Exclusive interview with Vladimir Malakchi: Evoplay kicks-off in Ireland!
Capping off an outstanding year for Evoplay with multiple industry awards and deals with major providers, including Relax Gaming, Bragg Gaming Group and Fortuna, we sat down with Evoplay’s CCO, Vladimir Malakchi to talk through his plans for their Irish debut.
The burgeoning Irish market is one of the fastest-growing markets in the iGaming landscape, but what promise does it hold for Evoplay?
I would say that the Irish market’s steady expansion stems from a crucial factor – a strong demand for iGaming. The latest research illustrates that Irish gamblers constitute one of the largest iGaming audiences across Europe. To be specific, around 59% of Ireland’s population regularly gambles online, rendering it a particularly attractive jurisdiction for providers that are looking to expand into up-and-coming markets.
Our recently established partnership with Novibet has allowed us to unlock the Irish market and reach iGaming enthusiasts across the country with our highly sought-after titles, including 52 gamification-packed video slots and 10 instant games, featuring bestsellers such as our World Cup-inspired Penalty Shoot-out.
How are you looking to cater to Irish players’ preferences, and how does that impact your game development strategy?
Online casino is in good company amongst some of the most popular types of entertainment in Ireland, and our rich portfolio is more than suitable to provide its players with the experiences they desire. The people in Ireland are sociable, outgoing, entertaining, and enjoy participating in healthy competition thanks to the nation’s rich heritage in sports.
Evoplay’s games are well-known for their innovative and gamified elements, which are core tenets of the development process surrounding each product. For this reason, we can rest assured that the variety of content we provide caters to all demographics of Irish players, with titles stacked full of social features such as leaderboards, live chats, progress systems, and tournaments.
The inclusion of these features ensures maximum excitement for players, thanks to their support of social interaction and healthy competition between players, with the experiences further enhanced by strong betting features, customisation, and well-designed peripherals.
Is there a particular demographic of Irish player that your products have seen success with?
As our development strategy is to create products that capture the imaginations of a broad audience, our games are popular with a real variety of demographics, from conservative players all the way to the next generation. Those coming from a background of traditional casino games will find a lot of joy in our impressive selection of our retro slots, such as the Fruit Super Nova series, while next-gen players seeking something fresh and unique can dive into our collection of modern experiences, featuring innovative yet easy-to-understand titles stacked full of social elements.
With almost half of the Irish population being interested in football, supporting football clubs and consuming a spread of sports content, our renowned football-themed instant game – Penalty Shoot-out – has every chance to become the next big hit in the market during the World Cup and beyond.
How have your Irish-themed slots been received by players in the region?
We already have Irish-themed titles in our portfolio, and that’s not only in regard to slots but instant games too, which have become the perfect accompaniment to Saint Patrick’s Day and a portion of our more traditional content.
Ireland as a country has a very rich culture and supplies us with so many exciting opportunities to develop themes and plots to create leading experiences. I am sure that the distinctive charm and the local peculiarities of Irish culture will inspire us to develop more titles that feature elements of Irish heritage in the months ahead.
Having recently taken your sought-after games portfolio live with Novibet, do you have any other operator deals on the horizon?
Ireland is a high-potential market with an online casino vertical generating more than €200 million year on year. Establishing an agreement with an operator as respected as Novibet is the first step in reaching Irish customers and making a statement about what we do at Evoplay. We definitely see more partnerships within the jurisdiction on the horizon and welcome opportunities to further establish a solid footing in the region.
Mix it all up – how Playson strengthens its popular Hold and Win portfolio with its latest hit
There has been an influx of games over the past 12 months that use the compelling Hold and Win mechanic. With Playson’s newest slot on the block, Royal Joker: Hold and Win, likely to be a huge hit, why does this classic offering continue to be so revered amongst players? We spoke to Natalia Shkarbanova, Product Owner at Playson, to understand the inspiration behind Royal Joker and the future for this series of slots.
What inspired the creation of Royal Joker: Hold and Win?
We wanted to extend the experience of our hugely successful game Royal Coins 2: Hold and Win, and enhance it further with the attractive character and additional features that we have at our disposal. Since the game is based on the traditional 3×3 fruit theme, we selected a joker as the game’s main focus because he is a symbol commonly used within classic games and is very familiar to players, both new and experienced.
You can expect the joker to have a significant impact on the game’s output as his presence within the reels has the potential to mix up everything, and that’s exactly what he does in this new game. Meanwhile, a range of engrossing mechanics and crisp audio-visuals promise a truly engaging spectacle and we look forward to witnessing what sort of impact this game will have on the market.
Talk us through the gameplay, what are the key features that players can experience?
We’ve added the joker and his multi-player feature on top of the Hold and Win mechanic that was used in Royal Coins 2. This significantly diversifies the game and players can expect to go on a journey where bigger wins are more accessible.
The Bonus game has been strengthened with the inclusion of the Joker’s Multiplier feature. Any Joker symbols that appear on a specific cell during this game mode leave a x2 multiplier as a parting gift. As the Bonus game progresses, a Joker symbol that lands on a multiplier in the same place will increase the multiplier by one until the game stops.
There is also our interactive Pile of Gold feature, which can randomly trigger access to the Bonus Game during the main base game, as well as add symbols with x2 multiplier during the respins mode.
This is the latest addition to Playson’s “Royal” series of games. Why have previous hits such as Royal Coins 2: Hold and Win proved so successful?
These games offer an immersive bonus game experience that combines the advantages of the usual Hold and Win mechanic with the fact that the player can collect winnings from many coin symbols and is not limited by the size of the 3×3 game field.
As I touched upon previously, the Pile of Gold feature is a fantastic edition to our portfolio of slots. Players have been able to interact with this feature on some of our most renowned titles, and it has proven to be a real hit. This feature provides a different twist for players from other classic features they may find on other slots so it shows that we want to continue to innovate.
Royal Joker also marks the latest Playson game to feature the Hold and Win mechanic. How do you ensure each game is different to others and is appealing to players?
We have tried to preserve the much-loved and admired experience of Hold and Win games, but also adapt it to the limitations of a small but simple 3×3 field, turning it into a fantastic product for us as we continue to scale the heights of the iGaming world.
Our adaptations of the Hold and Win mechanic have been subtle, as we don’t want to forget the main theme and focus behind this captivating feature. However, we’ve now added multipliers, allowing players to have an infinite variety of positive experiences within a single product.
The biggest advantage about Hold and Win is the fact that it is a staple of casino games and has been for a long time, so players can easily recognise and relate to it. With players and operators expecting to see casino offerings evolve, the development of this mechanic has been a huge success for us.
Why would Royal Joker complement an operator’s existing casino offering?
Royal Joker is an enhanced and more volatile variation of Royal Coins 2, which proved to be a very successful project. Thanks to the overall package of this slot, the brilliant combination of engaging mechanics and beautiful aesthetics, we are confident it will deliver strong engagement for players. Operators can trust that Royal Joker will resonate with a wider audience.
Lastly, can you give us an indication on whether you have any plans to broaden your series of “Royal” games, as well as launch new Hold and Win variations?
We truly believe that the Hold and Win mechanic still has plenty to offer to players and we plan to expand our portfolio as the year unfolds. There are always discussions about broadening such a successful chapter of games like our “Royal” offering and there is great news on the horizon as Coin Strike, the next game in this enchanting series, will be released very soon.
Conferences in Europe
Prague Gaming & TECH Summit 2023: Charting the growth of Esports in CEE
Ahead of our sold-out Prague Gaming & TECH Summit 2023 next week, we sat down with some of the brightest minds in Europe to talk all things Esports and its potential for the CEE region.
In one of our most insightful interviews this year, we brought together Peter Rippel Szabo (PRS), Associate at Bird & Bird, Amir Mirazee (AM), Managing Director and COO at Bayes Esports, as well as Dimitris Panageas (DP), Group General Counsel at Kaizen Gaming to get the latest on Esports’ growth.
Covering everything from Ukraine, localised regulation, market demographics, state licensing and taking on traditional sportsbook spend, this one’s not to be missed!
To kick things off, let’s talk about the demand for Esports in CEE – how much does the region stand out in terms of growth potential vs the likes of Scandinavia and Western Europe?
AM: It’s a unique environment and of course being Bayes, we can gauge that from a good standpoint with over 100 betting clients globally and 200 in our extended network. On the CEE side, our major partners are GG.bet, DATA.BET and BETER, and we’re seeing considerable volume. This is particularly the case for Counter Strike – and players love new titles.
The one issue we have right now is the changing political dynamics. While Ukraine and Russia used to offer great Esports teams, as well as serving an anchor for satellite nations around them (Poland, Baltics etc), this equilibrium has of course been shifted, and it now needs to settle at a new one. This is especially the case for Ukraine, which really was the epicentre in the CEE region for Esports. Added to that is Russia of course now being shut out of the market, with operations now needing to be re-established to find a new hub to anchor the vertical’s development. In my view – the Czech Republic will likely be a key component.
PRS: From my base in Hungary, I can certainly say that across CEE organised tournaments are very strong – with growth proving very organic, and indeed, spontaneous. There’s not yet big money in most of the tournaments’ prize pools, but they are certainly crammed with amateur players who are very ‘plugged-in’ online and have a real passion for Esports. This goes for both the relevant products and enjoyment of that entertainment. Also, it is worth mentioning that in Hungary more established clubs with strong foundations across various sports have engaged with Esports (e.g. through establishing dedicated esports departments and training players professionally). Universities and other non-profit organisations have also started to study thoroughly the various physical, psychological and other aspects of Esports.
From a legal perspective what is needed for growth is a clear regulatory environment (dealing with the status of esports, i.e. whether it is a ‘normal’ sport, whether it has a special status, or something in between, as well as covering issues like requirements for tournament organisation, player safeguarding and integrity). This would also help alleviate some aspects negatively perceived by the general public (like lack of exercise, addiction or abuse). Of course, talking about Scandinavia and Western Europe – the one variable in comparison with CEE is consumer spend and the resulting market size which will likely never reach the same level in the East.
DP: For myself, and indeed given our extensive experience at Kaizen, I would say the demand is there to see. It’s not a new way of betting, but rather a new type of possible future verticals, and a set of betting markets to enjoy. As it’s still in the emerging stage, I would say it’s not yet considered a fully established ‘traditional’ vertical like sportsbook, lottery, live casino and others.
Looking at demographics, they are without a doubt smaller than more established verticals, which we need to distil into sub-segments to better understand on a micro level. Factoring in how fast the CEE market is changing, especially with the likes of Hungary (which was until recently a state monopoly), I would definitely say that we have every potential for Esports to really take off in the next 5-10 years.
On a macro level, the major growth blocker that needs to be overcome is that of regulation. Esports needs to be properly and specifically regulated as both a sport and from a betting perspective – this is essential in order to enable it to become a fully established vertical in its own right. So, in summary, it’s emerging fast and gaining traction, but still a long way to go.
What do you see as the key driver for demand for Esports betting in CEE? From a regulatory perspective, do you see CEE jurisdictions as being more open to Esports betting?
AM: Agreeing with Peter in his first answer, I would certainly say it’s a unique generation in CEE and that’s certainly why Esports has grown so much here. Online gaming, and indeed video gaming, has created the generation we’re seeing now, as well providing them with a connection to the rest of Europe and the wider world. Without a doubt, we can say that the ‘internet generation’ in their 20s and 30s have very much been shaped by that culture, whether that’s Call of Duty, memes, and everything else. On the regulation front, again, I agree also – it needs to be regulated as a sport. Germany, for example, does not even acknowledge Esports as a sport, which as a consequence, means it can’t even be bet on yet. That needs to change.
PRS: It’s a complex question but with plenty of potential in CEE. Gambling, betting and generally games of chance have similar basic legal concepts when it comes to regulation across Europe (national regulatory frameworks may differ of course), therefore, CEE jurisdictions can be as open to Esports betting as other countries. I think the key driver is simply how much Esports will gain in popularity in the future, for the more popular certain Esports titles will be the more will the demand be for Esports betting. Also, I think if Esports would be recognised explicitly as a sport and/or it would be a regulated activity in a CEE jurisdiction, then I believe it would likely facilitate the demand for Esports betting in that jurisdiction.
DP: Indeed. The key factor that you need to drive demand (let’s say from a sample set of the 10 major CEE countries), is that they do not yet specifically regulate Esports. Hungary, as Peter has mentioned, is becoming part of that change, so we’re seeing the opportunity for it to become a conducive environment for development. In my view, the regulatory framework for most of CEE is still vague; and as long as it’s principally viewed as a betting market rather than a sporting discipline in its own right, it will stay as that.
Taking the wider perspective, any law and/or regulation will take a minimum of 6-12 months to be adopted and following that – you’ll then need extensive marketing and commercial communication expenses to then push Esports into the mainstream. Without a doubt, however, looking at CEE demographics, the unique composition of their audiences holds plenty of potential. What makes it special is that while it is niche as a sport/product, it’s not the same as niche traditional sports, such as handball in Germany.
Rather, you have a fast-growing product that can easily enter the mainstream as it transcends borders and can offer penetration principally via social media, where it is already very popular. I am sure that with the proper marketing and investment, Esports will create a snowball effect that will allow it to become a mainstream vertical by itself soon enough.
When it comes to being a complementary product to traditional sportsbook spend, how is Esports fitting into the mix and is it cannibalising from traditional sportsbook?
PRS: I’d say that Esports and traditional sportsbook can, and do, complement each other, especially if popular traditional sports (like football or basketball) are played via video games (FIFA or NBA2K) in organised Esports competitions which traditional sports fans can easily perceive and understand.
So, even if audiences are of course very different, you’ll see crossovers when it comes to interests. Using Hungary as an example, the state-owned betting & lottery operator (Szerencsejáték Zrt.) launched betting on esports competitions in 2020 due to the lack of traditional live sports events resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. It has quickly become one of its most popular betting offerings.
An interesting point too is the ability to convert players to new verticals, and as a result, increase engagement and incremental spend. For example, you’ll have a millennial customer use football as a platform for introduction, and then while waiting for the match to play out for 90 minutes (or indeed after the final whistle), he / she will then give Efootball or another Esports activity a try – which is a great way of introducing the product.
AM: From my perspective, if we’re talking about FIFA and other Esports, these worked superbly well during COVID as a substitute product for those looking to replicate the missing sporting schedule, with nothing happening aside from (as I recall), the Belarusian Premier League. With the likes of League of Legends and Counter Strike, you have a very different demographic / audience – and you’ll find them in different places rather than traditional sportsbook.
As a result, I believe you need to look at providing something different to attract players. Take a look at Bet365’s Esports offering for example, it works surprisingly well for a UX that has evidently been derived from traditional sports. However, there’s much more room for improvement in the coming years. It’s easy to see the use-case for this, looking at all sports betting viewership right now, everything’s declining aside from Esports, so it’s an opportunity to be capitalised on.
We’re also seeing demographics change rapidly, while Esports was previously only for the 20-25 age group, it’s now becoming much older, so you’re closing that monetisation gap. If you want to capture the interest of this fast-growing demographic, you need to reformat the UX to cater to that. So yes, without a doubt, Esports is now becoming a product that can drive traffic in its own right through new audiences, without cannibalising spend from traditional sportsbook.
DP: For me, it depends on the definition of where cannibalisation starts from. When new products are introduced, they certainly drive interest and add to engagement, but in theory that will also bring a decline in engagement for traditional alternatives as overall sportsbook spend is going to be finite.
The positive that Esports brings however, is that it can complement well, given it has a very different schedule to traditional sportsbook. Tournaments taking place across the globe (for example in Asia) are during the evening , meaning it’s during the day in Europe – enabling Esports to boost sportsbook spend both before and the day after evening football matches such as the Champions League mid-week.
Taking the longer view, there is a greater risk of cannibalisation if we see more European Esports tournaments taking place during the evening (at the same time as major football matches), which will likely happen in the next 5-10 years. This will create a tipping point where it becomes more popular to bet on than evening football matches.
Looking at the delayed Euro 2020 held last year, can operators use the standout success of Efootball during the tournament as a reason to engage more players during the weekend’s sport fixtures?
DP: I believe Esports will always hold plenty of potential as a complementary product during major events such as the Euros, where we see heightened betting activity and greater overall spend. However, the challenge is always going to be taking this into the mainstream and having it considered as a regular fixture week in, week out. In my view, it is very possible that this could translate well into a complementary product that fills the gaps between sporting fixtures, especially for those who like to be pre-match and not in play. Given a football match lasts 90 minutes, you have plenty of space to fill over the 90 minutes after pre-match bets are placed. If you can identify and incentivise that opportunity, then I believe there is huge potential in the long term.
AM: Also, as we’ve covered already – the audience you have for Efootball- is completely different to Counter Strike, League of Legends and the like, so in effect we’re only talking about 50% of the potential Esports audience.
Let’s take Europe as a market to speak on a macro level and place Efootball in isolation. Regulation for a start is going to be key, making sure that product is available and acceptable. That’s something in particular we’d need to see in Germany with the Bundesliga, as Esports is not yet regulated to be a betting market. Looking further west towards the UK, there’s far less of an overlap, due to player preferences and composition of audience. However, if we return to the CEE, then yes, without a doubt I see plenty of potential here for operators to really test this out as it’s something the new generation of players are very receptive to.
PRS: To add to that, I would certainly say in many ways we’re looking at an area of spend (and indeed audience) that are traditionalists when it comes to football. However, if we look at the new generation and their social circles and familiarity with the online environment, they are shaped by a very different world than what older generations had for football growing up as a primary source of entertainment.
So, without a doubt, we’ll see a very different trend towards the Esports landscape over the next decade. Whether that’s for Esports as a complementary product or one in its own right, I believe it will be inevitable that it becomes an area of engagement with traditional sports fixture in the decade to come. This is especially the case if Esports will be regulated clearly, as well as Esports tournaments being organised regularly, enabling online gaming operators to follow that lead and invest in technology and commercial communication dedicated to Esports.
Last but not least, looking at the big picture – what’s your take on how Esports is going to develop in CEE over the next five years, how much more do you see it gaining popularity?
DP: I believe it is going to develop, and it will no doubt gain traction. But in my view, it won’t take off immediately. The next few years will likely see Esports continue as a complementary product that will enable operators to diversify and upgrade their offerings. The new generation coming online will power this, and with an extensive spectrum of events around the globe, and the 24-7 betting that it brings, it can scale fast.
However, for that to happen, we also need to see more investment in the vertical for it to become more established. For a start, we need more advanced trading models that can enable operators to offer a much broader spectrum of Esports betting markets to attract more players. We’re already seeing that happen in real-time, and even in the last three years, there’s been a real surge in terms of managed trading services for Esports and the provision of data. As we’re seeing truly specialised companies for this provision begin to corner the market, growth will inevitably become even more exponential, with a ‘hockey stick’ style adoption curve.
AM: I agree. There’s plenty of potential. We can certainly say that outside of the present conflict taking place between Russia and Ukraine, there’s a stable trend towards growth, aside from the recent Parimatch / Ukraine news this week. I’m confident it’s only going to keep growing for all the reasons we’ve covered above.
All of this is fuelled by the unique audiences of the region, and indeed their demand for entertainment. If we compare the potential of Western vs. Eastern Europe, then without a doubt, I believe that CEE is the most likely to emerge as the continent’s major player. Given our position on the market as one of the world’s leading Esports providers, I believe that Esports is exactly what you make of it – and if you take a proactive view and approach, the market share is there for the taking.
PRS: I concur with Amir and Dimitris, I believe it’s only going to grow – all the foundations are there in CEE to make that happen; demographics, interest, increasing awareness of relevant brand values and an established understanding of the mechanics. In the short-term, I don’t believe we’ll see major displacement of the most popular traditional sports or radical shifts in market trends. Longer term, we’ll to see much greater adoption that will no doubt scale over as exponential growth really begins to emerge.
What is Betbazar expecting from the upcoming Prague Gaming & TECH Summit?
Ahead of next week’s highly-anticipated Prague Gaming and Tech Summit, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE’s) largest betting and gaming industry conference we sat donm with Betbazar’s COO Max Sevostianov for a quick chat.
We’re really looking forward to the Prague Gaming & TECH Summit where we’ll be talking about Betbazar’s rich array of cutting-edge products and services. The event will provide a great opportunity for Betbazar to engage with other professionals in the sector, exchange ideas, and stay up-to-date on the latest trends and technologies shaping the industry’s future.
As part of its growth strategy, Betbazar is also actively seeking new partnerships and collaborations that can help the company enhance its offerings and expand its reach.
By showcasing our products and services available within our B2B worldwide iGaming marketplace, Betbazar aims to capture the attention of potential partners and clients. Events like this provide an environment to demonstrate the company’s commitment to connecting creators with buyers to accelerate growth powered by best-in-class products. – Betbazar COO Max Sevostianov
How big a role do CEE markets play in Betbazar’s growth strategy for 2023 and beyond?
Betbazar identified the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region as a crucial area for growth and expansion in 2023 and beyond. The company recognizes the potential that the CEE markets offer, but also acknowledges that success in these markets will hinge on a variety of factors. Among these factors are regulatory compliance, effective marketing and localisation strategies, and the capacity to deliver competitive products and services that cater to the unique needs and preferences of players in the region.
Localised strategies play a vital role to help resonate with the diverse audiences in the CEE region. This includes tailoring marketing campaigns to the specific cultural nuances, languages, and preferences of players in each market. This approach means we’re able to effectively communicate Betbazar’s value proposition and establish a strong brand presence that appeals to regional audiences.
esports forms a strong part of the Betbazar service, what role do you see the vertical playing for operators?
Esports has emerged as a rapidly growing segment within the iGaming industry, and as a leading player in the space, Betbazar recognises its potential for attracting and retaining players. In particular, esports appeals to younger demographics, who are highly engaged with competitive gaming and represent a significant market opportunity for iGaming operators.
One of the most compelling aspects of esports is its global appeal. With millions of fans and players worldwide, operators that offer esports betting can tap into a vast and rapidly expanding market. This growth is fueled by the increasing popularity of competitive gaming across various genres and platforms.
The sheer volume of game formats and tournaments provides numerous betting options, catering to different interests and skill levels. Moreover, esports fosters opportunities for interaction and dialogue among fans, creating a sense of community and loyalty that can drive long-term engagement.
You recently added Prague-based Mancala Gaming to your iGaming offering, what do its games offer to Generation Y?
Generation Y, often recognised for their tech-savviness and preference for experiences over material possessions, has shown a strong inclination towards social and multiplayer gaming. This group also displays a particular interest in skill-based games, seeking challenges and the opportunity to showcase their abilities.
Mancala Gaming has strategically positioned itself to appeal to Generation Y by offering a diverse portfolio of games that cater to these preferences. The company’s range of games features various themes and mechanics, including skill-based options that engage players seeking a challenge.
Beyond the gameplay itself, Mancala Gaming ensures that its portfolio is visually appealing and highly engaging. Recognising that Generation Y players are accustomed to frictionless and immersive gaming experiences, Mancala Gaming strives to provide graphics and designs that capture and maintain the attention of this audience.
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