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Exclusive Interview with George Shamugia, Singular’s CEO

George Miller

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Exclusive Interview with George Shamugia, Singular's CEO
Reading Time: 7 minutes

 

Could you briefly narrate the story of Singular, from its beginning in 2009 in Tbilisi to its present state as a global gaming technology provider?

The story of Singular started back in December 2009 in Tbilisi, Georgia when it was officially formed as a company by two longtime friends (friends, since high school) George Shamugia and Akaki Meladze. Initially, Singular was involved in social gaming and during the course of 2010 – 2011 has produced several popular mass scale social games. During the second half of 2011, Singular did few social games (Dice Poker, Fantasy Football) for the local online gambling operator Adjarabet. During that time Adjarabet had just started their online operations. Soon they became the leading Georgian casino operator, and Singular played a huge role in this.

This was the first exposure to iGaming for Singular. We instantly saw a big opportunity for us in the iGaming field and in 2012 fully pivoted to iGaming. Singular’s experience in Social Gaming field empowered the company to swiftly enter the iGaming field and provide a truly outstanding solution, which was innovative and forward-looking. Since then Singular has developed bespoke iGaming platform, Sports-betting platform, Poker, and some casino and live casino content.

During the next few years (till the end of 2014) Adjarabet fully migrated to Singular’s solutions across all verticals: iGaming platform, SportsBetting, P2P games including poker, casino and live casino content.
In 2013 Singular opened its first office outside Georgia, in Skopje Macedonia. The decision was mostly dictated by the rapidly growing demand for Singular’s products. At the end of 2014 Darko Gacov, who was previously heading Adjarabet’s online operations, from day one, joined Singular as one of the partners. In 2015 Singular moved its HQ to Malta and exhibited for the first time on ICE London. 2015 is the year when Singular started the expansion of its client base and soon it had clients across every single continent covering the regulated markets for online gambling.
Throughout the years, innovation has always been our focus, and at the end of 2018, this was recognized by the Venture capital fund – Vereeni Investments. Singular joined Vereeni Investments’ newly unveiled €100 million tech fund ‘Level Up’ which focuses on innovative companies within the fintech, media, iGaming, business intelligence, software development, crypto and blockchain verticals. This has initiated a number of growth plans which have the potential to further expand Singular’s presence, not only geographically, but also in new industry directions.

Singular provides the full spectrum of iGaming and land-based technology solutions to gaming companies, ranging from the front-end website through the games to CRM and back-end features. Could you share a couple of success stories of gaming companies that use Singular’s platform and services?

There are few examples that can be mentioned here, but one solid example is Adjarabet, the Georgian operator which, having being fueled solely by Singular’s technology, became the fastest growing online gaming company on a global level and dominated the local market. We empowered their transition from retail to online by successful digitalization of their brick and mortar roulettes and streaming them online – a bridge for players trust.
This year, Adjarabet was acquired by Paddy Power Betfair who want to prolong the utilization of Singular’s platform for several coming years thanks to the continuous innovation of the
solutions and our tailored approach for each operator which only confirms our dedication to helping our partners grow.

There is a buzz in the industry about the new sportsbook that Singular is developing. It is tipped to be the most innovative of its kind. Could you tell us more about it? When is the launch scheduled?

In September this year, we are planning to release a completely new sports-book which was engineered from scratch and will set a new standard for sports-betting in the iGaming Industry. The product is the result of long and thorough research of the market with a high focus on changing players’ demands. Also, we believe that these shifts in demand provide lots of opportunities to change their experience as well. This release is our attempt to redefine what Sports-betting platform should look like and offer in terms of functionality.
Our new sports-book will take user experience to the next level with some bold moves, with in-play first approach, a platform that automatically adapts to each player’s needs and gives them personalized game experience, based on their activities and interaction patterns with the platform.

Your development centers are located at Skopje and Tbilisi – not, for instance, London, California or Malta. Was it a deliberate decision to stick with the supposedly offbeat locations? What are its pros and cons, if any?

When we started the Singular Story our goal was not only building a successful business but contributing towards building a more robust software community in our home country. Making a decision to start a company far from the innovation hubs bear its own risks, especially when your goal is to compete on a global scale. But, I think those are the decisions that make the journey worthwhile. You’d be surprised how skillful and ambitious talent pool these “offbeat” locations have. So, everything started in Tbilisi, Georgia where our first development base was opened and where today we have a strong and innovative team of engineers. Also, the development base in Skopje, Macedonia tackles all sports-book related development and innovation processes. Opening office in Macedonia for us was a straightforward decision. First, Macedonia offers a good pool of highly qualified backend java engineers. Second, the
fact that Darko Gacov, one of our partners, is from Macedonia gave Singular easy access to that market. The latest addition to our development bases is Tallinn, Estonia, which is one of the tech hubs of Europe. For this reason, finding top-notch software engineers there is easy.

Malta is the place where Singular is headquartered, and all the Singulars processes and activities are governed. The reason behind the opening HQ in Malta is simple – Malta is almost like the Silicon Valley for iGaming industry. It goes without saying that every single iGaming company must have some sort of presence in Malta.
San Francisco base, which is also a new addition to our team, works solely on a new iGaming product which will primarily target the US market only and initially will be launched as F2P (free to play).
On the cons side, having distributed teams across several locations with time zone differences requires a lot of effort to keep everyone in sync.

Could you tell us more about the regulated markets that have Singular’s footprint? What are your strategies to tackle vastly different and constantly changing legislations even across Europe?

Let me name a few markets: Europe, Nigeria from the African Continent and recently regulated LATAM market. We have quite frequent release cycles for almost every product, which makes it easy for us to adjust to new regulations almost instantly. The strategy we have in place to tackle vastly different and constantly changing legislation lays deep within the architecture of our platforms. Our solutions have modular architecture on the granular level, almost every aspect and functionality of them is fully configurable. In other words, every single module is a standalone service and fully configurable. This allows us to adjust and be compatible with almost every jurisdiction out there. It’s true that this kind of architecture requires more time and resources during the development time, but its flexibility fully pays off during operations. Almost no two deployments of our platform look the same thanks to the highly configurable nature. This does not only allow us to tackle different regulations required by different markets but also enables us to deliver a fully customizable and flexible platform to our clients. Ultimately, this helps our clients to stand out from the competition.

The USA and, to a lesser extent, Japan are the happening places at the moment for the sports betting service providers, especially the US Supreme Court’s verdict on PASPA Act. How do you see these developments and the role of Singular on these markets?

At this moment our primary focus is on the U.S market. It will be quite a challenging market because of its nature and will require a lot of innovation and leading-edge approaches. Good thing is that we, at Singular, love challenges while challenging markets and innovation is in our DNA.
At this moment, every single Sports-betting solution provider out there tries to directly launch their existing solutions in the U.S. In our opinion, this is a huge mistake because all the existing solutions are primarily focused on Europe. The U.S. is a totally different market and requires a tailored approach. The U.S. users’ demands and expectations in terms of the sports-betting experience totally varies from what we have in Europe or even in Africa or Asia. That is why we took a different approach for the U.S market and currently are in the process of developing new product tailored for the U.S. market. The launch is planned at the end of this year or beginning of next year.

Singular has been nominated for two categories in recently held Malta’s iGaming Excellence Awards 2019: Best iGaming Online Product of the Year and Best Gaming Online Betting Platform of the Year. What are awards and recognitions that have come by in your a decade-old journey?

We aim to continuously roll out new engaging features. We are simultaneously addressing our clients’ specific requirements, but we are also proactively innovating the solution. The nominations and awards are the cherry on the top. In addition to the nominations for Malta’s iGaming Excellence Awards 2019, our solutions have been nominated in four categories for the EGR B2B Awards 2019:

  • Sportsbook platform supplier
  • Innovation in sports betting software
  • Live casino supplier
  • Sports betting supplier

In the past 4 years, Singular’s Gaming Platform, Sports-book Solution and the Live Casino have been repeatedly nominated in number of categories by SBC Awards, EGR, G2E Asia and others. We feel extremely proud and grateful to receive recognition from the top authorities from the industry for all the hard work, year after year.

Finally, look at your crystal ball and tell us about the future! What is your take on the direction in which the industry grows, in the light of frequently emerging disruptive technologies? And what are the new products and services that Singular is going to launch?

Big data and Machine Learning is a science by itself and it is no wonder that more and more companies start referring to data as “the new oil”. It simply creates vast opportunities not only for player personalization and targeted marketing but also for discovering trends and patterns that were not visible before. If someone does it right, they will have a significant edge over their competition and it will not take long for this to have an operational effect. If you have a platform that can collect, process and package the data in relevant information and of course personnel that can interpret the data in a strategic and operational capacity for different departments, it has the potential to directly affect the success of the company.

As mentioned before, this September we plan to roll out our new Sports-betting solution. This release will be an inaugural step of an innovation process across the entire product portfolio. Through leveraging big-data and machine learning, we aim to create personalized player journey at a higher level. Also, at the end of this year, we plan to launch out U.S. centric F2P iGaming product.

We started designing the concept back in 2013 with the ultimate goal to empower operators with opportunities to offer each player a unique experience. We have a lot of modules and services that provide tools that enable this, starting with our segmentation engine, and continuing with our CRM. This approach also spreads across the rest of Singular’s products like sports-book and casino integrations, so that personalized experience is also applicable to the content delivery. However, segmentation and personalization are not “one-time – we did it” thing. It is perpetual work in the direction of improving the approach and experimenting with new and better technologies, constantly.

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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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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