Innovation race: bet365, creativity and how in-house studios are impacting independent developers

Operator bet365’s in-house Originals series can inject creativity into the industry, but is it at the risk of independent studios?


Industry analysis by: Megan Elswyth

It’s been no industry secret that bet365 has its own in-house studio; after all, the bet365 Originals series launched all the way back in March 2018. At the time, many were sceptical – after all, there are hundreds, if not thousands of games development studios who have been in the industry for longer. Why would bet365 take the risk of pouring money, time and resources into making its own games?

Well, the short answer is that it gives bet365 complete control over its library. If you make the game, you can change the game to suit your needs. It shortens the entire development process – from getting the analytical results from the data team down to the game design team – in regards to what players want or enjoy.

But in a slightly more creative perspective, it also allows bet365 to take risks in its games.

“We at bet365, with a mature in-house games product under the ‘Originals’ brand, felt the time was right to bring these proven features into our own games and enhance our product offering even further” - Shaun Brassington, bet365 Head of Games Software Production

An independent game studio will always have to weigh up the industry trends against its planning process. Some of the most popular themes in the gambling scene are Ancient Greece and Egypt, The Wild West, Norse Gods... So if you want your game to be snapped up by operators, it makes sense that you’d aim for something you know players want.

However, this can lead to a cycle of exhaustion. Players like specific themes, so developers make games for these markets and before you know it, the variety on online casinos plummets.

Yet, as bet365 isn’t developing its games with the intention to market towards other companies, it gives it an almost unobtainable amount of freedom. You only need to scroll for a few moments through the bet365 Originals tab to see games such as Quintopple, Solar Flash, Ninja Bake Off, Edge of Sleep Hotel and Planet Pachinko.

One of its most recent releases, Unleash A Mercenary, is a free-to-play title that includes a weekly game grid for extra prizes. These little gamification features are critical in making a game stand out in the already busy iGaming sphere, with No Limit City also lending its xWays, xNudge and xSplit mechanics to the title.

“We’re delighted to introduce these x mechanics into our own exclusive and tailored content. In what we believe is an industry first, this is a great opportunity to fuse such successful features into our own breed of slots to produce something exceptional for bet365 players” - Shaun Brassington, bet365 Head of Games Software Production

In fact, since launching six years ago, bet365 has launched over 120 games in its Originals series. These include multiple table games, card games, slots, instant wins, keno... There’s even a new line of licensed Slingo games in there!

But what could this mean for the wider industry?

It’s obvious that the bet365 Originals line has been a success, otherwise the operator wouldn’t still be developing titles all these years later. According to SlotCatalog, an affiliate and slot review website, Unleash A Mercenary is currently ranked #425 out of all slots for popularity – a very respectable position, considering there are over 10,000 on the site. This places it in the top 5%!

So, why isn’t every operator doing this? It would certainly save the effort of signing partnerships, making deals and handling external game studios.

Well, the short answer is – they already have.

Entain has four in-house studios, with rumours of a fifth in the pipeline – WIN, CR, Vertical and Eurobet. The games from these studios seem to be doing well too, according to Entain. The company’s blog talks about how it gave the coveted milestone of 10,000th game to launch to CR Games, as well as how 70% of customers had played one of the new games added to the site.

Entain also explains that by having its own studios, it has the opportunity to develop games for specific markets, such as ‘chicken-themed slots that perform well in Italy, to jackpot games in the US.’ Other examples include the highly successful LeoVegas.

“We put the customer by our side in every decision that we make, and that helps us launch new games that are relevant, personalised, and that our customers love to play. We know by listening to our customers that they want more choice, more interactivity, and more entertaining experiences, so this has been our focus as we continue to develop and release new games from our award-winning in-house studios, and with our partners” - Satty Bhens, Chief Product Officer at Entain

It’s not even the operators who have their own studios, though – the aggregator and content provider Pariplay has its studio, Wizard Games; and technology provider Bragg Gaming Group has plenty of in-house teams, Atomic Slot Lab, Indigo Magic, Wild Streak Gaming, Spin Games and Oryx Gaming.

Does this mean that independent studios, and their creativity alongside them, are at risk? Well... The answer isn’t an easy one here.

Despite having its own studio, bet365 is still signing partnerships with external studios to integrate their content onto its platform. Only recently, bet365 even expanded its partnerships with Pragmatic Play in Greece and MGA Games in the Netherlands – meaning that the operator still values the talent of others.

“The gaming experience at bet365 Games is Never Ordinary, and we feel that the agreement will provide our Greek customers with some of the most boundary-breaking titles on the market” - A bet365 spokesperson on its Light & Wonder partnership

Also, in the most recent Global Gaming Awards EMEA 2024 in London, one of the most competitive categories ended up being the Breakthrough Company of the Year. The nominations included Galaxys, Creedroomz, Reevo and BGaming; with Spribe eventually coming out on top, mostly thanks to its Aviator title.

In fact, Spribe hasn’t just caught the attention of the Global Gaming Awards judges. Spribe’s Aviator game currently has over 10 million monthly active players across 2,000 casinos, and has also landed not only a partnership with the UFC, but an ambassadorship with UFC Champion Alex Pereira.

“Aviator has taught us that players like to be in control of the game they hold in their hands. They want to have some influence over the outcome of the game, even if that game is a game of chance. With Aviator, the connection between the player’s decision and the result is as clear as it is profound” - Giorgi Tsutskiridze, Spribe CCO

So, the opportunity for individual studios is definitely there. If anything, the creativity that is afforded to in-house studios from operators is making the market more diverse, but not shutting anyone out either. Perhaps it’s for the best if things are being shaken up too. Rather than simply developing clones of slot games that we’ve already seen before, studios are having to focus more on innovation if they want to stand out.

By affording creative freedom to their own studios, these operators have inadvertently pushed an innovation race onto the rest of the industry. As for the customer, they can only win from this. The market pressure will fuel new features, themes and never-seen-before mechanics in a bid to win the players attention.

It’s not necessarily the outcome that these operators were going for, but it certainly seems like a bonus all the same.

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