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Exclusive Interview with Vladimir Malakchi, Evoplay Entertainment CBDO

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Exclusive CEE interview with Evoplay Entertainment 
Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

We sat down with Evoplay Entertainment CBDO, Vladimir Malakchi, to discuss how the revolutionary casino game developer has changed iGaming for the better – and why, despite the challenging nature of today’s global economy, he’s bullish about the industry’s prospects in 2021.

Evoplay Entertainment notched up plenty of exciting industry firsts during 2020, can you tell us a bit about your year?

2020 was an outstanding year for Evoplay Entertainment – we unveiled 35 unique game titles, including our flagship Dungeon: Immortal Evil, the industry’s first RPG-inspired hack and slash slot game, presented at ICE London.

We also enriched our portfolio with instant games, a real showcase of ours, with a menu of sport-themed titles, including Football Manager and Penalty Shoot-out – both of which have done a great job of supplementing sportsbook during last year’s cancellation of live events. I’m really pleased about the numbers for these from a commercial standpoint, particularly in LatAm, where we’ve enjoyed significant growth.

Alongside our catalogue, we also strengthened our product line’s quality with the branded customised engine, Spinential. Usage of the engine allows us to accelerate loading and download speeds for games by up to x10 and makes titles accessible to players with devices of different capabilities. This is especially key for us in high growth markets such as Colombia, where you’re looing at an increase in GDP per capita of close to $200 million for the last two years alone.

You were founded in 2017 – as someone with an established record across the start-up and VC world, what do you see as key for your leading your team from rising to star to established industry player?

The key is always a team, as it drives and scales business and determines how far business will get in a roadmap. This is why, in venture investing, a team evaluation often precedes product evaluation – and its essential for knowing if the odds are strong for success.

We’ve looked to establish these learnings at Evoplay Entertainment. Our approach to team building, division of responsibilities, and a proper understanding of the industry and ways of realising its potential has allowed us to scale our organisation in leaps and bounds in the last year – and has seen us proudly begin to cement ourselves as one of the industry’s most exciting suppliers.

Looking back, it’s certainly been a road of dedication, and together with the team, we tested a raft of concepts to really define what we want our next catalogue to be, which effectively reflected on our development and competitiveness in the market – and we’ve got some really outstanding titles lined up.

Looking at growth markets in 2021 – where’s been key for Evoplay Entertainment in terms of expansion? Where should our readers be looking when it comes to new territories?

For us, it’s been all about expanding into new markets while ensuring we continually fine-tune our products to guarantee they deliver for multiple audiences as well as meeting local requirements.

Personalised offers have also allowed us to appeal to casino operators with relevant products for their players and seen us successfully debut in the Romanian, Bulgarian, Italian, Croatian markets with local certificates in 2020. I’m absolutely delighted to see us topping the iGaming Business deal chart with more than seven signed operators and platforms in the last few months.

Also noteworthy was the brand’s global recognition, gained by some really effective B2C marketing campaigns, which formed an excellent demand for our products from the players – and has really allowed us to differentiate ourselves ahead of our competitors.

In regard to your own commercial success, what do you see as key when it comes to standing out in this new environment with changed player demands?

Understanding your audience and its needs is invaluable. We position ourselves as a supplier with a user-centric approach to game development that can meet and exceed player expectations, and it has paid dividends in terms of our fanbase.

We’ve made this happen by putting in place a well-established network within our marketing team, which analyses players’ behavior and provides data on what products people want to play, and then in turn liaises with the development team, which technically implements these requests.

You can’t underestimate the importance of data in this regard. Players can bounce from your casino, and for reasons that are easily avoidable. Worldpay, for example, has shown us that 30% of players they surveyed will immediately switch operators if their preferred payment method is no longer available.

Constant communication and data exchange allow us to hit the target as much as possible in terms of players’ preferences and producing products that are ranked as world favourites – and I’m delighted to be part of such a team.

How much does your outlook for global markets affect your creative and development strategy? Are you looking to tailor your next catalogues towards arguably different player preferences to 2019 and 2020?

The effects of last year’s events have had an unprecedented impact on business, and from a social and economic perspective – Q1 2021 is not shaping up much better for large parts of Europe. Therefore, in building our strategy for the quarter, we need to consider possible changes in the global world – and adjust pipelines accordingly.

It’s all about agility, and looking at last year, we’ve seen that football-themed instant games (rather than slots), can really reduce the RNG-barrier for sports bettors. This is essential as it provides the cross-channel sell that operators need to have to ensure they’re pandemic-proof. With this in mind, we’re laser focused on keeping up with our users and follow the news in the industry and the world accordingly, making sure we’re always ready to adapt.

Overall, I have no doubt that the industry is still set to grow – Bloomberg has the global gaming industry at more than half a trillion dollars by 2023 – and I see no reason why we shouldn’t be on track for that.

Last but not least, how do you see slots changing in the next few years? With some great tech out there, how do you see games evolving?

Gambling will continue to be influenced by its neighbors from the entertainment sector – video games and cybersport. Entertainment is at the heart of gaming, whether that’s real money or anything else. I also expect to see a bigger movement into gamification that will give players a more immersive product that can really provide for an adventure that the audience can identify with, with a level of gameplay and technical base that can connect with the mainstream.

I also predict that instant games, which became popular in 2020, will continue to rise in demand in the upcoming year due to their simplicity and low weight. Looking at their phenomenal growth since what is arguably Facebook’s original inception – they’ve gone from 20 games in 2017 to 6,000 with 20 billion game sessions. Of course, that applies to the likes of Candy Crush and such, but with numbers such as these, when translated into real money gaming it’s clear that the vertical is full of potential.

Last but not least, keep an eye on what’s going on outside of the industry when it comes to popular content and trending subjects – now, more than ever, capturing what your audience is feeling, and wanting to feel – and then delivering it in entertainment format is what will set you apart from the competition this year.

Interviews

Exclusive interview with ESA Gaming’s Maria Luisa Malfasi

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

A year after introducing its EasySwipe™ product, ESA Gaming’s collection of mobile games optimized for cross-selling from casino to sportsbook now features six titles following the recent launch of its latest hit Joker Poker. ESA Gaming has also entered several new markets and struck partnerships with operator and aggregator partners around the globe. European Gaming caught up with Maria Luisa Malfasi, Business Development Manager at ESA Gaming to see what the future has in store for the supplier.

It has been a fantastic year for ESA Gaming which has seen you move from offering an aggregator platform and poker network to focus on cross-selling titles for mobile, tell us about the last 12 months.

Having offered an aggregator platform and poker network for some years we wanted to develop a new USP for the company and introduce something unique and different to what is currently available in the very saturated slots market. The result was our portfolio of EasySwipe™ games which is designed specifically to sit within sportsbooks to offer bettors a simple yet engaging casino experience without disrupting the sports betting experience. We now have six titles in our offering and it’s been a fantastic year for ESA Gaming.

Major sporting events in the summer, such as the Euros and the Olympics, definitely helped boost our portfolio as betting volumes significantly increase and naturally offers the possibility of cross-selling to casino.

The Euros was our first experience of having our EasySwipe™ games live during a major tournament and offered an opportunity for us to gather some good business intelligence which we will incorporate into our future product development. We already have one sport-themed title in our portfolio which has resonated well with bettors and we will add more in the near future to better appeal to sports fans.

Tell us a bit about how your EasySwipe portfolio has developed and performed in the last year. 

As the name of our product suggests, customers easily swipe from one product to a next on their mobile device. This ensures the sports-betting experience per se is not disrupted but allows players to enjoy their favourite casino games or try something new whilst continuing to bet on sports. We have now introduced six fantastic titles that offer players a fast-paced, fun-filled gaming experience.

 

The first titles we introduced were blackjack and roulette that bring the real casino experience to the player, with intuitive game play and responsive design, perfect for mobile screens. Fruit Staxx, our enticing fruit-themed slot is designed for casual gameplay with an immersive user experience. GoalMine, is a fast, football-themed game which gives players a speedy game-play, with familiar graphics and steps. The title has been a huge hit with avid sports fans and is a natural fit in a sportsbook. The simple format and differing final rounds which create genuine progression and culminate in sporting action adds an extra layer of excitement to this title.

Recently we introduced EgyptMine, the second title in our Mine series. Inspired by computer classic Minesweeper, it sees players race across the sands avoiding evil creatures before entering a pyramid in search of treasure. Finally, our most recent hit was Joker Poker, another casino classic featuring a standard deck of 52 cards, plus a wild joker, where players are tasked with creating the best possible 5-card poker hand. Players can utilise an autoplay feature and there are chances to multiply winnings with an enticing Gamble Round offering red, black or suit betting, while there are chances to win up to 300x stake on every hand.

 

In terms of reach, is expansion in your future plans and if so, what new markets is ESA looking at? 

We see plenty of opportunity to expand our reach and are exploring several opportunities. We are currently looking at getting our content certified or licensed in a raft of European markets such as Romania, Sweden, Denmark and Greece.

 

We are carefully analysing the potential of the market before making the decision on whether to enter or not and are focusing on territories where sports betting has a strong following.

In the last year we have entered Portugal and significantly expanded in Italy, signing several deals with leading local operators and aggregator platform providers. We also received our MGA licence which will allow us to distribute our games to an array of new partners.

We will of course also continue to develop our games portfolio and have recently hired a hugely experienced Head of Games to oversee this expansion and the creation of a portfolio of slots. We will Imminently introduce sport-themed games Basketball Mine, and Tennis Mine, with new more involved bonus rounds, as well as some innovative slots titles and our first crash-style game.

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eSports

Exclusive Q&A with Alex Shybanov, Senior Sales Manager for CEE Region/PandaScore

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Exclusive Q&A with Alex Shybanov, Senior Sales Manager for CEE Region/PandaScore
Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

What is the difference between PandaScore and big suppliers? 

The biggest difference is that we’re solely focused on esports whereas a lot of the bigger suppliers concentrated on traditional sports. For PandaScore esports is the only priority. We’re also fast and agile – we can implement new products and features incredibly quickly allowing our partners to leverage the fast-growing nature of the sector.

Another major difference is the data-led approach we take. We combine this with AI, our own trading models and a team of highly skilled traders which allows us to present one of the best esports betting products in the market.

Our trading models are worth highlighting as this is what really sets us apart. They’re fully automated and cover all of the sports that we have. In comparison, most of the big suppliers are still using manual or semi-manual models.

Finally, the number of markets we offer and our uptime (the percentage of time that lines are open and available for players to place bets) is unrivalled. We are also open to feedback and regularly work with our partners to implement new tools and features.

This enables us to satisfy their individual needs and continually improve performance, something that the big providers cannot offer especially if esports is not considered a priority for them.

 

What do you have to say about the esports market in Central & Eastern Europe?

It is fast-growing, for sure, and is really well developed when compared with other European regions and markets like the UK. In fact, across CEE esports is often among the top five bets on sports in terms of revenues and turnover.

What is driving this? Several factors but in particular there are some really strong teams that are based out of CEE countries. This includes Na’Vi (CS:GO) and Team Spirit (Dota 2) – 2021 TI champions. This has helped to elevate the popularity of esports across the region.

To bet on esports, you really have to play esports and CEE is a big market in terms of the number of players that play video games. This in turn helps to drive esports engagement and betting on esports as there is a larger pool of consumers that understand how it all works.

What is interesting is the popularity of certain games in CEE, which differs from other European markets. CS:GO is by far the most popular game to play, with Dota 2 number two across the market. But globally, League of Legends is the most popular.

 

Why is your trading solution specifically suited for the CEE market?

There are several key reasons why PandaScore is perfectly suited for operators targeting the CEE market. The first is our local coverage; we offer odds and markets on all local tournaments across the region including in Poland, the Czech Republic and Russia.

Next, our data-driven approach and unique models allows us to achieve the best uptime. For CS:GO uptime levels are in excess of 90% and with Dota 2 it is 75%. This is between 20-25% more than our rivals which means our partners can offer their players more betting opportunities.

This is achieved via our automated models and not having to change the lines manually. With players able to bet 25% more during the game, this is a major value driver for operators. This is only set to become more significant with the continued growth of live esports betting.

Finally, we have comprehensive margin management, and this is important for operators targeting the region because esports bettors are sophisticated. They are not recreational players and have a deep understanding of how games work and the betting options available to them.

Our partners can set different margins across a range of factors such as pre-match, live, games, markets, and more.

This allows them to maximise their margin but also run promotions around particular games and markets, lowering the odds to make them more attractive on a specific game and then setting a higher margin on second and third-tier games to balance this off. 

 

How do you balance this approach for your partner operators, who may have different needs?

Our trading dashboard has been designed to put the power in an operator’s hands. Their traders can manage everything from booking (such as by game, tournament tier, automated) to margin management (possibility to set different margins for different games, markets, tournaments) and more.We have many different markets, especially for live betting. For CS:GO, for instance, we have 60 pre-match markets and 24 live markets.

As an example, we have recently rolled out player markets for total kills over/under. This allows operators to increase revenues by offering markets on specific players and teams that are popular in that region or market. And it’s becoming more and more popular.

 

What are PandaScore’s goals for 2022 and esports?

Esports will continue on its rapid growth trajectory. It is already in the top five sports in some markets and I believe this will become the case in more and more regions in 2022. Offline tournaments are also returning which will be a further catalyst for growth.

Regarding PandaScore, we will continue to increase the scale and scope of our coverage and particularly when it comes to local coverage. This will be driven in part by cooperating with local tournaments and securing additional data partnerships.

We will keep building out our market and product offerings – player markets have launched with CS:GO but we plan to extend this to other games such as Dota 2. We are also working on offering multiples for specific games with a bet builder feature also in the works.

2022 is set to be another breakthrough year for esports and esports betting, and as always PandaScore will be at the cutting edge of this incredible sector.

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Interviews

Roundtable: Marketing responsibly within a stricter environment

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Roundtable: Marketing responsibly within a stricter environment
Reading Time: 6 minutes

 

With emerging markets and countries taking a stricter approach to regulation in recent weeks, the subject of responsible marketing remains high on the agenda.

As an industry we understand the importance of being safe and responsible when engaging with end users with marketing material, but how exactly are operators and suppliers working together to ensure that best practices are maintained on a daily basis?

We asked Daniela Speranza, Head of Compliance at Betsson, Liesbeth Oost, Sustainability Manager at Aspire Global and Peter Christian Noer, Head of Country Managers at Soft2Bet, to discuss the tools and measures that are being utilised to improve the execution of responsible marketing.

 

Given the increased scrutiny around marketing across multiple regulated markets, do you think more can be done at platform level to support operators in their efforts to be more responsible?

Peter Christian Noer: Yes and no, we believe the responsibility falls on every operator, to ensure its marketing practices are kept in line with regulations. However, the more tools that can be provided the better. Especially in terms of targeting, so that operators can filter out under-age people easily.

It all comes down to data and what opportunities the platform provider has in place, if the system is kept secure and a trusted source of compliant traffic, then increased marketing budgets will be allocated to the platform.

Overall, it is in everyone’s interest that the platform can offer great protection, betting and data tools, although the responsibility of the allocated marketing budget should always fall on the operator.

Daniela Speranza: Yes, ideally platforms would be designed with responsible gambling considerations at their core, making it simpler for operators to achieve their objectives in this sense and comply with their ever-increasing obligations. For example, if platforms were to be tailored to cover market-specific legislation and advertising standards, I believe that it would be easier to protect the end-user, this of course being the ultimate goal of any responsible gambling requirements. The greatest thing about software is that it is plastic, and it can be moulded as we desire. This benefit must be used to our advantage as operators, always subject to the exigencies of the market competition, of course.

Furthermore, artificial intelligence and real-time alerting models can be integrated with platforms to provide efficient monitoring and analyses, enabling operators to interact proactively with players and ultimately providing end-users with the ability to make informed choices.

Liesbeth Oost: With AI and machine learning technology coming on in leaps and bounds in recent years, there’s a lot more that providers can do for operators in this space. For instance, in the world of affiliate marketing, an operator can have dozens of affiliates and the operator is responsible for ensuring each one remains compliant. When platform providers invest in developing the right solution, they have the ability to offer greater oversight on affiliates. This leaves the operator open to a lot less risk, which is a huge step forward, especially as stricter marketing rules are being enforced.

The industry has embraced a lot of different aspects of sustainability such as responsible marketing in the last two years. It’s easy to see how that is becoming more a part of the culture now, and this isn’t purely motivated by a fear of getting fined. Embracing compliance has led to better business, so it is no surprise that doing so with responsible marketing, for which Aspire is a strong advocate, has had a similar impact. It would be fantastic to see those efforts replicated in the wider industry, which could only serve to benefit operators.

 

What are the key differences between different jurisdictions approach to responsible marketing?

Liesbeth Oost: There are massive differences between jurisdictions. However, one steadily emerging trend is the markets that have regulated most recently seem to be the strictest. In the Netherlands, which has recently introduced its new regulatory framework, penalties on advertising violations result in non-eligibility to apply for a license.

Elsewhere, the US is very serious about each business’ role in the environment and its overall social governance. Embedding a culture of responsible gambling in a newly regulated country bodes well for the future of the market, promoting safer gaming experiences that players can enjoy.

Daniela Speranza: Whilst the intention of responsible marketing measures in different jurisdictions is more or less the same, namely, to reduce rates of gambling addiction and ramp up player protection efforts, especially for vulnerable groups such as problem gamblers and minors, there are key differences when it comes to how different jurisdictions approach it.

Certain measures in jurisdictions which do permit marketing are often similar regarding what can and cannot be included in communications regarding marketing material. For example, requiring ads to be socially responsible, not targeting minors or portraying sexual content.

At Betsson, we believe that advertising is vital for channelisation. Associations like the European Gaming & Betting Association’s (EGBA) are aiming to set long-term standards for gambling advertising content in Europe. Betsson is a member of EGBA and follows its Code of Conduct on Responsible Advertising for Online Gambling with a firm commitment on responsible gambling.

Peter Christian Noer: I wouldn’t say that there are many differences. Overall, they are quite similar with each jurisdiction having a unique trait. For example, some regulators will want a license number included in banners whereas others don’t mind.

The main rules to follow are quite consistent, such as not targeting minors, following good marketing practices, indicating terms associated with offers, offering full terms and including references to responsible gambling helplines or services.

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between jurisdictions is how many disclaimers need to be included. However, in my opinion, this doesn’t serve much of a purpose. In certain jurisdictions, regulators differentiate the number of disclaimers based on the market channel, as some allow for more to be included. However, this allows these regulators to bloat the requirements. I personally fail to see the point of including several disclaimer sentences in marketing messages, no one reads them, and, in any case, they are available online.

 

What sort of solutions does your company provide in supporting operators with their responsible marketing efforts?

Peter Christian Noer: As an operator ourselves, we mostly rely on the tools provided by partners at our disposal. In general, we maintain a strong level of communication with our provides and external partners.

We also normally work with partners that have operated within the industry before, since they have experience with special regulatory, technical and business requirements. More importantly they’ll also understand that our iGaming industry probably has more restrictions than others.

Since players’ trust is crucial in all markets, it’s also important that we as an operator market ourselves in a responsible and balanced manner. We also ensure that we stay within the guidelines and not go outside of them. Facing courts for marketing violations not only hurts the operator but the industry as a whole. We must acknowledge that we are an easy target and that we should all work collectively to improve the presentation of our offers so that they are clear and fair, otherwise future marketing restrictions will continue.

Daniela Speranza: Betsson understands the importance of identifying early signs of potential gambling-related harm and with this in mind, constantly invests in technology to develop automation and tools to help identify end-users at risk, such as late-night gamblers, chasing losses, heavy spenders, frequent depositors and limits being changed frequently. Our in-house built RG Prediction Tool with the help of various other reports, alerts and escalation processes is in use by a dedicated safer gambling team that is collating all data, analysing, and using the outcomes for interactions and interventions.

Betsson also ensures that marketing and advertising efforts are conducted in a socially responsible manner. Marketing and advertising communications are not aimed at, nor appeal to, underage persons (i.e., any age below the legal age for gambling in any jurisdiction where the communication is targeted) and carry appropriate warnings about underage gambling.  By way of example, no logos or names of gambling products or services are found on products intended to be used or worn by underage persons. Advertising is not shown on any websites that children may frequent; YouTube and social media content are age-gated; celebrities or prolific persons are not used in marketing if they are under the age of 25, and persons that are shown, are shown to be gambling responsibly, for example no links to alcohol and gambling together.

The Compliance team is well integrated with the marketing teams and provides guidelines and training so that marketing is responsible and meets the various regulatory standards of moderation. Furthermore, the Compliance team oversees these functions to ensure that published marketing material follows internal guidelines and policies.

Liesbeth Oost: A huge challenge for most operators is how they monitor their affiliate partners to ensure they are always compliant. Overseeing every aspect of how multiple affiliates are performing is a massive task that cannot be done without the support of technology. To help with this, Aspire has partnered with Rightlander, which offers a range of solutions for affiliate compliance monitoring. Through its technology, we can identify affiliates bidding on client brand names, hijacking traffic and using their own tracking codes to intercept traffic.

Significant strides have been made in the world of machine learning and AI, which means that advanced platforms can actively optimise campaigns to a much greater extent and reduce the need for judgement calls on employees’ part. Most importantly for this issue, these tools can monitor a huge number of sites and flag any that may not be compliant in that market in an efficient manner.

Although our operating partners take care of their own marketing and relationships with affiliates, we are equipped to assist them in their operations and provide them with a service that ensures affiliates are not misrepresenting their brand.

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