If you’ve played at an online casino, chances are you’ve seen slot games advertised as “Exclusive” on their thumbnails. But “exclusive” is a broad term that can encompass a variety of agreements between slot developers and online casino operators.
That relationship is the first thing you should understand: With a few exceptions, online casinos generally don’t make their own games. The operators provide a platform, and third-party development studios make the online slots and other content that goes on that platform.
What, then, makes a slot exclusive? There are various factors at play and many types of exclusivity. We spoke with industry experts to better understand the nature of these deals.
Understanding the Basics of Slot Exclusivity
Laurie Holder is the Content Program Manager at Light & Wonder (formerly Scientific Games), one of the biggest content providers for the North American market. He kicked things off for us with an overall definition of the term:
An exclusive game release means an operator or multiple operators (usually only if in different markets or part of the same group) have access to a game before the wider market does.
Holder goes on to note that everyone benefits from such an agreement. Developers get premium placement for their games and operators get to offer something new and unique. Meanwhile, casino users get something new to play.
At its core, exclusive slots provide an opportunity for an online casino to get ahead of the competition by providing something players can’t find elsewhere. However, there are multiple types of exclusivity deals and games they apply to.
Exclusive Slots: a Deep Dive
Katya Machuganova is the Product Owner for Silverback Gaming. Her general definition of exclusivity is similar to Holder’s:
A slot becomes exclusive when it’s made available only to a specific online casino, meaning players can’t play it anywhere else. A game can be made exclusive in many ways, such as through partnerships between game develoeprs and operators, or through custom game development for a specific casino.
However, she proceeded to give us more details about the various types of exclusivity.
Limited-time deals are the most common form of slot exclusivity. In short, the developer promises the operator exclusive access to the slot for a certain period. After the deal expires, the developer can offer the slot to other operators.
Steve Mayes, Light & Wonder’s Digital Partnerships Director, said:
Time exclusives—or first-to-market exclusives—give operators the opportunity to launch a regular game in their roadmap ahead of their competitors. In this case, the game itself would be no different, but would provide players with a sneak peek of the game before it goes out to the wider market.
With a timed exclusive, the version of the game eventually appearing at other casinos is identical to the one that was initially exclusive to one operator.
Machuganova noted that the terms of timed exclusives can vary:
Whether or not exclusivity agreements expire after a set time depends on the specific agreement betweren the game develper and the operator. In many cases, these agreements do have a predetermined time fram, after which the game can be offered to other operators. This can range from a few months to a year or even longer.
Dana Jackel, Head of US Commercial at Light & Wonder, defines things a little differently. She considers non-time limited deals to be distinct from exclusivity:
Exclusives are always timed. This is the difference between bespoke and exclusive.
We’ll get to bespoke games in a minute. But even within time-limited deals, Holder pointed out that some exclusivity periods are much shorter than others.
Normally, exclusive periods will last for one or two weeks, though there are instances where this can last for over a month. In some cases, we will offer long-term exclusivity if a game is expected to work particularly well with a chosen operator in a specific jurisdiction or market.
When you sign in to an online casino and see any slot labeled as exclusive, it’s most likely a timed exclusivity agreement at play. It doesn’t mean you’ll never see that slot at other online casinos, only that their players might have to wait a few weeks or months.
Bespoke and Branded Games
The second type of exclusivity is longer-term or permanent. Machuganova explains:
Some exclusive slots have unique themes, graphics, or features tailored to the branding or preferences of a particular casino or operator…Some slots are designed in collaboration with popular brands, which adds an extra layer of uniqueness.
These are the bespoke games that Jackel considers to be fundamentally different and wouldn’t describe as “exclusives” at all.
One popular example of a bespoke game is Caesars Cleopatra, a branded take on the popular Ancient Egypt-themed slot from IGT. Caesars requested a customized version for its new pure-play online casino product, Caesars Palace. It has since added similar custom-branded twists on other popular slots.
Bespoke titles often carry a much longer exclusivity period than timed exclusives, or there may be no time limit at all. Games fully customized for a particular casino are more likely to be permanent deals.
The exclusivity period will typically increase in parallel with the bespoke element of the game. It can range anywhere from one week to a lifetime.
Finally, there are the games that are exclusive because the casino company made them itself. Relatively few operators do this. In the US, you’ll find in-house exclusives mostly at DraftKings Casino—the company has a deep well of such titles created by its in-house studio.
Steve Mayes again:
Operators are increasingly launching their own proprietary content. In this case, the game will never be offered to its competitors.
However, corporate structures can complicate this. DraftKings’ in-house exclusives can now be found at Golden Nugget Pennsylvania as well because DraftKings acquired Golden Nugget Online Gaming last year.
Meanwhile, BetMGM Casino and Borgata Online Casino have many slots you won’t find at other US online casinos because they come from the company’s co-owner, Entain. However, because Entain acts as a business-to-business slots supplier for international markets, those slots are widespread in other countries despite effectively being exclusives in the US.
Benefits of Exclusive Slots
All the experts we spoke to agreed that exclusivity can be a win-win for operators and players if done right. Machuganova sees a clear two-fold benefit:
Operators get a competitive edge by offering unique content that sets them apart from competitors. It can attract new players and increase loyalty. Players seek out exclusive slots because they want a unique gaming experience that they can’t find elsewhere. These games offer novelty and excitement.
Light & Wonder representatives said the player benefits are a little more subtle. Players aren’t always primed to seek out exclusives in particular. Instead, the exclusivity brings more visibility to slots that might otherwise get lost in the deluge of new releases.
It’s a great marketing tool for the operators. For players, it promotes that special feeling—you can only get this game here, and nowhere else!