The Problem with TV & Movie Themed Slots

Jurassic Park - Movie Slots

As a seasoned slot machine aficionado, I can’t help but notice, year-in and year-out, the amount of hype surrounding the ‘Next Big Game’. Developers such as IGT, WMS and online slots developers Microgaming and Playtech in particular like to wheel out some big name TV and Movie slots under licences which were, in most cases at least, not inexpensive.

One of the things that surprises me is how many of the movies, shows and brands used in slot games are dated! Sure, we see movie slots themed on more recent releases like “The Hangover” and “Kong” but for every one of those there are 2 or 3 based on old movies like “Ghostbusters” and “Jurassic Park“, TV shows of the day like “Game Of Thrones” and “Sex & The City” have spawned successful slots but are released alongside games based on the 70’s show “6 Million Dollar Man” and “I Love Lucy“. Even old board games get wheeled out: the ” Cluedo” and Monopoly slots being prime examples!

Now that;’s not to say old shows are old hat. The success of IGT’s “Wheel Of Fortune” slots are testament to the fact that big names work, irrespective of era. IGT’s Monopoly franchise (soon to find itself in competition with WMS’s new Monopoly slots licence) has been phenomenally successful in land based casinos, less-so online. Playtech’s Marvel slots and Gladiator, WMS’s “Wizard Of Oz” slots and Microgaming’s “Dark Knight” and “Lord Of The Rings” slots series have all enjoyed some time in the PR limelight.

But with the few exceptions aside, when you actually look back at the large number of big-brand slots that have been released, how many actually STAY popular and last the test of time? The answer is, not many and one of the reasons for that is not so much boredom with the brand but what is arguably a necessary compromise in game play. Let me explain:

Sounds like an odd thing: I mean, the developers undoubtedly pay a lot of money for the franchises and in most cases an ongoing royalty so surely you’d expect a “good game” wouldn’t you? Well that is the problem: how do you define a good game? Or rather, how does your target audience define a good game? There are two types of slot player in this word but with one common goal. One type is looking to be entertained, usually for a defined period of time while the other is more interested in walking away with profit. That is, of course, the common goal but how you get there – the mindset – is different.

Herein lies a problem for the developer with a big brand name to work with. Problem? Well, maybe it’s better termed a dilemma. In order to keep BOTH sets of players interested, the game will need to be able to show potential for some big wins while providing enough action to keep the players interested. Big wins however are usually a product of a higher level of volatility and with that comes longer losing streaks.

A serious slots player will accept these: this player’s mindset accepts that these are part of the journey to a big and exhilarating payout which may arrive today, tomorrow or even in a couple of weeks time. But that won’t keep an “entertainment player” happy. Smaller regular wins are needed. And more problematical than that, when players start to feel short-changed, in an era of social media and forum participation, this can lead to disparaging and potentially brand-damaging threads, comments and conversations. You probably don’t need me to spell out the problem here.

And this is why I rarely get excited by the hype surrounding a big TV or Movie-themed slot game launch. I know that there is a very good chance the game will look good, have great sounds and movie footage and give you something to get immersed in but I also know I am unlikely to win anything interesting. It is more likely to be a game which grinds slowly away at my bankroll until I get so hungry myself I have to shut down and go eat. IGT’s “Ghostbusters” slot along with Playtech’s “Cowboys & Aliens” slots are prime examples. If you hit any win 10x or more your stake, you have had a good session!

Like most slots players, I want to enjoy what I am doing, obviously. But I need to see early-doors that a slot has potential for 200x plus hits. And I don’t mean a 1-in-a-million chance either. It needs to be obvious. Stacked wilds, free spins, multipliers…all these things help me decide if a game has potential but show me a slot with too many features and it’s a red flag to me.

Examples of slots that have got it spot on? Well, the pinnacle has to be WMS’s “Wizard Of Oz Ruby Slippers” game. Random wild reels, features with multipliers and extra wilds and very modest wins in the base game…even though it has 3 features which is normally a warning of a lower variance game, all this adds up to a game that is well balanced to keep you entertained with potential for some great payouts (which I have had on several occasions). Another good example is Playtech’s Marvel Slots series, Some well-balanced games like “Fantastic 4” and “The Avengers” offer both entertainment and Big Win potential but sadly, will be decommissioned in 2016 when the licence expires (Marvel is now Disney owned: Disney and gambling don’t mix).

Microgaming’s newer “Game Of Thrones” slot goes some way to addressing the balance too. It has potential but has a long term obstacle facing it: the only real way to win big is by getting lots of wilds (or 5 scatters) and that soon gets boring when they are not dropping as there is nothing else to keep you entertained…no movie footage, no little random extras, nothing but rather bland symbols spinning and spinning. Their two “Dark Knight” slots also just failed to get that balance between entertainment and Big Wins although the lovely dark ambience the game creates makes it very playable if that’s your bag.

From the above, you may well have concluded that the two slot developers who I prefer to see get the big brand names are WMS and Playtech (ignoring the awful “Cowboy’s & Aliens” and “6 Million Dollar Man” games!) because both seem to be prepared to take a risk on adding some volatility but seem to know how to do that without frustrating the entertainment layers. In a nutshell, they seem to be good at getting the balance right. Microgaming occasionally hit the nail on the head such as with the excellent “Jurassic Park” but usually more with their unbranded games to be honest while IGT have yet to show me a Big Name game that appeals to a serious slots player. I may have missed one: the first “Transformers” slot (“Fortress Of Fortunes) was close to be fair but they seem to have a different goal to the other developers, possibly because they concentrate more on land-based games? I’m not sure but there certainly seems to be a reluctance within IGT to take a risk with a branded slot.

Incidentally, if you ever wondered if a game had been successful, look for a sequel! Although obviously a licence may only cover one game, if it worked THAT well, both parties would be up for releasing a follow-up!

All this leads me to conclude that a lot of these TV and Movie slot games are mainly intended as acquisition tools rather than long-term money makers but if they turnout to do both then great. There are exceptions as I have outlined above but overall, a low risk project that keeps the brand happy, doesn’t encourage too much negativity and doesn’t upset players is the safest option.

Finally, a note on the RTP of big name games. I had always assumed that a brand game would probably have a couple of % shaved off it’s long term “theoretical” return to player to make up for the cost of licensing and royalties. Having seen the RTP of most of the online branded slots this doesn’t seem to be the case: they are, on the whole, comparable to other similar unbranded games.

The exceptions to the rule seem to be the 50-payline versions of Playtech’s Marvel Games which are a good 2.5% on average less than their 20/25 line counterparts. This leads me to believe that the lower volatility branded games are more likely to have a lower RTP than the more volatile games, which seems not only logical but also not an uncommon practice anyway.