iGB's Slots Roundtable with CPO Simon Hammon

As seen on iGB.

Relax Gaming’s Simon Hammon, Evoplay Entertainment’s Roman Sadovskyi, Greentube’s Steven Cross and Habanero’s Arcangelo Lonoce provide their perspectives on how the slots space is set to advance in 2021 and beyond.

What is the landscape for innovation in slots development this year?

Simon Hammon: Suppliers will need to work harder than ever in 2021 to ensure competitiveness and gain cut-through. There has never been as much choice from as many suppliers in the market as there is today, which should lend itself to increased levels of innovation. The reality is though that the market is dominated by leading content, and innovation doesn’t always get an easy route to market. This year will also see new regulatory requirements and changes to existing ones in certain markets, which further highlights the need to remain agile and adapt products to continue driving revenue.

The landscape looks tougher, but we are already seeing signs of a new approach to game design from some suppliers. The trend for higher volatility is still relevant in 2021, as well as unique reel configurations, winning lines, theming and art direction. Successful games no longer follow the traditional mould and players want games to vary and to engage them – in a sea of content it will be differentiation that will capture imaginations. While it is a more competitive landscape, given the right support and aggregation partner, there has never been more opportunity for a smaller supplier with big ideas to make a mark. This can only help challenge stagnation and the status quo.

Roman Sadovskyi: The quality of content on today’s slot market is improving at an impressive rate. That applies not only from a technical perspective, but also a visual one. It’s why the level of competition, and therefore quality, is stronger than ever – and players are reaping the benefits.

Suppliers and operators across the globe are pushing the envelope to set their products apart. 3D slots are particularly promising, with a raft of new launches providing entertainment experiences that stand out from the crowd.

Take the example of our recent hit, Treasure Mania. The title takes players on an exhilarating adventure through a cavernous desert, potentially encountering a ‘Wild Trains’ feature that boosts winnings by up to x700 along the way.

Steven Cross: The landscape for innovation this year will most likely be shaped by two things. The first will be branded game mechanics. The success story of Megaways needs no introduction. It is a popular mechanic that has been transformed into a large cross-supplier family of games, with known brands that players both trust and enjoy. These factors are key when considering the increasing market saturation today, and therefore designers will be looking for a big game mechanic in which they can create the next successful family of games.

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The next and most significant evolution is and will be platform gamification. 99% of individual games have a limited shelf life and ROI due to content release saturation, causing players to churn from one title to the next. Suppliers are starting to take a step back and are now looking at how to create a more engaging platform for players – the playing field is now more than just the games! Daily jackpots and tournaments are already becoming prominent, and this is just the beginning. Game suppliers will be looking at more great ways to further engage and create trust with the players on a platform level.

Arcangelo Lonoce: A lot has been said about gamification – and with good reason. In a regulatory landscape that gets more restrictive by the day while the organic development of content becomes ever more immersive, greater emphasis must be placed on entertainment, as opposed to attracting players with the prospect of financial gain.

That means alternative game ecosystems, enhanced jackpots, tournaments and bonus rounds will feature prominently on the agenda for 2021. However, although it will of course play a key role, innovation isn’t everything.

Slot launches are a more consistent feature of today’s market than they ever have been, but only a handful are consistent performers. So, suppliers who create a product that is simple but compelling, and doesn’t go overboard on ‘disruption’, could certainly be in for a hefty payday.

Which market movements, if any, will shape the future of slots provision?

Simon Hammon: There are many market shifts and pressures that shape casinos in general but specifically slots. A few key ones include affiliate media and the increasing rise of streamers, regulated markets, technology, competition and changing player behaviours and requirements. Many of these are not new and have been a consistent consideration for many suppliers and operators for years but are gaining prominence and require increasing consideration for today’s studios. Now, more so than ever, suppliers must swiftly adapt to the increasing pressures that are surfacing.

Currently, an operator may launch anything from 50-100 new slots per month, which means visibility of your product is short-lived. Slots must resonate quickly to make a lasting impression and to become financially rewarding. It is this basic ROI question that is creating division in strategies – some suppliers are focusing on innovative ideas while others are choosing tried-and-tested concepts that don’t break the mould but are safe bets. Others swamp the market on a volume strategy, while those that can hold do limited releases that build anticipation. While more established studios can opt for a reputation built on quality, newer studios may rely on undercutting the market financially to secure better visibility. It is my firm opinion that in this market, you cannot play it ‘safe’. To be successful you must be willing to challenge and produce quality over volume with a heavy focus on delivering original and unique mechanics. Competition will undoubtedly create significant new winners and heavy losers in the coming years.

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Roman Sadovskyi: Gamification features prominently on the agenda for 2021, with suppliers and operators alike ramping up the fun factor in an effort to drive engagement and retention. In that regard, the level of innovation, experimentation and diversification that we’re seeing will continue to elevate.

The mass adoption of VR, AR and AI technologies will upend the prevailing orthodoxy around game development. So not only will we see more and more players using VR headsets, but they may even be visiting a virtual casino when they do so.

Finally, keep a lookout for new hardware and devices. Smartwatches are becoming more popular by the day, and might well be the next big thing for players looking for entertainment on the move.

Steven Cross: Increasing market regulation is perhaps the most challenging factor when it comes to the future of slots provision from a delivery perspective. Understandably, player protection is front and centre. However, individual regulators are approaching this subject with their own bespoke solutions. This provides a significant challenge and cost of entry for game and platform suppliers, who have to deal with an ever-increasing amount of market-specific requirements in order to release a game across their network.

Covid-19 has significantly impacted the world and the industry as a whole. Land-based casino operations have suffered due to lockdowns, and there was a subsequent shift of these players to the online space. Popular land-based brands have seen an uptick in popularity online, as the players find new ways to play the games they love. As the world learns how to deal with Covid, land-based operations will reopen and revive. However, omnichannel content synergies between online and land-based will be more important than ever; creating ways for players to play the games they enjoy, no matter where they choose to play.

Arcangelo Lonoce: The social casino space will provide us with a strong indication of where the market is going. Customers who enjoy free-to-play titles are a key acquisition target for the real-money sector, so the kind of content we see in that vertical will be indicative of things to come.

Additionally, the game has changed when it comes to cross-selling. Lockdown restrictions mean that people these days generally have more time on their hands. The profile of your average sports bettor has therefore changed significantly, which will have vital implications for the slot market’s cross-selling prospects.

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