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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.

eSports

eSports in the CIS region , Q&A w/ Viktor Block, Senior Sales Manager/PandaScore

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eSports in the CIS region , Q&A w/ Viktor Block, Senior Sales Manager/PandaScore
Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

Esports has long been popular in the CIS region, with various top-tier teams and players all calling it home. How has the landscape evolved over the last few years? Have any particular trends emerged that have surprised you at all?

Esports boomed in the CIS region in 2008 when Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games became really popular. While esports had been a thing as far back as 2003, the rise of games such as Counter-Strike and DOTA2 was a major catalyst for the upward trajectory the sector has been riding ever since. In recent years, the infrastructure needed to support esports has improved drastically across the CIS region, including the construction of the Pixel Esports Arena in Minks, Belarus, and the Cyberspace Arena in Almaty, Kazakhstan, both of which hold top-flight contests. Internet connectivity has also improved, while support from local and international sponsors such as Monster Energy, Red Bull and War Gaming have provided funds for further investment while also driving awareness. Ultimately, this has seen the landscape evolve into a thriving industry with lots of opportunities for further growth.

In terms of trends, and especially relating to esports betting, I’ve been surprised by the high demand for betting on console games – we call them eBattles and they include disciplines such as eSoccer and eBasketball. I think this is just a natural development that has occurred off the back of strong demand for video game content, which is often the bridge between traditional sports and esports.

 

What factors have contributed to esports’ growth in the CIS over the past few years?

One of the biggest factors for me is that teams have become more professional and are now training and playing in well-run clubs. This takes place in dedicated buildings and rooms, set up with high-speed internet and the absolute best gaming equipment. Player salaries have also gone up, which has increased the calibre of players taking part in contests across the region, taking competitiveness to the next level. Today, many CIS players now play for high-ranked teams such as Virtus.pro, Team Spirit, Betboom or Na`Vi which compete on the international stage. This in turn is helping esports grow across the CIS region.

 

Given how many countries are in the CIS region, can you walk us through some of the biggest regulatory differences when it comes to betting on esports? And how does PandaScore navigate these changes?

The legality of betting and esports betting differs from country to country within the CIS region. Some are super strict or even prohibit gambling, while others take a more liberal approach, regulating the activity and licensing operators. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest markets and their approach.

In Ukraine, esports has been recognised as a sport since 2018 and in 2020 the country regulated and licensed gambling for the first time. The law focuses mostly on standard betting – sports and casino – but is likely to also include esports betting given that esports is a recognised sport in the country with tier-one Ukraine sportsbooks like Favbet and Parimatch offering it to their players.

Kazakhstan has a growing gambling industry with betting shops and casinos operating in major cities such as Almaty and Nur-Sultan. Gambling is regulated by the Ministry of Culture and Sports and while the regulatory framework is somewhat restrictive, sports betting – which is likely to include esports betting – is permitted.

Navigating the constant changes in betting regulation across the CIS region can be challenging, so we make sure to keep up to speed with the latest developments by monitoring legislative updates and amendments to regulatory guidelines. We also track industry trends and best practices to anticipate regulatory changes ahead of time, allowing us to adapt quickly if needed. This can involve benchmarking against competitors, attending conferences and networking with key stakeholders.

 

In your view, are there any unique opportunities for the expansion of esports and esports betting within the CIS region? And how does this differ to other regions?

It’s important to understand that CIS, especially Ukraine and Kazakhstan, play by their own rules. By that I mean they are very different to other esports markets, so don’t think what works in Italy will work in Ukraine. For example, while League of Legends is very popular in Europe, in CIS, it’s Dota 2 that takes the top spot. But for those who can understand the region and each market, there are plenty of opportunities to explore.

Let me elaborate. Dota 2 is thriving in the broader CIS, with regular tournaments and events attracting large audiences both offline and online. teams like Natus Vincere (Na’Vi), Virtus.pro and Team Spirit have achieved significant success in Dota 2 competitions, contributing to the game’s popularity in the region. While Dota 2 is big, other video games also enjoy significant popularity, including CS2, World of Tanks and Fortnite among others.

Operators need to consider this when deciding their markets and odds, marketing strategies and plans for player engagement.

 

What would you say is the key to creating a successful esports product for a CIS audience?

Understanding layer preferences in each market and delivering an experience that exceeds their expectations. For the CIS region, this means focusing on Dota 2 – this is a game that offers deep and strategic gameplay requiring teamwork, communication and skilful execution of plans and strategies. Its competitive nature appeals to gamers as they enjoy the challenge of multiplayer experiences – this goes back to the original MOBAs back in 2008. These factors must be present in the esports betting experience offered to players – at PandaScore, this means a comprehensive Dota 2 offering that covers markets such as Kills, Towers, Roshans and Barracks, with players able to challenge themselves in a betting competition against others.

Support is also key to delivering a quality player experience. We offer round-the-clock assistance and are regularly rolling out updates to improve the experience players receive when betting on esports at sportsbooks using our data, odds and betting tools such as our Bet Builder. We are always working hard to expand our offering to cover the most in-demand games including CS2, Valorant, Call of Duty and many more.

 

What trends or developments do you anticipate shaping the future growth of esports in the CIS region over the next few years?

The industry will continue to grow and become more professional. Esports is different to traditional sports and it still lacks recognition in some markets, even though it is considered an official sport in a growing number of countries across the CIS region. I think as it evolves, more governments will provide more support for esports as it brings tremendous economic, cultural and social benefits. This could include funding for esports initiatives, rolling out regulatory frameworks, helping to foster partnerships with esports organisations or simply recognising it as a sport.

The continued proliferation of smartphones across the region will be a further catalyst for esports growth. Titles such as PUGB Mobile, Free Fire and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang will attract large audiences and provide new opportunities for teams, players, sponsors and other stakeholders to explore. This is a really exciting time for esports and esports betting in the CIS region, and PandaScore is thrilled to be part of it.

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Interviews

Exclusive Q&A w/ Rory Credland, Head of Strategy at Next.io

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Q&A w/ Rory Credland, Head of Strategy at Next.io
Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

  • Could you provide an overview of the upcoming Next.io summit in May?

We are hosting our 4th annual NEXT.io event in Valletta on 15 – 16 May. With a global delegation of 5,000 attendees, Valletta’24 is more than just a conference; it’s where groundbreaking ideas and innovations converge. In addition to the leadership stage, we host several side tracks on marketing, investment, HR, sustainability, technology, emerging markets/jurisdictions – plus a new track on personal development. As we expect over 5,000 attendees, we have also increased our networking space with a new hall dedicated to more exhibitors, entertainment area, lunch, and a chill-out zone. Finally, our recent partnership with Ask Gamblers will ensure greater affiliates and operators in attendance, so as you can see there is definitely something for everyone and the event promises to be one of endless connections and activities.

 

  • What speakers or panelists can attendees expect to hear from during the summit?

We have tailored the event to make this event the pinnacle of the iGaming industry, offering unparalleled networking opportunities and insights from 300 industry-leading voices. We have many c-level speakers attending including Angus Nisbet, VP Gaming, BetMGM, gaming industry expert Paris Smith, Lahcene Merzoug, CEO. PressEnter, Francesco Postiglione, CEO, Casumo, Martina Akerlund, CEO, CallsU, Jeffrey Haas, Chief Growth Officer, William Hill, Todd Haushalter, CPO, Evolution Group, Tim Heath, General Partner, Yolo Investments plus an amazing keynote to kick off the start the event. We have two amazing keynotes to kick-start day 1 and 2 of the event, so I urge you to check out our agenda via

 

  • Can you share any insights into the format of sessions and discussions planned for the summit?

We like to change the formats and concepts up at NEXT.io compared to the norm that you see at other organisers. For instance, we base our talks at 30mins max to ensure that it is short and sharp straight to the point discussions and a limited number of speakers on each session so that more interactive discussion and debate can be had. We also are putting the CEOs under the spotlight this year – think Mastermind – with each CEO – one by one – under a “spotlight” for 10mins with direct questioning from the host. Should be awesome and insightful.

 

  • How does Next.io ensure diversity and inclusivity in the selection of speakers and participants for its summits?

Internally we take an active stance to ensure that there is a cross selection of speakers to this regard based on our own internal metrics. Wherever possible we encourage new speakers to be put forward by their organisations or through connections that we make – this allows for new and different perspectives on the discussion to hand which make the event and tracks interesting and informative for the audience.

 

  • What unique networking or collaboration opportunities will be available to participants during the event?

For two years ago we have designed NEXT.io Valletta to be a festival week of iGaming, encouraging people to arrive for the week to take part in our activities we have on the Monday and Tuesday before attending the event on Wednesday. This year we have Golf, Padel, Run Club plus many networking events taking place from Tuesday through to Friday night, so check out the website where you will be able to find more information.

 

  • How does Next.io leverage technology or innovation to enhance the summit experience for attendees, whether in-person or virtual?

We have a unique advantage hosting the event at the MCC in that the main stage is built like a theatre – so with use of such a big stage we can use LED screens which allow for animation and interaction on screen as well as several attendee applications which ensures they get directly involved with what session is taking place and have an input into the direction of the questioning.

 

  • What motivated Next.io to choose Malta as the location?

NEXT.io head office is based in Malta, so it felt a natural fit to organise our flagship event within the country and at one of Malta’s iconic venues – The Mediterranean Conference Centre – with epic views over the harbour and Mediterranean Sea. When NEXT.io was formed the company had amazing support from the Maltese Gaming Authority who backed us at the time and so since day one we continue to use Malta to host what we feel is becoming an event on everyone’s calendars.

 

  • How does Next.io ensure that its summits provide a platform for emerging voices and perspectives alongside established leaders and experts?

As mentioned previously we like to continuously promote not only the established experts but also the leaders of tomorrow. Our Advisory Board is instrumental in that regards as they also have an ear to the ground as to whom is best to suggest for topics and discussions. I think what works best is a mix of experience and new to crate that interesting discussion on stage.

 

  • How does Next.io plan to capture and share the insights and outcomes from the Malta summit to extend its impact beyond the event itself?

We record our main stage sessions and use this through our awesome marketing to promote the event long after it is over via access on our news part of the website. In fact, we never see an event having an “end” more of a continuation to the next show as we promote what was and what is new for the following year. Continuous dialogue with our audience and clients is important to ensure consistent messaging and allows us to react to what market forces are in play at the time.

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Interviews

BetGames Classic roulette launch w/ Andreas Koeberl, CEO

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BetGames Classic roulette launch w/ CEO, Andreas Koeberl
Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

You’ve just launched your own spin on the casino classic roulette – what prompted this move and why now?

AK: Our mission is to help our partners convert their recreational punters into casino players, organically, resulting in lower CPAs and higher retention rates. In practice, this means instead of throwing massive bonuses at your players, you use a curated set of games, features and targeted bonuses at a way lower cost. We already deliver the initial part of this journey and have now added arguably the most classic game of all time to ensure we don’t lose those players to the competition.

 

Some may consider such a launch as brave given how saturated the market is with versions of the game – how have you built the trademark BetGames DNA into your version?

AK: The products we launch are all key parts of the puzzle to convert bettors to casino, rather than being efforts to attack the big established brands in the market. Roulette is a commodity and what’s the point of entering a price war we can’t win due to lower scale? The crucial focus is the player conversion journey and a seamless experience – not having to switch lobbies and staying with the supplier you trust. We didn’t reinvent the wheel, so to speak! I don’t think the fancy studios with robot arms and seven different cameras add any value in our core markets. We focused on a slick player experience with a professional presenter quality. We have kept it simple and targeted.

 

Do you have certain markets in mind for this latest launch? Are we seeing RNG table games surge in popularity in LatAm, for example?

AK: We’re focusing on our existing markets and LatAm initially. This is one reason why we launched the game without a continuous stream during the placing of bets, reducing data consumption. What we have learned from some of our existing games, and certainly from our most popular examples, is that our players (who are generally more sports savvy) enjoy silence and focus during betting. Thus, we have top-notch quality presentation during the spin but a quiet, slick betting experience during the dwell time. This helps to save players’ data, particularly in markets where developing infrastructures are a challenge. LatAm isn’t very developed yet with live content, and one of the main reasons for that is partly poor infrastructure. Quick, data-light products like RNG games remain popular because of that.

 

You’ve seen a lot of success in LatAm and Africa – are the requirements of developing markets hugely different to those of the more established when you are developing products?

AK: Africa is special because it is an extremely superstitious market – trust and ease of use are everything. LatAm is more demanding on the localisation front. People want Brazilian Portuguese or Latin Spanish, even though they often play games muted – this makes it tricky. From a live perspective, both markets are still in their infancy. RNG develops quicker, but still has huge potential. We will see what the new regulations in areas such as Brazil, Peru and Chile will bring in terms of market development.

 

Is the widening of your product portfolio indicative of a long-term shift of focus for BetGames? Will we see more of your more traditional lottery and card-based games?

AK: We follow a niche strategy and want to add incremental value for our partners. We have seen a lot of new competitors entering the live dealer space aiming to take on the likes of Evolution, Playtech and Pragmatic Play. Most of them failed or at least experienced a hard landing in terms of commercial success. The big players, especially Pragmatic and Evolution have massive scale, giving them significant competitive advantages, which lots of smaller or new studios often underestimate. A 24/7 live operation comes with enormous challenges and OPEX and the rev shares on commodities like roulette are getting smaller and smaller. So, we will stick to our mission and USP. If a partner wants a roulette environment, we are capable of delivering, but it needs to make sense. Hence, we aren’t neglecting our core to become a supplier of roulette and blackjack specifically.

We’ve grown our portfolio over the years to accommodate constantly shifting player trends and technology and will continue to do so, remaining agile, relevant and making informed decisions on a product offering that suits global markets.

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