Chris Kullman, Creative Director at Light & Wonder, delves into the process behind converting the company’s beloved land-based player favourite Willy Wonka: World of Wonka into a digital experience that is just as compelling. 

CasinoBeats: With a new film on the horizon as well as your new game, what is the key to the continued appeal of Willy Wonka as a gaming franchise?

Chris Kullman:

Since Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was first released into cinemas in 1971 it has stood the test of time as an iconic movie. Throughout the games we have created for the land-based franchise – and now for the digital release of Willy Wonka: World of Wonka – we have focused on the elements that are most popular to fans of the film.

CB: What challenges are faced when converting a land-based favourite and much-loved IP into a digital experience?

CK: Translating a game that has become a cultural touchstone, both in the United States and beyond, into a premium online experience is certainly a challenging process. In the online world, slot games tend to be judged very quickly by players – even if they have a natural affinity to a franchise.

Essentially, a typical online player requires a satisfying, video game-style experience to be packed into three seconds of action. From there, if the player is engaged enough to continue, they might spend the next 15 minutes enjoying playing the same game. It’s a completely different experience to sitting down at a land-based physical slot machine within a casino setting, where you are likely to capture a player’s attention over a longer period of time.

That’s where, as digital game creators, we earn our corn. In creating World of Wonka, we had to focus on the most iconic within our famous game. We lean into elements including fizzy lifting drinks, everlasting gobstoppers, chocolate rivers and the delicious weirdness of the Oompa Loompas.

Creating a hit land-based adaptation is an area we have a very strong track record in and to give one example, Carnival Cow Coin Combo was our biggest-ever digital launch in the United States after only 14 days.

CB: What, if any, are the main differences between the land-based and digital versions of the game?

CK: As the first-ever release within the game family, World of Wonka proved to be hugely popular and is a landmark title for us. For the digital version, we tried to adapt it as closely as possible while making sure that it was an enjoyable mobile gaming experience for players. We still have 24 individual symbols on the reels, as well as the Oompa Loompa feature in the base game that stretches those reels, albeit not quite to the levels of the land-based game so as not to lose visual quality.

The free spins bonus is almost identical to the land-based game as well, though instead of getting options of Charlie or Grandpa Joe as oversized symbols that land on the arrays, in our digital version we have focused on Willy Wonka. The chocolate river bonus also allows players up to seven picks, while the World of Wonka Wheel Bonus feature has also been successfully packed into our mobile-friendly version.

It’s a challenge to cram everything into a game that can be played within the palm of your hand and we had to make some adaptations to make it work. We believe we have done a very good job in that regard and hope that our players will agree.

CB: How far away are we from the convergence of land-based and digital content?

CK: We feel that with the digital release of World of Wonka, the essence of what made the original so popular is intact. We are getting a lot closer all the time to that convergence point of land-based and digital products which is fantastic for us.

Working for Light & Wonder, one of the biggest companies in the slot world, the closer our digital products can get to their land-based versions, the better. I believe that even as soon as in the next 12 months, there won’t be much of a difference between the two at all when it comes to delivering what’s on our roadmap.

As well as providing great playing experiences digitally, this convergence of the two sectors opens up all sorts of fresh possibilities around omni-channel play which we are currently exploring. Watch this space.