Is Steamboat Willie Coming to Slot Machines?

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Steamboat Willie still

When previously copyrighted characters enter the public domain, what does that mean for the world of slot machines?

Now that the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse is part of the public domain, do you think there will be a Steamboat Willie slot machine coming in the near future?

Jason J.

Probably not – 100 year old black and white characters are not generally the makings of a popular slot machine. Of course there are exceptions – the Wizard of Oz slot machine series is going strong decades after the first one came out – but generally speaking licensed machines aim to target themes that resonate with large audiences or have captured the cultural zeitgeist.

At G2E this past year that was very clearly on display, with licenses that included:

  • The NFL (a whole range of slots featuring the various teams of the league)
  • Whitney Houston (a once-in-a-lifetime singer with a large fan base today)
  • Squid Game (a cultural juggernaut in recent years)
  • Deal or No Deal (game shows tend to translate well on slots and have good name recognition)

Disney as a rule doesn’t license their themes and character to be used on slot machines. Slots based on the Marvel movies came out until Disney acquired the company that held the rights, and it’s probably no surprise that those slots stopped coming out after Disney took over. 

Even though Disney may not have the rights to that version of Mickey anymore, I’m sure that would also make some skittish, even if the specific copyright for that version of the character has expired. Gaming is a highly regulated industry, and caution is often the default setting when it comes to risk taking.

So for a variety of reasons, our read of the crystal ball is to not expect any slots based on expired intellectual property like Steamboat Willie, at least the way games come together today, but who knows – things can always evolve, so never say never.

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