The necessity of building and maintaining a strong network is a familiar construct among numerous industries, and is certainly one that is not lost in the gaming community.
However, among the multitude of strategies and expert tutorials on how best to achieve such a goal, is the question of: how much do you know about your network? With this in mind, CasinoBeats is aiming to take a look under the hood, if you will, and has tasked the 100 Club to help out.
Raph Di Guisto, SVP, Silverback Gaming at GAN, expressed the differences from his hedge fund origins and the gambling sector, how Silverback came to be and how the acquisition of GAN has propelled the studio to new heights.
Could you begin by talking us through any past experiences that have been gained outside of the gambling industry? Could your career have taken any different paths?
I graduated in mathematics and computer science and then I did financial engineering in Columbia and most of my classmates actually went straight to Wall Street at the time. So, I started working in Mayfield for a hedge fund for a couple of years before all this started.
There are some vague similarities between what I did then and what I’m doing now, the most obvious one is you had clever mathematicians and technologists working on some pretty cool products trying to make an edge but that’s kinda where it stops.
The peak difference I remember is the culture, with finance and hedge funds being a very male oriented and competitive industry, which is quite different to what the gambling industry is like.
The other thing is that with games, and slots in particular, there’s a very artistic side to it. It’s something that doesn’t really exist in finance.
Then 2008 came… I started to look at different industries and that’s when I made my transition into gambling.
What was it that eventually led you into this industry?
I’m a big fan of teaching. It’s something I’ve always thought about and maybe something I might go back to at some point… maybe that’s a retirement storyline.
What allowed me to do the transition into gambling was the 2008 crash and my mate was starting a website called ‘Betsfortraders.com’, which was essentially a financial exotic platform of financial options, wrapped up as bets, for people within the financial industry who wanted to bet on the price of oil for example.
For me it was the same stuff we were doing in finance but just wrapped up in bets. Obviously, bets are tax free so it provides an incentive for gamblers to use those products instead of other financial options.
We then moved on from financial bets to slot games and what I found really interesting was essentially slot games were being priced, or RTP was being computed the same way that people would price financial options.
After that we started a slots game company and within 18 months we had buyers knocking on the doors.
How would you assess your progress through the industry to date? Are there any interesting anecdotes that would interest our readers, or any stand out experiences that may not have been possible without the current, or a past, role?
The first buyer for our studio was a big operator, I won’t name them, and we had a huge amount of financial power once we sold the studio and grew the team to over 100 people within a year or so. We also had this playground to use this operator as a place to try all our games and ideas out. We really threw everything at the wall to see what sticks.
It felt like being on a rocketship at the time and having the ability to have first the financial power and the opportunity to release all these games which were being promoted very very heavily.
For me I was very much a junior guy, just a maths guy in my first startup and I co-founded it. It was a great experience and that going into my second experience where I was the sole founder, responsible for raising funds, distribution agreements and all this stuff. Then at the end of the day, also responsible for selling the studio, was a very different experience.
Talking about Silverback
We raised a little bit of money for funding for Silverback, mainly through friends and family, and we always planned to go back to investors after raising an initial amount of capital. The idea was once we put a few games out we could raise it at a much better valuation.
Obviously COVID had happened in between, who’d have thought starting a company in the middle of a pandemic would be a good idea, I don’t know! I’ve had worse ideas as it turns out!
We started approaching investors again with the idea of raising a bit more capital and with COVID having happened and the US market starting to open… What was actually happening is some of these big US players were starting to look at acquiring smaller studios but unfortunately for them, all of the medium sized studios had already been acquired.
So they started looking at us and thinking ‘can we buy the whole thing then?’ This is where the acquisition story first started. We didn’t just have one or two potential enquiries, we had about four or five at the time. It really came down to not just can they provide the funds but what’s the distribution comes with it and background.
This is where GAN was the perfect partner. They were right in the middle of this US expansion and with their financial background we’ve almost quadrupled the whole team so it’s been an eventful year for us.
We’ve started releasing games again, we planned to release seven but we’ve released nine.