With the festive season fast upon us, we spoke with four game studios to understand the opportunities that come with Christmas slots and some of the challenges they face in developing them
Just like the retailers and their eagerly anticipated Christmas TV ads, it’s that time of year again when studios unwrap their Christmas-themed slots. These games often dominate casino game lobbies for the next few weeks, allowing operators to cash in on the festive fun.
But with such a short shelf-life, these games can be challenging to develop. They need to come with a captivating theme that stands out from the other Christmas and themed slots, combine a striking design with a big sound, and still put players on the edge of their seats with every spin.
In short, they need to deliver in the same way as any other game leaving the studio’s production line would. But with such a short window of time in which to monetise these games, developers must balance the resources required to produce them with the return they will generate.
Many studios simply reskin an existing, proven game from their portfolio, but others believe they must still go through the full development cycle if they are to deliver the quality players expect. This includes Gaming Corps, whose Christmas cracker – Xmas Plinko – has just hit the market.
Connor Blinman, Head of Games at Gaming Corps, said: “Christmas games are hugely popular and can generate significant revenues even though they are only played for a handful of weeks. But to hit the mark with players, the game must deliver the fun, thrills and big win potential they have come to expect.
“This year, we wanted to bring some Christmas magic to the plinko format which is now hugely popular in markets across the world. We are the first Christmas-themed plinko game to hit operator lobbies, and bringing together a festive theme and soundtrack with the plinko experience was something we knew players would enjoy.
“Xmas Plinko has been through the full development cycle to ensure it provides the quality to not only meet but exceed player expectations. This includes rebuilding our plinko engine from the ground up, allowing for better game performance and delivering the best quality to players.”
With Xmas Plinko, players are encouraged to jingle all the way and drop into the holiday spirit as they watch their baubles cascade down the tree and land among the presents where they have the chance to win 3,200x their stake.
The game sits at the high end of the volatility scale – because there can never be enough excitement at Christmas – and has a return to player of 97.05%.
Some studios really do get into the Christmas spirit, and that’s certainly the case at Booming Games. The developer recently launched its festive title, Holly Jolly Bonanza.
You can’t not feel the festive fun when firing up the reels on this five-reel, six-row slot, which is packed with enough joy to make you feel like a kid on Christmas morning. There are plenty of bonus features to unwrap, too.
This starts with a stocking filler – when a win forms, winning symbols are removed and new symbols cascade down like snow from the sky, filling the spaces and potentially forming new wins. The cascades keep coming until there are no more win combinations available.
The festivities keep going with Free Spins. These are triggered when four Scatter symbols come down the chimney and land anywhere on the reels, awarding ten Free Games. If three or more Scatters land during Free Spins, another five Free Games are awarded.
But that’s not all. Random Multipliers can appear at any time during Free Spins, with a max Multiplier of up to 100x for truly Santa-sized wins. Of course, if you’re name is on the naughty list and you still want to unwrap Free Spins, there’s the option to Buy the Bonus.
Moritz Blume, Director of Product at Booming Games, said: “The holiday-themed slots, particularly those centred around Christmas, exemplify how seasonal games can significantly enhance the studio’s overall performance.
“These games actively engage in various Christmas promotions, collaborating with both operators and affiliates, providing an additional boost to their performance.
“With Holly Jolly Bonanza, we have dropped several popular bonus features that appear in our other titles firstly because it makes for thrilling festive gameplay, but also so that players get a taste of what Booming Games’ slots are like if they haven’t played them before.”
Of course, Christmas slots are just one season that studios produce games for with Halloween being another popular holiday. But there really is no limit to the imagination of studios looking to deliver games around popular events.
Apparat Gaming, the developer of slots with a German accent, launched its October Bier Frenzy title ahead of the world-famous Munich Oktoberfest which took place back in September. Again, the studio looked to deliver thrilling gameplay alongside the theme via Free Spins with a Collector mechanism in the Beer Frenzy Bonus.
This is triggered when three Scatters land anywhere on the reels. When this happens, the soundtrack of the Bavarian brass band changes to a famous Oktoberfest party song – the lyrics basically say the drunker you are, the easier it is to sing.
Free Spins are then awarded and as they play out, players collect the Beer symbols that are served onto the reels. If the player collects 40 of these symbols, an additional 10 Free Spins are awarded with any winnings from the Beer symbols Multiplied by x2, x3 or x10.
During Free Spins, players need to keep their slightly blurry eyes peeled for the Beerman as when he appears together with the Beer symbols, he drinks them all and Collects all of the values that are on the symbols.
If there is a Wild but no Beer symbols, he cheers the bar with a “Prost” and turns random symbols into Beers before collecting their values.
Thomas Wendt, Co-founder, and Director at Apparat Gaming, says the mechanics of the themed game are just as important as the theme itself.
“While players are often drawn to themed games around that seasonal event, they still expect to be entertaining and for the game to deliver the excitement and big-win potential they are seeking.
“That is exactly what we have done with October Bier Frenzy, paying great attention to the gameplay and in particular the Free Spins/collector feature. By doing this, we increase the longevity of the game beyond the time the Munich Oktoberfest takes place.”
Themed games have been around for many years, and there’s a strong appetite among players to engage with them. This presents opportunities for studios to produce seasonal slots, but they absolutely must nail the quality and experience of these games – no gimmicks, if you like.
1X2 Network is another studio that gets into the festive spirit with two games hitting operator stockings this year – Sweet Candy Christmas and Megaways Jack Frost from its Iron Dog Studio brand.
The latter is the latest instalment in the developer’s Megaways Jack series, which has been a hit with players. By taking what is essentially a game franchise and launching a Christmas special, the studio believes its Christmas slot will top the charts.
It sees players venture to the North Pole where they are treated to a stunning, snowy experience packed with bonus features including winning symbols that freeze and shatter to be replaced by new ones, as well as reels that lock in place with an enchanting icy border that gradually freezes the entire reel.
If that wasn’t enough, Free Spins can be triggered with players taken into an icy snowstorm where Multipliers and the Jack Frost feature come into play. Jack Frost showers the player with bonuses such as Symbol Swaps and Wilds in both Free Spins and the base game.
Alex Ratcliffe, CPO at 1X2 Network, said: “’Tis the season to be jolly, and what better way to get into the spirit of the season than by developing not just one but two Christmas-themed slot games.
“This year, we decided to leverage our popular Megaway Jack series by adding a Christmas game to the series. This allows us to tap into the existing popularity of the game and to deliver a fun, festive experience to players with a brand and mechanic they already know and love.
“Our other seasonal slot, Sweet Candy Christmas, is just as fun to play and combines the ever-popular Scatter Pay mechanic with the most wonderful time of the year. The candy theme set in a Winter Wonderland has one last surprise for eagle-eyed players who may recognise who is driving Santa’s sleigh.”
Some studios are clearly up for the challenge and enjoy the benefits of developing and launching themed games, both in the near term while they are “in season” and also in the long-term kickback in the form of stronger operator relationships and player awareness.
Of course, pick the right theme – such as this year’s St Patrick’s Day release Leprechaun Charms – and you can end up with a fun, themed game that can be played all year round. So, a slot game for life, not just for Christmas. “