If you stroll through the mega casinos of Las Vegas, there is a good chance you will come across the Ellen Slot Machine. The ‘Ellen’ part refers to Ellen DeGeneres, comedian, chat show host and super-rich celebrity, i.e. not the type of personality you would consider likely to front a casino game. Ellen is not alone in this bit of marketing: Just last year at G2E (a kind of Comic-Con for casino tech), a Willie Nelson interactive slot was unveiled for future rollout.
Whether it’s tenuous or not, there is no end of celebrities fronting up for a casino game. The list includes: Guns N’ Roses, Marilyn Monroe, Mike Tyson, Motorhead, Michael Jackson and Elvis; there is even a game, Top Trumps Celebrities, which a collection of stars from David Beckham to George Clooney.
It’s easy to see why games developers do this. It’s branding in the same way as Britney Spear selling Pepsi or Cristiano Ronaldo fronting the latest EA FIFA game. The pertinent question, however, is this: Does a celebrity-based casino game mean it will be a quality (i.e. entertaining) product?
Games must have more than just branding
In most cases, the answer to the above question is yes. The games are usually inventive, involve cool features and have a innovative link to their source material. Consider if you play Frankie Dettori’s slot at Mansion Casino, which was one of the first ultra-successful celebrity-based slot games. The game, which is based on jockey Dettori’s seven-winner day at Ascot in the 1990s, is a celebration of horse racing, with brilliant side games and special features. It’s been popular for over a decade, not just because of the celebrity endorsement, but because the underlying media is enticing and fun.
The point is that, by and large, the games are not just a branding exercise. There are always exceptions of course: For example, The Andre the Giant slot is nothing more than a basic game with the big man’s image stamped on it. However, the vast majority of celebrity games add something to the genre, they do something different.
Branding draws in new players, but product must deliver
The branding side of things is important, of course. There is a reason that sites like Mansion host ‘geek-friendly’ creations Superman and Batman slot games. The games developers want to attract players based on other interests. But the key is that when the player comes to try the games, there is more than just a logo stuck on it. Otherwise, you might get bored pretty sharpish.
The other important aspect is that you want the games to be rewarding in monetary terms. After all, that’s the fundamental reason people play casino games. One of the reasons Frankie Dettori’s Magic Seven became so popular is that there are some massive payouts on offer, with a separate version of the game having a two-tiered progressive jackpot. There has been a bigger push for branded casino games over the last decade, a process that seems to be accelerating over the last couple of years. It’s easy to see why, as it makes for ready-made branding to attract new players. But what sometimes gets overlooked is that it makes for ready-made source material, a chance for games developers to bring something new to life.