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Exclusive interview with Saverio Castellano, co-founder, research director and CTO at GameArt

Zoltan Tundik

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

Our latest interviewee is well know in the online gambling industry, especially in the Omni-channel development. Saverio Castellano is the co-founder, research director and CTO at GameArt, a boutique Omni-channel development studio of customised casino applications and slot games to the online, social and land-based casino verticals, with offices in Malta, Slovenia, and Serbia.  Saverio holds a Ph.D. in Particle Physics and is an igaming industry veteran with 12 years of software and mathematics slots development.

I would like to thank you for spending time to answer our questions. You have rich experience in gaming and gambling industries as one can read in your biography, you are “an Igaming industry veteran with 12 years of software and mathematics slots development.” Why did you choose gaming, or may I ask: did the industry choose you? What do you think?

Saverio: From an early age, I was always inquisitive to how everything worked. This led me to study, one of my passions, science and in particular the field of Nuclear Physics. Within Physics, applied mathematics is essential for developing abstract concepts, problem-solving and the practical application of those models.

After completing my Ph.D., I started my career in computer science and software development, gaining extensive experience in design architecture, and an enterprise-level backend for mobile applications. I always had an interest in slots and the iGaming sector which was rapidly growing in Italy, and my first adventure into the world of gaming, was as Head Mathematician of Sogei, the Games and RNG regulator for the Italian state monopoly AAMS, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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

Saverio: My role within the GameArt business, which I co-founded, is I’m the research director and CTO. Overall I’m responsible for the company’s development studios, the management of our engineers, delivery and support teams in Malta, Slovenia and Serbia. This includes the product roadmap, from conception, to prototype to production of slots, for our clients that have Omni-channel businesses across online, social and land-based.

Since the start of GameArt, I have also been the one that invents the concepts of all our slots designs the mathematics, and I have built the foundation of the technologies that the company has been using so far: namely our game server and the game client technology that we rely on to develop our games.

As a business, we are continually striving to be adaptive to fast-changing technologies and part of my remit is to source, and research how the latest tech can be used within our business and more importantly by applied within the regulated iGaming ecosystem.

Will you please tell us about the difficulties and successes you have experienced during your career?

Saverio: In answering this question I will refer to my experience with GameArt only. Otherwise, there’d be too much to say here. What has enabled GameArt to start and become in such a short time a successful business is entirely the ideas, experience, and expertise of me and the other two partners who founded the company.

When we were still in a start-up phase, there were many potential venture capitalists that would be interested in investing in GameArt. Again, we decided to do everything with our own strength. This definitely made things harder and a lot more challenging especially in the initial phase. I have learned that becoming an essential player in the gambling market it is not only about having great games, but you also need to go through the whole process of acquiring licenses, getting the games certified, establishing your name, and deal with a lot of other things.

Despite the significant challenge, we succeeded and had made all of this without a consistent upfront investment, and this is what I consider our most significant success.

GameArt is a leading-provider of high-quality digital gaming. Please speak about this company, its activity and its goals.

Saverio: Since its inception, GameArt has been focusing on producing slot games only. Slot games are what we like, what our expertise is, what we do well.

Our mission derives from the consideration that there is a gap between the quality of the slot games in the online gaming world and one of the best performing slots that you find in the world’s best casinos and more generally in the class III world. In creating our portfolio of slot games, we have been aiming to fill this gap, producing high-quality slots with outstanding graphics and solid mathematics. Because of this, even focusing mainly on online gaming we have been able to expand our business to the landbased world as well.

Which are the most successful, most popular products you offer to your clients?

Saverio: The success of our product stems from the ability to release game titles that appeal to different markets and different player demographics. If we look at our range of slot games, there are games like Money Farm 2 and Dragon Lady that are among the best performers in Europe, and games like Dragon King and King Of Monkeys that are much appreciated by Chinese players and are doing very well in Asian markets.

Our product offering is completed with a cutting-edge gaming platform that offers our clients powerful features and marketing tools to promote games and maximize revenues, such as multi-level and multi-currency jackpots, free spins, tournaments, and campaigns.

Tell us please about the future plans, projects of GameArt.

Saverio: Our current goals are to maximize revenues and get a bigger slice of the markets in Asia and Italy where we are already doing quite well.

Having completed the certification process for some of the most stringent regulated markets, our next goal is to approach big operators and at the same time extend the certification to other countries where we are still not operating. Completing the process of acquiring the UK license is our most important short-term goal at the moment.

We are also looking at blockchain technologies, and we recently made a prototype which consists in having integrated our game server with the Ethereum blockchain so that people can play our slots directly on the blockchain and have all gameplay provably verifiable. This is an exciting topic which we will continue to explore and pioneer during this year.

I would like to ask you a more personal question. In what ways does work influence your personal life, your personal growth and what does success mean to you?

Saverio: Work and personal life in my case are entirely entwined. I like it to be this way since I chose to be part of this industry because I understood that it enables you to have a very dynamic life and keep yourself busy doing exciting things.

The influence that my work has had on my personal life is enormous, and it is not limited to the economic side as it allowed me to travel the world, to meet great people and to do fantastic, challenging experiences.

The meaning of success is comprehensive, in my case; it has to do with the amount of freedom and control of my own time.

 

ABOUT GAMEART

GameArt is a premium developer of slot games to the online and land-based gaming industry, including leading online operators, video-lottery suppliers, and casino game machine manufacturers.

New licensees include established operators looking to expand or diversify their games offering, fast-growing challenger-brands looking to increase market-share, and start-up operators, including those targeting newly-regulated markets.

GameArt’s core technology provides a true multiplatform capability and its game management system provides licensees extensive integration options, high-level bonus, and CRM capabilities, plus predictive business intelligence tools to help maximize game-player retention and improve ROI.

For more details, visit www.gameart.net

Africa

“Land-based Casinos Should Crisis-proof Their Operations and Diversify Online” – WinPrincess’ Guven Eraslan

George Miller

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“Land-based Casinos Should Crisis-proof Their Operations and Diversify Online” - WinPrincess' Guven Eraslan
Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

After announcing its partnership with WinPrincess, whereby the principal retail casino in Tanzania will be diversifying its operations, incorporating the digital channels to its retail business strategy, leading iGaming platform provider BtoBet meets with Guven Eraslan, Executive Coordinator of the WinPrincess Group, to understand key market traits.

Coming from the casino vertical, do you intend to stick to your core brand strategy or diversify and grasp the opportunity that other verticals keep in hold?
Our core business is the operation of land-based casinos. At heart we are a family owned traditional bricks and mortar company with strong values. But like any other company we need to grow in order to continue to remain relevant.

Therefore, we cannot afford to miss any of the opportunities that lie ahead of us, and our focus will be on all verticals within the iGaming industry. Our mid-term strategy is to be online in all the countries where we operate land-based casinos already. With marketing being key to the success of the online business, we believe that we can create a synergy through our already existing physical presence, knowledge of the culture and manpower on the front.

You have targeted Tanzania for your first expansion to online gambling. Why Tanzania?
Tanzania’s betting industry has more than doubled in the last three years. Moreover three of the fastest growing cities in the world are in Tanzania. Dar Es Salaam has a population of 6.7 million people and is projected to grow by 100% to 13.4 million by 2035.

Apart from this it is important to note that all of the fastest growing 15 cities in the world are found in Africa. We believe that Africa is a safe bet if you need a good start. And that is exactly what we need, if we are to tackle and master diversification within a traditional casino company such as ours.

From a global perspective land-based casinos have been slow to shift or expand their operations to the digital channels, and thus providing a more complete betting experience where all the channels are interlinked. Why do you think is there such a reluctance from retail casino operators to transform their business strategies?
I think people are reluctant to change in general. We are talking about two totally different cultures as well, with the online branch of the business considered as the disruptor in our traditional casino world, where until recently people always needed to be physically present in a brick and mortar casino in order to place their money on bets. Thus there always needed to be a live interaction and it was more like a personal experience.

That is not required anymore, with online casino bringing about a clash of cultures, if you will. Well it is quite clear that it is us, the land-based casino operators, the ones that need to change and adapt. Diversification can only be made in the direction of progress. Business diversification is definitely something that all land-based operators need to address in the short term. We are up to the challenge, and with the right vision and the right partners such as BtoBet we will get there.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about never before seen measures requiring social distancing. How has this effected the retail casino business?
All but 12 of our casinos are closed at the moment. So we are talking about 20 closed casinos of which we do not know yet when they will be allowed to reopen. The best business model is a crisis-proof one, and there will be a lot of analysis from all industries on how they can achieve this.
Nonetheless I dare say that if we could have achieved a diversification to online more early, and by doing so hedged our investments, we probably would have not been hit as hard.

Do you think that the pandemic will eventually change the players’ behaviour?
We cannot foresee with certainty what the player behaviour will look like after the crisis. People might be more hesitant to go to a casino but on the other hand once normality returns I believe that social interaction will be a key element that will characterize people’s lives.

My guess is that everything will go back to normal once the pandemic is under control. People have a tendency of wanting to forget bad times. After all social interaction is what makes us human, so we will not easily give up on that.

What elements made you choose BtoBet’s Neuron 3 platform as the technological core of your online business?
When I did my own research for iGaming and sports betting platform providers, which are active in Africa it was amazing that under every stone I turned I found BtoBet. When a company of our size wants to go online there is a lot of demand for working with us. And although we had contact with all the main companies in the online gaming business, our decision in the end was quite easy. Knowledge, expertise and trustworthiness are key elements that distinguish BtoBet, and we look forward to work with them on other similar projects.

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Interviews

Exclusive Q&A with Iustin Cojocaru owner of Eyenovation (Gunnar representative for Romania and Hungary)

George Miller

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Exclusive Q&A with Iustin Cojocaru owner of Eyenovation (Gunnar representative for Romania and Hungary)
Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

Tell us about the history and current status of Gunnars Glasses.

Iustin: The idea for the glasses was born out of one woman’s frustration with her husband’s digitally induced migraines and worry about the eyes of her child who was fascinated by technology. Jenny Michelsen’s husband, Matt, was suffering from headaches after hours sitting in front of six computer screens. The headaches were a symptom of Computer Vision Syndrome, a collection of minor ailments that build up over time.

As the Rancho Santa Fe woman urged her husband to see a doctor, she wondered whether her 3-year-old son, Gunnar, was getting a jump-start on similar problems.  If she and her husband believed the computers were getting to their eyes – and they didn’t start using electronics until they were in their 20s – what would happen to Gunnar’s generation?  Matt and Jenny Michelsen reached out to their close friend, Joe Croft, a former Oakley engineer, about the issues surrounding CVS.  They wanted to learn more about the effects of focusing on a digital image projected on a screen just inches from one’s face for hours at a time and years on end.  The Crofts and the Michelsens began their five-year road to launch by talking to medical experts.  One of those experts was Dr. Jeffrey Anschel, a Carlsbad, California, optometrist who has become an expert in Computer Vision Syndrome and Visual Ergonomics.  He noticed the problem about 17 years ago when employees of a nearby computer company began complaining about dry and tired eyes and difficulty focusing.

They were problems that people generally didn’t experience until they were in their 40s, but these patients were in their early 30s.  It didn’t take him long to make the connection between their work and the required time spent in front of a computer screen.  “You can work, shop, communicate and do just about everything from your computer now, and people just don’t realize how much time they’re spending looking at the screen.  The digital images that computers project are one factor contributing to Computer Vision Syndrome.  The eye focuses on the hard edge of an image, but digital images don’t have a clean edge.  As a result, the focus drifts forward and back, causing eye fatigue.” Anschel also noted, “that when people spend long periods focusing on something close to their face, eye muscles tend to lock into a singular position, which is tiring and can push the eye down the path to becoming farsighted.  Meanwhile, the eye has to deal with light from conflicting sources, such as sunlight, that are much brighter than the computer screen.  There’s also glare from the light shining into the eyes.  And the angle of view for the computer screen, which is straight ahead, isn’t desirable.  People tend to focus better at objects when looking down, such as reading a book.”

Croft and Michelsen set out to create a product that addresses the issues associated with digital eye-strain.  They completed their first prototype in 2006.  In early 2007, they founded the company and in October of 2008 they launched their first product.   Investors included Carl Zeiss Vision, 50 Cent, Peter Thiel and Monster, Inc. Retail customers include Amazon, Best Buy, Fry’s, GameStop and Staples. Corporate customers include Facebook, Google, Microsoft.

Gunnar is present in Romania since 2015, when I began experiencing Computer Vision Syndrome symptoms after spending hours in front of two screens as a Poker player and began to look for a solution. This is how I’ve learned about Gunnar glasses being the no.1 brand among computer glasses brands and the next step was to become Gunnar representative in Romania and now also in Hungary.

 

Let us talk about the gaming glasses now. Do we really need customized special glasses for gaming?

Iustin: Yes, if we tend to be passionate gamers, we end up spending extended hours in front of our screens and we experience blurred vision, eye strain, and headaches – symptoms of Digital Eye Strain and Computer Vision Syndrome. Some compensate for their blurred vision by leaning forward, or by tipping their head to look through the bottom portion of their glasses. Both actions can result in a sore neck, sore shoulders and a sore back. GUNNAR gaming eyewear can help because is engineered to reduce digital eye strain while increasing contrast, comfort, and focus. And what is different for the gaming styles, compared to the computer styles produced by Gunnar is the shape of the temples that comfortably accommodates headsets.

  

What about gaming developers and others who work in gaming companies. How will they benefit from the gaming glasses?

Iustin: They can benefit too, because Gunnar glasses are made for anyone who works and plays on a digital screen for extended periods of time.  Gunnar also makes glasses without the yellow tint – with CLEAR lenses, for those who work in “true colour”, such as gaming developers, graphic designers, digital artists.

 

What make gaming glasses special? What are the differences, for example, these glasses have with normal common-use glasses?

Iustin: Gaming glasses and computer glasses developed by Gunnar, with their amber-tinted lenses, make images appear clearer and sharper by adding contrast and, very important, filter out blue light. The lenses have an anti-glare filter that allows light from the computer in but keeps out distracting reflected light from other sources.  The lenses are also designed to be fitted close to the face, creating a “micro-climate” that keeps away the dry air currents and prevents dryness of the eyes. GUNNAR GAMING glasses, compared to GUNNAR COMPUTER glasses, have a more ergonomic shape and thin temples that are compatible with wearing headsets.

 

How do you ensure lower weighing frames for these glasses? Does the lower weight affect the durability of the glasses?

Iustin: GUNNAR has many styles to choose from. Some frames are lighter than others. GAMING frames are usually lighter and therefore more comfortable during long gaming sessions. These light frames are good quality ad durable frames – such as RAZER FPS, RAZER RPG, Torpedo, Trooper, Vayper, Heroes of the Storm.

                                                             

I have seen some articles about using wide-angled lenses for gaming glasses. Could you elaborate on this point?

Iustin: Yes, especially for gaming, a wide-angled lens provides a panoramic view, as the frame does not interfere with the viewing field of the gamer “caught in action”.

 

Now on to the business front. How has been the business going during this period of lock down. Some reports suggest that an increasing number of people playing games online. Does it reflect on your business?

Iustin: Yes, this has been a quite good period for our business and as our business is mainly online, we are running at full speed right now as work from home extended the hours we work in front of a digital screen and gamers play more while staying home. People became more conscious of spending long hours in front of digital screens and reached out to us to protect their eyes.

 

What are the best ways to buy the gaming glasses of Gunnars Glasses during the lock down?

Iustin: The best way to buy Gunnar glasses is definitely online. For Romania and Hungary our online shop is www.gunnars.ro. We are offering online advice on our chat and we implemented the “virtual try-on” feature on our site that enables anyone to try-on most of our styles.

 

Finally, what are the new innovations and offers that you have in store for post-COVID-19 situation? The gaming community is eager to hear any such announcements.

Iustin: Gunnar releases new frames each year and this year is no exception. At the beginning there was only the Amber lens that has a 65 BLUE LIGHT PROTECTION FACTOR – BLPF (filters out 65% of the blue light). Then Gunnar added the Clear lens with a 35 BLPF, the Sun lens that has a 90 BLPF and also Amber Max lens with a 98 BLPF, designed to be used before going to sleep or for extremely sensitive eyes. In July, Gunnar will be launching CRUZ for kids from 4 to 8 Year Olds and for kids from 8 to 12 Year Olds, as this was a concern from the beginning: children spend more and more time in front of screens and the parents want to protect their kids as much as they can. Right now, in May a new style was launched: Pendleton. Four new exciting gaming styles will be launched this summer – Lightning Bolt 360, Lightning Bolt 360 RAZER Edition, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and a new design in partnership with Razer: MOBA. For those who are more on the hip and “vintage look” side, there will be a new style called Berkely, in September.

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Interviews

Pre-conference interview, Vladimir Malakchi, CBDO at Evoplay Entertainment

George Miller

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Pre-conference interview, Vladimir Malakchi, CBDO at Evoplay Entertainment
Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

How much of an impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on your business plans?

As an agile young company, Evoplay Entertainment has been able to adjust its commercial plans quickly and react to the ongoing situation. While the pandemic may have blunted the industry’s schedule, we’re not letting that dampen our spirit.

With resources freed from a number of ongoing projects, we’re able to embrace the challenge by going all in on our R&D process and continuing to work on pioneering new technologies. Instant games are a particularly interesting area right now; with the current downturn meaning that players are looking for a far more engaging proposition than the usual offering.

 

How has it affected your potential partners? Has it helped focus their mind?

It certainly should. The unwanted change in circumstances gives companies a chance to widen their appeal by reaching a new generation of players looking for entertainment. With a plethora of new products flooding the market, operators are reporting a marked change in player preferences. As gamblers become increasingly tech-savvy and hungry for innovation, traditional ‘spin and win’ slot games no longer have the draw they once did.

However, in order to pioneer the gateway from sportsbook to slots in light of the recent cancellations, it’s essential to develop a tailored cross-channel portfolio that truly stands out for those who want something different. A new generation of player demands an immersive, detailed and aesthetically stunning entertainment experience which can be enjoyed on any device.

Here at Evoplay Entertainment, we’re proud to provide exactly that.  From VR to 3D and every piece of immersive tech in between, now is the time for gaming suppliers to go bold and get creative. The market share is there for the taking for operators who offer a fresh approach.

 

What strategies have you put in place for business development following the cancellation of industry conferences?

Naturally, we’re disappointed to see the cancellation of in-person conferences, such as the MARE BALTICUM Gaming Summit, which no doubt would have been a key regional event. Health and safety, however, have to take priority and we fully support the decision taken by organisers.

We certainly haven’t let the cancellation put a dent in our plans. We’re a tech first company and it’s all about adapting and innovating. As well as making use of our global network for business development – we’re ready to embrace the latest methods available for networking and insight, with virtual conferences such as these likely to prove invaluable during the current downturn. We’re very much looking forward to sharing our experiences as well as hearing from expert voices through the industry.

 

How important do you believe virtual conferences to be? Do you believe online events such as these will become the new normal?

Virtual conferences are a great way to keep abreast of the latest industry trends and exciting new developments in technology. Events such as these also allow us to continue networking with colleagues and sharing our insights amid unprecedented global circumstances.

I think we’re definitely at a point where new technology (i.e. virtual conferencing tools) are certainly coming into the mainstream – however the ‘use case’ for such an approach will remain to be seen once we return to normality.

As an industry innovator looking to bring new technology into the gaming space – whether it be 3D or VR – we welcome the addition of virtual conferencing as a new, fresh approach. However, despite its advantages, especially when it comes to reduced costs and convenience, there’s also no substitution for the face-to-face meeting element. I personally predict that over the longer-term, rather than these events becoming the new normal, I would envision that we’ll see them emerge as a mainstay niche to complement on-the-ground events throughout the calendar year.

 

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