Katya Machuganova, Product Owner at Silverback Gaming, talks about why studios trademark slots and asks if this is ultimately driving or stifling innovation.
The role of trademarked mechanics in slot games
The run-away success of Big Time Gaming’s Megaways has seen other studios look to develop and trademark mechanics. There are many upsides to a studio doing this including differentiation, protecting IP, unlocking licensing opportunities and being considered an innovator.
But with so many trademarked mechanics now in circulation (and with none yet to replicate the success of Megways), it could be argued that developers are too focused on coming up with the next big mechanic and trademarking it rather than developing games that really hit the mark with players.
The desire to develop and trademark a stand-out mechanic is understandable. The slot game development space is fiercely competitive and gameplay mechanics can be a major factor in the success or failure of a game.
That said, trademarking a game mechanic is not always a straightforward process and the legalities around it can be complex. In some cases, it might not even be possible to trademark the mechanic if it is considered to be generic or already being widely used by other studios.
For some it is necessary, for others, it’s nice to have
Having a licensed mechanic can be a very valuable asset for a game studio, but it is not necessary for a developer to succeed. The decision to trademark a mechanic should be based on a number of factors including the studio’s goals, resources and the specifics surrounding the mechanic itself.
If the studio has invested significant resources in the mechanic and it is unique and critical to the game, then having it trademarked can protect the investment and provide a competitive advantage but there’s no guarantee it will be awarded.
Pursuing the trademark might not be the best use of a studio’s time and resources. This is certainly the case if the mechanic is relatively simple or is made up of components that are already being used by other providers – ditto for those producing simple games.
Ultimately, the studio needs to consider trademarking on a game-by-game basis and in line with its wider goals and available resources.
A driver of innovation?
There is a strong argument that the push by studios to come up with innovative mechanics that can be trademarked is helping to drive innovation across the slot provision space. But as with all arguments, there is another side.
First, let’s look at the argument for it leading to exciting new features and concepts hitting the market. Trademarking a mechanic does incentivise studios to invest in developing never-seen-before gameplay that ensures their games stand out from others in the market.
This in turn creates new ways for players to experience online slot play, whether through new pay-ways, bonus triggers or even bonuses and additional ways to win from the initial spin. Studios rightly want to protect this IP via trademarking.
Countering that argument is that the focus on trademarking game mechanics means that studios are developing mechanics more for the novelty factor rather than being truly ground-breaking and improving the player experience.
Studios can feel under pressure to create a mechanic simply to have it trademarked, rather than focusing on developing a mechanic because it delivers the experience players are seeking.
Another downside is that the pursuit of trademarks can lead to legal disputes and hinder the sharing of ideas and innovation within the industry. If studios are too focused on protecting their IP, they may be less willing to collaborate with other developers and this can stifle progress.
For the player
Regardless of the game in development, studios must always ensure they are creating something that players will want to play. Creating unique mechanics just to stand out in the market or securing a trademark without considering whether it will appeal to players is a risky path to walk down.
Players are the ones playing the game and will ultimately decide whether a mechanic is enjoyable or not. Trademarked mechanics can attract initial attention, but if they do not put players on the edge of their seats and provide a thrilling experience, the novelty will soon wear off.
This is why it’s so important for studios to know who they are developing mechanics for. Take our ClockWaysTM mechanic as an example. It has been developed to appeal to more casual players by giving them a second chance at landing win combinations from their spin, with a win guaranteed.
Once in a couple of regular spins, after paylines are evaluated and wins are paid, all the external symbols that have landed on the reels and form the outer frame then shift a number of places either clockwise or anti-clockwise in search of new win combinations until a new win is found.
We wanted it to be super simple and easy to understand, while also being unique and adding true value to the player’s gameplay.
We believe ClockWaysTM hits the mark in this regard and that is why we have opted to trademark the mechanic. Of course, all studios that look to secure trademarks share this belief, so we are keen to see if it’s a success with players and creates the lasting impact we expect it to.
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