Quality “always prevails” when start-up companies set off in the direction of the New Frontier, no matter how competitive the market, according to Thomas Wendt, Co-Founder and Director of Apparat Gaming.

In the first of CasinoBeats’ two-part roundtable, experts from recent start-ups come together to discuss what it takes for a start-up studio to make it in the industry. It will cover some of the key challenges studios face in the early days and how they can be overcome? It will look at the different approaches new studios take, with some pursuing innovation and others looking to deliver solid games that operators know will perform well. It will discuss the pros and cons of each approach.

What made you want to launch a game studio in what is one of the most competitive industries on the planet? 

Thomas Wendt, Co-Founder and Director of Apparat Gaming: One of the core elements of competitive industries is their growth. And the gambling market still has some growth potential in its transition from land-based to online. That’s especially true since the Wild West days seem to be over, thanks to increasing regulation. 

Of course, many others have, like us, set off in the direction of the New Frontier.  The reason why we at Apparat believe that we will be one of the settlers whose efforts prove particularly fruitful is because quality always prevails, no matter how competitive the market. And it’s our conviction that the German market, in particular, despite the adversities of – let’s call it ‘challenging’ – regulation, will be an extremely exciting and large one that needs to be understood in terms of its needs structure. And that is what we are doing.

Bryan Upton, Founder at Lucksome: We have a lot of experience collectively in the industry. We have worked for some of the biggest and best around and we think we can do a better job of Games Design than a lot of what we see today and bring something new to players over the globe.  

Raphael Di Guisto, Founder at Silverback: Simply put, we saw the commercial success of our previous game studio (Cayetano) which we sold to Paddy Power back in 2011 and decided that we fancied doing it all over again. It’s a competitive industry for sure, but it’s forever changing, and nobody stays on top forever. We saw the games that were coming out of some of the bigger studios, and we just knew that we could do better. We love a challenge so the fact that we are working in one of the most competitive industries on the planet is a real motivator for us. 

What are some of the key challenges you have faced in these early days? And how have you overcome these challenges? 

Thomas Wendt: The biggest challenge is not to believe you have found a solution before you have truly understood the real problem. We were something between naïve and arrogant at times. The real challenges were suddenly in areas where we had not expected them. Opening a bank account. Getting new compliance documents over and over again. And making ourselves heard. Simply being good is suddenly not enough.

Bryan Upton: Awareness. Awareness with players, operators, and affiliates. We are one of many many studios out there. One of many brands. Stay focused on showing players and operators high quality. Give it time. Don’t expect overnight successes. Don’t expect to change the industry overnight. 

Distribution is always a problem when being new. Find good partners with structured and feasible growth plans that match your own.  

Scaling. Always difficult. Takes a lot of time to do a good job, finding the right people. Old processes break and new ones need to be established which can affect team dynamics. Communicate. Allow teams to make decisions on how they want to improve the workflows. Standardise the standardisable. Making games should be more of a joy than a bore. Don’t lose the joy. 

Raphael Di Guisto: The biggest challenge by far was the pandemic, which hit within a few months of us launching the business. We had to adapt from having the team in the office every day to all working from home. This put the brakes on the momentum we had initially built, which combined with a new way of working, took a while to overcome. But we have a phenomenal team at Silverback Gaming, so it wasn’t long before we once again fired up our engine and got back to making great progress. 

Aside from that, in the early days it was difficult getting the Silverback Gaming name out there and for operators to pay attention to the games we were launching. This was certainly the case when we had just a handful of titles in our portfolio. But this is an industry that rewards performance, and with our early games doing well, we now have operators lining up to integrate Silverback Gaming slots into their lobbies.

What approach have you taken to game development and innovation? 

Thomas Wendt: The German way. Make a plan, break it down into measurable and achievable intermediate steps, and review it. And then change it. OK, the last part is not that German. Anyway, our plan, especially in the first phase, has involved not reinventing the world, but proving our right to a place in the existing world, and especially in the market we know the most about, Germany. It’s about proven, winning concepts for a target group we know. 

We don’t reinvent anything in stage two either. We mix existing ingredients into new recipes to create something that offers a new taste experience. And that’s because the innovation we plan for stage four needs money, so we can afford the learning experience on the path of trial and error. 

After all, innovation is not usually something that comes in one brilliant flash of inspiration. Rather, it’s about not giving up on the way to a market-conforming version of Fortschritte, the German word for ‘progress’, translated literally as ‘steps forward’. 

Bryan Upton: This conversation about innovation versus proven becoming a repetitive and somewhat boring conversation. Life is all about balance. Why wouldn’t content strategy be? Risk vs reward, effective and efficient resourcing, fluctuating regulations means you cannot do just one. 

Raphael Di Guisto: We have some pretty innovative features that we have built into our slots, but we’re also not scared of using proven concepts when we feel like they are suited to the product. For us, it’s all about creating a familiar environment for the player and then adding the right touch of innovation to make a game unique.

To make something totally different is actually a massive risk; it might work but you can only do it so many times without it being a hit with players before you can find yourself in a trouble, especially as a start-up studio.