Many brands grace the reels of licensed slot games across the United States and around the word. Few, however, are as iconic and recognizable as the Playboy slot franchise from Bally Technologies.
Indeed, Bally’s Playboy-themed machines have proved to be some of the most successful games on the slot floor over the past 15 years, thanks in large part to Bally consistently equipping them with the latest innovations and play mechanics. Of course, showcasing Playboy iconography and scores of beautiful women likely hasn’t hurt game popularity either.
“Generally speaking, the reason Playboy slots have been so successful is that [Bally] has tied its latest innovations into the games,” confirmed Jean Venneman, vice president of brand licensing—gaming and interactive for Bally Technologies. “Playboy has been a beloved brand for so many years that whenever we come out with new technology, hardware or innovative game play mechanic, we often think of the Playboy brand as a way to launch it.”
In 2001, as licensed content for slot games was reaching its zenith, Bally took a gamble with Playboy, seeing the brand as an incredible opportunity to get in on this growing trend. The first games were launched in 2002 on stepper cabinets with $5 minimum bets. Since the Playboy brand typically resonated with men more than women, Bally initially suggested the gaming be in casino areas that tended to attract male gaming machine players—mainly, higher-limit slot rooms.
This placement and pricing strategy quickly proved faulty, according to Venneman. It turned out female slot players were more drawn to Playboy-themed games than men. Following this discovery, the next game launched with a $1 minimum bet and mainstream slot floor placement, and quickly became a national and international hit.
“One of the neat things about those first games was that it was some of the early experimentation with custom top boxes,” Venneman said. “We have the bunny ears; the ears physically stuck out of the top of the top box. And at that time, when you looked at the casino floor, there wasn’t a lot of differentiation that way. And so, it was one of Bally’s early efforts to create a special hardware environment that was completely related to the brand.”
Venneman explained that since Playboy games were so popular, they were the perfect platform to introduce players to the company’s latest slot innovations. For example, in 2003 when Bally officially transitioned from mechanical to video slots, one of the first EVO cabinets offered by the company featured a Playboy-themed slot game and a then-novel grand prize—a free trip to the Playboy Mansion. Later in 2010, Bally launched their Pro-Series cabinets on Playboy Hot Zone, one of the most successful dual-screen video games the company has ever produced, according to Venneman.
A MATTER OF LIFESTYLE
Now with over 50 games released in the past 15 years, the franchise shows no signs of slowing down. “The nice thing about Playboy is that it’s both classic and current, which is the ideal brand situation,” said Venneman. “Something that is nostalgic but still very relevant today. A few years ago [Playboy] wanted to reimagine their brand a bit [as a lifestyle brand]. We’re looking as well to transition the games we already have.”
Part of this transition into a lifestyle brand is the incorporation of Playboy’s brand ambassador and international pop star, Pitbull. His partnership with Bally was announced at G2E this past year, and the new games are set to launch at G2E 2015 in the fall. “The games will feature Pitbull but it will still have a lot of beautiful Playmates and things people look for in a Playboy game, but then have that really fun party element with Pitbull and his upbeat, celebratory music, which is what you want in a gaming experience,” Venneman said.
Aside from the new games featuring Pitbull, the new Playboy lifestyle brand will be emphasized in The Playboy Club concept launching this April. “This is a bit of a nod to the traditional slot,” Venneman said. “It’s on our curved platform, which is a video version but has the appearance of a stepper because of the curved LCD display. It has a very traditional, elegant, look and feel. The game play is fairly simple; it’s not overly done with bells and whistles. It’s a nod to the classic and we think there’s room on the slot floor for that, definitely.”
Venneman said that while looking at the history of all of the 50 plus Playboy slot games, those first few were really the most notable because they were not only the first, but they were interesting to players. Although sex sells, it’s not just the images of Playmates that keep players wanting more from the franchise; it really is the overall brand combined with Bally’s technologies.
“With Playboy especially, I think we’ve done a great job of taking the iconic image like the bunny head, and utilizing that in interesting ways,” Venneman said. “We also utilized all the beautiful women that are associated with Playboy but in a tasteful way. We make the game very approachable to the general public…there is nothing about it that has been considered overly racy. We’re trying to show beauty and class along with our innovative hardware and software.”