It used to be a “common knowledge” element that games with a licensed or premium theme would have a lower payback. That’s not really the case anymore, as games with licensed are designed with higher bets to expose more money to the house edge.
But aside from a higher bet raising volatility as a general rule, are licensed themes more likely to be a higher volatility slot?
In short, you can expect licensed and premium themes to be on the more volatile side. My favorite recent example is Wheel of Fortune 4-D, because its base game design is based on another casino game we can easily examine, Golden Egypt. You can examine the two machines side by side and see a number of changes that IGT made to make the licensed version more volatile:
- Golden Egypt gives you a choice of line counts. Wheel of Fortune 4-D does not.
- Three bonus symbols on Golden Egypt guarantees you a bonus. Wheel of Fortune 4-D goes to a wheel that pays credits more often than a bonus.
- Free spins on Golden Egypt gives you a volatility choice. Wheel of Fortune 4-D forces you into the highest volatility choice.
- Golden Egypt’s minimum bet with all lines is 75 credits; Wheel of Fortune 4-D is $1 for the same 75 lines.
Now, Wheel of Fortune 4-D adds in a jackpot option, with a shared progressive if you’re betting at least $3 a spin (which, compared to the $1 minimum, is another effort to drive higher bets).
Presuming payouts are the same, it’s making you bet a third more for a shot at some long shot progressives and a harder to secure bonus.
More subtle versions of this can be seen on IGT games if you compare Reef of Riches to Jungle Riches, or Ocean Magic to its premium cabinet sequel, Ocean Magic 4D/Ocean Magic Ultra. Neither of these are licensed themes, but they raise the bets on their fancier/more attractive cabinets. Many licensed themes live on them, but a popular and premium theme can as well.
Big Bang Theory, an Aristocrat licensed theme, is now available in a Mighty Cash variation, which includes multipliers in the Mighty Cash bonus based on the number of symbols you land and unlocking more rows, sort of similar to how Ultimate Fire Link can unlock prizes on higher rows when the right conditions occur. Added to multipliers though, you have to have an above average bonus to reach the heights you could reach, making the bonus more volatile than even a standard Mighty Cash bonus, which is pretty volatile on its own.
Another Aristocrat game, the latest Tarzan Grand, has bet levels twice that of the Wild Wild series, which shares the mechanic that Tarzan Grand has to land numbers and win them with two wild symbols. Tarzan Grand has progressives included, Wild Wild does not. But you pay double for the progressive chances.
Wild Wild also introduces multipliers during the bonus on the wilds; Tarzan has a multiplier wheel that is spun each time there’s a line hit. But ultimately, the differences are made to allow for Tarzan, a premium game, to draw higher bet levels than the Wild Wild series, which is not considered a premium theme, although it has proven popular.
All of these examples are to say that when you select a licensed or premium theme, you should be aware not only of the increased bet levels compared to a non-licensed or standard game. You should also expect the games to be tougher.