The gambling industry as a whole, across all its product development sectors, has always loved a big brand. And big brands have always loved the gambling industry, an incremental and lucrative revenue stream that costs them next to nothing to enjoy. This is a perfect marriage of convenience, the ideal ‘win-win’ partnership, and with social media now determining fashions and behaviours, it is one that will continue to flourish.
Creating and building trust
Branded games are a massive draw, particularly for the new or casual players who are so essential to the industry’s growth. Brand association not only adds appeal, but it also creates and builds trust. The perception that a successful, proven brand would not choose to partner with a dodgy developer is a logical one.
The real question, from the developer’s point of view, surrounds the return on investment of what can be an astronomical licensing cost. Well, as the old saying goes, “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.” Of course it is possible to gamble – we are in that business – and take a risk on a rising star or niche brand. I am certain that successes are creatively sweeter, given that developing a game based on a blockbuster title must be a bit like stroking a football into an empty net.
Determining the steps required in the process of licensing a brand is not a complicated task but executing on these objectives is where both skill and good fortune come into play.
Everybody believes they are an expert
The first thing to do is decide which brands you wish to work with, and the options here are almost endless. This is the area in which everybody believes themselves to be an expert, we are all consumers after all. And there are so many genres to choose from – movies, television, characters, music, sports and so it goes on. Brands within each of these categories will all have their own established fanbase. But simply choosing the largest is not the answer – because game developers must factor in their own audience as well, and their target audience, and be sure that there is a ‘fit’ with any prospective brand partner.
And beware the biggest selection mistake of all – just because somebody in your organisation (especially the Boss), or your customer’s organisation thinks something is the coolest thing in the world, does not mean that it is. The only opinion that ever matters at this point is that of the potential player.
The next step is to do the deal. In simple terms, the structure of these deals is based on a varying combination of a payment in advance – the security of which is obviously much loved by the brand owners – and a revenue share or royalty agreement. The larger the former, the smaller the latter. Inevitably, this can favour the larger developers, who can wave around huge advances that soften the blow for those sensitive brand owners, uncertain about their association with gambling. The big hitters can also afford to use branded products as loss-leaders, with the role of drawing players to their wider portfolio.
The small guy needs to get smart
So this is where the small guys need to get smart with their selections. The big boys are often risk-averse, so their little rivals can target the more niche opportunities, be the ‘indie’ players in the otherwise corporate playground. This is also where brand owners might be more receptive to the risk of a smaller payment up front, but a larger slice of the pie farther down the line.
Once on board, branded titles should be a dream for the development team. As ‘wrapping paper’ for the substance within the overall package, a brand is largely used as an attraction for the core game within. As such, the iconography, graphics and sounds are delivered on a plate. Brands have detailed style guides, rigidly enforced but also doing the hard creative yards for the design teams.
Once complete, these games are usually the flagship products within a developer’s portfolio. And rightly so, as branded games drive interest, revenues and player sign-ups. If the brand has longevity and the game behind it is strong, the life of this costly product can be long and lucrative. Chosen right, and done well, they can also lead to a succession of sequels.
Branded games can also sit front and centre within a broader marketing strategy, both for developers and for their operators. They grab the attention and provide authority, credibility and trust.
Priorities are always quality and depth
But a poor product will always be a poor product, irrespective of how well packaged and promoted. And a great licence will not save a mediocre game. The priorities for gambling industry developers must always be quality and depth. Missing this point has long been a mistake made frequently and by too many. But in an industry that has been made filled with Egyptian Empresses, Irish Leprechauns and cartoon pirates for longer than any of us cares to remember, skilfully branded products inject originality and inspiration, taking us away from the same old themes and, ideally, attracting an entire new breed and generation of player to the greatest game ideas this industry can provide.