In the casino world, both online and at brick-and-mortar establishments, some say slots reign supreme. While traditional casino games like roulette, blackjack and craps will always prove popular, nothing screams “Casinos!” like spinning reels and free spins.
And unlike table games on the casino floor, slots can move more easily with the times. The more traditional casino games have set rules and payouts, and while variations have popped up over the years the basic premise remains the same. With slot machines, however, innovation is rife.
Gone are the days of just pulling handles and hoping to land just payways. Stacked symbols, megaways, wilds, bonus spins, touch screens and 3D imagery are just some of the features savvy developers have pioneered for the slot game industry. Likewise, from a thematic point of view, the possibilities are almost endless.
Ike McFadden, a video game producer and strategic marketing specialist currently working with online casino game provider Phoenix 7, is no stranger to the slot game revolution. The American is the man behind several of the most high-profile celebrity slot game collaborations and has championed this avenue for developers and brands alike.
Speaking exclusively to Casinos.com, he said: “The basic process is you would have a meeting with whomever is in charge of branding and marketing. Let's say it's a casino, and they say, ‘We want a celebrity spokesperson.’
“So, I'd spend some time doing research with their marketing team and ask, ‘Who is your target demographic? What is the age? What is the gender, in what country? What region?’.
“They might say, ‘We want something that's going to appeal to women age 35 to 50 in Germany and Austria.
David Hasselhoff is very big in Germany. He's had something like 20 top 10 records, and the agent mentioned that to me and I said, ‘That sounds perfect’. So we took that back to the client and they said, ‘Oh, that's perfect. We couldn't have wished for better’.
“And once you've gotten to that stage, then you move on to the details. What is it going to cost? What is involved? What does the company want this person to do? It can be everything from TV commercials to radio. It can be a photo shoot, it could be images on their homepage. In the case of Hasselhoff, they wanted a meet and greet session with their VIP customers.”
Attracting these notable figures to the iGaming industry is no small feat. Celebrities, in general, and their associated PR teams are always image-conscious, and while the industry has come on leaps and bounds, it's only recently legalized in some areas and a certain stigma can be attached.
McFadden lauded the impact public figures can have in shining a positive light on the industry. He explained: “Someone said, ‘I don't know about iGaming,’ and my response was, ‘Think of it this way. There's a store over here that sells all kinds of products. Would you like to be on the shelf in case someone goes in?’.
"Celebrities give the industry more credibility, but it already has credibility. It's a global industry. It makes a lot of money whether you’re a fan of it or not. There are a lot of people who aren’t fans of pharmaceutical companies. There are people who are not fans of sailing.
“But in terms of mass media and the average person who doesn't know about the industry, that's the reason you bring in a celebrity to get their attention and in some way legitimize something new in their mind.”
As well as adding credibility to the industry, collaborations with high-profile celebrities present lucrative opportunities for brands to benefit financially and from a marketing point of view.
McFadden continued: "A lot of celebrities are so expensive to work with that it can be difficult to make a profit on a single game.
“So, what I tend to advise people to do is look at a broader picture, maybe sign someone up for a slot and a scratch card and some promotional events. And that way you spread the cost over a wider range of projects. And also, I tend to say, ‘Look at this as a tool to either gain some attention or penetrate a market you're not in, or work with a new operator’.
“There's a lot of interesting stuff that goes on with streamers. It's relatively new and it’s still evolving as an industry and, in a handful of years, I think it will be a standard part of a marketing process for games.
“I've seen it done well, and I've seen it done poorly. I expect that it lies as a piece of the puzzle in the future. And, if you're doing something with a big celebrity, it's a lot easier and cheaper. You can just do all kinds of stuff for your YouTube channel.”
McFadden has been working with Phoenix 7 in recent times. The company is in its infancy in the online casino game sphere in Europe, but has decades of experience in Asia, which has allowed it to hit the ground running in what is a competitive market.
“Phoenix 7 is the EU division of a Japanese company, and the Japanese company is one of the oldest manufacturers of Pachinko in Japan. I think it's something like 70 years old.
"Phoenix 7 is very successful in Asia and they wanted to move into iGaming in Europe and the rest of the world. They've created some unusually good content for a new company, but I think it comes from their experience. Even though Phoenix 7 is new, a lot of the people involved on the game-developing side have a lot of experience.
"However, they weren’t entirely sure how to position themselves in the market so I came on to help with that. And in the process, I said we need to work on some commercial development too and look at partners in that area.
“So I've been handling a lot for that. It's certainly my primary focus at the moment. I hope it goes well. We had a really good Sigma show. I was surprised at the attention we received. I think people are aware a lot of people are making money in Asia.
"And so to have a new company hit the market that has a Japanese pedigree was very eye-catching to a lot of people. So, it seems to be going pretty well at the moment."
While the iGaming industry is mature in Europe, across the Atlantic it’s a different story. Each US state has its own laws in relation to online gambling, with sports betting first on the agenda for lawmakers, due to the sport being firmly embedded in the culture.
While Phoenix 7 is currently establishing itself in Europe, McFadden says moving across the pond is a natural progression and most likely one every company in the industry has earmarked.
“Is it very much a case of let's set our roots in the EU first and when the US is a bit further down the line, let's break in there. It's definitely a secondary focus. And we've had a lot of partners approach us who are in the US.
“My sense is they need to get rock solid on their systems and implementation before going to the US, just ‘cause the US is slow and it’s also very expensive to get licensing there. It’s also very competitive. There are some people who are making money over there, but there are a lot of people who are losing money.
McFadden has a clear idea of how global iGaming markets will develop in the coming years, which could be a clue as to where he and Phoenix 7 will end up.
"But in the long term, I think the US is a natural fit and a demographic issue. European markets are aging, whereas the US is still a growing demographic. I think anyone who has any sense should be looking at the US because the European market is probably as large as it's going to be for 50 years.”