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High 5 Games CEO: How innovation is driving our tentpole games strategy

George Miller

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High 5 Games CEO: How innovation is driving our tentpole games strategy
Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

New York-based slot developer High 5 Games built its reputation in the land-based sector and is now on the charge to make a name for itself in the online and mobile environment by delivering exciting new games to the European market and beyond.
Anthony Singer, CEO of High 5 Games, talks us through the company’s tentpole games strategy and how it will create new gaming experiences never seen before.

 

European Gaming: You’ve recently announced a new strategy that will see High 5 Games (H5G) distribute regular tentpole games to the marketplace, what was the thinking behind this new approach?

Anthony Singer (AS): We’re on a mission to deliver ground-breaking new games to the industry that will excite players, while also driving traffic for our operator partners. H5G slots to this day create a buzz on the casino floors all over the world, but we’re now also focused on developing content that is designed specifically for the remote gaming markets. Driven by operator and player demand and feedback, this sharpened strategy will bring a high standard of games built from scratch.

European Gaming: Much of these games are set to include innovative features, what exactly can we expect to see in these titles?

AS: Innovation in games development is paramount in moving the industry forward. We’re big fans of slots and play them constantly, so we’re always looking at ways we can bring something new to the user experience. One of the standout features that H5G has brought to the market recently is Power Bet. This energetic tool, which boosts wins for 30 consecutive spins, is already proving very popular with players.

Another example is the Spin-crease feature that was integrated into our Triple Double Da Vinci Diamonds release. This fun mechanic locks more valuable symbols as the total amount bet increases, which is highlighted on the left-hand side of the reels. The total amount wagered is counted across all sessions, which allows users to return to the same position from when they last played.

In addition, these games will be backed by our innovative promo engine, which produces adaptive promotional offers driven by each player’s behaviour. For example, the AI-powered platform will push extra free rounds depending on the current gameplay, which helps to engage players for longer periods and increases dwell time.

European Gaming: Given H5G’s experience in the land-based sector, how are you approaching the development of the new online/mobile first games?

AS: In recent times we’ve done a hugely successful job in optimising land-based content for the online market, and with a slight adjustment to our approach to game design and development, these new tentpole games will allow us to further enhance the gameplay. It’s a really exciting period for us, as this new strategy will help us to incorporate features that are targeted more for online and mobile users. The online environment allows for greater creativity and flexibility, and there are no boundaries to what we can achieve going forward.

European Gaming: 2019 has seen H5G ramp up its presence across Europe, how are your games performing so far with your new operator partners?

AS: It’s no exaggeration to say that 2019 has been a standout year for the company, packed full of new operator partnerships and market expansion. It’s great to see so many of our games now live across numerous tier one operators in Europe, with H5G titles including Way Out Wilds and Triple Double Da Vinci Diamonds becoming a real hit.

After securing our Maltese licence, we built on our momentum by going live in Sweden on the first day of the new regulated market opening up, and we recently secured games certification in Denmark. In the long term, High 5 Games has eyes for global expansion and our presence in Scandinavia is strategically central to growing the business internationally.

European Gaming: Do you have any further plans to extend your presence in the European market? Are there any particular regions you’re looking to target?

AS: Absolutely – we will launch in Spain and Italy in the next few months, and are preparing to enter Portugal and Romania, with exciting new deals and game releases on the horizon. We’ll also continue to expand in our homeland, as state legislators roll up the regulatory market shutters and open the gates to online casino content. Our recently completed direct integration and launch with the Stars Group means we want to be available to all their markets.

European Gaming: What can we expect from your next game release from your tentpole series?

AS: Our latest release Shadow of the Panther Power Bet brings a new twist on one of our classic releases, this time designed specifically for the online RMG market. With an expanded grid, this 8×5 slot follows the part man, part beast as he emerges from the darkness to navigate his way through the jungle.

As the title suggests, this new version now includes the Power Bet feature for the first time. There are four different Power Bet options to choose from, where players can turbo charge their wins for 30 consecutive spins at the cost of 10x, 20x, 30x or 40x the current stake, creating an exhilarating gaming experience. We’re excited to offer these new tentpole games and are sure they’ll become a big hit with players.

Furthermore, the game is supported by our unique promo engine that allows operators to push bespoke offers. For instance, the promotional platform offers a 50% discount on the entry to our Power Bet feature and works as an effective acquisition tool for operators.

Industry News

Head of Brand at Marathonbet warns of gaming brands losing identity to drive news content

George Miller

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Head of Brand at Marathonbet warns of gaming brands losing identity to drive news content
Dan Towse, Head of Brand, Marathonbet
Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

Ahead of his participation in the new Advertising and Marketing Conference stream at this year’s ICE VOX, Marathonbet’s Head of Brand, Dan Towse explores how gambling consumers are ‘programmed to be promiscuous’, why trust is essential for brands and where Love Island influencers fit into the betting ecosystem

Story telling is an important way for brands to build their profile – how can this discipline be used by the gambling industry and what’s gambling’s most powerful narrative?

Too many brands are becoming a news feed like ‘Sky Sports News’. Whilst I do believe there is a place for editorial content – I still feel there is too much. With the recent announcement of Zlatan Ibrahimović returning to Italy – six bookmakers posted the same announcement within 30 minutes of each other. I understand, not everyone will follow all these brands like me. However, when I swipe through my feed, I have the same story and/or a variation of the same article from multiple operators and news outlets. I would suggest that consumers follow gambling brands for gambling content.

Social platforms launched for people to connect with each other. Now we find ourselves in an age where the original core proposition is still retained but brands now have social very much part of the normalised channel mix – we have an environment where social channels are broadcast platforms and should be used accordingly; ensuring a blend of content and story telling which meets the brands objectives but appeals to its audience interests and why they engaged with you in the first instance.

How do you leverage the power of the brand when the gambling consumer is apparently so promiscuous – certainly in the online sector?

The audience is programmed to be promiscuous because of the environment in which the way the industry has evolved. Brand is much deeper than just the logo. It’s your product, UX/UI, Customer service, tone of voice – the list goes on. If bonus, offers and email all stopped tomorrow, you need to ensure everything else is still stacking up. We are fortunate at Marathonbet where we have sponsorship portfolio which includes Man City and Sevilla FC. Both recognised and established brands in world football – this gives us awareness, equity and assets which enable us to do more than a badging exercise.

The former CMO of Unilever said that ‘A brand without trust is a product’ – do you agree with that definition and how do gaming companies build/earn trust especially in terms of their social media marketing?

Naturally, they are in a very different space to us and it boils down how much value the consumer puts on a product and its use. Do I care what brand of dishcloth I purchase? Not really. Do I care what brand of toothpaste I use? Absolutely.

From a gaming perspective, it’s incredibly important – especially how saturated the market now is to ensure content is original and where required you build a conversation both in terms of engagement but also responding to customer queries in a timely manner. Consumers are savvier than I think the industry gives them credit for and to a degree, the need and want of today’s customer is probably further ahead than we are able to keep up with. However, (although it pains me to say) when it comes to social I believe a high percentage of audiences still see ‘followers’ as a key number to help establish a perceived trust because of a brands ‘popularity’.

In terms of social media marketing and the different dynamics across platforms, do you see more potential for brands to appeal to the female gambling demographic?

In short, yes. Naturally, you have defined casino and or bingo brands whose target audience is clearly female. Typically, across core platforms (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) its more female dominated however, the consumption of social content varies – as such, social campaigns need to be developed accordingly. It’s no different to segmentation/messaging for other channels.

Gaming companies have form using high profile sports influencers/sponsors to drive their product, where do you see the place for micro-influencers alongside world-class football, boxing, esports stars?

They have a place but it links back to the trust element. I was asked a similar question at a forum earlier in the year. Whilst I agree there is a place for them – we have to be mindful that they need to be relevant. Chris Hughes (Coral) whose popularity came from Love Island already had a deep affinity with horse racing and therefore has opinion/stories which are relevant & credible. However, when other brands choose reality TV stars or influencers with reach, who clearly have no affinity to a sport and or an understanding of an event – it can come across as ‘forced’ and a freebie for the individual. In addition, I’d always question if their followers are the right target audience. Age? Possibly. Prospective gambling customers? Unlikely.

ICE VOX which is part of ICE London, the world’s biggest gaming technology event, comprises two days of comprehensive learning with streams entitled: Modernising Lotteries, Hospitality Technology, Marketing & Advertising, Cybercrime & Security, as well as the World Regulatory Briefing and the International Casino Conference. Dan Towse will form part of the Social Media & Influencer Marketing: Stuck in (low quality) traffic? session, alongside John Cole, Group Director – Brand Partnerships – Sport, Gambling and Alcohol, at LADbible Group, as part of the new Advertising and Marketing stream on the second day of this year’s conference (February 4, 2020).

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Interviews

Exclusive Q&A with Ian McDonnell CEO at Blexr

George Miller

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Exclusive Q&A with Ian McDonnell CEO at Blexr
Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

First up, tell us about yourself. It’s always great to hear successful entrepreneurs speak about themselves.

Mine is the classic affiliate story: in my final year of college in 2004, I started getting seriously into poker after winning €450 in a home game. Having been broke my entire student life, winning that amount of money in a night piqued my interest. I started to read a lot about poker, immersing myself in books, forums, and any other poker-related content I could find.

Soon after, I graduated from university and started my first job with a telecoms company, working in their web content department. At this point, I was playing online poker almost every day. After some initial struggles, I was earning more playing poker in the evenings than I was in my day job.

I was keen to travel while I was still young. Having saved up some money, I decided to quit my job to seek adventures overseas. At this point, I had enough of a bankroll to play poker full-time and sufficient money left in the bank for a return ticket, in case poker didn’t work out. I headed off to Asia with some friends and started my professional poker-playing journey.

The next three years went brilliantly. By 2008, I had travelled across Asia and moved from low-stakes to high-stakes games.

I was also getting an amazing rakeback deal from the poker site I played on. The manager signed me up to their affiliate programme and told me to offer the same deal to my poker network. Not long after, I had 20-30 of my poker friends on the same deal and got a 5% cut of their action.

Most of my poker network were professional players, so 5% of their rake added up to a pretty significant amount. That then got me interested in the business side of poker, and it was from there that I found affiliation and immersed myself in online marketing in the same way I had previously done with poker.

I had very strong links with several members of the close-knit Irish poker community and regularly chatted with a gentleman who went by the name of “roadsweeper”. After we got talking about building a website together, we decided to try our hands at the online marketing game.

When roadsweeper (or Paudie, as he’s better known these days) and I started working together, affiliation went from a part-time hobby to a full-time job. Our first site was dedicated to our shared passion – poker – and we had immediate success, reaching four-figure earnings in our first few months. Soon after, we made our first foray into casino, and sports betting followed not long after that.

While I’m wearing the hat of CEO, Blexr is very much a partnership. Our success to date would not have been possible without Paudie’s positive energy, work ethic, and sense of humour, as well as his superhuman ability to put up with my pig-headedness. He was also the driving force behind the eventual creation of Blexr in 2015.

It has been four years since Blexr started. What were the ideas and circumstances behind founding it?

At the start of 2015, I was in China and Paudie was in Ireland. We were running 10-20 websites, and had freelancers spread across the world managing everything from design to dev to content.

Back then, we assumed every affiliate was running a similar operation to our own, and that everybody was running a “two guys in a garage” type of setup. On receiving an invite to a private affiliate event in Punta Cana, our eyes were opened when we learned that several of the super affiliates in attendance ran “real” companies with offices, staff, and the rest of the things you’d expect in a normal business.

That led to discussions on centralising operations. We went on to do some research on the various gaming hubs around the world and finally settled on Malta as the home for Blexr.

The company is going great, judging from the awards you get. What is the secret of maintaining freshness and motivation even after four years?

That’s a great question. While Blexr opened its doors four years ago, we’ve actually been working together since 2008.

Our motivations have changed a lot over the years. Initially, the main motivation was money. When you have bills to pay, you need to have a viable business that can cover your living costs. Luckily, things went well from the very beginning, so we never had financial worries.

Once you reach a certain level of financial success, money becomes much less of a motivating factor. Nowadays, there are other aspects of running a company that are far more important to us.

The first is our focus on building great products, something that is part of Blexr’s mission. Being part of a team that works on products users love is highly motivating.

Secondly, developing and growing a company culture is both fun and challenging. It can be an emotional rollercoaster at times, but ultimately it’s very rewarding.

Blexr has reputably earned a standing in the lead generation, especially in the gaming and casino verticals. Tell us about some of your innovations in the digital marketing arena.

All of Blexr’s success is a result of the hard work and dedication of the 100 or so individuals that make up our team of teams. Our growth and constant evolution and innovation is a result of their creativity, dedication, and commitment. Malta often gets a bad reputation when it comes to the quality of talent on the island; we’re fortunate to be blessed with some of the smartest and hardest-working people in the industry.

When it comes to innovation, at the moment we’re putting a lot of focus on big data. We’re working on a number of different projects that aim to provide a personalised gaming experience for our users. We’re also exploring different ways to discover what users want to then tailor our products to their needs.

Since you are into the business of bringing customers to the gaming and gambling websites, you must be in a great position to judge what customers really need. Could you specify a couple of things that customers really need or want, but not available at present in the gambling industry?

I think the big thing that customers in gaming want is trust and transparency, which is often lacking in the industry. Transparency is something we really care about at Blexr. It’s one of the core values of the company, and it’s also part of our mission statement when it comes to how we approach our products and our users.

The digital marketing space keeps on evolving. There was once Google’s near monopoly. Then Facebook arrived. Now, a host of new social media upstarts threaten to disrupt the digital marketing space every other day. How do you keep calm and generate leads amidst such fast-paced evolution?

The affiliate industry and SEO have changed a lot over the past ten years. The methods we used to rank websites a decade ago would have your website penalised for life if you tried them today.
It’s always important to look towards the future. What way is SEO going? What sites are ranking well these days and why? What other channels can be used to generate leads apart from SEO? We try to keep one eye on the future at all times, to ensure that we’re building sites and products that will stand the test of time.

You bring leads from all over the world. What are the steps that you take to ensure legal compliance, as the rules on gambling practically change from country to country – even from state to state in many countries?

We have fantastic commercial and content teams with dedicated people managing compliance across our network of sites. We are in regular contact with all our partners to ensure our sites are always up to date and aligned with current regulations.

Now you have an office in Barcelona as well, apart from the headquarters in Malta. Any plans to expand further, especially to the USA and Asia?

Right now, we’re focused on our two offices in Malta and Barcelona. As the regulatory landscape changes in the US, Asia, and other markets, we may look to strategically set up offices in those locations. However, for now, our priorities are Malta and Barcelona.

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Interviews

”In an increasingly digitised world, engaging customers with action-packed content and a tailored user experience has never been more important.”

George Miller

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Vermantia Q&A w/ European Gaming: “In an increasingly digitised world, engaging customers with action-packed content and a tailored user experience has never been more important.”
Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

With the industry’s leading supplier of bespoke data and picture content set to close 2019 on a record-breaking high, we caught up with Business Development Director Peter Woodfine to talk success, innovation and their plans for 2020.

Can you tell us a bit about Vermantia and what you do?

Vermantia is a one-stop-shop for retail and online, whether that be for bespoke data and picture content, or our next-generation delivery solutions and self-service betting ecosystem.

We understand that all operators and their customers are different and require a bespoke approach tailored to their individual locality and culture, and we do exactly that. As one of the industry’s largest broadcasters, we broadcast thousands of live events each year, complemented by a comprehensive portfolio of virtual games. All of that content is available 24/7, allowing us to provide operators in any corner of the world with the thrill of racing and sports. We deliver regardless of time zone, offering the very latest in technology to power the betting experience.

Your European operations have gone from strength-to-strength in recent years, what would you say have been the keys to your success?

In an increasingly digitised world, engaging customers with action-packed content and a tailored user experience has never been more important. We strive to offer our operator partners, such as OPAP, Lottomatica and Eurobet, a future-proofed betting environment, ensuring they attract the latest generation of tech savvy customers as well as retain their existing base.

While Europe in general is a mature market, and quick to adopt new industry trends, we are also mindful to ensure variations between countries are taken into account. Betting content needs to be round the clock, suitable for any location and customisable for any regional market. In total, we now broadcast more than 90,000 premium live racing and 35,000 live sporting events annually to meet demand, as well as an ever-widening range of virtual and next generation games. Gathered on our unique CONNECT platform and distributed via our ultra-low latency streaming or through satellite broadcasting, we’re able to harness the latest in technology and deliver a bespoke service to everyone we work with.

A particularly good example of this has been our recent work in Italy. With the Palinsesto Complementare offering international horse racing content for the first time, our recent deals with major Italian operators will see the adoption of our A-TV horse racing channel, making us the first supplier in Italy to offer top quality international live horse racing from some of the best tracks in the world.

Do European markets require a bespoke approach? How do you aim to deliver tailor-made products with clients so diversely spread across different verticals and different countries?

We take pride in listening to what our operator partners require and adapting accordingly. There is no one size fits all and it is important to be flexible. What may work in one region, may not work in another. A fully localised approach to regional challenges is essential, giving access to the best of both content and technology.

For instance, an operator in Romania is going to have different requirements and infrastructure to a brand servicing the UK. As a result, we offer either satellite broadcast or streaming to deliver our top-quality content.

We also provide our services in a user-friendly way wherever operators and their customers find themselves, ensuring a bespoke presentation for each. The principle reason we do this is to give operators choice. We appreciate there are local requirements in every territory, and we make sure operators can access a specific content mix that suits their needs. With bet markets, scheduling and their entire layout adapted to their own customers in any format required, we’ve got every base covered.

Looking ahead to 2020 – where does Vermantia aim to be this time next year?

Our aim is to continue cementing our position as the industry’s leading supplier of bespoke data and picture content as well as the industry’s largest broadcaster of bespoke betting channels.

We’ll be rolling out a host of next generation retail solutions to help operators cater for an increasingly tech-savvy generation of customers who demand a better in-shop betting experience. As part of our vision for retail, our latest FLAVOR suite of terminals offers a first-hand look into this futuristic, land-based environment. Bundled with our premium content as well as the latest in cashless and mobile payment options, they represent the final piece of our end-to-end retail solution. Enabling us to blend the speed and efficiency of futuristic devices with the thrill of top-quality betting content in a cashless betting environment, 2020 will no doubt prove to be a very exciting year.

A lot has been said recently about the future of the European retail scene – how do you think the betting experience will evolve over the coming years? What do you think will change?

While retail has been for too long the poor relation of online when it comes to innovation, I believe it has an exciting future in Europe. For the first time in the industry, advances in tech now mean that we can provide our partners with a genuine digitised retail experience.

We’ve already noticed a significant transformation in customer expectations, and this will no doubt grow over the coming years. Action-packed, fast paced content married with quality data and the next generation of self-service betting solutions will have a major say in how this is shaped. This is already playing out in real time: from content to technology, our operator partners are drawing in a far broader customer base to betting shops than ever before.

Key to this is our ability to produce and deliver live sports and racing channels tailored to suit each locality, ensuring increased player engagement. Alongside, we’re able to transform their approach to the customer experience, enabling our partners to take full control of their live betting offering thanks to our latest in content management and production technology.

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