Branded slots: the game underneath the brand is the real investment

Our experts delve into the risks in developing an IP and the influence of modern video platforms in directing future branded titles. 

In the last twelve months we’ve seen a resurgence in the number of branded slots come to market, especially those tied to current pop-culture trends, celebrities and global brands. 

In the second of our two roundtables investigating the current state of branded slots, Andy Whitworth, chief commercial officer at White Hat Gaming, Jo Purvis, director of key accounts and marketing UK at Blueprint Gaming, and Mads Jørgensen co-founder and CEO of Lady Luck Games, delve into the risks in developing an IP and the influence of modern video platforms in directing future branded titles. 

What are the challenges and risks associated with developing a branded slot? 

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Jo Purvis, director of key accounts and marketing UK at Blueprint Gaming.

Jo Purvis: You cannot underestimate the level of work required to produce these types of games. The process is very different compared to that of an in-house built game, as you’re having to meet every aspect of a licence holder’s requirements. 

We’re experts in developing branded igaming content having released a comprehensive range of licensed games over the years, but we never take for granted the sheer amount of work and precision required to produce a quality product.

There’s also the risk of producing an inferior product that fails to meet the expectations of a brand’s fanbase, or even your own loyal players. Some developers think the use of a famous brand is enough to drive engagement, but ultimately the gameplay still needs to be entertaining enough to keep players interested. 

At Blueprint, we have a strict policy of only working with brands that meet our style of games and that we know will be appealing to existing players. If you look at the IPs we have utilised previously, they follow a similar mould and help us produce the fun and humorous games that Blueprint is renowned for creating.

Andy Whitworth: There are two main risks that a developer needs to look out for. Firstly, they have to adhere to brand guidelines, which can’t restrict game producer ideas, or at least make it more challenging. 

The second is the cost of using the brands. A lot of them come with large minimum revenue guarantees, so if it flops it can be a big problem financially. 

We often see branded slots tied to welcome bonuses and get used extensively in marketing materials. Does knowing that a slot is more likely to receive extra attention from operators influence your decision to invest in major brand licences?  

Jo Purvis: That will certainly form part of the decision process and if we know a particular brand will work well for our operator customers, we’ll endeavour to develop a game that meets their requirements.  

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Mads Jørgensen co-founder and CEO of Lady Luck Games.

Even though The Goonies was first released in 2018, the game is still heavily used by operators for marketing initiatives. That’s largely driven by its brand awareness and ability to generate interest among a wide set of players. This epitomises the power and longevity that licensed games have in our industry and why operators will always prioritise space for them within their online offering. 

Mads Jørgensen: Having a strong slot based on a real-life entity can be viewed as a statement of intent by aggregators and operators, a studio that’s willing to invest time and money into a slot is one that’s hopefully going to deliver a fantastic end product. 

When they do deliver, these slots often find their way onto marketing materials and are used as part of bonuses.

Realistically, knowing that more eyes are going to be on your game because it features a recognisable brand is one of the driving forces behind most studios licensing IP in the first place.

Andy Whitworth: Branded slots are a great tool for operators to interact with existing customers and drive new player acquisition. It is a calculated risk when investing in the brand. Knowing they will get an extra push helps cover the cost of the investment, but this doesn’t guarantee success. 

The game underneath the brand is the real investment, this still needs to be fundamentally enjoyable, so it doesn’t just fall away quickly.

People are spending hundreds, if not thousands of hours a year viewing digestible video content on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, do you think this will influence the future direction of branded slots? 

Jo Purvis: It would be remiss to not monitor popular culture trends and explore how they could be adapted for use in the online casino world. Ultimately, any use of an IP needs to capture the interest of both seasoned slot players and fans of the brand itself. 

The entertainment world is constantly evolving and as an industry we need to be on the front foot to ensure our content remains exciting and relevant. 

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Andy Whitworth, chief commercial officer at White Hat Gaming.

I think we’ll always see popular TV shows and films form a big part of the branded slots landscape, but who knows what the future entails. Sports is one area of branded content that is likely to grow in the coming months. 

We developed our first branded sports game last year with the release of PDC World Darts Championship, which enjoyed an upturn in plays during the real-life tournament that concluded earlier this month. In the US, more clubs and leagues are already exploring ways to branch into igaming by making their IPs accessible. 

Mads Jørgensen: I think the way the new generation of online slot players consume media will influence the entire direction of the igaming industry, not just branded slots. We as suppliers need to cater to that in the way that we package our games, especially with regards to the core mechanics of them.

It’s far too early to suggest that games will be built around social media influencers that feature heavily on those platforms, but never say never. Stranger things have happened and I’m sure that many of us within the industry could never have imagined that half of the games we have available today would ever exist.

All that being said, I’m confident that branded slots featuring classic characters will continue to drive the branded slot scene. People love feeling nostalgic, and that’s never going to change.

Andy Whitworth: We have more kinds of entertainment vying for our attention than ever before. The slots industry must contend not only with internal competition, but other games and pastimes that appear on people’s devices. 

A branded slot offers operators that degree of familiarity to give them that edge and also work with those other IP’s that people are enjoying on film and TV. Often it can be better to use these brands rather than swim against the tide.