“More than three billion in jackpots have been won on Wheel of Fortune slots, and more than 200 versions of the game have been produced and distributed around the world.”
I was talking shop with one of my siblings last week (he happens to work at Mohegan Sun Gaming Resort) and he mentioned something that I couldn’t shake from my mind. I wasn’t sure if my comprehension was askew from the funk of the skunk in my hand or if he was serious. He said, “Not sure if you knew this, but there are slot machines for Titanic (the movie), “Friends” (the TV show), and “Sex in the City.”
Convinced that this was part of the new “anything goes, no boundary, entertainment branding culture” we live in, I set out to learn how shows become slot machines. I discovered that skinning slot machines with entertainment properties isn’t new and that it dates back more than two decades.
The cerebral sativa strain in my brain was obsessed with understanding how someone like Betty White could wind up on a slot. After some investigation, I hit the jackpot when I spoke with Phil O’Shaughnessy (senior director global communications, gaming) at IGT: the leader in “gaming solutions that anticipate the demands of consumers wherever they decide to play.” Phil was friendly and full of information.
Galinsky: Phil take me to the beginning. When did this whole thing start?
O’Shaughnessy: Licensed branding came to the slot machine business with IGT Wheel of Fortune slots in 1996.
G: And are you licensing with “Wheel of Fortune” the show or…?
O: We license the brand from Sony, and in fact in 2016 we celebrated the 20th anniversary of Wheel of Fortune slots. In that 20-year period, the concept of licensed brands in slot machines has taken off. More than three billion in jackpots have been won on Wheel of Fortune slots, and more than 200 versions of the game have been produced and distributed around the world.
G: What other TV-themed games have you developed?
O: At IGT, we have developed TV-themed EGMs-
O: Electronic Gaming Machines. We’ve developed EGMs ranging from “Sex & The City,” to “Family Guy,” and “Orange is the New Black”. At the big gaming show, G2E, we launched a pair of Betty White-themed slots to extend our premium licensed game portfolio.
G: How do you determine what shows you want to brand on the machines?
O: With all of these licenses, it’s not about just slapping a popular brand on a machine. It’s really about analyzing the brand, whom it appeals to, and of great importance, whether elements from the show translate well to a slot machine.
G: So did Betty White call you and say “hey Phil! I ‘wanna be on slots in Vegas” or did you reach out to her?
O: We get approached by licensors who offer their themes, and we also pursue themes that we think will translate well to gaming.
G: Ok, then tell me how you decided to bring Ellen DeGeneres to slots. She doesn’t seem like an obvious fit.
O: When we created IGT’s “Ellen DeGeneres Show” themed video slots, the process started with multiple meetings with the show’s executive producers, gaining ideas and feedback, and then presenting concepts to them to ensure consistency and authenticity. They came to our Las Vegas location to play early versions of the games. Our game studio talent made sure to include iconic elements from the show – from visual elements that look great on reels, to games from the show that played well as slot bonuses.
G: So the shows actual executive producers are involved?
O: Yes. As a result of this highly collaborative process, IGT created The Ellen DeGeneres Show Featuring Ellen’s Dance Party slots and The Ellen DeGeneres Show Featuring Twelve Days of Giveaways slots, building from extremely recognizable and popular elements from the show. Both of these games feature Ellen’s voice too.
G: And Ellen’s take on this? She is proud of gracing Vegas slot machines along side Betty White?
O: Ellen has talked about the games on her show multiple times, and Ellen’s team features a game finder on her website so fans can find the machines in their favorite casinos. We even extended the Ellen brands to our social gaming app, DoubleDown Casino, offering players an opportunity to experience Ellen-themed slots on a mobile device in a free-to-play environment. Our latest iteration features a “selfie” camera so players can include their own image into gameplay.
G: This is far more than window dressing a machine Phil.
O: Indeed. The game hardware is extremely important to the experience as well, and with 4K displays for stunning resolution, the graphic elements really add to the entertainment experience. To cap it off, before our games go to casinos, they go through an extensive focus group research process to make sure that players like them, and that our casino partners can be successful. Those are some examples of games with licensed themes, but also, the collaborative process in creating great slot themes.
G: Which show is the leader in your portfolio?
O: “Wheel of Fortune” still stands out as the theme that has stood the test of time and generated huge international appeal. We even have a 3D version out now.
G: This sounds like it’s a fixture of the gaming casino industry that isn’t going anywhere.
O: You can definitely expect to see licensed TV brands continue in gaming, in fact, IGT delivers to legal, regulated public and commercial gaming operators across 100 countries on six continents.
G: When my TV show premieres next later this year (think it, believe it, it will happen) will you take my pitch for slots?
O: If the elements of your show are fun and interactive, than it’ll be a no-brainer Galinsky.