Interview: CEO James Marshall speaks with Slot Beats on the UK market

Our CEO, James Marshall, recently spoke with SlotBeats in the first of an ongoing series, Around the World in 80 Slots, where various countries are examined in detail. He gives his thought on the UK market - on how it’s changed over the years, the typical player, and what lies ahead for 2021.

 

The UK has no doubt been one of the world’s key regulated territories over the last decade – how much has the market changed for you over the last 10 years?

Even for such an established territory, there’s been significant movement in the UK market. We’ve moved from a place that was pretty much dominated by two key casino suppliers. Land-based content, such as Scientific Games’ Barcrest division saw great growth with their style of content, then we started to see Blueprint - which came from a similar background - producing some really good UK-focused content.

Over the last five years or so, companies like NetEnt have made their presence felt and offered unique content, which many players had never seen before and this brought about the beginning of the slow shift toward newer-style gameplay.

There’s still plenty of historical games in the market with traditional themes, but I think it would be a mistake to think that that isn’t changing now. Although that swing is gradual, what we’re seeing now is the advent of new types of players coming through. Like in a lot of markets, these players are hungry for streaming and social media and the provision of that is having an indelible effect on their appetites for the types of game play they want. The land-based style games are still the most prominent, but we’re seeing that dominance slowly being eroded and falling in line with the trends that we’re seeing globally.

The other major factor we have here, arguably more so than anywhere else, is that the UK Gambling Commission is now the most pro-active regulator in the world, particularly when it comes to things like product design. We’ve seen the introduction of elements like the 2.5 second rule on spins, no bonus buy-ins and we’ll no doubt see stake limits sooner or later – and while the changes will generally be positive, they’ll bring their own challenges.  Suppliers will have to drive the growth demanded in the market and at the same time not lose the entertainment element that our games are designed for. The challenge for us is to work out how to keep players engaged and entertained within the new regulatory framework.

When it comes to profiling the typical UK player – and the type of demand involved when it comes to gameplay – would you say the entertainment factor of slots has increased as more has become possible in terms of features and graphics?

Historically, I would say the UK has seen a variety of multiple feature types perform well; they’re pure entertainment value and don’t have that high volatility you see in other markets. The crossover we’re seeing from players coming in from sports betting is reflective of that – lots of features and pure entertainment value. Ultimately, that will be the focal point moving forward: providing that entertainment against that background.

Operators and suppliers must be careful not to put too much weight on player profiles – as an operator you can look at the new players coming through and work out what kind of media they will engage with, but we shouldn’t profile too much as what works now may not work in a few years.

There will always be a new player demographic emerging and that’s what we have to keep a careful eye on, as they will eat away at the existing player base over time, so it’s vital to be able to have a plan in place to be ahead of the curve in terms of preparing the next generation of games. The great thing for operators now, of course, is that they can work with 30+ suppliers – which enables them to cater to a wealth of players and their tastes.

The resulting challenge for suppliers with the proliferation of new studios is the competition that they bring, which therefore makes the need to focus on developing for and supplying those future markets essential and that’s one of the core strategies we have for ourselves at Push.

When comparing the UK to its neighbours in Scandinavia, Italy and Belgium – do you think UK players seek out a particular style of gameplay that requires a tailored development strategy?

Historically yes, but it’s changing now. There is a particular style of game that has worked in the UK, multiple features, fruits, Irish themes and these still work today, but player preferences are evolving, as they are worldwide.

We need to look at not what’s worked for the last 10 years, but rather consider what will perform over the next 10 years.

What people engage with is changing and having one strategy is not enough. Going forward – we shouldn’t base that on historical data. For any studio that isn’t making 50 games a year, it just doesn’t make sense to create games for individual markets.

The reason the particular market focus exists is the traditions of the land-based industry. Players have been accustomed to that over time because it was more difficult to get games into individual regions; you needed a local licence, to manufacture the machines then have local connections with the land-based venues. What resulted was a segmented market with the suppliers excelling in those areas, players became accustomed to those games and consequently, were not exposed to outside influences - their tastes were dictated by the supply. But as the market changes, expectations change with it. It takes a long time, but eventually, players migrate to the newer products.

While this might have flown under the radar for a lot of the industry in the past few years – do you see Brexit affecting the UK slots market or indeed, the regulatory process of the UKGC?

Not at all. The UKGC is and always has been an independent regulator, like all others in Europe. Each EU country already has its own unique approach for tax and reducing player harm and this will continue to be the case. We could certainly look at the possibility of a pan-European regulator, similar to that of an EU-like body – but we can discuss that another day!

From a commercial perspective, do you see the importance of the UK market diminishing over the next decade in comparison to other regions that arguably have far more growth potential?

It depends on who you are. The UK used to have only a handful of major suppliers, but that’s now changing. Push sees the UK as having high growth potential as we’ve only been introducing our games to UK players for the last three years, so we have plenty of potential growth here. If you’re a company that has been here for a while, it’s likely your share will decline and you’ll be looking at other regions for growth, simply due to the increased competition. For newcomers, it’s going to be a big opportunity to acquire players.

Last but not least, looking at the year ahead – what’s going to be key for staying ahead in the market throughout 2021? What type of entertainment do you believe players are going to be looking for and how do you plan to cater to that?

The key will be to look at how we get a high volume of players and reduce reliance on those more VIP-types. This needs to be a focus for a lot of businesses right now, it’s going to be about sustainability.

Our ongoing challenge is, how do we entertain players with lower stakes sustainably and affordably within this regulated environment?  It’s our job to look at how we’re currently engaging players and work out how we take that forward. While I won’t go into detail about how Push plans to do that, we’re confident we’ll continue making games that we think players are going to love next and capture the future new wave of player interest.

The original article may be found here.