We all know about casino software developers like NetEnt and Microgaming — they're the big players and practically dominate the iGambling industry with their consistently excellent games which they churn out on a regular basis. They always surprise, innovate and excite, and there's no doubt that they deserve their position at the top. But what about the little guys? What about the smaller, lesser known developers that surprise, excite and innovate just as much, if not more so?
They are most certainly out there but while some succeed and rise to some prominence in the industry, others fail and fall into obscurity quicker than you can say ‘Crap Outta Luck‘. Today we're going to take a look at some example boutique casino software developers and explore the reasons as to why they prosper or flounder.
‘Boutique' Casino Software Developers
Small casino software developers tend to emerge from an idea birthed from frustration. A small-time, extremely talented programmer might find themselves disillusioned by the amount of unoriginal and homogeneous video slots out there or by the lack of varying themes. From this frustration they then set out with a mission statement to change the market. But it's not just the idea that counts — determination, good business skills and common sense are what keep these companies running and what, ultimately, helps them grow.
Why They Succeed
The secret to a successful casino software developer (big or small) depends on a number of factors. They either occur at the same time or a mixture of some and not others, but either way you can be sure the following reasons are what makes for a good boutique developer.
An idea that is familiar yet different — While it's good to be different, we can't have something that's too different. The developer's premise must still be recognizable as a form of gambling even if the idea is something that hasn't been seen before. So, for example, you could present a twist on an oriental theme as oriental slots currently saturate the market.
Smooth graphics and great visuals/sound — This goes without saying. A game developer that makes poor or mediocre games has no business making them. First impressions do count and if the first thing your players see is a badly animated slot reel, they're not going to play.
Give what the market needs right now — Careful research and knowing just what the market is needing right now could be the difference between life and death for a boutique software developer. There's no point doing what a million others have done before as that is the quickest way to fading into obscurity.
A bit of luck — Unfortunately, a company can do all the planning and research in the world and still flounder. Hard work does count but it's hard to deny that you'll need some luck too. The market is just too competitive.
Here are some examples of great boutique software developers who have gained a cult following and have since scored lengthy contracts with mobile casinos.
Yggdrasil — Inventors of great games Empire Fortunes and Double Dragons, this epic developer has risen to fame after starting from nothing. Everything it releases oozes style and sophistication.
Elk Studios — Makers of Wild Toro and Bloopers, this weird yet wonderful developer has charmed its way to the top with themes unseen in the gambling market.
In Touch Games — The brains behind PocketWin and mFortune, this developer has produced some mobile slots that continue to be innovative and surprising.
Why They Fail
When we look at some companies, it's hard to see them as true ‘successes' but they aren't complete failures either. That is why when we look for a truly successful boutique software developer, we consider not just how much money they make but their output and continuing innovation. That being said, there are those who either fall from grace or never take off at all and here are some of the most common reasons why.
Ideas not innovative enough — It's an unfortunate reality that some software developers simply run out of ideas and therefore lose momentum. Or they could have no good ideas to begin with and they start off with a whimper. These companies always develop games that fade into the background because there's nothing unique about them, even in the slightest.
Bad marketing — It's also a common fact that businesses don't put enough effort into marketing. While we agree a good advert can't make up for bad business, it's important to put yourself out there to some degree otherwise how will people check out your games and look for more?
Too late to the game — Many boutique software developers arrive too late to the market with an idea they think is original but has already been done before. This could be a mixture of bad luck and poor timing or simply a lack of awareness of what the market needs.
Poor aesthetics — Making bad games is a big no no. We touched on this in the ‘succeed' section but it's important to emphasize that poorly made games with terrible graphics and awful animation will not convince players to come back.
The examples below are two relatively big but still quite underground developers that had some success but lost it due to different circumstances.
WMS — While WMS made some unique mobile slots, as a boutique software developer it has been floundering in recent years due to a lack of funds. We're hoping it can pick up again from this slump but so far it's on the slow track into obscurity.
Bally Games — This Boutique software developer also had some success, originally starting in the 1980s as a real-life slot developer. Like WMS, it has lost money and relevance in recent years and has recently merged with a bigger company just to stay afloat.