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Exclusive Interview with Chris Armes – Group Chief Technology Officer at SG Digital

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

I am thankful to have the opportunity to take this interview with a professional such as Chris Armes, who has over 25 years’ experience of managing high performing global teams, covering the full delivery experience for large-scale international projects, across both hardware and software.

Chris was appointed as Group Chief Technology Officer at NYX Gaming Group in October 2017, and following its acquisition by Scientific Games, is now taking the newly-created division SG Digital to the next level..

I would also like to thank you for following my interview series and for sharing these information with your colleagues and partners. If you would like to be featured in an upcoming interview, please send me an e-mail to [email protected] and I will happily get back to you!

We are grateful for your generosity to answer our questions. First, I would like to ask you to shortly introduce yourself and tell us when and why you started working in this industry.

Chris: It’s a pleasure to speak with European Gaming Magazine. My name’s Chris Armes, and I’m the Chief Technology Officer at SG Digital, the newly created division of Scientific Games following its acquisition of NYX Gaming Group at the beginning of 2018. At SG Digital, I oversee the support and development of our products and services across digital gaming, iLottery and sports betting.

This is my first role in the betting and gaming industry, having previously worked for computer software and hardware companies Oracle and Sun Microsystems and one that I’m enjoying greatly since joining the company in September last year. It’s a really exciting industry with lots happening, but there’s also so much more that can be done to capitalise on new technologies and improve both back-end operations and the user experience.

Before joining SG Digital you worked at Oracle and held the position of Vice President, Engineering for Systems. What are those experiences, key-values that you gained at your past workplace and can use in this new role?

Chris: I have more than 25 years’ experience in working and managing global teams for the delivery of both hardware and software products. Oracle and Sun were both worldwide organisations that gave me the experience to take the Digital division forward with a product-led strategy that focuses on innovation backed by new technology. Global engineering in particular is hard to get right, and to make it successful requires a huge time investment. The digital gaming industry today reminds me a lot of the “.com” era with growth opportunities and time-to-market pressures. I plan to bring those learnings to this industry so we can capitalize quickly on the massive opportunity ahead of us.

What role do you undertake in the company’s life? What are your tasks and responsibilities?

Chris: Now that the acquisition is complete and the SG Digital division created, the focus for us now is to implement a strategy that accelerates product innovation and delivery across all our verticals.

Central to our plans is the opening of our new Technology Development Centre in Krakow, Poland. We aim to staff the office with over 100 new product-focused employees by the end of 2018, forming our fourth development centre in Europe. Poland has an established reputation for housing high-quality tech hubs, and we’re thrilled to establish a presence in the region.

It is my responsibility to oversee all our global technology teams and to bring together our different product development teams under one cohesive delivery model.

A big part of that responsibility is helping build an employer brand that attracts the top talent to SG Digital. We aim to attract talent from across the technology spectrum–not just people who have worked in gaming. A lot of our business is about high transaction rates, low latency and a seamless user experience, things you see in many other sectors such as financial services and telecoms. Expertise from various industries is crucial. We need to welcome new ideas and techniques to maximize our potential.

Which have been the most difficult periods in your career so far and what do you consider your greatest personal success?

Chris: The most difficult periods are those two extreme ends of the spectrum when it comes to resourcing: significant growth and significant reductions. Both are challenging times for very different reasons. Growing and scaling a business brings with it the most basic challenge of finding the right talent. From there, though, you also have to retain the best talent. This is not just about compensation, it is also about the importance of building the brand and proving that you are really a great place to work. Hiring momentum is key, but it’s also important to understand that finding the best employees can take time. Employees should feel good about coming to work, even during times of growth. The other challenge with growth is scaling in an efficient and effective manner and having business processes that will scale at the same time. Churning out product is one thing; releasing a polished, quality product is another.

There have been so many things I’ve been proud to be a part of—I’m sure I’d leave many off by accident if I tried to list them. Building technology teams in new locations such as Prague and Bangalore is greatly satisfying, but so is watching talent grow during a career, as junior engineers become engineering thought leaders on my team. Then you see those engineering leaders come up with new and innovative ways to do things, helping to build a world-class, industry leading product.

What can you tell us about the services SG Digital provides?

Chris: The combination of NYX and SG Interactive means we now provide the broadest portfolio of products and services to iGaming brands across the globe. From nine in-house game studios and a network of third-party suppliers, SG Digital offers over 2000 game titles across our platforms. In addition, OpenBet™, the #1 sportsbook platform, used and trusted by the world’s leading sports betting operators.

We’re focused on improving all aspects of our products and services, which is why we have opened a new tech hub in Poland to find people who can drive innovation within our product portfolio.

I am sure that you have experience and knowledge about the European gambling industry, especially the Eastern European one. I would like to ask you to share your opinion about the gambling industry in general in Europe or in the countries you know better?

Chris: Europe has and will remain a key focus for us as we look to expand into established territories and emerging markets, which of course includes those in Eastern Europe. Online gaming continues to gain popularity in the central and eastern regions, particularly as regulation becomes more robust.

Another region that is exciting for us is the U.S., where the potential expansion of sports betting will present us with significant opportunities. Although sports betting is currently limited to Nevada, proposals to amend existing laws are gathering momentum, and we could soon see a flurry of states allow punters to place wagers on sporting events for the first time. From a technology perspective, we have to ensure our products are ready and compliant to meet the standards of these new markets, which is a major focus for us right now.

Which are the future plans of the company that you can talk about to our readers?

Chris: We’re undertaking a major recruitment drive following the opening of our new development centre in Poland. We’re hiring for new people in quality assurance, core software development and product innovation. We’re also keen on continual recruitment across the globe, especially as the gaming landscape evolves. To prepare for potential sports regulation in the U.S., for example, we aim to expand our employee base in the region with talented individuals who can ensure our success in a new territory.

Crucial to making ourselves an attractive company to work for is the promise of a career opportunity, which is exciting and provides them with a platform to be creative. We’re looking into many areas of technology right now, such as video streaming and voice recognition software, as well as looking into how we can provide a more personalised user experience through a deeper understanding of consumer habits.

What upcoming events are the company focusing on nowadays and how prepared is the company for these events?

Chris: For the short-term at least, much of our focus will be on hiring skilled technology leaders to drive growth and innovation.

It’s an exciting time to be a part of SG Digital with so much going on across the many verticals we operate and among the talented teams we have all around the world, all pulling in the same direction.

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Interviews

Exclusive Q&A w/ Richard Mifsud, Chief Vision Officer at XPRIZO

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Exclusive Q&A w/ Richard Mifsud, Chief Vision Officer at XPRIZO
Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

Would you tell us about the idea behind the Xprizo fintech platform?

It’s a story that started several years ago when the founder was conducting business on the ground in several emerging markets. Xprizo was founded to respond to the needs of emerging market consumers and merchants, whilst also addressing the limitations of Western banking systems.

This full-service payments platform combines all functionality needed by merchants, with a product tailored to unbanked consumers, bringing this market together in one, seamless ecosystem. What’s more, we drive adoption and consumer education through a network of agents, supporting cash deposit and withdrawal in a way that our target audience is accustomed to.

 

Xprizo’s mission statement is to ‘revolutionise the future of fintech’. What gaps in the market is Xprizo working to find solutions for and improve in the fintech space?

We are primarily targeting countries which have substantially large communities which are under served when it comes to fintech or banking. Therefore, we are operating in a challenging environment where we truly believe we can have a life changing impact connecting these people to several national and international services. We are delivering a comprehensive financial service where our clients are usually just served with either mobile money or cash and with the introduction of Xprizo our customers can benefit from p2p payments, card processing and full integration to the local mobile money ecosystem, debit cards, crypto and much much more.

 

How was the development process in building the platform? Were there particular challenges along the way and how long did it take to get the platform ready for market?

We wanted to build the platform from the ground up using local knowledge and tenants so we are working with people coming from Africa, India, Southeast Asia and also Latin America. To arrive at where we are it took several years actually and it is always developing. Having said that in the last 12 months the platform and the wallet took the shape it has today and we covered a lot of ground. Main challenges were the territory we operate in since we needed to make sure the platform can run smoothly with less than ideal infrastructure. One has to keep in mind that we are operating in a space where lack of electricity is the norm, interrupted internet is an everyday occurrence, regulatory matters are still very complex and more.

 

How does the Xprizo platform set itself apart from other fintech offerings? What can the service provide that others can’t?

As explained earlier, we build the platform from the people to the people. Most other offerings are a one-size fits all where they are adapted versions of what is available in the western world. Moreover, we are offering a truly comprehensive payment orchestration for users and merchants. One just needs to get on our platform and doesn’t need anything further. You can get the local payment methods, our own p2p, cards, etc.. No other service out there has such a complete  offering.

 

Xprizo’s platform features a number of payment service providers such as M-Pesa, what benefits does this bring customers?

The idea is that our clients don’t need to use several systems to make their life or business. Using or integrating to Xprizo gives you a number of payment methods in one place where for the business side you would integrate one API and you can pick and choose what you wish to use.

 

How is 2024 shaping up for the business and what plans are in place to continue to develop the platform?

2024 is proving to be an incredible year for Xprizo. We are very happy to be overwhelmed with businesses that are recognising the benefits of using our system and we are having internal discussions to be integrated with very well known businesses and also by Tier 1 banks. Our ground reach though the agent network will also keep expanding month on month and the product offering will keep being a one of a kind setting the standard for other Fintech companies to keep up to.

2024 will also see us expand our reach in Africa launching several other countries and more importantly we will be launching our first operations in South East Asia. We will be beginning with the Philippines in June with the goal of expanding our reach across the following months.

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Exclusive Q&A with Christoffer Ødegården, Head of Casino at Bojoko

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With growing competition in the online casino industry, finding effective ways to attract new players is crucial for operators. To discover which strategies are the most effective, we contacted Christoffer Ødegården.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

With growing competition in the online casino industry, finding effective ways to attract new players is crucial for operators. To discover which strategies are the most effective, we contacted Christoffer Ødegården. He serves as Head of Casino at Bojoko, one of the top affiliates in the UK, and has access to comprehensive data on what features help secure additional FTDs. In this interview, he shares how diversifying payment options, lowering deposit limits, and refining bonuses can help casinos stay competitive.

 

What are the most effective strategies casinos can use to increase FTDs?

Most casinos focus on tweaking their bonuses to attract new players, which is effective. However, it can also have certain financial risks and lower player value. Our data shows that one of the fastest ways to increase FTDs is to simply expand the selection of payment methods.

It might not be intuitive, but offering a variety of methods does not just mean that players can choose what works best for them once they are on your page. Having the right payment methods will actually lead to a large number of players hearing about and exploring your casino in the first place.

Could you explain the impact of offering diverse payment methods on player behavior?

Many players have specific payment preferences and will only make deposits and withdrawals with specific payment methods, some sticking with just one. It is essential to have all relevant UK payment methods to avoid missing out on these users. As I already mentioned, many Brits actively search for casinos with their preferred payment method available, and comparison sites like Bojoko cater to them.

Bojoko has pages for every popular UK payment method, where players can quickly compare their offers and make their choice. This is without ever being exposed to brands that do not offer their deposit method of choice.

Let me provide a quick example. We have noticed that many Brits actively search for Paysafecard casinos and land on our dedicated page, where they compare casinos that let you deposit with Paysafecard and sign up. These players come with high intent, resulting in higher conversion rates. It is not just Paysafecard; a long string of more niche payment methods are hugely popular amongst Brits.

Which payment methods have proven to be most beneficial?

There are almost too many to mention, but pre-paid cards like Paysafecard, e-wallets like Neosurf, and mobile payment options like Boku and PayForIt are clearly gaining popularity. We have also seen an enormous rise in PayPal in the last few years, and the industry has responded, with most British casinos now offering PayPal. ApplePay is another mainstream payment method that has somehow been largely ignored among online casinos.

How should casinos respond to these emerging trends?

Casinos should always try to quickly embrace these trends, as the earlier they adapt, the more players they stand to earn. There is always an adaption curve where the less common payment methods are only available at a few operators, meaning they share the entire pot of players searching for these options.

I’d also recommend utilizing their relationship with affiliates like Bojoko, which can also amplify visibility. As I mentioned, our platform provides curated lists that guide players to casinos offering their preferred payment method. This visibility and alignment with player preferences often result in a noticeable uptick in FTDs. However, our collaboration with casinos goes beyond simply listing them on these pages. We can and do also provide insights on which payment methods and other features they should add to increase their FTDs.

You mentioned other features they can add to increase their FTDs. What specifically are you referring to? 

Another quick way for a casino to increase their FTDs is to lower the deposit limits. This makes it easier for players to sign up and get a sense of your brand. High minimum deposits can deter new players who want to try the casino without committing too much upfront.

I’d also like to specify that bonuses are still a powerful tool, with no deposit bonuses in particular being an effective way to bring in new players. However, these require a strong focus on player retention to avoid risks like bonus abuse. Less risky bonus options include increasing the percentage of your welcome bonus and trying out wager-free offers. However, no matter what you do, effective retention strategies remain key to ensuring players continue depositing after their initial experience.

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Interviews

RubyPlay and BetConstruct interview: delivering bespoke content for Mr. First

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RubyPlay and BetConstruct interview: delivering bespoke content for Mr. First
Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

The launch of Mr. First by BetConstruct 12 months ago saw the creation of an iconic character that has proven to push the boundaries and deliver increased engagement within the iGaming and crypto industries.

As Mr. First celebrates his first birthday, we spoke with Dr Eyal Loz, Chief Product Officer at RubyPlay, and Ruzanna Elchyan, Head of Gaming at BetConstruct, to reflect on how both organisations have worked together to build unique gaming experiences around the popular brand ambassador.

 

May marks the one-year milestone of Mr First. Dr. Eyal, what positive impact has this fun and creative character had within iGaming? What do you like most about the character?

Dr. Eyal Loz: Mr. First is a relatable, fun character that can easily deliver complex initiatives. Seeing Mr. First post online, and also, meeting a larger-than-life Mr. First in gaming shows, really connected us to the fun narrative of this brand ambassador. Mr. First is successful and confident, but also very relatable, not too serious or intimidating. The overall impression is – if “Mr. First can do it, so can I”!

 

Ruzanna, what was the inspiration behind Mr First, and what sort of impact has it had on the iGaming sector?

Ruzanna Elchyan: Mr. First was inspired by the need for a charismatic and relatable character who could serve as an advertising agent and an expert in the crypto and iGaming industries. His impact on the iGaming sector has been profound, bringing a fresh and engaging narrative that resonates with players. Mr. First’s presence has not only made gaming experiences more enjoyable and memorable but has also increased engagement and interest in iGaming, particularly among younger audiences. This has significantly contributed to the sector’s growth and evolution, establishing Mr. First as a symbol of innovation and excitement in the industry.

 

How does BetConstruct envision the incorporation of Mr. First and other games into future collaborative projects with studios like RubyPlay, considering the positive reception and engagement witnessed at the BFTH Arena Awards?

Ruzanna Elchyan: BetConstruct is looking to integrate Mr. First and other games into future collaborative projects with studios like RubyPlay, utilising innovative strategies to enhance player experiences. The enthusiastic reception and high engagement levels at the B.F.T.H. Arena Awards highlight the potential of these partnerships. This positive feedback motivates BetConstruct to push the boundaries of iGaming creativity, ensuring that upcoming projects are not only entertaining but also transformative in their impact on the industry.

 

Dr. Eyal, Immortal Ways: Mr First was a big success and was crowned ‘Best Online Casino Game’ at the BFTH Arena Awards. What has been the key behind this game’s triumph?

Dr. Eyal Loz: We wanted to connect with the authenticity of the Mr First character. Wouldn’t it be fun to get a shirtless Mr. First travel back in time to ancient Egypt? We combined this art narrative with our strongest performing mechanic, Immortal Ways, to create an appealing immersive gaming experience.

 

With the increasing demand for innovative gaming experiences, what role does BetConstruct see collaborative events like the BFTH Arena Awards playing in driving industry innovation?

Ruzanna Elchyan: BetConstruct recognises the growing demand for innovative gaming experiences and sees collaborative events like the B.F.T.H. Arena Awards as instrumental in driving industry innovation. These events serve as platforms for companies to showcase their latest creations, exchange ideas, and inspire one another to push the boundaries of what’s possible in iGaming. BetConstruct is dedicated to supporting and participating in such events to foster industry-wide innovation and growth.

 

Dr. Eyal, talk us through the development of RubyPlay’s Mad Hit Olympic First, what differentiates this title from previous games within the ‘Mad Hit’ series?

Dr. Eyal Loz: The Summer Olympic games are coinciding with the BFTH Arena Awards. This gave us an idea, connecting the narrative of Mr. First taking on big challenges with style, in a fun way. We thought “Wouldn’t it be fun if Mr First represented BetConstruct in the Olympics?”. So, this time, our Mr. First is an Olympic cycling champion, who will bring home some gold medals! The Mad Hit mechanic is a 5X5 reel array with 25 independent reels, and 3,125 ways to win. I’m sure players will love it!

 

And Ruzanna, what do you like most about RubyPlay’s latest bespoke title Mad Hit Olympic First?

Ruzanna Elchyan: Mad Hit Olympic First stands out for its innovative fusion of the Olympic spirit with the excitement of online gaming. This unique approach creates an immersive experience that transports players into the world of competitive sports. The game’s storyline is rich and captivating, drawing players in with its narrative depth and attention to detail. Combined with its engaging gameplay mechanics, Mad Hit Olympic First offers a truly distinctive gaming experience that sets it apart from other titles in the market.

Could you elaborate on the collaborative efforts between RubyPlay and BetConstruct that contributed to the game’s success and how this collaboration might evolve for future projects?

Dr. Eyal Loz: Our partnership with BetConstruct is based on a lot of mutual respect. We both see each other as tenacious innovators, never afraid trying new original business and design directions. For example, both companies celebrate creative fine arts, and try to bring that appreciation into our core business values. When two successful organisations share core elements in their vision, successful collaborations and opportunities are inevitable.

 

How important is BetConstruct’s partnership with RubyPlay? What do they offer differently to other game studios?

Ruzanna Elchyan: BetConstruct’s collaboration with RubyPlay holds immense importance, as it facilitates the delivery of a diverse and captivating selection of games to players, effectively distinguishing them in the fiercely competitive iGaming market. RubyPlay’s distinctiveness among game studios stems from its unique development approach and unwavering dedication to innovation. This commitment makes RubyPlay an invaluable partner for BetConstruct, enriching our offerings and enhancing the overall gaming experience for our players.

 

What does the future hold for the RubyPlay / BetConstruct partnership?

Dr. Eyal Loz: We will continue working together in multiple markets. I’m really looking forward to seeing our new innovative product and promotional initiatives rolled out for the BetConstruct players. As always, when we all row together in the same direction, the sky is the limit.

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