From Wheel to Whitney: IGT and the power of nostalgic slot titles

Whitney Houston IGT slots
Image: Shutterstock
IGT’s Boris Hallerbach

In gaming, we can often get caught up in what is the next, newest, or latest thing. What is the hot new title or what is the hip new trend?

There is something to be said for the classics though. Just ask IGT, which continues to deliver high-performing slot titles from intellectual property that has already stood the test of time.

The company has already found immense success with Wheel of Fortune, a brand that has been a winner for IGT for more than 25 years. As IGT Director of Premium Product Boris Hallerbach explained, there were a number of things working in Wheel of Fortune’s favor from the jump.

“Wheel of Fortune is basically an advertisement on TV for us and our slot machines every night of the week, so you have an instant fan base and instant recognizability. Wheel of Fortune was the first licensed brand in slots, so from that it got a huge start and created a huge fan base,” he explained. “A lot of people, their first experience in the casino might be playing Wheel of Fortune with their mom, for example. So there’s an instant bond there too.”

The end result has been a game that continues to perform and, as Hallerbach noted, is drawing in new players every day. That doesn’t come without effort and innovation though. New versions of the game do lean into the trends of the day, which has helped keep Wheel of Fortune slots relevant.

Innovating Wheel of Fortune with current slot trends

IGT’s Jennifer Fales

“What we’ve done with the brand over the years though, is we’ve tuned the games to align with popular slot game mechanics,” said Hallerbach. 

“Over the years, we’ve taken proven slot mechanics and incorporated them into the Wheel of Fortune gameplay experience. So from three-reel dollar steppers, we’ve moved to video to large format videos to penny, nickel, quarter, and dime denominations across all sorts of different spaces.”

IGT VP of Global Licensing and Social Casino Jennifer Fales did note that, while IGT integrates new mechanics into Wheel of Fortune, it is important to lean into what players love about the game, which is a rich history of jackpots and, of course, the wheel.

For Wheel of Fortune, so much of its success is because the elements of the game very neatly translated into a slot game. 

IGT will always love Whitney Houston

IGT’s latest foray into a nostalgic name should have an exciting future and the company has high hopes for its potential. Whitney Houston is an absolute music legend after all, so who better to bank on as the next slot hit?

When IGT is looking for a big new title, Fales says it is really about picking a brand that casts a wide net of fans.

“We look for things that have broad appeal. We’ve gone down the path of going more niche, and what I think we found is that, given the investment both on the licensing, R&D, and hardware fronts, and knowing that we put so many resources into the premium segment, we’re really looking for something that has a very broad appeal,” she said.

Whitney Houston fit that bill. Working with Houston’s estate and music publishing company Primary Wave, IGT developed a game that tries to capture the essence of the pop star through tiny details like the use of the color purple and the inclusion of one of Houston’s favorite things, butterflies.

The family helped add personal touches and Primary Wave helped secure the best video, photos, and music to score the slot experience, creating what Fales called a great partnership. 

From there, the slot developers had to ask important questions that may not seem obvious to the player, like what the balance is between slot noises and songs Houston is known for? Or how can they convey the experience and excitement of triggering a bonus using these pop tunes?Moving land-based slots into online casinos

Game developers at IGT also have to consider how to take some of these successful land-based titles and expand them online. Earlier this year, IGT worked with BetMGM to launch an entire online casino site in New Jersey dedicated to Wheel of Fortune.

“We take a proven land-based game and when a player goes online and sees their favorite land-based game, online, they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s my favorite game. I want to just go play that,’ so it’s an instant acquisition tool,” Hallerbach explained. “When you know you have a game that performs in a casino, there’s a good chance that it can perform online as well.”

Creating that version online is like adapting Wheel of Fortune over the years–IGT ensures it keeps the core elements that will invite a player in but adds enough innovation to create something new.

For classics like Wheel of Fortune and Whitney Houston, a remix can make something familiar feel new again, but both titles are a testament that, when it comes to slot games, there are few things as appealing as a familiar face.