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Slots and Intellectual Property: an intricate balancing act

By - 27 September 2022

You only have to look at the host of rebooted movies, TV shows, videogames and other merchandise to see how nostalgia has become an extremely powerful marketing tool in recent years.

With a slot portfolio featuring hit games such as The Goonies, Deal or No Deal, Rick and Morty, Ted, and Sausage Party – Blueprint knows a thing or two about developing branded iGaming content that stays faithful to the original material whilst retaining player appeal.

Jo Purvis, Director of Key Accounts and Marketing UK, details how Blueprint manages this intricate balancing act.

Earlier this year, Blueprint reaffirmed its position as the developer of Deal or No Deal branded iGaming content after securing a new agreement with licence holder and long-term partner, Banijay Brands. Could you tell us more about the agreement and what new brand IPs the deal grants Blueprint access to?

It’s essentially an extension to our existing agreement, one that has seen us enjoy and evolve a fantastic long-term partnership with Banijay. The work we’ve done on all our Deal or No Deal releases has seen the level of trust and cooperation between us grow stronger with each game – a heritage of developing quality titles that have afforded us the belief to take the brand forward through the use of new, engaging and entertaining game formats.

Deal or No Deal remains a hugely popular and instantly recognisable brand, not just within iGaming but across most media, particularly in the UK and Europe. And despite no longer being on TV in many countries, it’s an IP that continues to cultivate a major following.

What permissions does the licence agreement entail? How expansive an asset pack is provided by Banijay Brands for each IP?

Due to the trust we’ve forged over the years we have largely whatever we need provided to us by the licence holder. They see the meticulous attention to detail that we put into each release and it’s necessary too. We’ve achieved the reputation that we have for caring for and curating major global brands by taking each project incredibly seriously. Part of that is full disclosure of what we have on the drawing board and how it will take shape at each stage of development.

We operate no differently with Banijay than we do with our games inspired by The Goonies, built in partnership with Warner Bros. Consumer Products, and the several other licensed games in our portfolio. As such they are happy for us to continue in the same vein.

How much creative freedom does Blueprint have to iterate on Banijay’s material? For instance, what specific guidelines did you have to adhere to in the creation of Deal or No Deal: Banker’s Bonanza?

A key factor in the success of our Deal or No Deal franchise is in creating new versions with new mechanics and features that keep things fresh and pique interest while retaining the essential magic of the original brand – and while it’s a challenge, it’s one that we very much thrive upon.

What made Deal or No Deal Banker’s Bonanza so intriguing is the use of Scatter Pays, which requires eight or more matching symbols to award a prize, with at least six consecutive cascades activating a bonus feature. The gameplay is very different to what players have experienced before with a Deal or No Deal theme, demonstrating our ability to take these games forward with new ideas each time.

With every release, they have the final say on what goes to market but we’re so used to what they expect, so the development and delivery process is happily very efficient.

How lengthy and cumbersome is getting branded content approved? Are Banijay Brands involved at every stage of production? How back-and-forth is the development process?

Every step of a game’s development is done alongside the licence holder. All aspects of the gameplay have to be approved by them, so it’s a balancing act of making sure it sufficiently delivers on the brand’s IP while also making it appealing to players.

With Deal or No Deal, we are at an advantage as it is still referenced regularly in popular culture and is easily accessible across today’s comprehensive entertainment platforms and other licensing deals. This is crucial to maintaining the brand’s credibility and relevance in today’s market.

From a player perspective, how powerful is the propensity to latch onto something familiar? What are the benefits that a name and image recognition bring?

Huge, particularly with older popular brands like The Goonies. Nostalgia has become an extremely powerful marketing tool in recent years, you only have to look across any media to easily find a host of rebooted movies, TV shows, games and other merchandise.

With that comes a particular set of challenges though – consumers, and die-hard fans are notoriously difficult to please. Look at the 2016 reboot of the classic movie Ghostbusters, for example. It received a huge backlash from its devoted fans and it did so by straying too far from the classic original. The 2021 Afterlife release was more faithful and as a result, was much more warmly received.

A popular brand immediately generates interest when there is a new development announced but then the hard work begins of making sure it’s true enough to satisfy long-time aficionados but there’s enough new content to justify a new iteration in the first place.

If we were to simply reskin an existing game with new animation and slap an IP on it, we would be quickly found out and the project would fail. Our reputation of doing just the opposite is a testament to our development teams and their attention to detail alongside the overriding high standards we employ across the board.

How much more expensive are licensed products to create – are the development costs, certification, sales, marketing, and promotional efforts significantly higher than non-branded content?

While there are added costs above and beyond creating a proprietary themed game, there is of course the counterbalance of the added interest from players and operators – provided everything is done just right, of course!

Our complete commitment to producing further Deal or No Deal titles is why we sealed a new deal with Banijay Brands and we look forward to developing new titles in the future. Branded games have for some time proved successful for us and will always form a part of our roadmap – as long as the demand is there in the market.

Is branded content more likely to cut through the noise than Blueprint’s non-branded content such as King of the West and Eye of Horus?

It depends. You have the initial brand awareness that we’ve mentioned that attracts players but the gameplay has to be equally on point to match that. Our portfolio is very diverse and we’ve enjoyed great success with proprietary titles too.

We always look forward to the buzz that is created when we release a Fishin’ Frenzy or Eye of Horus title as they have built up significant followings over the years too. We’ve got enough confidence in our teams here at Blueprint that we know even if we launch a brand new title with a theme or characters that have never been tried before, our standing as a studio ensures that we gain traction. It’s up to us to maintain the standards we’ve set.

How do you assess the opportunity cost of branded content? How do you ascertain brand value on the slot floor and online operator lobbies?

That’s important and always forms part of the decision process and if we know a particular brand will work well for our operator customers, we’ll endeavour to create a game that meets their requirements. Even though games like Deal or No Deal or The Goonies were first released many years ago, the games are still heavily used by operators for marketing initiatives.

This is mostly driven by brand awareness and the ability to generate interest among a wide set of players. This epitomises the power and longevity that licensed games have in our industry and why operators will always prioritise space for them.

How much attention is given to the narrative and player journey of Deal or No Deal, The Money Drop and Peaky Blinders so that these games remain on-brand?

It’s crucial. Therefore, it receives the due diligence we afford it during research and development. Not only is it demanded by our players, but it’s also equally as important to the licence holders too. There’s a reason why these brands have become popular in the first place and that’s partly because of the narrative that existed initially.

We wouldn’t be able to release a game that didn’t have the journey or the authenticity and even if it got past our internal quality control and that of the licence holder, it certainly wouldn’t fool the players! The communities that surround game franchises and slots, in general, are more powerful than ever before and we’re very respectful of ensuring we’re delivering products that players want to play with the inherent quality that goes with that.

How do you differentiate IP products by market?

Part of the selection criteria for many of the IPs we invest in is that they are largely universally popular, that way, we’re not restricting ourselves in terms of the markets that we can see them succeed in.

Titles like Deal or No Deal, The Goonies, Rick and Morty, Ted and Sausage Party have massive global followings so providing we always stay faithful to our ethos of matching big brands with equally consistent standards of gameplay and engagement we can be confident of success going forward.

There are a few exceptions for the UK, which of course is born of our roots in the UK market and you see that in games like Viz, Andy Capp and Carry on Camping which are all very UK-centric. Due to the size of the market, it’s still a worthwhile enterprise.

Ultimately, what is more important – the theme and licence or the underlying maths and mechanics?

It’s a delicate balance. There is a great investment in resources required to produce branded games. The process is very different compared to that of an in-house title, as you’re having to meet every aspect of a licence holder’s requirements.

We’re experts in developing branded iGaming content having released a comprehensive range of licensed games over the years, but we never take for granted the sheer amount of work and precision required to produce a quality product.

There’s the inherent risk of producing an inferior product that fails to meet the expectations of a brand’s fanbase, or even your own loyal players. Some developers think the use of a famous brand is enough to drive engagement, but ultimately the gameplay still needs to be entertaining enough to keep players interested.

At Blueprint, we have a strict policy of only working with brands that meet our style of games and that we know will be appealing to existing players. If you look at the IPs we have utilised previously, they follow a similar mould and help us deliver games that live and breathe the sense of humour and entertainment factor that Blueprint is renowned for creating.

What is the future for Blueprint’s branded content?

Given how well we’ve done on the back of keeping a careful, close eye on popular culture trends and exploring how they could be adapted for use in iGaming, it’s safe to say you can expect more of what has worked in the past while still ensuring we keep things relevant.

Ultimately, any use of an IP needs to capture the interest of both seasoned slot players and fans of a brand. The entertainment world is constantly evolving and as an industry, we need to be on the front foot to ensure our content remains exciting and credible.

We’ll always see popular TV shows and films form a big part of the branded slots landscape and we’ve got the next Deal or No Deal game slated for a January 2023 release. Beyond that, who knows what else the future holds?

Sports is one area of branded content that is likely to grow. We developed our first branded sports game a few years ago with the release of PDC World Darts Championship, which enjoyed an upturn in plays during the real-life tournament that took place not long afterwards.

We’ve also managed to secure the rights to produce a game based on one of the world’s greatest ever footballers, Diego Maradona, which is a project we’re incredibly excited about and is due for release toward the end of the year.

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