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New slots on the block: Part 1
The casino games supplier space is one of the most crowded and competitive areas of the online gaming industry. Four of the industry’s emerging suppliers discuss how they have used past experience and innovation to carve out market share.
While the early days of the igaming industry were dominated by a small number of suppliers, often working under exclusive agreements with operator partners, a rapid expansion of the sector has been ongoing for a number of years. Today more than 70 studios are producing and releasing games each month, with players now accustomed to a choice of hundreds, if not thousands, of games on an operator’s site.
This creates both problems and opportunities for new studios as they look to get their games in front of players. Despite facing such stiff competition, more and more suppliers continue to emerge.
iGamingBusiness.com talks to four of the suppliers fighting to become the leading slot developers of the future, discussing the challenges they face in an increasingly saturated and constantly evolving market.
Do you feel operators give new games developers enough support to gain traction in the market?
Andy Harris, Design Works Gaming (AH): It is challenging for new studios to cut through. This is partly due to the sheer volume of content that currently exists, as well as existing strong relationships between operators and more established content providers. I would also say that operator consolidation has played a role in making it harder. Whereas before you could approach people at two or three different companies, you might only have one person to convince now and that can create a road block to market entry.
Simon Hammon, Relax Gaming (SH): This can be highly subjective. Operators ultimately want great content that will appeal to their player-base, which means they are often instrumental in shaping the content and roadmap direction for development studios. On the flipside is the large amount of content now in the market, which of course means that an operator doesn’t have the same amount of time to dedicate to each release or to knowledge share with the plethora of content suppliers in the market.
Marketing is a key factor that all suppliers are looking for. Content that worked well a few years ago had a better chance of succeeding because there was less competition, and as a result longer marketing and visibility periods. In today’s market great content can risk not reaching its potential simply because it is not seen for long enough by players to familiarise themselves with the gameplay, nor does it get the appropriate push or spend to enhance its visibility.
Stuart McCarthy, Yggdrasil (SM): Today’s market is incredibly tough, and I would say it’s almost impossible for new studios to breakthrough alone without any additional support. You would have to have an outstanding idea, a very thick skin, superhuman stamina and deep relationships with top operators and equally deep pockets to get any cut through. It takes years and years of persistence to gain significant traction.
Considering the number of games released each month, is it enough just to offer higher-quality content than your competitors? Do you need to do more to stand out?
AH: The simple answer is no, it isn’t enough. There are obviously other key factors that are going to influence the success of your games, such as the relationships you have with your operating partners and tools that enhance the player experience. But, of course, the quality of your content is still important. Knowing that you are going to offer your customers titles that have already been a huge success in strongly related channels [such as land-based and social] is a massive benefit that operators can’t get from many other suppliers.
SH: In today’s competitive market your content needs to resonate with operators to reach launch stage, let alone see your content marketed and pushed to players. We’re in a churn market so there’s a huge volume of content being released each month and shorter shelf-lives.
We see studios adopting a range of strategies to capitalise on this but, ultimately, it’s a balance of investment in quality, mechanics (which will always be king), marketing, smart market decisions, relationships and remaining in tune with player appetite. Ultimately, this means that the quality proposition and commitment to innovation must be on the agenda, especially for new studios trying to cut through the noise and build a following.
There seems to have been a push to offer ancillary features to improve player retention and engagement alongside games; do you feel this is necessary to give your products more chance of succeeding?
AH: Absolutely, beyond any doubt. This is key. Fortunately, our years of experience in social gaming has given us an advantage in designing and developing extremely engaging promotional tools. You have to pair great game content with features and functionality to engage players further. We’ll be providing bespoke promotion and retention tools that deliver customisable and flexible incentives and rewards in order to appeal to the widest possible variety of players. These will include quests, tournaments, leader boards, promotional wheels, daily gifts, mini games, and scratchcards.
One of the key differentiators in our offering will be that our customers won’t be forced to use the tools only on our games. Our tools will also be made available across multiple product verticals. I believe that we will finally see these features evolve quite rapidly and become an increasingly important part of the player experience over the next 12 to 24 months.
SM: Boost has been a major success for us in the past few years, so much so that we see many rivals attempting to emulate us in this area. This proves how important additional features are to increasing engagement and retention rates.
Ollie Castleman, OneTouch (OC): Free bets are a very important retention tool, particularly for VIPs. Being innovative in this area is another key to success. We recently released a ‘free credit’ system for Blackjack where players receive a ‘comp’ (complimentary) balance with an in-game wagering requirement. Their balance at the completion of their wagering requirement is immediately awarded to their real money balance.
SH: While there are strong opinions on this question, the answer is not black and white. There is a strong case for retention mechanics to boost player engagement. In recent times, we have seen a large upswing in more trimmed down, easy-to-use casinos that have gained rapid traction and underlined that the appetite for a ‘no frills’ experience remains. There is no clear cut yes or no to this question in reality – it very much depends on the player-base and operator-base you are building products for.