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Exclusive Q&A with Michael Hudson, CEO and Co-Founder of GameBake

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Reading Time: 12 minutes

 

We have here with us an entrepreneur who started out quite early in gaming.

Michael Hudson, CEO and Co-Founder of GameBake, talks here about a host of topics:

  • His beginnings as a game developer, his quest to develop a ‘fair, transparent, platform agnostic solution” that allows seamless publishing of games across platforms;
  • His instinct of “running away from the light” and looking for “fringe areas”;
  • What game developers can expect from GameBake;
  • And about the gaming industry across the globe.

This is a bit longer than our usual interviews. But it contains nuanced perspectives expressed in straightforward language that the whole industry should look up and take note.

Over to the interview now!

Q. To start off, tell us about your career. Our readers love to hear top entrepreneurs talk about themselves, especially someone who became one at the age of 13!

A. 13 definitely feels like a lifetime ago now! But yes, I started my career in the games industry at 13 although my life as an entrepreneur goes back a little further than that. Since day one, I’ve always tried to make money – some way, somehow, from car washing to selling sweets at school (the demand was there, with only “healthy” options available at lunch times!)

Like they are for many of us, games have always been of keen interest to me, but unlike most, I always wanted to find out what makes a game and how I could make my own. I think it’s those kinds of questions that I’ve always asked that lead me towards teaching myself how to first build websites to host flash games, and then how to actually build the games themselves.

I first started exploring game development with a tool called GameMaker which is still around today, albeit much more developed than when I started with it all those years ago. Eventually I transitioned to working with Flash and building games for websites such as Newgrounds, which eventually led me to the sponsorship/licensing model and how I made my first $200 licensing my first flash game. My next flash game made over $15,000 in fees and that is when I started to take things a little more seriously because big numbers were involved. Considering I had turned down King (yes, the same King that went on to develop the hit we all know and love) I was clearly starting to move towards developing my hobby into a legit business, in a very natural way.

Since then it has been a rollercoaster with ups, downs and many loops, but it has led me to where I am today, with an amazing team (and now, friends), where we can be part of and help build the future of the gaming industry.

Q. How and why did you co-found GameBake? And what does the name signify?

A. GameBake was born out of a genuine business need. As developers, we’ve learned that it’s best to knuckle down and focus on a single product, a single goal that we can all work hard on to achieve great things.

As developers under our previous studio name, we worked on many projects, from hyper-casual games (before that became an industry term) right down to free-to-play titles. This experience was amazing but always positioned us in a similar place. Our publishers wanted the games to be playable everywhere but we only had so much manpower and hours in the day to actually achieve the lofty goals being asked of us. Integrated 3, 4 or 5 SDKs is annoying enough, but having to do that plus integrate the tech of every single platform plus find new services that work on and with these platforms plus making a new specific version for each platform (and all of that with no centralised system to easily and efficiently track everything), well, it wasn’t great, let’s leave it at that.

GameBake was a product of all of this. Our internal struggles and frustrations that led us to seeing a need in the market that, not only we wanted to solve, but many others wanted a solution for, and that is why we pivoted away from a development studio to go all-in with our KILN technology that allows us to open up the whole gaming market to developers globally, no matter how big or small you are.

What does the name signify? Well, we were named Yello at the very start so GameBake was part of our development as we pushed forwards into new markets and started using better technology. GameBake itself doesn’t have a specific meaning behind it, but for us, it describes what we do in one word, which is: baking games with the technology needed for everybody to access new amazing platforms and markets globally.

Q. How exactly does GameBake work? What kind of support can a gaming developer and publisher expect from your company?

A. How the tech works behind the scenes is probably a question more for our amazing CTO, so maybe you’ll find out in the next interview! But the concept is pretty simple really:-

• Upload your APK to GameBake, the very same APK used for uploading to Google Play;
• Check the boxes for the services your game uses; E.g. GameAnalytics, Tenjin, or Firebase, Adjust and so on;
• Check which stores you want to deploy to, e.g. Huawei AppGallery;
• Job done! Our tech (called KILN) takes care of the rest and spits out a compiled version of your game with all the required tech needed to run on the chosen platforms you are looking to distribute to.

Of course, store pages need to be built for each platform and IDs from other services need to be swapped for new IDs from those services, but for the new platforms you go live on. We are working closely with most of the big industry players to try and automate as much of this as possible and we are well on our way to achieving this.

As for what to expect from GameBake, well I would say a fair, transparent, platform agnostic solution that works! If you want to use our tech to make getting to new platforms easier, but want to make partnerships with the platforms yourself (i.e. setup features yourself and so on), that is fine, we are able to facilitate this and will do all we can to provide what you need with who you need. If what you are looking for is a more hands-on approach from us, one where we setup all your games features, run the UA and more then we can also work with you like that as well.

For GameBake, flexibility is key as we see the technology and ecosystem we are building becoming a vital piece of the development puzzle that will enable easy and commercially viable ways to distribute and scale globally.

Q. Changing the status quo of game distribution is not just unglamorous but kind of swimming against the tide too. What motivated you to choose that path?

A. That is a great way of putting it, although I may go a step further and say it’s more like climbing up a waterfall. I have always been interested in the more fringe areas of any industry, especially within gaming. That may be because I can’t help but look at the potential of anything, but it could also be somewhat from necessity – as when launching our own games we never had huge marketing budgets to compete with so I and the team have had to look into areas that were cost effective.

Over the years, what I have found is that everybody always runs towards the light and it’s the ones running away from the light that are called crazy, but if everybody is standing around that light then it very quickly gets blocked. In short – the people running towards the light will find it very hard to find their way towards it. While those running away, and normally that’s in a different direction to everyone else, will normally find themselves in a niche but lucrative area that they can dominate. It’s only once that light starts burning brighter that others pay attention.

This is how I see distribution right now. The bright light is iOS and Google Play on mobile, with many other options, but all faded into the darkness. And now, the bright lights are glowing and the industry is starting to take notice of what is possible outside of the norm. Now it won’t be instantaneous, but we are seeing growth everyday and the more we all work together to open up these platforms and these markets, the greater the industry as a whole – and the more opportunity there will be for everybody globally to enter and become successful.

Q. What are the options available for games developers outside the duopoly of Google Play store and Apple Appstore as publishing platforms? Importantly, what are the attractions for the developers to opt for such off the beaten path destinations?

A. For those developing native games for mobile (Apps, basically) I would suggest looking into the alternative android market. I personally don’t like the word “alternative” as it gives off a vibe of these platforms being “lesser” than Google Play and this frankly isn’t the case, but we need to describe these stores somehow. These stores are low hanging fruit for most people, as if you can compile an APK, which you can, then you can deploy on these stores and the 100s of millions of users that they have.

Now, I’m not saying that this is an easy feat, or an approach that will guarantee success, far from it, but why you wouldn’t secure your brand and IP, and take advantage of these amazing platforms, makes no sense. To me, It’s a no brainer! Often, what we hear from the market is not that developers don’t want to distribute to these stores, but that they’re faced by complexities in being able to achieve this and in making it commercially viable. GameBake is fixing the headache faced by developers by providing an easy route to deploy to these stores, whilst providing the means to be able to leverage the services required in today’s industry to monetise and scale games effectively.

Outside of the App Stores, there are still a wealth of opportunities. In this space, you need to think carefully about the technology you are building your game in, because web distribution generally means HTML5 games, and for many this just isn’t an option. The opportunities on the web are amazing if approached in the right way, but it takes some time to port and for many it just isn’t worth the time and effort commercially.

The same goes for social/instant gaming platforms, such as Facebook, WeChat, Snap and many more. Your games need to be in HTML5 but more importantly, you need to think about how you approach each of these platforms. You can’t just launch a game and expect it to scale, you need to launch it under the platforms features and leverage them to really take advantage of what makes each of these platforms special.

For me, the opportunities are huge but the barrier to entry is also just as big with tons of awkward tech to integrate, porting games being required and the biggest barrier is the lack of services to allow you to properly scale your game but again, that is what we are here for and we are building. If you want to deploy to stores, port to HTML5, explore new markets and leverage your current service partners to do all of this, you can do – with GameBake.

Q. How can games profit from social media platforms like Facebook Gaming?

A. This is something I am asked a lot and the answer is simple because it is no different than a game on the App Store. If your game monetises via Facebook Ads, you can leverage Facebook Audience Network to monetise it, if done via purchases, then you can use the platforms payments system. Nothing drastic needs to change in how you monetise, I mean you don’t need to start asking for donations, because there is no other way.

I guess the real question here is ‘what are the best ways to monetise on social platforms such as Facebook?’. This is a difficult one to provide a rounded answer to that will please everybody but hopefully the below will help:-

• If you are leveraging IAPs then keep in mind that Apple “currently” stops payments being processed on these platforms if playing from an iOS device. We have all seen the recent news stories though so I expect this to change over the next 12 months opening iAPs up across platforms. Until then though, just keep this in mind.
• Hyper-Casual games have an advantage on social platforms as they have such a broad target audience which makes it “simpler” to make these games go viral. That being said, not all gameplay mechanics work and this must be considered when launching on a platform such as Facebook or Snap. Just because a game was a hit in the App Store, it doesn’t mean you can just throw the game as is on social platforms and expect it to work.
• When launching any game on social platforms, just think about how to leverage that platform’s features. For example, Facebook has a tournament mode that allows players to start tournaments that are playable directly from their timeline. With the right setup and design this can be used to get players sharing with friends which can create a viral UA channel to your game. Most social platforms have specific features like this and you need to leverage them to bring users to your game, keep them engaged and coming back and of course, then monetise them.

Q. What can be done to minimize the hurdles of finance and resource that game developers face while optimizing the games for different platforms? How near are we to a software alchemy that makes games publishing-ready for different platforms?

A. Of course I’m going to say that the time is right now – with GameBake! There are no integrations required, meaning access to all supported Android channels via a single upload. We are still working hard to make this even more simple so developers globally can focus on what’s important and that is creating amazing games. Also, HTML5 platforms still have a big barrier to entry for most but again, GameBake is working hard to solve this to provide a way for developers to easily access these platforms and deploy easily to them all.

There is never going to be a way for developers to not put in any work at all. Success comes from hard work and this still rings true when targeting new platforms, be that new app stores opr social platforms, you need to research and find out who the end users are downloading and playing your games on any given platform and then adapt what you do to engage (and of course monetise said users). There isn’t a solution to stop resources being required for game design, monetisation or user acquisition but, how we see it, these are the pieces of the puzzle that studios want to keep control of. It is the deployment that is a pain in the arse mixed with a lack of a real ecosystem, it makes it near impossible to even consider distribution outside of the core stores. This is what we want to and are solving, simplifying and improving the pieces of the puzzle that are needed for studios globally to take advantage of and focus their resources and efforts on creating, managing and scaling amazing games.

Q. How are the games you work with received and played outside the marquee markets of Europe and North America? Any significant development in Asia, Africa, Australia or South America?

A. It’s a hard question to answer as it is so different for every game and you need to tackle each game on a somewhat market by market basis. In general, a game that is enjoyed in the US is likely to be enjoyed in India as well, I mean we are all humans at the end of the day, the difference comes in when trying to find success at scale in specific markets and on specific platforms.

China is probably the best example to use here because the market is huge, but it is notoriously difficult to enter without properly understanding the intricacies of the market itself. By this I mean it isn’t just localising your games text that you need to think about, but how your game looks and plays, how it is distributed to players in the market and how you can monetise it. Markets, like China’s, have restrictions on games and you need to plan how you will tackle all of this to be able to enter.

China is an extreme case, but other markets do need similar considerations when it comes to localisation. But you also need to bear in mind that your distribution strategy for Apple and Google aren’t the number one everywhere. In India, for example, Google Play is big but there are many other platforms that open up 100s of millions of users. Iran is another market with restrictions in place, therefore Google Play does not work there, so working with local stores is your entry into a market of over 70 million. Russia is another market where you need to understand the local platforms and how players play games to really localise a game properly and effectively.

So going back to what I’d said at the start, a great game is a great game no matter where you launch in the world, but making a commercial success of that game in various markets requires some thought, planning and good execution.

Q. Asia perhaps deserves more focus as a gaming market. Which Asian countries do you reckon have the most potential market as games industry markets?

A. I completely agree, Asia is mostly forgotten by western developers and it’s a shame as the potential across the region is massive. China is the world’s biggest gaming market but that is the market everyone talks about so let’s put that to one side as it isn’t an easy nut to crack.

If I were to suggest markets that have the potential for most developers of casual games to grow in the coming months and years, I would look to a market such as Indonesia where the scale you can achieve in that market alone is huge. However, a lot of the time, it just isn’t commercially viable and therefore not thought about, but with the right knowledge and partners you can access more platforms that really open up a market like this and can turn what is a good market for Google Play games into a very strong one for those thinking outside of the box.

South Korea and Japan are both strong markets for specific genres but again, you need to really think about how you approach these markets. In general, Asia as a whole has amazing potential, as well as many other regions globally.

Q. Are tight regulations or lack of clear-cut regulations a bottleneck for growth of gaming outside Europe and North America? We’d love your insight into the role regulations play in the gaming industry’s growth.

A. Regulations always hinder growth, it is the nature of regulations but of course, sometimes they are necessary. China takes it to another level! I can’t even imagine how big that market would be right now if they didn’t have these tight regulations holding it back. I understand the reasons behind why the government has set them in place (although for “Children’s health” isn’t the real reason, in my opinion) but it is holding back the market’s growth which is a big shame.

I do see the need for regulation sometimes though, for example, to stop Apple and Google tightening their grip on the market and forcing us all into paying a huge tax on the games that have been worked on so hard to get them where they are. Therefore regulations can probably help the market grow in certain cases but overall, the less governments get involved in the industry the better for the industry’s growth in the coming years.

Q. And finally, how do you get your hair so beautiful?
A. It’s all natural 😀

Interviews

Chris Nikolopoulos, Chief Commercial Officer at BETBY, reviews an exciting year for the sportsbook supplier, and looks ahead to what could be a landmark year to come.

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Chris Nikolopoulos, Chief Commercial Officer at BETBY, reviews an exciting year for the sportsbook supplier, and looks ahead to what could be a landmark year to come.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

What do you think has been the key to your commercial success in 2021? And were there any highlights that stood out?

I think it’s all about our open approach to critical thinking and the way we treat existing and prospective partners. Time and time again, we see providers in the market that are afraid to think like an operator, which keeps them grounded in old-school practices and approaches. In business, just like in life, you can’t take nothing for granted and you must act fast and efficiently, which is why we constantly try to evolve and listen to our partners’ needs.

The sports betting industry is one where without constant innovation, flexibility and the desire to deliver on your partner’s needs, a business can become outdated very quickly. At BETBY, we are doing our best to achieve this goal, starting of course with the product itself, which we always keep front of mind and we constantly act to improve it. We have signed deals with over 25 new partners in 2021, and the feedback has been extremely promising.

Are there any products in the roadmap for the year ahead that we should look out for? Will you be targeting any markets in particular?

The development process never stops. Looking ahead, we will continue expanding our Betby.Games series while also focusing on delivering extra functionality of our core business and our fully managed sportsbook solution. That includes extra data feed integrations, more front-end layouts and various other specific functionalities that I would like to keep confidential until we reveal them to our partners. With regards to markets we are targeting, we have a lot of different regulated jurisdictions on our radar, both in Europe and across the globe, and by the end of 2022 we will certainly have expanded our international reach.

What industry trends, if any, have you noticed in 2021 and how has BETBY responded to them?

2021 has been both interesting and challenging, mainly because of the pandemic. We constantly try to analyse trends and remain connected with the industry, and we have been able to identify several trends in various aspects. For instance, the increasing focus on the US market is a trend among most of the established European providers. On another note, we have certainly seen a growth in supplementary betting products such as Esports, virtual, and various products that fall in between. Betby.Games itself is the most glaring example of that.

Lastly, do you have any predictions for trends or developments that we will see across the industry in the year ahead?

I believe that operators will be focusing more and more on operating within smaller, flexible teams with modern software and fresh ideas, as they will be able to cover parts of the business more efficiently than with old, legacy platforms which are trying to provide full turnkey solutions. There is no one-stop shop that can deliver everything anymore, we have already seen this for some time, and I believe it will continue to be the case in the future.

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Interviews

Push Gaming JJ2 Success – Exclusive Interview with Darren Stephenson, Marketing Director at Push Gaming

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Push Gaming JJ2 Success - Exclusive Interview with Darren Stephenson, Marketing Director at Push Gaming
Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

Jammin’ Jars 2 is continuing to smash records since its summer launch – can you tell us how special this is to Push Gaming and what it means for the team?

JJ2 was such a fun project for us from the very first moment when we realised that the feature we were working on was the perfect fit for the Jammin’ brand. We’d been asked many times about doing a sequel but to know it was actually happening and to see it coming together, made it a really exciting project for the whole business to be involved in. This is especially the case given how the first iteration had been such a resounding hit. Seeing the slots community getting charged up for it was just something else and the hype this game generated is something that we can be very proud of.

 

Talk us through the game – what do you believe has made this such a smash hit and which features are particularly unique?

Producing a sequel provides a unique opportunity in that you get the chance to revisit a game. At its core, the game remains true to Jammin’ Jars and we felt that was important, so the same multiplying wilds are in play, however, with the max win increased from 20,000x to 50,000x.

We also added little surprises along the journey such as with the fruit blast feature being able to trigger more than once in a single spin, so players might expect they know the feature from the original but then they find that extra little addition.

The most noticeable changes from the original are the addition of coins and the GigaJar feature. The coins act in the same way as the fruit symbols but with the coin values going up to 1000x – this really adds a new dimension to the potential fun factor when you count in the multiplying wilds. GigaJar brings a completely new feature into the mix – it takes some progression to reach it as we didn’t want to water down the ‘classic’ features that players loved in the original, however it does deliver that all-important unique dimension that made the game truly special.

 

On to global markets – where has JJ2 performed best? Do you think it’s suited to any particular playing habits?

Much like the original, JJ2 is popular across all markets it is available in. I imagine the game is a popular choice for players that like to enjoy games over multiple sessions and enjoy a familiarity and ‘feel good factor’ whilst always offering excitement and discovery. Of course, Scandinavia and the UK are two of our most popular markets, and with some of the world’s most passionate players there, it’s wonderful to see the slot prove to be one of the most popular launches this year.

 

JJ2 has also been hugely well received by the streaming community, did team Push design the game with the community in mind?

In my opinion, a good slot streamer is first and foremost a slot player – and players will always be our focus when we’re working on a game. Streamers want to be entertained themselves, so I think when they’re playing our games it’s a good sign that we’ve done something right.

 

Looking to the months ahead, what other exciting launches can we look forward to?

We’ve just released Fire Hopper which includes some elements that might get people thinking of the Jammin’ games, although with its own unique and exciting twists. Then we have Bison Battle following soon after, which has a land-based slots feel to it and including some really fun bonus rounds. This is definitely a slot with some really unique elements, and I’m sure it will prove to be hugely popular. Both these games include Bonus Buy, which is something new that we’ve introduced to some of our games and players really seem to be enjoying it. Following the hugely positive feedback we’ve received, we’ll continue to include this in some of our upcoming games as we’ve done with a selection of our existing games, such as Jammin’ Jars, Dinopolis and Mystery Museum.

 

 

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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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