In a competitive field like the gambling industry, slot designers cannot afford to rest on past laurels. They have to come up with new ways to entice players, offering them better, grander games. Otherwise, it would be impossible for them to keep up with the competition.
Not all great reel-based games are birthed from the wild imagination of software developers, though. Some of the most sought-after slots ride on the popularity of somebody else’s creations and were adapted from well-liked films, TV series, and reality contests.
Known as branded slots, these games originally started in the landbased sector. Presently there is no shortage of them across online casinos thanks to software developers like Playtech, NetEnt, Microgaming, and Big Time Gaming, among others.
Branded slots enable game-makers to extend their reach to a broader audience of spinners. Their instantly recognizable characters and themes make them attractive in the eyes of anyone who is a fan of the movies or music stars they were inspired by.
The following article offers a roundup of the best branded slots on the web and their most recognizable features. But before we get there, let’s see how the licensing of branded slots works and who owns the intellectual property rights with such games.
Branded Slots and Licensing
1How Software Suppliers Acquire Licenses
Casino software suppliers cannot commercially use trademark images, characters, and themes without permission or else the trademark owners would pursue legal action for infringement. Before they build a slot around a specific flick or TV show, they must first acquire licenses from the companies that hold the rights for these products.
There is a legally binding contract between the two parties whereby the software company pays a licensing fee to the trademark owner to receive a permit to use the trademark. Landbased casinos were the first to introduce branded slots to their gaming floors.
You can sometimes find similar branded slots created by different manufacturers as is the case with the Price is Right and Elvis games by IGT and WMS. IGT launched Price is Right branded machines at the beginning of the 1990s after acquiring a license from the owners of the popular TV contest show.
2Expiration of the Licenses and Renewal
After the original license expired, the show owners commenced negotiations for another licensing agreement with manufacturer WMS. The procedure is similar with branded slots inspired by famed musicians like Elvis. Following the expiration of the original licenses, those who own the rights to the musician’s name, songs, and image start negotiating another agreement with a different slot manufacturer.
Such licenses remain valid for a limited number of years. The agreement may contain a clause whereby the licensee has the option for renewal after paying the respective fee again. The licenses are usually exclusive which means no two slot designers are permitted to create games with the same trademark theme simultaneously.
3How Developers Choose the Right Brand
But slot developers cannot simply pick any recognizable name and use it for a theme. The selected brands must appeal to a broader reel-spinning audience or else they would fail to make any impact profit-wise.
The demographics of casino goers must be taken into consideration. For example, it would be pointless to build a game around a franchise like High School Musical when its target audience consists of youngsters age 8 to 14, who are not yet legally old enough to gamble.
Branded slots are not reserved exclusively for landbased casino visitors, however. Software studio Microgaming was among the first companies to launch branded online games, starting with its 2004 release Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
Competitor NetEnt followed suit and established valuable partnerships with major film studios like 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, and Universal Pictures. Over the years, the Swedish supplier has brought some of the most iconic franchises and flicks to the slot reels, including games like The Invisible Man, Scarface, and Planet of the Apes.
Playtech also keeps abreast with the increasing competition when it comes to branded games. The company is known for Marvel-based slots like Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and The Avengers. These were hugely popular among spinners several years ago.
After Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion in 2009, it refused to renew Playtech’s licensing agreement after its expiration because it was at odds with the value of the family-oriented movie giant.
Playtech was forced to remove its branded Marvel content as of April 2017. Still, the gambling company continues to launch branded slot content after penning licensing partnerships with entertainment giants like Warner Brothers. This gave rise to the launch of branded slots based on iconic franchises like Terminator and The Matrix.
Themes in Branded Slots
Branded slots are quite popular among players because they are based on franchises that have already garnered a solid fan base. The instantly recognizable themes, plots, and characters further add to the appeal of this breed of games.
Many trademark owners are happy to lend their creations to slot designers and consider this practice a great way to extend the reach of their brands. Software developers invest a good deal of effort into crafting their branded products, which is not always the case with generic-themed games.
Below we break down four of the most widespread types of branded slots along with our top recommendations for each category.
Branded Slots – A Good or a Bad Bet?
Branded slots are awesome because they usually offer tons of bonus features, well-polished graphics, and engaging gameplay. Their main purpose is to attract a new audience of reel spinners, particularly those who are keen fans of the flicks, artists or shows the games are based on.
As attractive as they are, most of these slots have one major shortcoming. The software studios that develop them have to pay licensing fees to the companies that hold the brands' trademark rights. The cost of this does not come off cheap, especially when we talk about music icons like Guns N' Roses or blockbusters like the movies from the Terminator franchise.
Because of this, our advice is to enjoy branded slots, but occasionally and in moderation. Look for games with high return to player percentages and reasonable levels of volatility.
The trouble is software studios compensate for this increase in cost by boosting the hold percentages of the games. In essence, reel spinners get the short end of the stick because the higher house edges in branded games burn through their bankrolls at a faster rate.