Timmins, SEO Manager at Double Up Media, explores how pop culture has manifested itself not only as a major influence on game designers, but as an integral contributor to the interactivity and engagement power of contemporary slots.

How pop culture influences the online slot industry

The online slot industry is highly responsive to the world around it. New games are released on a regular basis, and game developers need a constant source of inspiration to keep ideas fresh and keep players engaged. At the same time, players are constantly on the lookout for new games that catch the eye, or present an exciting prospect for gameplay.

Pop culture is the perfect source of ideas, providing fun and relevant themes for slot developers to build on. But to what extent is the slots industry reliant on pop culture influences, and how can this be seen to be shaping the direction of games development within the industry?

The evolution of slots – from generic to branded themes

At the dawn of slots gambling, theming games was a concept that was only very loosely given credence. Fruit machines and basic slot concepts were there merely to make the machines colourful, and had very little influence on the gameplay, or really anything deeper than what the symbols would look like on the reels.

Fast forward to today, and it’s an altogether different landscape. Games now are much more interactive, much more engaging, and tend to be more heavily reliant on thematic elements to create a cohesive, highly-stylised playing experience in most cases. 

Core to that is often pop culture influences, drawing on themes and brands from entertainment, movies, TV and books. There are even slots based on pop icons, comic book characters and superheroes – often amongst the slots that perform best for games developers, slots sites and players.

Many newly released slots rely on these fun pop-culture brands to appeal to a wider audience, and to make their games more engaging for players. This also has the added benefit of appealing directly to fans of the pop culture inspiration to introduce new players to the slots industry – a form of marketing by association, attracting those who might not otherwise be regular slots players, as well as providing quality content for existing slots fans.

Over the years, slots have grown in complexity and quality, and branded themes have helped significantly in creating more engaging games that appeal to wider audiences. In this respect, pop culture has massively influenced game creators, and the broader slots industry, to present a higher calibre of playing titles.

Licensing pop culture in slots

With pop culture influences proving popular with players, slots developers have doubled down. Licensing for slots is now big business, allowing slot games to integrate recognisable characters, storylines, logos and other copyrighted protected material within their games. 

From game shows like Who Wants to Be A Millionaire through to Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, from rockstars Guns n’ Roses and Jimi Hendrix to Ozzy Osbourne, licensing deals are constantly in the works between copyright holders and games developers looking to build on their brands.

This allows developers to create more immersive gameplay experiences, weaving better narratives into their games through incorporating familiar storylines, imagery, soundtracks and animations. In the end, it all helps create a more entertaining game, providing scope for gameplay features and bonus rounds that feel more relevant to players who choose to take these games for a spin.

The case for licensed content in slots is beyond doubt – it’s better for developers to work with content that already has an inbuilt audience, as well as providing instant appeal to slots fans looking for something new to play.

How developers are drawing influences from pop culture

According to a study by in 2021, a total of 440 licensed slots had been released across the slots industry, reflected on a review of 1,000 leading slots sites. Playtech was the most active developer of licensed slots, with 67 of these to their name, followed closely by Blueprint Gaming who had released 59.

The findings reflect a broad interest in licensed content from a sweep of the industry’s largest developers, with IGT, Microgaming, NetEnt, MGA, WMS, NextGen Gaming, SG Digital and many more choosing to go down the path of licensing content for their games.

These are the developers that are choosing to go straight for licensed content from pop culture brands – but others are choosing an alternative route to achieving the same end.

A good example of a developer going about this in a different way is Yggdrasil. Yggdrasil’s slots catalogue is entirely unique, but still draws on elements of genre and thematics that players find familiar. Games like Pirates 2: Mutiny and The Royal Family have no direct pop culture licensed assets within their games, but are still arguably drawing on popular culture to shape their design and gameplay experience.

Different developers are taking their own approach to the demand for games that feel familiar, and use thematic elements from pop culture to build out their gaming worlds.

Whether it’s through licensing content directly from copyright holders, or developing games that draw on common tropes and themes found throughout pop culture (without referencing copyright material directly), it’s clear that cultural influences outside the slots world are continuing to influence game developers.