Interview: CEO James Marshall, speaks with iGB on what makes Push Gaming unique, as well as our future plans
With our tenth year anniversary soon approaching, CEO James Marshall, recently spoke with Robin Harrison for iGaming Business on the beginnings of Push Gaming. They also discuss the reasons for Push Gaming taking a different approach to creating games, from what is considered the norm in the industry, along with recent successes, as well as what lies ahead.
The below is the full interview, and the original article may read here.
Having started out in recruitment, how did you then move into founding a slot supplier?
So I was working in recruitment for about six years. I was working for Pentasia for three years, and I decided that I wanted to move to Australia; I just wanted a change and at that point the global financial crisis was kicking in and recruiters weren’t doing that well, so it wasn’t the best time to move within recruitment.
I knew about NextGen Gaming in Sydney, and I got an international partner management role and worked from the UK for a year, then in Sydney for a year. So I think when it comes to product development, I’m not so sure how that’s come about - it’s mainly a passion for games.
On the recruitment side it's good grounding for setting up a business, growing it - you’re accountable for your own revenue generation. That was a big help in the early days, having the tenacity to go out and get deals.
What then prompted you to establish Push Gaming in 2010? What was the rationale behind repurposing land-based content for the online space?
I decided that I wanted to set up a business, and coming back from the UK to Sydney I decided it was a good time to do that. We had a good business model, which was a big driver of the decision.
I was playing a lot of land-based games in Sydney, from Aristocrat, Ainsworth, and I felt that at the time - it’s changed drastically now - the games on the online side weren’t on par with the land-based games. There was no one who would take those games and redistribute them online. GameAccount was coming through at that point, but it felt like a really good opportunity to set up a service taking games online, handling distribution.
When it comes to distributing land based games it’s a drastically different market. And we’re taking video slots, that we can completely re-use all the assets, the arts, animations, the sounds, so it’s redeveloping in a new code base in Flash or ActionScript. At the time the business model was very sound, and it made sense. We’re both first-time entrepreneurs, myself and my business partner Winston Lee, and it took a little while to get going. We were a bootstrapped start up at the time.
And what ultimately led to you moving away from that - was it a case of the land-based developers pushing into online themselves?
There were a few things. Some of the big land based suppliers were building their own studios, but another factor was the commercial element of it. We didn’t have our own platform, so there were two middlemen. Before we could take our share, the player, the platform, and the supplier, took their cut, so there wasn’t a strong enough commercial model to generate the revenue.
Then you had mobile coming through, and some really strong new games from the likes of Quickspin and NetEnt. We were looking at those and saw them as designed similar to very rectangular land-based machines. While they were playable for desktop and mobile, they just weren’t built for those devices.
An opportunity came up for two exclusive developments for Kindred, which we took, designing games in portrait mode, and that kicked off the studio. That was really the start of us building our own development operation.
How has the strategy for content evolved over this time - you’ve stuck to a fairly small roadmap, at a time when other developers appear to be going for a more ‘maximalist’ approach. Why is that?
There’s a few factors to it. The reality is there are a number of other studios providing the volume, we don’t have to focus on that. Operators are already being serviced with a lot of content. Our approach is, what does the player want? Do they want a lot of similar games, or do they want to play something unique?
I think it’s a bit of both; the competitors deal with the volume, so that’s not an issue for casinos or players. They’ll be getting a new game or five each week. We’re trying to supply something that the players will want, and create new and exciting games, so players and operators can look forward to the latest release.
There’s other benefits as well. Our team wants to create really unique and great games, and the conveyor belt approach is not one we want to go down. It’s working very well for us; I think when it comes to it we want to be more competitive than we are now, and players and operators do need new content so we are looking at being more competitive when it comes to volume. Not by producing 50+ games, but a release pattern that makes us more competitive in the market.
Does this put more pressure on the individual games to succeed, and for each title to offer something unique? How, in turn, does that inform the development process?
For starters, it is very difficult to create top performing games. We’ve had a very strong hit rate on our releases; anything of between 60-70% are strong performers, but it’s not typical. I think that’s what we’re trying to focus on - how to maintain that hit rate.
We’re never going to get everything right, but we really need to be into the details, what players like, what they might like next, and what they don’t want. What they don’t want is a big factor, which means we can be more efficient as well. Ultimately it’s very tough.
So what’s more important for us as a business is not falling into the trap of trying to compete on the pure number of games. What we’re looking to compete on is player engagement, volume of players and individual game performance. That doesn’t have a direct correlation on the number of releases a year; we want to be competitive and there has to be new content but we don’t want to fall into the trap of competing on volume.
There’s been a lot of work done by other suppliers to develop more feature-rich games, to the point that retention and engagement mechanics are as much a part of the product as the games themselves; what features do you feel best illustrate that for Push?
Now we have our own platform, we have all the technology in-house to build new functionality, so that’s what we’re looking at. We’re trying to look at what the player would actually like, and what would create a better experience for them. We’re not looking at features that will keep players in the games, which would go against the operator’s offering.
We ultimately want to create a more fun experience and a better experience for players, so we’re looking at functionality that does that, rather than from a purely commercial point of view. The idea for us is that we’ll continue to build better games, and the features and functionality of the games are what will make players choose our games.
Talk me through the GSI deal; how are you looking to leverage that platform, as well as Paul Beattie and Paul Evison’s experience to grow the business further?
The GSI deal made sense for all the parties; it has an RGS, and we’re purely a front end game studio, so we have all the front end expertise. We were already working with GSI; we agreed to acquire an instance of their RGS and integration layer, so the team were already working together and it was the best due diligence we could do on the business.
It didn’t make sense to part ways when the handover of code was completed, the companies just aligned very well. The potential was much greater, looking at speed and the team synergies, together than as separate businesses.
We agreed a deal to acquire the business and a big factor of that was bringing in the experience and expertise of Paul Beattie and Evison. They had a big deal with a major operator, and also have the background of OpenBet, having been the technical leads for its gaming platform. So they have that experience of working with top tier operators, and that experience of regulated markets, such as supplying the platform for Canadian lotteries.
They’ve also got that experience of running big technical teams, which will be crucial for the business as we scale up.
Has this deal contributed to you signing the agreements with GVC and William Hill this year?
The GSI deal definitely played a part. The UK hasn’t been a main market for us, due to the partners we work with, so we’ve been focused on Scandinavia and other parts of Europe. It’s been brilliant to get these deals with such massive brands in the UK. Ultimately the platform just gives us the opportunity to control and operate in the markets we want and to control the distribution in general.
Considering there is a growing trend of restrictions on slots, whether that’s the proposal for a €1 stake in Germany; a £2 limit in GB; or the SEK5,000 deposit limit in Sweden, how much of a concern is this? Or do you think sanity will prevail among lawmakers?
I think, for starters, it’s a good thing new regulations are being rolled out. Regulations are certainly necessary and it’s how the industry is - and should - be evolving.
Looking at it as a games supplier, we work in a form of entertainment. What concerns me most, particularly with technical requirements, is damaging the entertainment experience. With some of these requirements, there’s no evidence of them reducing gambling harms.
The regulations have to be practical. Regulators need to understand the majority of payers that do not have a problem with gambling.
By damaging the entertainment element so much so, whether that’s through stake limits, spin times (especially in Germany) that will have a negative impact on the entertainment value of that game. If you’re taking away that excitement through regulation, it’s almost certain that players will move to illegal sites.
There have to be tools and safeguards in place, but we have to protect the entertainment value of what we’re offering. We’re obviously competing with the entertainment industry as a whole, so we do have to deliver something entertaining.
It feels as if we’re moving into a period where casino in particular faces greater regulatory scrutiny - do you feel suppliers are properly represented by the industry lobbying groups? Do you feel the B2B side needs to have more of a voice in lobbying efforts?
It’s evolving now, especially in the UK. That’s one of the only markets where the supplier needs to hold a licence. I think for us as a supplier it’s important for us to work with the operators at the forefront of regulations. Most of it falls on the operators but we shouldn’t look to leave that with our customers and see it as their issue. We have to work out ways of supporting them.
They can also help us as suppliers, by understanding the effects of the technical standards being put into games, and the issues these new controls may cause. Operators definitely have more clout when it comes to regulators, but they can’t ignore the impact of the requirements that may have a big negative impact of on the playability of the games. Longer-term, the playability of games is just so important, and needs protected, as well as creating a responsible and sustainable industry.
What next for Push Gaming - are you looking at the US market, or where else do you see room to grow?
Right now we’re supporting our core customer base. We received our UK and Malta licences this year, we’re supporting customers in Sweden and Denmark, and have plans for Spain next year.
The US is definitely on our radar, and we’re speaking to a lot of operators there, but as we’re still rolling out our platform and entering a lot of markets in Europe, we’ve got a lot of big growth opportunities there. So there are a lot of other markets to grow into.
How difficult is it to find new growth channels after ten years?
We were a bootstrapped start-up back then, and have really only raised a significant amount of funds over the past three years or so. So now, we are really starting to show just what we can do with some backing, and this has resulted in significant growth.
The challenge for us now is prioritising the opportunities and understanding the potential there is. We have a lot of big operators that we are launching with now, and have had many tier one launches in the past five years. That being said, despite all this growth, there are still so many potential new clients and a lot of other markets for us yet to enter.
There’s a lot of opportunity out there for us. We have already achieved so much, yet there is still so much more we can do, which is really exciting for us in this new phase of business that we’re entering.