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Mobile-first gaming round table with experts from Habanero, Evoplay, OneTouch and ESA Gaming

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Mobile-first gaming round table with experts from Habanero, Evoplay, OneTouch and ESA Gaming
Reading Time: 9 minutes

 

In recent years, mobile-first gaming has rapidly risen as smartphone companies continuously enhance their products, making it easier for players to access games whilst on the go. This technological development has brought forward an industry shift, that has seen iGaming companies redirect their focus towards mobile-first content.

With more and more companies embracing the increase in mobile gaming, we explored the success of this new generation offering and what the future holds.

 

According to you, what brought forward the increase in mobile-first gaming?

Arcangelo Lonoce – Head of Business Development at Habanero:

The watershed moment came a number of years ago when smartphones finally managed to deliver a properly premium gaming experience. Indeed, phones have improved exponentially to the point where you could argue that mobile technology is as good as if not better than desktop.

This has been made possible by the improvements in ‘light betting’, by which I mean data, allowing players to enjoy parallel matches etc. When you can reach that point, laptop gaming becomes obsolete as you can flick through just as seamlessly as on desktop. Just of course like the wider world, when it comes to relaxing on the couch, mobile will always be your primary channel over a laptop – whether that’s shopping, gaming or Instagram.

Of course, with HTML5 becoming ubiquitous and flash disappearing has accelerated the mobile-gaming trend. You can look at emerging markets or countries that never went through the ‘laptop era’, as given the leap in tech developments in the last decade, it means that smartphones are simply more affordable and accessible to players than MacBooks ever will be. Latin America is a great example of this.

Vladimir Malakchi, CCO at Evoplay:

The accelerated growth and penetration of global smartphone usage across every corner of the world is the key driver behind the impressive rise we have seen in smartphone gaming. Data from 2021 reveals that over 6 billion people use mobile phones worldwide, and this number continues to grow, with the 5G standard being one of the catalysts. Emerging markets are catching up fast too – with the majority of regions now greatly investing in the development of mobile technology.

In addition to this, according to our research, three-quarters of gamblers prefer to play on mobile, doing so every 4.2 days on average. Other sources show that in 2020, 50% of the online gambling revenue came from mobile, which isn’t surprising as 75% of traffic belongs to mobile. The numbers clearly don’t lie, and the high demand for mobile gaming is a call to action for suppliers to accept this trend.

Thomas Smallwood, Head of Marketing at ESA Gaming, comments:

A mix of technology and convenience is the short answer. Mobiles now provide a simpler and faster way for players to enjoy their favourite games. It’s fair to say that the trend towards mobile has also probably been accelerated during the pandemic as the move from retail to online has quickened.

Madis Raus – Head of OneTouch:

Obviously, the widespread use of smartphones and availability internet has had a positive effect on mobile-first gaming. These days people use mobile devices to perform certain tasks, their far easier to use and more accessible than laptops and desktops. Additionally, mobile devices allow people to do things whenever and wherever they want, whether they’re commuting or simply passing time.

By making the mobile-gaming experience seamless and engaging at the same time, players will continue using mobile devices for entertainment. This is something which will naturally increase over time, as mobile devices continue advancing and being capable to perform at higher standards.

 

Are there any verticals that perform better on smartphones? And how can developers improve those verticals that don’t work as efficiently?

Arcangelo Lonoce:

As an expert on slots and table games – I would say table games are inherently easier to develop and render when performing on smartphones compared to slots, but if we look at numbers, slots are dominant, with a market share of around 85% or so, which shows that the player demand this vertical more than any other.

However, looking at table games, there’s a lot to be said about performance. They have excellent stable rates of acquisition and retention – so there is less motivation to tweak a formula that is clearly working. They also have higher average bets, greater lifetime value and from a mathematical and user interface viewpoint, I would certainly rank them up there as one of the best performers.

Given market demand though, we can assume slots will always retain the lion’s share. So how does one improve the vertical? Stories, subject matter and narrative are key, as is the UI, although we mustn’t forget, it all starts with the maths – you need to get that right first, and then you can start talking other improvements.

Vladimir Malakchi:

Actually, all verticals and mechanics perform well on smartphones. However, while creating a product for hand-held devices, there are key principles to follow: easy-to-understand UX, simplicity of a game, uncomplicated graphics, and adaptation to vertical view.

One thing is for sure – it makes no sense for suppliers to choose a specific type of game to develop for smartphones. The fundamental point is to accept that the mobile-first approach is a basic demand for players.

Thomas Smallwood:

I think sports betting is a natural vertical for mobile. With the ability to play high-quality live streams on mobile devices, in-play betting is no longer just for retail or desktop and the fact that bets can be placed anytime, anywhere is a major factor.

The limit in phone storage also means that casino can be trickier on mobile, especially in apps where users often need to download the games they want to play exactly because of this limitation.

These are two factors behind ESA Gaming’s development of ultra-lightweight games for sportsbooks. The EasySwipe suite of games is accessed through a widget we have designed and developed which enables players to seamlessly move between games and sports bets rather than being re-directed to another part of the site or a cumbersome casino page. The sports betting experience is unhindered and conversion to casino games happens at lower cost.

Madis Raus:

Mobile device usage differs slightly from desktop usage, this means that mobile users have different expectations. Since people use mobiles to pass time or when they’re in between things, the attention span of the mobile user is often shorter, these are things to consider when providing content to them.

In my opinion it’s the matter of the speed of games rather than specific verticals, fast games tend to perform better, as the player doesn’t need to wait too long, which is a bonus especially when they’re looking to kill some time.

To improve further, developers need to consider the peculiarities of mobile device usage and think about ways of implementing content that doesn’t depend on usage patterns, making the products more appealing and engaging to players.

 

What are the difficulties of adopting games to function on smartphones?

Arcangelo Lonoce:

Habanero as a company operates with a mobile-first approach, therefore, we don’t find any real challenge when it comes to rendering games on mobile since our products are designed with smartphones in mind. After all, we disposed of Flash in 2015 and since then we have always developed our games using HTML5.

Vladimir Malakchi:

Adapting a visual component to all models of smartphones, including early versions, isn’t an easy task but is possible thanks to cutting-edge technologies. They allow us to create visually stunning products compatible with most smartphones. The optimisation of UX, UI, resolution and graphics for all platforms is the main priority, as we want to ensure that our players get high-quality content on any device.

Another challenge, which we have also overcome, is the amount of data used by games. Our proprietary game engine Spinential, developed in-house has been a real gamechanger for us, accelerating the loading speed and optimising the storage capacity. This solution has been designed with a purely mobile-first approach in mind, and we’ve really reaped the benefits.

Thomas Smallwood:

The obvious thing is the greatly reduced screen space and the practicality of a hand-held device. Because of this, we have chosen to develop ‘mobile-first games’ and move away from adapting desktop content. This means every aspect of the game is thought out with the mobile user in mind, ideally with the ability to do everything just with a thumb. Of course, the challenge is to make everything on the screen accessible, so it is a constant evolution as the user demands more features.

Madis Raus:

Different game types have different elements, for slots it may be the screen ratio, for example how to make symbols as big as possible and still keep the popular grids. Alternatively for Live games, you need to consider the screen size, ensuring that the player can see what is happening in the stream and whether the cards shown are in sync with what’s being reported etc.

As mentioned above, when adapting games, it’s important to consider the peculiarities of mobile device usage, developers must think about ways they can make games as fast and seamless as possible but at the same time still engaging on a smaller screen.

 

How fundamental is it for operators and developers to adopt a mobile-first strategy?

Arcangelo Lonoce:

It’s extremely important, otherwise you’re missing out on 80% of the market! There were some suppliers that were very late to the HTML5 adoption, which made it incredibly frustrating for operators – plenty of which I saw first-hand back when I was at BetVictor during the 2010s. To put things into perspective today, you simply cannot launch a game as without considering a mobile-first approach, since you’re forgoing an absolutely huge amount of revenue.

Moreover, mobile gaming allows people to play remotely, therefore players don’t need to depend on a desktop or laptop to participate in their hobby. With mobiles advancing and 5G becoming the norm, we’re now looking at a whole new world of possibilities to enhance mobile-first even more, the ramifications of which will be huge, especially when it comes to content and loading speeds.

Vladimir Malakchi: 

Keeping in mind the number of global smartphone users, prioritising mobile devices when creating gaming products is a must. Moreover, it is expected that in a couple of years, this number will grow to seven billion. Currently, the US, China and India lead the list of countries with the highest rate of mobile penetration. However, as the latest data shows, the potential of emerging markets in regard to mobile usage shouldn’t be underestimated. This is a direct sign for suppliers to throw all efforts on products focused on mobile gamblers. The mobile-first approach isn’t just a trend, it is a philosophy, which is getting more and more supporters. There is no better time to embrace mobile-gaming than now.

Thomas Smallwood:

You could argue it is a percentages game. When desktop provided the higher user count it made sense to develop content for desktop. With the advancements in mobile technology, the increased numbers using mobile and the loyalty associated with apps I think a ‘mobile-first’ strategy is key in the growth of any gaming brand.

Madis Raus: 

This is very essential, especially when it comes to companies surviving in this extremely volatile industry. Just by looking at how much traffic is already generated from mobile channels, you can see how strong the area is, and there’s nothing that indicates a potential decrease in mobile device usage.

If companies wish to attract modern players, it is really essential to adopt a mobile-first strategy, as modern players will look for a seamless mobile experience, if it isn’t available on your brand then they will simply look elsewhere.

 

With smartphones continuing to evolve, what does the future hold for mobile-first gaming?

Arcangelo Lonoce:

I would expect mobile-first gaming to be the only way forward – it’s the old debate on how much entertainment is a part of iGaming. Whilst entertaining is a key aspect, you must also keep the experience flawless. Certain things haven’t worked out, 3D gaming for example, as we’ve learnt that people don’t really gamble to get lost into the symbology of the slot – but rather the thrill of the win, which is the entertainment.

So, in my view, mobile gaming will gain an even larger market share than it has now, it could soon become by far the only way of enjoying this experience. Additionally, with new demographics coming online, the future holds lots of opportunities for interaction of everything from social to multiplayer, shared in any possible way. Cross-sell opportunities are also endless, with push notifications and the like, as players can carry their game anywhere they go – whether that’s being entertained at home, when out and about or during the commute.

Vladimir Malakchi: 

I am sure that we will see an industry-wide adaptation of gaming content to mobile platforms in the very near future. Once the value of mobile gambling is fully understood, the industry will immediately aim to transform existing and future products.

I believe the iGaming world will continue to develop in this direction as an exponential pace, focusing on innovative technical solutions, mechanics, features and visuals optimised for various mobile platforms, models and markets. The key is to find the balance between the quality of gaming products and their adaptation to mobile – and getting this right is where developers need to be investing their energy.

Thomas Smallwood:

Smartphones will continue to develop but I would place more focus on the changing user demands. New game types, more regional content as well as promotion and gamification features are already driving us to change the titles we design and develop.

We will soon launch new in-game promotional tools for operators as well as new style of games, including bespoke games.

Madis Raus: 

I believe that the introduction of 5G will bring a ton of opportunity to the table, as the introduction of 5G will bring forward a range of improvements to speed and accessibility. This may also give developers a bit more freedom when they think about creating games for mobile phones.

With smartphones being so advanced these days, the size of the game doesn’t matter as much as it once did, the quality is now the utmost important factor when it comes to designing new mobile-games. This is the same with live content, with the technological improvements, it’s now easier to provide good quality streams, so now developers need to focus on other elements that will make their game stand out from the competition.

 

 

Interviews

Netherlands market exclusive with Greentube and Light & Wonder

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Netherlands market exclusive with Greentube and Light & Wonder
Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

Live now for close to a year, the Netherlands has the potential to be a hugely popular market for regulated casino. We sat down with Greentube’s Reg Das, Managing Director at Greentube Netherlands, as well as Light & Wonder’s Enrique Boedo, New Business Manager, to get the latest from two of the market’s player favourites. This one’s not to be missed!

Talk us through your first few months of being live on the regulated market – what’s resonating with players?

(EB) Enrique Boedo – New Business Manager at Light & Wonder: When it comes to our first party content, our presence in the land-based casino sphere has paid off tremendously and we’ve seen that players have been actively looking for our cross-platform titles such as 88 Fortunes, Jin Ji Bao Xi and Dancing Drums, all of which have proven particularly popular both in land-based and online.

In terms of aggregation, we’ve got 38 studios live in the Netherlands. One studio we have been particularly impressed by is ELK Studios, a recent acquisition. They have a tournament feature that’s doing incredibly well in the Netherlands, which has shown us that Dutch players enjoy that social element and like to be engaged by the operator.

(RD) Reg Das, Managing Director at Greentube Netherlands: What we see is that our so-called ‘classic slots’ are especially popular. These are online versions of (once) popular Dutch fruit machines from the land-based space. Several companies that manufacture these Dutch fruit machines are part of our parent company NOVOMATIC, and Greentube Netherlands develops online version of these machines.

Famous game titles owned by NOVOMATIC such as Random Runner, Simply Wild and Club 2000 attract the attention of the players online too. Simply Wild is a machine that can be found in thousands of bars across the Netherlands as well. Next to these classic slots, the NOVOMATIC blue chip games such as Book of Ra are also very popular. These games can also be found in machines in gaming arcades and casinos around the country, indicating that content that is familiar to players already is resonating best in the market.

Given the unique Dutch land-based heritage across arcades and the like – how much do you see that giving Dutch players a unique type of player profile compared to the likes of the UK and Scandinavia?

(RD): What stands out is that Dutch players like the ‘classics’ a lot, much more than in other European countries. This is not something new though, and before the online market became regulated this was already the case. Why Dutch players like these classics so much might be explained by the fact that we still have a lot of ‘analogue machines’ in the land-based market. These machines with electro-mechanical reels have disappeared from nearly all European markets but in the Netherlands, they are still popular and can be found in every bar. Typically, these gaming machines have a specific game structure which is tailored for the Dutch machine regulations. Over the years, many players have learned to love that type of game, and this can now be seen online.

(EB): The Dutch market seems to have a really nice balance. Players tend to stick with their land-based favourites, but they’ve also shown an appetite for new content with unique mechanics. Scandi-type content is also working well in the Netherlands, growing in presence via brands like ELK.

Regarding player profiles, whilst every market is different, I see more similarities between the Dutch and the Scandinavian market compared to the Dutch and UK market.

When it comes to regulation – how much has there been to navigate in comparison with restrictions in other European markets when going live? Does this mean a significant change to strategy?

(RD): As we focus on developing slots, it hasn’t been a lot. Fortunately, the rules that apply to slots are standard and general and they leave enough room for us to be able to build attractive games. The only restriction that stands out is that autoplay is prohibited. However, the fruit machine games we make require player interaction regularly as choices need to be made so it’s different than for standard casino slots.

(EB): Compared to other jurisdictions, I believe Dutch regulation is not at all unreasonable or difficult. Regulatory requirements and restrictions on games haven’t been a problem for us which has meant we’ve been able to focus on offering players a wide variety of content in a safe and secure environment almost from day 1 of the new regulation coning in place. Doing so has helped cement Light & Wonder as a leading cross-platform global game company renowned for building new worlds of play.

Last but not least – what’s your hottest vertical that readers should be watching for this summer?

(RD): I am very excited about a new range of games we are producing which combine the familiarity of our popular brands with mechanics that are trendy now. For example, we have combined our Random Runner brand with the now hugely popular Hold & Spin mechanic and players can expect more of those combinations. We have already seen that new variations on these original games are appreciated by players, as long as we do it right. So, I’m confident that this new range will appeal to the audience of players that prefer the classics.

(EB): We are really excited about our localised content roadmaps, building games that are targeting specific markets. For example, targeting the European market, this summer we’ll be releasing our own new Accumul8 mechanic game that will see players win when eight matching symbols appear, even if they aren’t connected.

We also have some excellent content to roll out from Playzido, a company we recently acquired. Their advanced game development technology which is considered to be one of the best in the iGaming industry allows Light & Wonder to deliver operators custom games for key customers, which is a fantastic way for their players to experience unique, distinctive content.

 

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Interviews

Q&A with Victor Pronk, CCO at Incentive Games

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Q&A with Victor Pronk, CCO at Incentive Games
Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

Can you tell us a little bit more about your recently announced partnership with EBET and what it entails? 

Of course. Under the partnership, Incentive Games will provide unique freeplay content for EBET brands that will help the operator lower acquisition costs and take retention to the next level. We believe that esports fans will appreciate the gamification elements and game concepts that Incentive Games has built its reputation on, and we very much look forward to taking these mechanics and features and wrapping them in a range of engaging esports themes. This is our first play in the esports betting sector, and it is a move that we are excited to have made with EBET, an undisputed leader in the vertical.

 

How can freeplay games be used to engage esports audiences and introduce them to esports betting?

It all starts with offering esports fans something that is relevant and fun, which is exactly what our games do. For each title, we use elements of a live sports event, in this case, an esports contest, to create a game for the viewers to engage with. This in turn increases the excitement around the live event/esports contest and also introduces the concept of betting and wagering to those interested in trying it for the first time. That our games are free to play makes them a powerful acquisition tool as the player is not using their own money, but they also add value for those already signed up with a betting brand whether that be traditional sports or esports.

 

Do these games use different mechanics/features to the freeplay games you create for sports betting? If so, how are they different?

The gamification and human behaviour techniques we use are the same across all sports and all product verticals, including esports. The implementation is specific to both the sport and the audience that we are targeting with the game and getting this part right is a combination of experience and a lot of extensive data analysis and A/B testing. So, in short, the fundamentals of the games are the same but themes, prizes, etc are specific to the sport and the audience.

 

How will you continue to develop products for EBET? What role does data play in how you analyse game performance and use this to guide development of new titles? 

We are looking forward to a long partnership with EBET that will include multiple unique games for their esports audience. With every game, we expect to learn more about their audience and how they respond to different concepts and features. This will allow us to improve on the next run of games and better their contribution to the operator’s wider acquisition and retention strategy. We can’t disclose what games are coming, just that we are very excited about the ideas we are working on with EBET and the product roadmap that we have in place for the coming months and years.

 

How do you see the esports betting space evolving over the next 12 months? What role will Incentive play in driving this growth? 

Esports has been a constant and rapidly growing market and we expect that to continue. With the recent pandemic, all operators are very aware of having alternatives to traditional sports and there is a growing desire among many to add esports betting to their proposition. For that reason, we believe the vertical will continue to grow at pace with further opportunities opening up for us and the operators that we work with. We as Incentive Games are very much looking forward to providing our games to EBET and helping them drive their growth.

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Interviews

Q&A with Relax Gaming CCO Nadiya Attard

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Q&A with Relax Gaming CCO Nadiya Attard
Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

In March Relax Gaming, the igaming aggregator and supplier of unique content unveiled their latest innovation, its Dream Drop Jackpots product, a five-tiered progressive jackpot designed to revolutionise slot gameplay, offering players the biggest must-hit jackpot to date.

European Gaming caught up with the company’s CCO Nadiya Attard on how the product is faring in the European market.

 

Snake Arena and Temple Tumble 2 are two incredibly exciting games. Can you tell us a bit more about why you chose these games to introduce Dream Drop?

The thought process behind the Dream Drop mechanic took more than a year of planning and careful analysis, so when it came to applying it to a slot game, we approached it with the same dexterity. Temple Tumble 2 and Snake Arena are both blockbuster titles as a result of their unique mechanics, beautiful graphics and, fantastic long-term results. These elements make both games ideal for introducing a new functionality like Dream Drop to our audience as it provides a comfortable mix of familiarity and originality. Just one month since the launch of our debut title, Temple Tumble 2 Dream Drop, and it’s clear that the game choice has resonated with players.

 

What can you tell us about future titles that Dream Drop will be added to?

The first stage of launching the functionality sees us using familiar titles to expose our players to new material, encouraging them to experiment with the mechanic – something imperative to this early phase of the product’s lifecycle. Following this, we’ve got a roadmap packed with brand new hot titles to add to the Dream Drop space. Once the mechanic has earned the trust and esteem of our audiences they should expect to see some even more exciting games paired with Dream Drop.

 

In which markets has Dream Drop seen particular uptake?

Dream Drop has worked tremendously well across all our key markets including Scandinavia and the UK but has also had Major winners as far away as Peru – where for as little as €2, someone won the jackpot! The initial uptake has been fantastic, and we are looking forward to expanding its reach. As a studio, we’re well-known for having ambition and not being afraid to think outside the box, we wanted to use this reputation to make a bold statement, both to slot enthusiasts and the rest of the industry.

It became clear almost immediately that we didn’t want to develop another classic legacy-type jackpot that was already commonplace in these markets, however we were also quite aware that innovating in such a crowded space would be a challenge, but we’re confident we’ve pulled it off.

 

Are there plans to customise this to the North American market?

Given our strong foothold in Europe, we are excited about offering as much of the Relax portfolio, including our showcase products, in the emerging and rapidly growing North American markets. With regards to the Dream Drop functionality, launching in the region will rely heavily on the ability to have countries or states share in liquidity aspects. Analysis and surveying of the landscape are currently underway and we’re eager to see how we can bring such a fantastic offering to a broader player-base.

 

Before the launch, Relax indicated that these jackpots would drop more frequently than those in other traditional jackpot slots. Has this been the case so far?

Absolutely! In just seven weeks we have had over 280,000 winners and 11 major winners. With our jackpot heating up every other week, and operator feedback flooding in, it seems to be shaping up to be one of the best-performing global jackpots in the industry today.

 

The five-tiered progressive jackpot is inspired. Can you tell us about the thinking behind this and how players are reacting to it?

As with most of our productions, the inspiration is derived from listening to our operators’ feedback on their perception of the market and what their players are looking for. Aiming to innovate from the start, we began by looking at the traditional jackpots currently occupying the space, most of which are open-ended meaning that they can go months without dropping. We brought something entirely different to the table with our must-win functionality. We believe in finding the sweet spot between mounting excitement in our players and awarding gratification, with fairness given top priority; Dream Drop aims to do just that with its frequent jackpot drops.

 

What’s the ultimate long-term goal for Relax Gaming’s Dream Drop Jackpot?

Our goal is to be the number one jackpot provider in the industry for all the right reasons, such as fairness, exciting gameplay, innovation, exceeding operators’ targets, and ultimately reinvigorating the jackpot sector.

As with every product vertical we explore, we aim to bring something fresh to the table, remaining rooted in differentiation and never backing down from a challenge. At Relax, we only launch products that we truly believe in and continually build upon successes. In the case of Dream Drop, we’re already working on promotional tools and campaigns that are set to roll out shortly and give it an additional boost.

 

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