Licensed slot games continue to lead the pack
The slot community has long had a love/hate relationship with licensed games. On one hand, licensed gaming machines often feature movie, television and other pop culture themes that are instantly recognizable to players, setting them apart on crowded slot floors and perhaps enticing unexpected play from passing gamblers. But this potential popularity comes at a cost for both the manufacturers, who must procure the license rights, and operators, who often pay a premium price to house licensed slots on their gaming floors. These additional costs may be acceptable if a guarantee of customer acceptance is included, but as many industry veterans can attest, this is often not the case—even games with instantly recognizable themes and great game mechanics are sometimes not successful.
For these reasons, many manufacturers have opted to de-emphasize the licensed product, instead developing proprietary games and themes from their own studios, some of which have become extremely popular among regular slot players. Companies such as Aruze Gaming, Cadillac Jack Incredible Technologies and Multimedia Gaming have followed this route, largely eschewing slots centered on third-party licenses or themes.
That said, a large number of slot producers still tap the licensed media stream for inspiration and new game concepts. Indeed, slot machines developed from licensed game show and board game concepts remain as popular as ever, as evidenced by American Gaming Systems’ Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader machines and Konami Gaming’s line of Dungeons & Dragons-themed games. Hit movies and commercial television shows are also a rich vein for new slot development, with Lord of the Rings from WMS Gaming and International Game Technologies’ Ellen DeGeneres Show machines as recent examples. Pop stars are fertile ground as well, with recent introductions including a Britney Spears-themed slot from Aristocrat Technologies and the Michael Jackson line of products from Bally Technologies. Licensed games from successful cable television shows have exploded of late, with the Mad Men-themed slot from WMS Gaming and the very successful The Walking Dead concept from Aristocrat. Looking to tug at the nostalgia strings of middle-aged players, manufacturers have procured older licensed properties and developed slots from old movies, such as Ainsworth Technologies’ The Magnificent 7, and television shows, with Bally’s Wonder Woman slots as a prime example. The desire to create more skill-like game concepts for younger casino patrons has also led to new devices that license popular video game franchises such as Bejeweled and Plants vs. Zombies from GTECH.
Indeed, the list of licensed slot machines offered by vendors and in use at gaming facilities is seemingly never-ending and constantly evolving. To help bring some order to the chaos, here’s a quick company-by-company recap of some popular licensed slot games and what’s brewing for this year and beyond:
INTERNATIONAL GAME TECHNOLOGY (IGT)
Popular licensed slots of the past and present: Avatar, Jurassic Park, Ghostbusters, Jeopardy, Sex and the City, Dolly Parton, Batman, Centipede, Beverly Hillbillies, Family Guy, Back to the Future, CSI. New licensed slots for 2015 and beyond: Ellen DeGeneres Show, tokidoki, Wheel of Fortune, Race Ace.
Throughout its history, IGT, now part of the GTECH group of companies, has delved into the slot licensing pool. The company struck gold roughly 20 years ago when it inked a deal with Sony Pictures to procure the license for the long-time television game show Wheel of Fortune. Since its launch in 1996, there have been 200 iterations of the Wheel of Fortune slot machine, which have generated a combined $3 billion in jackpots including the largest slot payout ever recorded ($14 million), creating 954 millionaires in 19 states, according to company literature. No wonder than that IGT showcased a revamped lineup of Wheel of Fortune slots at this year’s G2E, including the new Wheel of Fortune Jackpot Paradise, housed in the company’s new CrystalCore 42-inch immersive cabinet.
About the new games, Joe Sigrist, vice president, global product development and operations for IGT, said that “in all cases we integrate the jackpot, the chant, the spin of the wheel. We continue to use those elements and combine them in ways that create diversity and different types of games for different players”. Now after signing a new agreement with Sony, Sigrist said the plan is to continue investing more into Wheel of Fortune to build on the brand. The new contract has extended the terms of IGT’s rights and brought the new Wheel of Fortune social casino game to the company’s online platform, DoubleDown Casino. Sigrist added that IGT has only scratched the surface when it comes to the Wheel of Fortune slot franchise, and they plan on rolling out a drumbeat of new games, including those that are familiar to brick-and-mortar players, as well as new games designed specifically for the Internet that incorporate skill-based gaming.
Other new licensed product introductions for IGT includes two Ellen DeGeneres Show-themed video slots—The Ellen DeGeneres Show Featuring Ellen’s Dance Party and The Ellen DeGeneres Show Featuring 12 Days of Giveaways. IGT worked closely with show executives to create the unique content needed for the slots, which were developed from concept to final product in less than a year. “We licensed the Ellen DeGeneres Showand that means Ellen DeGeneres as well,” Sigrist said. “It is an example of us getting really excited about a license that we think really fits the demographic of casino players.”
Tokidoki slots are another attempt by IGT to use licensed product to appeal to a specific market. For those unfamiliar with tokidoki, it is a cast of animated characters used on a line of apparel, handbags, cosmetics, accessories and other products that has morphed into a lifestyle brand, primarily in Asia. “We are always looking to expand our portfolio to include Asian-themed games,” Sigrist said. “Tokidoki is a licensed brand that not a lot of people know about, but the people that do are very passionate about it. It is very well-known in Asia and in places like Southern California were Asian games do quite well.”
Popular licensed slots of the past and present: Ironman, Wizard of Oz, Battleship, The Lord of the Rings, Clue, The Price is Right, Star Trek, Game of Life, I Love Lucy, KISS, The Jetsons, Top Gun, Yahtzee, Willie Wonka. New licensed slots for 2015 and beyond: The Flintstones, Elton John, Mad Men, Gremlins, Elvis, Austin Powers, Monopoly.
WMS Gaming, now part of Scientific Games, is another company that continues to cast its lines into the licensed games lake. Much like IGT, the company struck gold early by creating a line of slots based on Monopoly, the classic Hasbro board game, starting in 1997. The latest in this series of games is Monopoly Luxury Diamonds, which was unveiled last summer. Available as a five- or nine-line game for the company’s Blade Stepper product, Monopoly Luxury Diamonds pairs the classic Monopoly board with the jackpots that mechanical players love, according to company literature. Three wheel symbols trigger the Monopoly Wheel Bonus where players spin the wheel to land on one of the board game’s iconic properties. Before the wheel spins, pick one of five cards for a variety of enhancements including 2x multipliers or the option to respin the wheel.
In addition, thanks to an amended agreement between Hasbro and Scientific Games, WMS Gaming and WMS Interactive can now create Monopoly-themed games for the real-money Internet wagering and social casino gaming channels of distribution. Scientific Games was also allowed to expand its Monopoly line of lottery products, and recently launched Monopoly Millionaires Club, a multi-state game that includes a nationally-televised game show component.
“We know the importance of convergence in today’s marketing environment, so we are gratified to expand our relationship with Hasbro and leverage opportunities that will arise from employing Hasbro brands with strong consumer appeal across multiple channels simultaneously,” said Steve Saferin, president, properties group and chief creative officer for Scientific Games when the deal was announced last year. “The acquisition of WMS has enabled Scientific Games to extend and expand its licenses with Hasbro and to create a one-stop solution for lottery, casino and online gaming for gaming operators.”
Jumping squarely on the nostalgia train, WMS also recently introduced The Flintstones slot machine, which features all the sights, sounds and characters from the beloved 1960s animated television series. The Gamefield xD cabinet slot showcases a 42-inch horizontal screen over a vertical 32-inch screen with a mechanical wheel, and a base game that includes Bamm-Bamm and Dino the Dinosaur bonuses. WMS also debuted new machines based on the 1980s movie Gremlinsand the popular 1990s Austin Powers comedy films.
Pop stars also proved a popular licensing theme for WMS last year, with the introduction of Elvis and Elton John gaming machines. The Elton John theme features dual top screens that peek through his iconic glasses and a sensory immersion chair that belts out his legendary hits. WMS also scored by securing the license for Mad Men, a top-rated cable television show. The Mad Men slot is housed on a cabinet that includes a 42-inch curved LCD top box and 1080p high-definition screens. Its 1960s world of advertising comes to life through character-based bonuses and the memorable clips of the hit show in this innovative gaming experience.
Popular licensed slots of the past and present: Titanic, David Copperfield, Michael Jackson, Grease, NASCAR, Betty Boop, ZZ Top, Pawn Stars, The Beach Boys. New licensed slots for 2015 and beyond: Wonder Woman, Duck Dynasty, Friends, Playboy.
Bally Technologies, which was recently acquired and merged into Scientific Games, has not been as big a player on the licensing scene as IGT and WMS, but the company does selectively dabble in this arena and has had some notable successes. For the past 15 years, Bally has had a profitable licensing arrangement with Playboy Enterprises International, a media and lifestyle company best known as the publishers of Playboymagazine, that has led to the creation of a slot machine line that includes Playboy Hot Zone, Playboy Muy Caliente, Playboy Platinum, Playboy Prizeball and the newest title, unveiled at G2E 2014, Playboy Club.
Bally recently expanded its Playboy product line to include slots themed on global music superstar Pitbull, who recently inked a strategic marketing agreement with Playboy Enterprises. The Playboy/Pitball slots will be rolled out this year. “We are ecstatic to venture into this new chapter of our storied history with Playboy,” said Jean Venneman, vice president of product management and licensing for Bally at the time the deal was announced last October. “Pitbull is an international superstar with true global appeal, and we are excited to enhance our Playboy?branded machines and entertaining table games with his high?energy hits and distinct image—further creating memorable experiences for our customers across the globe.”
Bally also created a splash at G2E with the debut of its Wonder Woman slots, based on the iconic 1970s television series of the same name. Wonder Woman Gold and Wonder Woman Wild feature Lynda Carter, who played the title role in the television series, with clips, art and music radiating the nostalgia of the show. The game itself includes eight, 16 or 25 free games with extra wilds, three progressive levels and Mystery Stacks. Also showcased by Bally at last year’s G2E was a gaming machine based on the Friendstelevision series and the popular cable TV phenomenon, Duck Dynasty.
Popular licensed slots of the past and present: Walking Dead, Tarzan, Batman The Classic TV Series, Rolling Stones, Phantom, The Mummy, Flashdance, Mission Impossible, Jaws. New licensed slots for 2015 and beyond: Britney Spears, Ted, Sons of Anarchy, Superman The Movie, Big Bang Theory, Game of Thrones. Fresh off the success of its The Walking Dead slot, which was awarded Casino Product of the Year at the inaugural Global Gaming Awards at G2E, Aristocrat has once again dipped into the cable TV pool for its next licensed game—Sons of Anarchy.
“At Aristocrat, we have been very aggressive and deliberate in seeking out and securing popular, high-profile licensed titles for our customers and their players, and Sons of Anarchyfits perfectly within that strategy,” said Dallas Orchard, vice president of gaming operations for Aristocrat at G2E. “Our designers have been working closely with the FX team at Sons of Anarchy, and the creative result is a game that perfectly captures the essence of the show and combines that with Aristocrat’s proven math.”
According to company press materials, the Sons of Anarchy Slot Game, which will be made available for casinos this month, comes to life in all of the show’s gritty glory, with Jax, Gemma, Clay and all of viewers’ favorite characters from FX’s highest-rated series, creatively weaving the show’s storyline into the game and attracting a wide demographic. The show’s hard-hitting action is captured on Aristocrat’s VERVEhdcabinet, with ultra hi-def graphics, 3D panoramic adjustable sound and an ergonomic design that enhances game play. Sons of Anarchy Slot Game is the first to feature Aristocrat’s groundbreaking new Cluster Power, where winning combinations are formed by connecting the same symbol in clusters across multiple reels. Additionally, the game takes reel growth to the next level by expanding the reel area in any direction during the “No Limits Jackpot” feature, which is awarded when a Big Jackpot symbol lands and causes the reel area to grow to the size of the Big Jackpot symbol. Three Big Jackpot symbols award the mini progressive; four Big Jackpot symbols award the minor progressive; five Big Jackpot symbols award the major progressive; and six Big Jackpot symbols award the grand progressive.
Two other extremely popular television shows—The Big Bang Theoryand Game of Thrones—also debuted as new licensed slot machines from Aristocrat at G2E. These games, along with Britney, a game concept based on the videos and music of pop star Britney Spears, will initially be dedicated to Aristocrat’s new, large-scale slot cabinets—The Arc, which is comprised of two stacked 42-inch curved screens, and The Behemoth, which stands at 10 feet and features a single, 84-inch LCD monitor.
Popular licensed slots of the past and present: Deal Or No Deal, King Kong, Bejeweled, Zuma, Plants vs. Zombies. New licensed slots for 2015 and beyond: The Money Drop. GTECH, through its SPIELO subsidiary, delves lightly into the licensed slot marketplace. The company has concentrated primarily on two types of licensed materials—television game shows and video-style social games through its partnership with PopCap Gaming.
On the game show front, GTECH continues to push out new product for its successful Deal Or No Deal slot franchise. The latest in this line is Deal Or No Deal Las Vegas! Using the company’s MaXVusion cabinet and featuring Howie Mandel and the Deal Or No Deal ladies, this brand new title is set against a glamorous Las Vegas backdrop and offers two base game grids that share a unique middle reel containing wilds and bonus triggers. The bonus is played during and intermittently throughout the base game—a feature that is designed to engage players, according to company press materials.
New to GTECH’s game show licensed product is The Money Drop, based on the show Million Dollar Money Dropwhich had a brief two year run on American television. The Money Drop slot offers two base games and highly interactive players’ choice bonuses. “It’s nothing flashy, but it has a very gambler-friendly mechanic and is a very affordable brand,” Mike Brennan, product marketing manager for GTECH, said at G2E. GTECH also showcased new community-style games for its PopCap-inspired line. Bejeweled Community features timer-based eligibility and multi-level interactive community bonus. Zuma Adventures offers two unique base games, market-proven community bonus eligibility, and three innovative community bonuses. Both are available in a three-game configuration.
AMERICAN GAMING SYSTEMS (AGS)
Popular licensed slots of the past and present: Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? New licensed slots for 2015 and beyond: Family Feud.
The AGS foray into licensed game content has centered on a singular theme—trivia. The company has sought out media that can be converted into slot games that have a skill-based trivia component during the bonus round. So far, this “It Pays To Know” slot series is comprised of two games: Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?. Both these games are housed on the company’s new Skytower cabinet, which stands over seven feet tall and is designed to stand out on the casino floor. “Players have responded really well to Ripley’s and the trivia component,” said Andrew Burke, vice president of slot products for AGS. “We’re in the process of rolling out 5th Grader, the next game in our It Pays To Know series—it just went live in Oklahoma and will soon be available in the majority of our markets, including Nevada. We’re looking for really big things out of it.” At G2E, the company announced its next trivia-style game, which will be based on the television show Family Feud. AGS hopes to have the game live and approved early in 2015.
New licensed slots for 2015 and beyond: Dungeons & Dragons, Neo Contra. Konami Gaming entered into the slot licensing realm this past year with two new concepts. The classic 1970s board game was the basis of Konami’s Dungeons & Dragons themed slot machines on its Podium Monument cabinet. This rKP3 Xtra Reward title received its own showcase at G2E—complete with D&D logo premium chairs, custom “glowing runes” bezel, attention grabbing, hand-painted 3D dragon toppers and rotating sign. Both available game themes, Conquests & Treasures and Enchanted Riches, are available to casino operators.
Konami also unveiled its Neo Contra slot at G2E, its first game to feature content from the parent company’s successful video game division. “It has the