In 2004, gambling software company Microgaming released Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, a game hailed as the world’s first branded online slot. It was a second ‘first’ for the company as it also boasts of developing the world’s first software for online casino games a decade beforehand.
Microgaming, which has gone on to become one of the world’s largest developers of casino software solutions, hasn’t shied away from creating licenced games based on pop culture: Game of Thrones, Jurassic Park, Bridesmaids and the Playboy Online Slot are just a few examples of the bits of branded media that Microgaming has licensed for casino games.
But whereas Microgaming formed the idea of branded material, one of its main rivals, Playtech, has taken the ball and ran with it. No iGaming developer is more synonymous with the branded casino games than Playtech. The company, now large enough to be a constituent of the FTSE 250 on the LSE, has put huge resources into what it terms “premium branded” games.
Any subject matter can find a home at the casino
So, what is a branded casino game? As the name suggests, the software developer uses trademarked imagery, audio or video from a movie, television show or some other area of media, often infusing it into the gameplay. The branded content could also be a celebrity. For example, the Playtech Frankie Dettori slots available at Mansion Group are a good example of branding with the use of a (relatively) obscure subject matter. In this case, the focus goes not just on Dettori (one of the world’s greatest jockeys) but his unparalleled record of winning seven races at Ascot in 1996.
While you can brand a slot with any element of pop culture, it arguably works best when it ties into something that has appeal to a contemporary audience. For example, the range of games that powered much of Playtech’s early success, Marvel slots. Titles like X-Men, The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man allowed Playtech to appeal to comic-book fans.
Unfortunately for Playtech, Disney refused to renew the licence when it purchased Marvel in 2008. It meant that Playtech had to look elsewhere when the deal expired in 2016. So, where did it look for its next range of blockbuster branded games? DC Comics, of course.
Warner Bros. deal reinvigorated Playtech’s library of games
A massive deal with DC Comic’s parent, Warner Bros., allowed Playtech to produce a new range of games tying in with the latest Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Justice League movies. In addition, Playtech looked back through DC Comic’s back catalogue, producing games based on Adam West’s Batman tv-series and Christopher Reeve’s Superman movies.
Whatever you think about casino games, having a range of titles based on what’s playing in cinemas is quite the weapon in your marketing armoury. We could list dozens of Playtech games that follow this same pattern, and the developer seems to have a particular fancy for slots based on 80s blockbuster movies, with popular titles including Robocop and Top Gun.
From the perspective of marketing, it isn’t easy to be exact when pinpointing the effectiveness of Playtech’s branding. After all, it’s not as if Gallup regularly polls people on their favourite online casino games. However, we can point to Playtech’s overall success – it lays claim on being the biggest iGaming software provider in the world – and the prominence its branded games receive at online casinos.
Indeed, it’s crucial that the branded games are successful for developers like Playtech. Warner Bros. content does not come cheap, of course, but there is also a lot of effort put into production. The oft-quoted maxim that casino games are looking more like video games these days is true, but it also reflects the money and energy poured into production. It’s not uncommon for a game to spend over a year in development.
Playtech does not stand alone in developing branded games. Others like NetEnt, Blueprint and IGT have all rolled out titles based on various bits of pop culture. But the company has hung its hat on the practice more than most, and, within the casino industry, it has become one of the most recognisable brands today. A winning formula? You never can tell at a casino. Yet, it looks to be coming up trumps for Playtech.