Who Are Elk Studios?
If you’re looking for talented gaming software designers, it is certainly fair to say that Sweden is a bit of a hotspot. In fact, Stockholm can be considered to be for the online gaming industry what California’s Silicon Valley is to the computer and digital technology sector.
And surely the company at the vanguard of this movement is Elk Studios. Founded less than a decade ago in 2013, this pioneering outfit has built an unrivalled reputation within the gaming industry for its superlative graphics and excellent game design. Its worldwide renown is thoroughly deserved.
The company is located in the centre of the Swedish capital, just a stone’s throw from Stockholm Central Railway Station. It remains a comparatively tiny firm, with less than a hundred employees in total. But for such a lean operation, it certainly packs a mighty punch.
What Games Can You Expect?
Elk Studios is not the most prolific games designer in the industry, but the quality of its output in astounding. At the time of writing, the company has a total of around forty slots in its portfolio – a release rate of less than half a dozen per year. But even its rivals would surely agree that every single one of them is superb. They simply do not produce a sub-standard title: there is absolutely no contractual obligation filler in this company’s roster.
This makes it difficult to know where to start when describing their best work. So why not start at the beginning? Because even their earliest designs have stood the test of time, with graphics which still look stunning even though the rate of technological progress continues to increase as swiftly as ever.
The first slot off the production line was issued in the autumn of 2014. The Lab is a stunningly beautiful game, featuring a variety of colourful crystals, gemstones and chemical symbols running on transparent reels.
Indeed, the transparent reels are a good guide to what was to come: they are commonplace, almost standard feature in today’s games, but at the time of The Lab’s release, they were a bit of a radical departure. And Elk Studios continue to be at the forefront of innovation in the industry to this day. The game’s impressive graphics were supplemented by a wonderful electronic soundtrack: influenced by the music of Jean Michel Jarre without doubt, but somehow futuristic too.
More was to come before the year was out, with the release of Electric Sam, inspired by Disney’s mega hit Frozen and a Coca Cola advert. And the production line has never ceased since…
The following year saw just three releases. As the company swiftly grew, it concentrated on relocating to more suitable premises. Nevertheless, this trio included some genuine classics, which remain popular to this day. Taco Brothers is an inspired if unlikely tale of heroism within a rural Mexican village. Can Paso, Pepe and Pico save the Taco loving residents of Santa Maria from the evil Captain Diaz? You’ll certainly have a lot of fun finding out, as the game features a beautifully rendered depiction of sleepy Mexican small-town life… until the mayhem begins.
This was followed by the stunning DJ Wild, featuring a throbbing dance music soundtrack and some seriously trance inducing neon and laser effects. Loved by aspiring club DJs everywhere, you can almost feel the club vibe as the reels spin.
The year 2016 opened with what is perhaps still my favourite Elk Studios game. Bloopers is a Hollywood inspired bundle of fun, featuring a collection of hapless behind the camera teams attempting to produce a classic 1950s movie. It is filled with egotistical stars and brave stuntmen, bringing a rare quality to the world of slots – humour. But it has all the necessary ingredients which are required for a successful slot too, including special features galore. These are regularly triggered as the Cutter, Fixer, Make-Up, Sound Tech and Stuntman attempt to coax a decent movie out of its celebrity actors.
And this was just the beginning. When it comes to describing the company’s best games, it is difficult to know where to stop. There is Wild Toro, the bull-fighting themed slot where the Bull is the victorious hero – so good it was named Game of the Year in 2017. Dozens more have followed, including entertaining titles such as Hong Kong Tower, Ecuador Gold, Ice Wolf, Micro Knights and Valkyrie.
Elk Studios tend not to design games in standard industry genre formats. You won’t find many Egyptian Pharaohs or Irish Leprechauns in this company’s repertoire. Instead, they almost seem to create their own genres, with a new innovative theme effortlessly devised at will for each new title.
Even when you think they may have settled into formulaic genre territory, there is still a surprise round the corner. 2020’s Black River Gold seems at first sight to be a standard American Wild West theme. But instead the focus is on the very end of the era, when the railroads had brought civilisation to the plains. And in place of the clichéd dusty frontier town complete with saloon bar and tumbleweed, the action takes place below a massive railroad construction, and in front of a stunning mountain wilderness backdrop.
The company’s innovation does not just stop with its imaginative themes though. The special features and game play also can be literal game changers. Where Elk Studios’ designers go, the rest of the industry tends to follow…
A prime example of this is the company’s Betting Strategies mechanic. This enables players to play the company’s games with a pre-set strategy which suits their own risk profile. Choose ‘Optimiser’, and your stake will be automatically adjusted as a proportion of your remaining balance. Pick ‘Leveller’, and your stake will return to its original level after you win a prize. For players who prefer a more daredevil style of play, ‘Booster’ will raise your bet level after a loss, while ‘Jumper’ raises your stake level after a win. Or, of course, players can ignore all these pre-sets and just play as usual, manually setting stake levels as and when required.
There are no table games or scratch cards in this company’s output at all. Elk Studios’ focus is entirely on what they do best: designing innovative and industry leading slots that their players will love.
Elk Studios in Summary
There is no end in sight to the timeline of consistent success which has been the Elk Studios story thus far. Prolific they are not, but this only means that every new release is even more eagerly anticipated by their eager fans. And there is never too long to wait before a new game changing slot rolls off the company’s production line.