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Big Shots, Big Slots

Slot providers playing finders and keepers with branded games

Success in the competitive world of slots never gets easier. New suppliers constantly enter the market, while established providers have been striking key deals to spread their content even further around the world, to more operators than ever.

It’s a far cry from NetEnt’s beginnings 20 years ago, when the market contained just a few leading lights, but the race is still the same. Create the best games, quicker than the competition, and make sure they are noticed by operators and their players.

While that all sounds simple—and there are a number of strategies that suppliers adopt to achieve success ahead of their rivals—consumers are very different today compared with two decades ago. Now, Americans are more media-hungry than ever, and never more than a cell phone’s reach from a marketing slogan or advertisement.

Branding is the new advertising. It’s no good just getting your name in front of people; it needs to be backed up by a trusted logo from a household firm or cultural institution. That’s why more and more game developers are joining up with the big names.

Take NetEnt, as an example. Last year, we teamed up with Guns N’ Roses, one of America’s greatest rock bands and a global phenomenon, with an instantly recognized style and sound. It’s worked. Guns N’ Roses is already our most successful game ever since its European launch, and we’re now expecting big things in the United States too.

But the logic also runs deeper than that. Just taking a brand logo and slapping it on a product doesn’t guarantee success (legend has it that a disastrous game based on the Steven Spielberg blockbuster ET was the iceberg that sunk Atari).

So then, why brand a slot game?

Loosely, the benefits can be broken down into five key areas: loyalty, new audiences, creative opportunities, standing out in a crowd and continued success.

A fascinating aspect of brands is that they are more than simply companies or products. They have an identity that has been shaped and invested in over many years.

Take Apple as an example. Its brand is now a lifestyle. People need to have the latest iPhone or iPad because it’s part of their identity, and the loyalty is bred out of this need to feed their own identity.

Brand loyalty can be really strong, and lifelong. Companies use their brands to build up large followings of fans, or at least advocates, and people buy into the message that brands are looking to deliver.

Partner with the right brand, and players will be more likely to not only play your slot, but also return for repeat play. A branded slot sticks in the minds of players and, with an emotional connection that has already been formed, they’ll want to come back again and again.

Well-known brands help slots gain that extra consumer cut-through outside of the gaming audience. Some brands will introduce a whole new genre of fans to slots, be it sports, computer games or movies.

For NetEnt, it’s music. We knew that Guns N’ Roses have a huge following, and so we wanted to reach out to their fans with a high-quality game. It’s about finding new fans for slots who have never sought them out before. This means more players, more signups, and more revenue for operators.

Design is also a huge factor and opportunity. Suppliers working with the best brands can gain more creative license to push the boundaries and innovation within game play, design, audio and more. There can be high standards to stick to for rights holders, who want their games to represent their brands in the best possible light.

Our biggest productions involve months of creative effort to build a game that satisfies not the customer’s standards, but the requirements of our brand partners as well.

From a supplier’s point of view, drumming up excitement can be important not only for increased playability, but also to pique the interest of the big operators. When looking for success in America, you need to prove you have a winning portfolio, and having those big brands on board can be a convincing piece of assurance for operators looking to make an investment.

And then there’s the continued success. The gaming industry can learn some lessons from Hollywood. Once customers are brought through the door by a big blockbuster, they are more often than not retained by one or more sequels.

The same process can be applied to the best branded games. Securing a well-known brand and launching a successful game can be just the beginning of fantastic partnerships and sustained results.

A famous logo will not instantly increase retention. But combine the right brand with the right product, creating an extraordinary player experience, and you have a recipe capable of generating levels of engagement which are not usually replicated outside a very small percentage of blockbuster slots.

Simon Hammon, chief product officer at NetEnt, has detailed knowledge of the gaming cycle from being the operations and product development director in his own online business. His experience includes platform, game development, network operations and affiliate management within the bingo and casino sphere.