Scroll through the homepage of any online casino and you are invariably met with games produced by the industry’s biggest developers. While operators rightly place their faith in trusted providers, it provides limited opportunities for those up and coming studios that are aiming to make a name for themselves.
In this roundtable, CasinoBeats asked Marcus Honney, Avatar UX managing director; Lloyd Purser, FunFair COO; and Bryan Upton, Lucksome director; on the challenges they face in making their games noticed and how they have been looking to cut through the noise.
CasinoBeats: Tell us about the challenges you have faced as an emerging developer in trying to gain a foothold within the industry.
Bryan Upton: It’s still early days for us at Lucksome. We have our second game, Joker Maxima, launching in June but we have yet to discover our true standing in the industry. Of course, we’re well aware of the challenges that we’re likely to face. Distribution is always a key issue, as new integrations and market entries can take time and as margins are tightening, it’s so important to get your games in front of as many players as you can.
When you’re a new studio, you need to gain the trust of players but just as importantly, operators. Being part of the Blueprint family is highly beneficial given the company’s solid reputation. They’ve been tremendous in offering advice to us and of course making our games available through its RGS platform.
Product placement is the next key issue for new studios. Securing a strong position among the many new games launched weekly is a difficult problem to solve for both suppliers and operators.
How do you ensure the right games are in front of the right players in relevant markets without creating large amounts of operational complexity? Without doubt great maths prevails, but you still need players to know it exists before you let the maths do its thing. You have to make sure the right maths is married with the right player.
Marcus Honney: As any other new studio and business, we had to overcome several challenges. We work in a dynamic industry where the demand for change and innovation is constant. We had to be agile and flexible right from the start in order to be able to meet player demand and evolve with the digital world and any new gaming trend.
“We must define our content and who our players are and educate operators on where our games fit in”Lloyd Purser, FunFair Games COO.
We also had to be competitive and evolve faster by embracing innovative concepts like our PopWins mechanics for instance, which has been a great success with players and is already a central feature in many of our released games.
Lloyd Purser: Getting conversations going with operators so far has been positive. Coming from the slots world it has been really refreshing to get operators excited about our new style of games, which I think shows how ripe the casino market is for innovation. We’ve had calls from global tier one operators asking how they can get our games, which has been amazing for a start-up studio.
Marketing our brand and our products has been critical as we’re doing something different and we need operators to understand this and the impact our content could have. Our first multiplayer game, Astroboomers: To The Moon!, is now live and revenue is coming through the door.
We are now in the most challenging phase of our start-up journey as our new-style content isn’t catered for the traditional igaming sites and platforms. We must define our content and who our players are and educate operators on where our games fit in. We need to establish these things so we can optimise our portfolio, entertain players and drive value for us, our distributors and operators.
CB: What steps have you made to overcome this issue and increase your presence on operator sites?
LP: When we released our first multiplayer game, we agreed a deal with Betsson to take our game for two weeks before the network launch. This really helped push the title and we had homepage banners across most of their flagship brands which was exciting. Offering exclusivity is a strong tool in a small studio’s armoury. You build relationships with key operators, get great exposure, and drive some FOMO into the market with the marketing and positioning you receive.
Since we went network wide, operators are showing their appetite for a different style of games. Even though this has been positive, there’s still a long way to go as we must educate players about our games. I have seen our crash game in four different sections on one casino.
“…the market is swamped with content that tries to push the boundaries”Marcus Honney, Avatar UX managing director.
This is one of our key issues in the short term – our games are different, but players don’t see that. We’re working on changing our thumbs and adding things like ‘multiplayer’ icons or identifiers to get that message across while also talking to operators about how they could better position the games.
For small studios with less direct integrations, working with aggregators is also a challenge, as we do not have direct contact with the operators. When you are selling a new style of multiplayer game which will need to be treated differently it is very hard to get that across. We try and talk to them about optimisation, but then so do the other 300+ games studios they work with!
MH: The creation of our unique PopWins mechanic, is a perfect example of our ability to overcome many of the challenges mentioned above and increase our presence on operators’ sites. Our focus is to offer innovative and powerful new features to players which might sounds easy enough, but the market is swamped with content that tries to push the boundaries.
We recently started working a lot with streamers to increase the exposure of our games and that has proven to be a great way for us to also pique the interest of operators. It has also given us great feedback from our target audience on what we can improve to make sure our product appeals to them.
BU: There isn’t one solution to this and so we’re looking at multiple approaches. For example, increased and more accurate targeting from game to player is one avenue we’re exploring, particularly as markets continue to mature and refine in local player tastes.
We’re taking a more localised approach, including offering our games with local names that aren’t a direct translation from the English version. We can offer these in different languages on an opt-in basis for operators who want to offer localised content that will appeal to their players.
Improving game information is another targeted approach. We’ve been building on standard industry practices by providing more specific game details that allows players to truly understand if the Lucksome title in front of them is the right game for them at that moment in time. We’ll continue down this road to improve player trust and responsible gaming practices through better information.
“Operators could do more to promote the industry’s emerging studios”Bryan Upton, Lucksome director.
The most traditional approach to improving presence is ‘sensible innovation’. This means producing a mix of games that have innovation in small but meaningful ways, whilst looking at radical stuff that can bring something new and relevant.
The best attribute about our industry, from players to operators, is that trying new things is part of our DNA. If you do have something truly innovative, you will get your chance to show it off. We must never lose sight of this otherwise the industry will stagnate.
CB: Do you think operators can do more to help promote new games from the industry’s new studios?
MH: Operators should focus on promoting and giving more visibility to innovative games such as titles with interesting new mechanics, with potential and thrill for the player. Many new and smaller studios do make great games. We all love some old classics from established game suppliers, but players also want innovation. So adding more new and interesting content to the mix is what operators could focus on more.
BU: Operators could do more to promote the industry’s emerging studios, but they’re understandably cautious in offering new content given the element of risks involved. Having said that, I’d love to see spotlights on new studios with weekly/monthly events around specific studios or studios of the same ilk and philosophies to games design.
If you look at the video game industry, platforms such as Steam and Xbox Store devote lots of space to small and up-and-coming studios that are doing something different and fun. Also, categorising games on their math and risk profiles, as well as their features and themes, could help a player find their way to the right games they want to play. This means we need to provide more info on our games – which we at Lucksome are willing to do.
LP: If it is slots then, it is all about exposure, marketing and positioning and anything operators can do to assist there would help. For our multiplayer games that are new and lacking a significant established player base, we would really like to get more customer data to help us learn and optimise.
Access to customers to understand their perception of our games, what they like, what they don’t, what we can improve etc is crucial. If we could find out if we are attracting sports bettors, casino players or hybrids, as well as the demographics and geographics, it would really help us build better more entertaining content which is our ultimate goal.