CasinoBeats: Talking the future of slots and the Netflix model, with Simon Hammon

As seen on CasinoBeats.

CasinoBeats catches up with Simon Hammon, CPO of Relax Gaming, to delve into the future of slots, the Netflix model and striking a balance between protecting the vulnerable but not being detrimental to the overall enjoyment of others.

CasinoBeats: Entertainment forms a central theme of many igaming conversations, particularly with the ever-increasing regulatory microscope that the industry currently finds itself under. With this in mind, could slots in particular become a more low-stake entertainment led vertical?

Simon Hammon: The landscape of the market is constantly shifting and there is, of course, an undeniably higher focus on responsible gaming measures, of which the lowering of stakes is a strong talking point. There is also the pure competition element, which is having a strong effect on gaming habits.

As it currently stands, there’s a wealth of game content to choose from – which along with the continued shift to mobile where players tend to snack on content, has contributed significantly to the marked reduction we’ve seen in both average stake and session length. 

Combining some of these factors together will undoubtedly drive a more low-stake entertainment focus into game design principles but also the general position and offering from operators.

Revenues are currently largely driven by the higher value player. If there is a seismic shift in the wider cash transaction, this will have a sizeable consequence on the industry and indeed, what products are brought to market. The industry as a whole is used to change and adaption so ensuring an offering is flexible will be key to sustaining success. 

CB: Would you say that wider-mass appeal, but with a lower expenditure per individual, is the way that the industry is heading? And why? If so, what does this look like and would any sacrifices have to be made in terms of game development to achieve it?

SH: Wider-mass appeal only works if the games are positioned as such. In a highly competitive marketplace, visibility of game product has a large impact on the player base it attracts. In terms of securing the required ROI, games have in recent times been more targeted to the higher value player segment given the volume of content on offer. 

“WHEN WE REALLY LOOK AT THE NETFLIX MODEL, THE MAIN BENEFITS ATTACHED ARE WITH THE CUSTOMER CHOICE”

Future titles will only go down the route of greater mass-market appeal if that is supported by operators and that would require commitment on positioning and promotion. Players have new avenues to discover content and see how they play via streamers.

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This can give them more confidence in trying new games, which is important when ensuring a new mechanic is understood quickly. Beyond this, the trend we see is for the blockbuster titles on acquisition, of course, but also supporting localised-market content. 

Get a game right for the target audience and pitch it at the right stake level with appealing mechanics and the underlying knowledge for that segment and you’re just as likely to hit your ROI targets as producing a game for the masses that might not get the visibility it needs to make those returns. For a game to resonate with a wider community, it also needs to have the necessary visibility to it. 

While games may not need to dramatically change in terms of their mechanical core, what may have a larger impact is the gamification and additions that surround that experience.

To maintain higher session lengths and lifetime value, it is more likely that achievement engines and the experiences that overlay games will become more prominent in designers’ thinking and process. 

CB: We often see and hear the Netflix model referenced, but is this a realistic ambition for the industry? How would this be best achieved?

SH: I can understand the Netflix model reference as many lobbies now practically represent the diverse choice of multiple suppliers, so the clear presentation of new titles along with their ranked popularity is becoming common place. 

When we really look at the Netflix model, the main benefits attached are with the customer choice and the dynamic presentation of potential content. This is already happening with many operators with smart content selection systems built to recommend games.

“WITHOUT A DOUBT, IN SOME MARKETS, THE GAME EXPERIENCE CAN BE DAMPENED BY REGULATION”

This, of course, has both pros and cons. It can help drive and build player loyalty to content in what is a sea of choice for specific providers. The downside can be that many players who are discovering slots might not know what style they are looking for or like. They may find unnecessary streamlining based on first game touches, which results in higher churn. 

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In my view, the Netflix model comes with many up-sides and can also help the impartiality of game selection from the player. However, it comes with the down-side of presenting content that can naturally reduce the visibility of others. 

CB: How can tighter restrictions on igaming, and slots in particular, strike a balance between protecting the vulnerable but not being detrimental to the overall enjoyment of others?

SH: Regulated market restrictions are nothing new in the sense of curtailing or setting parameters on game design. How game designers navigate the landscape now is key to striking the right balance between innovation and potential vs requirements. 

Game designers must now think even more about how to balance the RTP and feature set whilst ensuring the full game experience is not compromised. In order to ensure a positive game experience, you need to consider variants of a game for release.

There are a range of regulatory elements to consider from max bet, max win, enabled features, autoplay restrictions, spin length, session length etc. Part of the issue is that many of such requirements are fragmented to differing jurisdictions and without uniformity you have to often approach game design on a localised level. 

One of the most effective ways of doing this is to ensure that the framework on which the games are built are modularised as much as possible to allow for effective enabling of functionality.

The reality is that, in the current landscape, players are often playing differing versions of the game product depending on the market they are playing in – with differences varying across jurisdictions. As a slot provider, it is difficult to heavily customise a game experience to every market and you often need to adapt the core product offering.

Without a doubt, in some markets, the game experience can be dampened by regulation and it can be questionable whether these requirements are actually serving to prevent harmful gaming or simply acting as a hindrance to game production. 

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