6 May, 2022

Big Question: How popular are branded slots in today’s marketplace

We spoke to Joey Hurtado, Managing Director, Wizard Games and Doug Fallon, Group Director of Content at Bragg and Founder of Wild Streak Gaming.

Joey Hurtado, Managing Director, Wizard Games

Branded titles will always have a home in the marketplace. They are a great bridge to slots for players who may not have played before and, when well executed, they can really add value to a game.

If incorporated well, a brand can be a great thing; but this is not always the case and we often see brands used in lieu of good game design. This is especially problematic in a market where these games often carry an extra fee over standard content. In recent years, this has put some operators off adopting the games in their portfolios.

If a provider wants to charge a premium for branded content, then the brand should add value to the game. IP deals often come with access to visuals, audio and even video clips. These can be used to create feature-rich and immersive experiences where a game is specifically designed to incorporate all of the brand’s elements. This does not, however, guarantee a successful game as the math, features and playability all need to be there and are more important in ensuring the
long-term success of the title.

As the US and Canada open up to online slots, there is a lot of scope for branded content to really find its niche, in a market where the land-based space is dominated by a multitude of branded games; featuring game shows, movies, music and more. The trick will be in finding the right IP to take online, executing it well and then ensuring you market and promote the game well with the operators releasing it.

Finding the right IP can be a challenge. For a studio which serves multiple global regions, the best value is from a brand which resonates internationally and can serve all your markets. This, however, can come with high costs and some limitations on its usage, as large international brands will always be very protective of their IP. This is not only expensive but can also impact on delivery, with back and forth on legalities, sign-off on design and asset use etc. On the other hand, smaller, more local deals can give flexibility but offer a more limited space to achieve ROI, while adding a significant cost to your game development. It’s a fine balance which can be hard to achieve and a significant factor as to why we don’t see a very high volume of branded games in the current market.

As the markets mature, branded games become less important as players ultimately seek out good mechanics and themes; but there will always be room for a well-executed slot based on a strong and popular brand. I think these will occur through opportunistic deals and collaborations, as opposed to a defined product strategy. 

Joey Hurtado is the Managing Director of Wizard Games, part of the Aspire Global Group, having previously worked as the Head of Product Operations at Gamesys, Managing Director of Casino Brands at Betsson and Head of Product Marketing at GVC, among several other roles during his 18 years in the industry.

Doug Fallon, Group Director of Content at Bragg and Founder of Wild Streak Gaming

Licensed brands can work extremely well in the gaming space, as they can immediately resonate with players who may have an affinity to a specific brand for a variety of reasons. This instant attraction to a game, particularly when facing so many alternative options to play, often supplements overall marketing. This familiarity offers the possibility of making the slot extremely popular with players to at least try out the game and, often, the brand will excite the casino managers as well.

Brands have been utilised by gaming companies for well over 25 years, and the range of those used crosses almost anything one can imagine from TV and game shows, movies, bands and celebrities, to other products such as hot sauce. Companies that license their brands usually have very specific demographic data of key target markets and this can be very useful when designing the game for that target audience.

The cost of brands can vary greatly and knowing the target market and relating that to the player base is a key element sometimes overlooked. There are many instances of very popular and expensive brands with a broad demographic appeal not translating into strong game performance. Looking at how the brand can be designed for a game experience and what core underlying elements may exist
to bring that brand to life in a slot game, to meet the player’s expectations can be tricky.

Having worked in both land-based and online slots with a variety of brands over the years, I also see key differences in the market about how licensed brands can be best utilised. The land-based casino environment doesn’t have file size limitations that online does. This increased capacity can allow the game experience to be fully immersive with video clips, character or actor animations and special effects. Certainly, though, there are many examples in the online space where the brand is utilised to not only attract players, but mixed with the right game design to meet player preferences and enjoy great success. 

However, both land-based and online slots have had a significant incidence of failures in the licensed brand space, but many non branded slots don’t resonate with players for one reason or another. So a failure in the slot space is a reality, whether branded or not. The other challenge that branded games can have is that so much of the player experience is focused around key brand elements that it can become repetitive and potentially see a shorter shelf life. Other times, the brand licensor may have significant views about how their brand is represented, creating challenges for game designers, sometimes to the detriment of the slot experience.  

Bragg is actively looking at a variety of brands to bring into our slot portfolio. While key demographic data is a decision point, more importantly, we look at how the brand will truly fit into the overall slot experience for the player. Besides key visuals, we look at the brand essence and see if the visuals, sound and other elements can be custom-tailored to the game mechanic. Alternatively, brands can be especially helpful to launch a new game mechanic to seek higher player counts and build adoption of the innovation.