Ever since iGaming began gaining popularity in the early noughties a small handful of online slot developers found their way to the top of the mountain, cementing themselves as leaders and innovators within the field.
iGaming is a perfect example of a monopolistic industry. 99% of online slot developers produce similar products and there’s very little to differentiate one studio from another. However, despite this, a small handful of developers have dominated the market for quite some time.
If you were to follow a timeline of proceedings within the industry from the year 2000 all the way through to 2020, then you’d notice that a large majority of the best online slots released year on year come from the same pool of developers.
It’s somewhat surprising that these big players have gone virtually unchallenged for so many years, in this article we’ll look at who’s dominated, and how they achieved this domination.
Which online slot developers monopolized iGaming early on?
In the beginning, there was one developer that ruled the roost, Microgaming. Formed in South Africa in 1994 this software provider is responsible for a whole host of major innovations within iGaming and have created some of the greatest games ever seen.
This includes the world’s first true online casino software in 1994 (if reports are to be believed), followed by a number of other major firsts including the first progressive jackpot slot Cash Splash, the world’s first branded slot Tomb Raider, the world’s first online slot to have more than 100 paylines AND the world’s first developer to have a slot pay out more than £10,000,000.
Realistically, it’s really not that hard to see how Microgaming monopolized the iGaming scene during its infancy. The more success they enjoyed, the more money they had to pump back in.
It wasn’t until the mid-2000s when rival companies such as IGT, NetEnt, Playtech and Blueprint Gaming began to find their feet, rising to prominence after a few years of experimenting with different games and verticals.
With online casinos popping up on every corner of the internet at a rate of knots, there was always going to be more than enough room for each studio to get a piece of the pie.
2005 Gambling Act opens the doors for ambitious developers
In 2005 the entire iGaming industry received a welcome boost when Tony Blair’s Labour government passed the Gambling Act in the UK, legislation that liberalized online gambling and allowed for widespread advertising. Naturally, this gave many new developers the opportunity to target a very lucrative market that had a strong appetite for gambling.
Unsurprisingly, aforementioned developers Microgaming, IGT, NetEnt, Playtech and Blueprint Gaming were already well-positioned to get their games to the top of casino lobbies as operators prepared to go on seriously aggressive marketing campaigns.
This strategy worked a treat, and as a result, their collective dominance continued thanks to the increased revenue derived from being prepared and ready to hit emerging markets hard with high quality, well-designed slots filled to the brim with exciting bonus features.
In the years that followed the passing of the 2005 Gambling Act a number of online slot developers entered the UK market. However, it’d be more than fair to suggest that the major players had their feet under the table, and they weren’t going to budge.
Operators were more than satisfied with the games they had available to them with slots such as Cleopatra, Immortal Romance, Mega Fortune, Gladiator and Piggy Riches all performing incredibly well. Developers faced an uphill battle to squeeze in on the action.
As the years ticked by into the mid to late 2010s, two more developers managed to get a real foothold at the top of the tree, Play’n GO, who released Egyptian hit Book of Dead and Big Time Gaming who were responsible for introducing the world to the Megaways mechanic with much-loved slot Bonanza Megaways.
Of course, there were other studios on the scene, but by this time they had no chance of competing on the same level as NetEnt, Play’n GO, Blueprint, Playtech and Big Time Gaming who now reigned. Microgaming and IGT, on the other hand, were beginning to barely keep up.
Who rules the roost – What’s the state of play in 2022?
The biggest surprise of all is that today, in 2022, the iGaming market is significantly more open than it once was. All of the major players that were previously mentioned in the article are still major contributors to the iGaming industry, but their grip has loosened and new studios have risen to prominence.
Advancements in technology and access to young, passionate skilled creatives have meant that studios from all corners of the globe have been able to grab the eye of slot aggregators, operators and players alike.
In the last few years we’ve not seen one specific studio take charge, but instead, we’ve seen a whole host of talented studios share the plaudits, and that’s truly fantastic for the industry… Part of what makes these studios so successful is the fact that larger studios have been able to take smaller ones under their wing – Red Tiger Gaming have been boosted by NetEnt, for example.
Yggdrasil, one of the industry’s fastest rising stars has not only impressed players with their incredibly well-designed slots, but they also developed an industry-leading Masters Program that allows developers to benefit from their technology and insight. Other studios such as Microgaming, SG Digital and Relax Gaming also have similar endeavors themselves.
This is the decade for innovation, and innovation cannot come when studios sit atop their pile of cash bringing nothing new or exciting to the table, happy to coast by as they are.
Don’t get us wrong, the old guard are still enjoying relative greatness, but today we’re finding it incredibly hard to look past emerging studios such as Thunderkick, Relax Gaming, Peter and Sons and Nolimit City (just to name a few) as exciting, creative leaders in the field of iGaming.