Slots may be one of the newest forms of gambling, but it is by far the most popular. Although other casino games predate slot machines, a precursor to the reel games arrived on the scene in the 1890s and since then evolved from card machines to online animated wonders. Since the first Microgaming title hit the internet, a century after Sittman and Pitt’s card machine, a lot has changed and so have the players who enjoy reel action.
We’ve seen amazing improvements, brilliantly unique titles, and exciting mechanics reach slots screens, but we’ve also lost some along the way. Some of the biggest hits disappeared instantly and behind the scenes, we’ve seen slot developers rise and fall, while top studios release a massive hit only to bomb out with their next release.
Why is it so challenging and what does it take to be successful in the fiercely competitive slots industry? Also, where did our favourite slots disappear to?
Now You See Them, Now You Don’t
Few things are as disappointing as having a favourite product, and suddenly it is nowhere to be found. Strangely enough, many punters have experienced this with their favourite online slot and the titles that come to mind include superheroes. Truth be told, it’s mainly branded slots that vanish without sight or any warning from the creators, so there must be a reason for this.
The Branded Slots Disappearing Act
Whether you were a fan of Microgaming’s Lord of the Rings, Playtech’s Marvel collection or NetEnt’s South Park and Aliens hit slots, you would have experienced this disappointment in the last decade. How do slot developers decide on a theme? Why would they pull a slot game off the market if it is popular?
To answer the first question, we must understand player behaviour better because this drives slot releases. Trends inspire demand for most products in the consumer market and the igaming industry is no exception to this. Punters want to see popular topics on their slot screen, and Hollywood content is usually a hot topic. It makes sense for slot developers to create titles inspired by blockbuster movies. This attracts players, creates fans of their brand, and brings in the dough. It is good business.
As for the second question, the answer lies with distribution rights, known by many as royalties. Branded slots with genuine Marvel, DC, and Lord of the Rings imagery come at a high price and licensing agreements with the owners of the brand. This means providers must shave a bit off their profits to pay royalties for use and hope they renew the licensing deal once it expires. As you can probably tell, either of these reasons leads to branded titles being shelved.
Therefore, software developers weigh the risks involved against the exposure and potential revenue injection they can gain from branded slots. License agreements are always subject to renewal and any successful business will remove a product if it is no longer viable to offer it. This is probably why there are fewer branded slots than universal themes and thankfully the most popular ones fall into the last-mentioned category.
The Multiplayer Mini-Act
As technology advanced and social media took the world by storm, the igaming world became social, although from a distance. It was only a matter of time before social gaming spilt over into the online gambling space and before we knew it, multiplayer slots appeared on the scene. The need was obvious and software developers, gambling operators, and players were thrilled.
These community slot games disappeared as quickly as they appeared. Unbeknown to the creators of multiplayer slots, international regulators saw the games as high-risk areas for fraud and money laundering, which led to the cancellation. Some industry experts still believe multiplayer slots are the next thing on the list of innovations and with the metaverse on the rise, they may be right. But until operators, developers, and regulators can agree on how to find the golden midway and eliminate money laundering concerns, the idea remains idle.
Hitting the Slot Content Jackpot
Finding that sweet spot in the igaming market is not as straightforward as some may think. The sheer amount of Game developers present in the current market proves that some oversimplify the art of successful slot-making. Those that withstand the treacherous waters of changing consumer behaviour, technology innovating at the speed of light, and regulators constantly raising the bar, enjoy the fruits of their labour.
Although it isn’t an easy feat, some have conquered the highly competitive market and stayed on top of their game. So, what is their secret and how do they push forward through the sea of developers and create fan-favourite slot games?
The trick with slots is that most players do not see the name of the software developer behind the game, because titles rarely display it. Players rarely know which studio developed their favourite game; they only know where to find it in the casino lobby. This is because creating compelling slot content is as much an art as it is designing luxury cars.
Any genuine Ferrari fan could spot one from a distance in the dark by recognising its taillights, just like Pragmatic Play fans spot one of their games through a unique spin button. Developers must be very creative and position their brand in players’ subconscious through intentional design work. When they get this right, slot magic happens.
Some of the software developers who differentiated themselves from the crowd are NetEnt, Nolimit City, Evoplay, Relax Gaming, and Peter& sons. Players know their games by the look and experience. Something specific sets them apart.
Creative Talent: The Wow Factor
Some believe lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same spot, and maybe this is why most established studios have specific games that catapulted them to success while the rest of their library attain average popularity ratings. Examples of releases that changed the igaming industry include titles like Starburst and Gonzo’s Quest, mechanics like Megaways, and jackpots like Mega Moolah.
While some studios behind these iconic releases make a habit of creating excellent gambling content, others continue with a hit-and-miss trend seen all over the market. Experts from the developer industry ascribe these successes to the individuals who dreamed up the ideas. Although their teams helped to realise the dream, their creative spark started the fire and led to the explosive release.
Balancing Reliability with Excitement
Earlier slots used to provide punters with a rather predictable gameplay experience of low to medium variance in payouts, which kept gamblers playing for longer. There is a sense of satisfaction with consistent wins, regardless of the size. For a few reasons, this gradually changed and today, most Online Slots have medium to high volatility.
The thrill of possibly hitting it big in the base game excites players and developers seem to feed into this need for adrenaline-pumping igaming. Whether this is sustainable is debatable and some argue that high volatility has concerning effects. The effect of high payout variance shows in gaming sessions and wager amounts. Experts advise studios must find a balance on the volatility scale.
The gambling industry is rife with merger and acquisition news where larger developers buy small studios and land-based operators take over igaming businesses. It is an age-old business strategy, and some might find it bizarre, but when approached with the right mindset, two heads are better than one.
The best example that comes to mind is Evolution, the leading live casino games developer. It is the holding company for top brands in igaming, including legendary studios like NetEnt, Red Tiger, Big Time Gaming, and recently NoLimit City. Their partnership and the continuous excellent content from the subsidiaries pay testament to the power of collaboration. The smaller studios have the freedom to create authentic games, while the holding company provides the advantage of global exposure and resources.
Collaboration also allows fresh talent to meet with experienced market veterans, presenting more sustainable business outcomes.
Smart Technology and Personalisation
Once developers have a clear brand goal and marry this with creative talent, it paves their way into the slot world. Many of the bigger providers are also one-stop shops for operators and provide full business suites to power gambling platforms and drive player satisfaction.
B2B suppliers and slot aggregators help streamline the data processes for operators and, through technological advances, enable online casinos to stay ahead of their competitors. With proper backend support and processes that allow essential data analytics, providers can offer highly personalised experiences.
The Big R
Gambling regulators are focusing more on B2B providers, and developers must create content with regulatory compliance as part of the goal. Although most have a role to play in getting a casino platform recognised as a fan favourite, regulatory compliance has not always been a focal point. This is one reason smaller studios benefit from partnerships with bigger companies.
Soon, every part of the igaming process will play a vital role in licensing regimes and maintaining healthy levels of player safety protocols. Those agile enough to adapt to changing demands will stay at the top, and those who can’t will disappear along with those missing branded slots.