A few weeks ago NetEnt announced that they would be releasing an Emoji themed slot in August – and the world groaned. Apparently it's to tie in with the Emoji Movie release, but is that even a saving grace? That is surely a movie that no one asked for. However, it did get us thinking about a much wider issue – have slots become too trend focused? Don't get us wrong, we love an innovative theme as much as the next gamer and we're always glad to see new ideas being brought to market, yet recently it seems like some software developers are too concerned with being ‘hip'.
From slots such as Family Guy to the many Candy Crush-esque titles, software developers want to prove they've got their finger on the pop culture pulse and it's all getting a bit boring. Not only do these kind of games have a limited shelf life, but they are often all style and no substance too. So why are ‘of the moment' slots being churned out, and how does a trend-focused approach impact the gaming market?
Why Are These Slots Made?
Why, oh why, does ‘The Only Way is Slots' exist? Why do slots designers think we want to see Stewie Griffin on our reels? And who on earth thought an Emoji themed game was a great idea? It's easy to dismiss these types of slots as simply bad ideas and vow to never spend your money playing them, but they reveal a lot more about the gaming market than you may initially think.
For starters, it shows that slot developers are keen to attract a younger demographic. Whilst we are always hearing that more and more young people are spending time at online casinos, the statistics actually tell a different story. In 2016, the UK Gambling Commission reported that the number of young adults had decreased by 12% on the previous year. This is worrying to games designers, as capturing a young audience is imperative to ensuring the industry can continue thriving.
We can guess that slot developers think that having ‘pop culture' themed references in their games will attract a younger player base and that's why they're being created. Furthermore, if slot designers can cash in on other online trends then they may be able to engage with people who've never even thought about online gambling before. For instance, games such as Candy Swap and Fizz Factory were designed to look and feel similar to Candy Crush, which is arguably one of the most successful mobile games ever.
Does It Work?
Some trend-led slots have enjoyed huge success, such as the Marvel series by Playtech, however, many other ‘of the moment' games have simply faded into obscurity. It all depends on how much effort the slot developers put into the actual gaming mechanics, as opposed to just focusing on flashy graphics and marketing.
Whilst featuring a particular film or TV program in a slot may initially attract some players, no one's going to continue playing if the game isn't actually all that great. This means that even ‘of the moment' slots need to be innovative and offer decent bonus features and gameplay. If the slot developer can do this, then there's a good chance the slot will survive and will be played even when then the trend has died.
That being said, slots date very quickly. Even games with classic themes can feel old within a year, as technology is improving and changing at such a rapid pace. This poses a huge problem for software developers, as on one hand they want to exploit online trends, and on the other they know that they have a very limited shelf life. This is why, more often than not, these type of ‘trendy' slots are full of half-baked ideas. The slots need to be made and sent to market quickly, before the trend is over, and therefore designer's don't have the time to come up with anything particularly groundbreaking.
A Better Solution
If you can't tell by the tone of this piece already, I'm not the biggest fan of these types of games. I think it seems desperate, and it underestimates players' intelligence and attention span. Whilst beautiful graphics and animations can go a long way, those of us who do enjoy online casinos know that they're a secondary feature. We play for the thrill, for the free spins, for the stacked wilds, for the chance to win big. We do not play because we really want to see that cartoon character from that TV show we once loved five years ago.
In an attempt to be less scathing and more productive, I'm offering slot developers a better solution. Make great games that people want to play, regardless of trends. It's really that simple. Take for instance, Starburst, one of NetEnt's most successful slots to date. There's nothing fashionable about the game; it features classic symbols such as 7's and Bars and the cosmos setting is completely timeless. It's also genderless and it appeals to everyone – young or old, male or female.
Of course, there's plenty of slots around with more innovative feature than Starburst and these have their place in the market too. However, Starburst gives players exactly what they want; a bright, cheery and rewarding game with simple yet elegant graphics. If slot designers focused on these things, rather than attempting a quick fix with a pop culture reference, the whole industry would be much better off. Young people will come to play because they respect a well-made game, not because it features a poop icon that they recognize from Facebook.