The background to Elk Studios slots
Anyone who knows their stuff in the world of business will tell you that one of the secrets to being successful in business is to try to find a gap in the market. Trying to do what everyone else does but just a little better or with a couple of subtle differences will either see you fail or only go so far.
And you get the feeling that was Elk Studios’ vision when they opened their door as recently as in 2012 in Sweden. Why try to be the next Microgaming or try to emulate fellow Swedes NetEnt when you can go off and do your own thing?
And five years down the line we’re pretty happy with the fact they’ve done just that. The first thing we can vouch for is that they’ve focused solely on making slots rather than branching out into other areas. That means they can specialize rather than trying to do a bit of everything. The second thing they’ve certainly done is gone for quality over quantity. In those five years they’ve come up with a modest 12 Elk Studios slots but as we’ll see a bit further on, that was the right move. And thirdly, they’ve innovated to the extent that their slots have two features that no-one else does.
They’ve achieved all that through a mixture of getting things right in three key areas: concept (the theme and idea behind the game), artwork (how the game looks and feels) and maths (a good experience in terms of strike rate, RTP and incidences of activating bonus rounds).
Of these three, the area where we think they’ve excelled to the greatest extent is in terms of the artwork. But they’re not too shabby in the other two areas, either. And we can add a fourth area where they’ve been thorough, successful and street-wise: mobile. Like us here at LeoVegas, they’ve gone for a mobile-first approach. But how does that affect the way they go about making slots? Elk Studios’ Fredrik Brännlund explains:
‘It means that our office looks a bit like a mobile phone shop. We are not satisfied with testing mobile devices through desktop simulators. We want to hold the actual hardware to experience our games. So we have a few devices lying around. It also means that we need to increase graphical action to make it look good on smaller screens, and also take the differences in usage behaviour on mobile compared to PC into the maths. ‘
Did you know?
When in the past as part of our Under the Radar slot reviews we’ve described Elk Studios as a ‘small, boutique studio’ when it comes to making slots, we meant it. They have less than 20 full-time employees at the time of writing, making them probably the smallest company of any (staff-wise) of those whose slots we stock at LeoVegas.
Elk Studios slots: Style of slots and special features
It’s easier to talk about a distinctive style when there are less slots in question. There’s a clear font, colour theme and look about all the characters and symbols that appear in their Elk Studios games. They’re vibrant, bright, larger-than-life and have something grandiose and imposing about them. We’d go as far as saying that their slots are the most recognizable of anyone’s from a visual point of view. If we were playing one of their games and someone asked ‘Guess who made this?’ we’d very quickly answer ‘Definitely Elk Studios.’
There are also two sequels. The Taco Brothers made their first appearance in September 2016 and then re-emerged in Taco Brothers Save Christmas in November 2016. As did Sam, who was first seen in the heart of the forest running his own Casino in Electric Sam and then re-appeared on a family vacation in Sam on the Beach. Sequels are a good thing as demonstrated by the likes of NetEnt’s Jack Hammer and Microgaming’s Chibeasties. It means that if you really like the game, you get to enjoy the follow-up and can alternate between playing the two at your leisure.
Elk Studios are quite possibly the only slot provider to have two features that are completely unique to them. Other providers may have certain bonus features that only exist in a particular slot but not like this, where all of Elk’s games share these totally original characteristics.
First up is are the in-game built strategies. We were so impressed with these that we actually dedicated a whole article on the LeoVegas Blog explaining how they work and what they do. This is what we said: ‘It’s an innovative addition designed to help you automatically control your bank balance better and react to what’s just happened on the previous spin or previous few spins.’ You can read the article for a full explanation but essentially it means Elk allow you to choose from one of four staking strategies at any time you like: Optimiser, Jumper, Booster and Leveller, which either increase or decrease your stake depending on what’s happened in the previous spin or spins.
How did the Betting Strategies idea come about? Fredrik explains:
‘Our main niche and focus has always been to deliver the best user experience on mobile devices. The idea behind the Betting Strategies came from the fact that most casino players change their bet level based on the outcome of their game session. Small device screens sometimes make it tricky to navigate, so we created automated betting strategies. There are more factors as well including the fact that Betting Strategies add an extra element of excitement as well!’
It’s worth pointing out that these strategies by no means increase your chances of winning, they just give you the option of being more strategic in your staking. It’s also worth pointing out that you don’t have to use them. You can just manually adjust your bet before each spin as you would in any other game.
Another unique Elk feature is the “Game On” feature, which is activated when a player has placed 25 bets and gives you the chance to win free spins. It’s a type of loyalty program but, not only does it create customer satisfaction, it adds an extra level of excitement.
Future projections of Elk Studios slots
As you will have gathered by now, Elk have a very distinct style in everything they do. The graphics, font, the two trademark features we just mentioned. So it’s unlikely that they’re all of a sudden going to start changing anything dramatically like beginning to make branded games, Jackpots or looking and feeling different. And we certainly hope they don’t start changing their approach.
They have their own little spot in the market place, they make great slots that work for them (and players around the world) and long may that continue. As the saying goes ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’
Elk Studios slots RTP
There’s a real element of consistency to Elk’s work and that applies to the RTP of their slots, too. Of the 12 slots they’ve made so far, five had an RTP of exactly 96.4%: Wild Toro, Taco Brothers Saving Christmas and Poltava.
Slightly lower at 96.3% come Taco Brothers, Hong Kong Tower, DJ Wild and The Lab.
Bloopers is at 96.1%, Sam on the Beach has an RTP of 96% and Champions Goal is the lowest at 95.7%.
So nothing that we’d class as wildly generous but then again nothing too stingy, either. As is so often the case with their casino slots, you know what you’re going to get.
LeoVegas’ Top 3 favourite Elk Studios slots
Readers of the LeoVegas Blog will know that we’re big fans of this game. You can read the full review of the slot here and we’ve often made further references to it, talking about it as one of the more creative and beautifully designed slots we’ve come across since we’ve had our blog.
So what’s it all about? A cheesy-looking Matador and a comical but very extremely powerful Bull (the Toro) are arch-enemies with the backdrop of the slot being a little plaza in a sleepy little Spanish town. All the other symbols follow the Spanish and bullfighting theme such as a lady’s fan and the sort of red rose that a Bullfighting fan would throw into the ring as a gesture of appreciation for a particularly brave fighter.
But the real stars of the show are the two bonus rounds: Walking Wilds where the Bull moves one step at a time from right to left in the Toro Goes Wild Bonus, in the process charging the Matador every time he sees him on the Reels and leaving a path of destruction behind him that turn symbols into Wilds.
Then there’s the Matador Re-Spin Challenge, activated by three Matador symbols. You’ll get a minimum of three re-spins (more if further Matadors appear) and it increases your chances of activating the Wild Toro Bonus.
It’s a highly volatile slot because getting those bonus rounds is as rare as it is highly profitable. But above all, it’s a load of fun.
Wild Toro isn’t the only slot of Elk’s that uses Walking Wilds, Taco Brothers does as well. Why are Elk so keen on them, a rare feature in slots? Over to Fredrik:
‘First things first, many amazing things and results can be achieved by good data analysis! But, I’ve heard horror examples from studios spending millions on trying to figure out what the market wants in terms of slot machines, and failing badly! We believe in being customers ourselves, watching the market closely and delivering novelties. And at the time Walking Wilds seemed like a good idea, and it has been working extremely well.’
It’s typical of Elk Studios that while everyone else was busy making slots featuring superheroes, fruits, Ancient Egypt and Greece, animals and the like, they were making one about film bloopers. If you’re not sure what they are, they’re mistakes made in films that the Editors didn’t pick up on in the cutting room.
With a cool 10-15 second trailer introducing the action and some really quirky symbols such as film tape, the star on the payment where movie actors and actresses leave the palms of their hands implanted plus the inevitable diva and heartthrob leading man, this is another of those slots that doesn’t just allow you to win money, it entertains you.
The bonus round is activated by getting a Scatter on the first three reels and if you manage that, cute little characters come onto the reels and stars cutting them as if he were in the editing room, with each slice of those scissors helping you secure wins by revealing Wilds and other high-value symbols.
One of those characters can also appear during the base game at random times, turning symbols into Wilds for no particularly good reason which tends to give you a couple of decent wins somewhere or other.
Like Wild Toro, it’s not so easy to activate the bonus round but once you do, you’re well rewarded.
Sam on the Beach
It’s a well-known fact (well, sort of) that the only sequel in history that was as good as the original was The Godfather Part II, the iconic story of the Corleone family.
But as far as we’re concerned Elk have done the impossible because Sam on the Beach is slightly better than the original: Electric Sam. The hero is the same, a character with an awfully strange beard and an obsession with electricity.
This time he’s off on holiday with his family and as the name suggests: they’re off to the coast. Other providers have been guilty of making slots with lots of bonus features which don’t really work but that’s not the case here. There are plenty of them and they all work very well indeed.
The Beach Memory Re-Spin is activated when you get the four family members on the same horizontal line and they’ll stay there as Sticky Wilds during the re-spin. Free spins are activated by getting three bells and any win secured during them involving one of the four family members leads to a further special feature for the remainder of the free spins, depending on which family member secured the win. You can get multipliers, Wilds and other goodies.
Just like the first two Elk Studios slots we mentioned, comedy is very much at the heart of this slot, bringing a real feel-good factor to the table. And that…is where Elk have found their niche.
A special mention goes to Taco Brothers for the simple reason that here at LeoVegas it’s internally famous for the fact that we regard it as the least volatile slot on the market. So much so that when we created the benchmark for how volatile a slot can be, it was the only one considered to have a volatility level of 1.
And it’s a pretty cool game, too.
Elk Studios Progressive Jackpots
No Progressive Jackpots of theirs to speak of but that’s not to say there aren’t big prizes on offer in their slots. The football-themed Champions Goal for example has a maximum prize of 200,000 GBP/Euros on offer.
Will they make a Progressive Jackpot slot in the future? Elk tell us they’re not in the pipeline for the near future but that’s not to say tit will never happen…
Elk Studios slots will appeal to players who like:
- Slots that look beautiful with as much work and dedication put into the artwork as the theme and maths behind the game.
- Games that have sequels, as is the case with Taco Brothers/Taco Brothers Saving Christmas and Electric Sam/Sam on the Beach. Although admittedly Taco Brothers Saving Christmas is exactly the same game as the original, just with a Christmas look and feel to it.
- Games with in-built game strategies so you can have more control over your staking plan without having to do the work yourself.
- Games that are just as good or even better on Mobile as they are on Desktop.
- Quirky-themed slots with storylines behind them that are as unusual as they are entertaining. Like feuds between Matador and Wild Toro, film bloopers, electricity-obsessed family men and Mexican brothers escaping from jail.
But as Fredrik explains, the reason behind the storylines may not be exactly the reason you’d think it would be.
‘We have a few curious brains in the company, and we’re trying to look outside of the industry and follow other trends in our creative processes. And in general I believe in creating a story, not necessarily because people care, but it’s easy to make operational decisions during the game creation if we internally know the red line.’
Elk Studios slots won’t appeal to players who like:
- Branded slots and Progressive Jackpot slots, seeing as they don’t make any.
- A fast turnaround in new slots by one provider. As mentioned already, Elk believe in quality over quantity so only release an average of two slots a year.
The LeoVegas conclusion about Elk Studios
Imagine you want a big, factory-made doughnut for breakfast or a big plate of feel-good comforting pancakes with syrup. You head to one of those big chain restaurant/diner places and eat a breakfast that thousands have eaten before you. That’s the equivalent of a Microgaming or Playtech slot. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But if you want a delicate, hand-made macaroon you head to a little family-owned bakery inhabited by true artisans, masters of their profession. Everything is made individually, to order, and it only seats 10 or 12 people at a time. And that’s how we see Elk Studios. It explains why they’ve only released 12 slots in just over five years but each and every one of them (with the possible exception of their very first one- The Lab- which is just a little bit raw) is a real work of art.
It’s in line with their overall strategy. Over to Fredrik:
‘The market is not lacking content, but it’s still lacking quality in my opinion. All our milestones and goals are set for improving the quality, not increasing the quantity of releases.’
The interesting thing about their slots is that we’ve mentioned that Taco Brothers is the epitome of a low volatility slot but that games like Wild Toro, Hong Kong Tower and Bloopers are actually pretty volatile, giving players a choice when it comes to selecting which Elk Studios slots are best for them.
Add to that the in-built game strategies and Game On features that are truly unique to them, the original themes that they come up with and the taste for the slightly bizarre and you’ve got a slot provider who marches to the beat of its own drum and does things their own way. And that we respect and love about them.