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Armadillo Studios: AI is just getting started

By - 15 May 2023

Conducting field research in Las Vegas on land-based games in 2014, Dave Stoveld stumbled upon some fun online slots, decided to apply, and moved to Stockholm to pursue a career in the iGaming industry. Dave, now Armadillo Studios’ Chief Operations Officer, reflects on how the sector has evolved and the directions it’s headed.

In a nutshell, what are today’s slot trends?

United States expansion, regulated gaming, feature buy variations, crypto, top win records and advertisements, and collaboration gaming projects.

What’s changed since 2014?

Aside from the various timed jackpot innovations, a mobile first mindset has been key to operators like LeoVegas, as well as game providers like BTG. Dynamic reels were already common on Aristocrat slots on their enormous screen cabinets for example, but the real innovation on Megaways was a clever way of sizing the reels to fit nicely on mobile single screen devices, as well as the common sense to advertise the feature, a proven strategy synonymous to the likes of High 5 Super Stacks.

How have new technologies changed the way slots are developed and played?

While it’s always fun to see 3D slots and various gimmicks and video game style synergies at trade shows, community play continues to be a viable next iGaming changer category.

Streamers and competition tools have made huge progress, and while land-based community games like WMS’s fun compete to win has gained a lot of attention, the power of the internet and cutting-edge companies such as BeyondPlay will mean new formats and ways to play will soon emerge. AI is also already having an effect on games.

Games can be imagined and created faster, coded and calculated faster, prototyped better. It’s like Napster all over again during the dot-com boom, and AI is just getting started.

What games have you taken most pride in seeing succeed, and why?

My debut in online slots as a product owner at NetEnt was pivotal in my career. I was lucky that the CPO believed in me enough to give the chance to work with top tier members from executives to business intelligence, Phd mathematicians, experienced artists and developers and with one of the strongest brands in the world.

Naturally, it was a huge moment to see all the effort that went into creating the games lead to some extremely profitable slots. Looking ahead, our Exotic Wilds have performed very well for us at Armadillo Studios under SlotMatrix, and Fairy Fantasy is going to be the next release to showcase how far the team has come. I’m really proud of the job they’ve done.

How has the methodology driving the creation of game portfolios changed?

These days there are so many different game categories within slots themselves, not to mention one-off categories like crash games, and instant win and all kinds of cross selling strategies with sportsbooks and brand deals and exclusivity partnerships. Each company has a different vision and structure to their roadmap, and in a booming industry there is an unlimited number of possibilities that can lead to success.

What game themes have remained popular, which have blended in the background, and have any new themes come to the fore in recent years?

Aside from sweets and large animals, most popular themes revolve around the nature of what slot players want to win, money. Whether it’s a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow or a rich deity or ruler like Cleopatra, players skew in favour of games literally named with cash fortune gold or riches. A lot of candy crush style games as well as the Book of saga meme that never gets old.

How have features and bonuses evolved?

Given a games RTP is the same, it should be no secret that generally big wins should be carefully constructed to have a joyful experience, and bonus games are a great way to achieve this. While simple feature games also have their place, there will continue to be a demand for well-structured bonus games in slots to optimise the excitement of big wins, a dopamine boost most players are familiar with and continue to enjoy.

How has RTP shifted and have these changes been to the advantage or detriment of players?

RTPs commonly discussed on Casinomeister forums are going down, with multiple RTP versions given to operators rather than the previous standard of 96 per cent. While most players strongly prefer to find and play solely on titles with favourable RTPs, there will be a balance among the quality of the games, what operators want to push, and what players are demanding to play.

Are mechanics as engaging as they could be?

There will always be a way to make mechanics more engaging, especially in the current landscape with so many providers that need to prove their worth to operators.

How do you assess the increasingly fast churn of games hitting the market?

It’s a competitive industry, and unless working exclusively with an operator, a few days in a good lobby position is all suppliers should expect from a game launch; the opportunity cost of not promoting new games is too high, and the chances are if players aren’t searching for your game to play it again, the innovation wasn’t a bullseye and it’s time to get back on the drawing board for the next launches.

Have games become increasingly narrow-casted, in that they are created to appeal to a very defined player, as opposed to a more general player-type?

The ratio is about the same but, with more slots created, there will be more tailor-made slots for specific players and markets. This is especially as so many operators look for exclusive content and strategies to stand out from others.

With well thought-out analysis of their different player bases it is an excellent opportunity for healthy competition as dynamic lobbies cater to each player with recommendations in a Netflix-like entertainment experience for gamblers.

Have any new forms of gameplay, specific titles or emerging studios caught your attention recently?

There continues to be a plethora of games rolling out. I would say I particularly like hearing from friends on new title hits like Sugar Rush, Money Train 3, Book of Power as well as their emerging frameworks like Supermatch, Gigablox, Amazing Link, Hyper Lines, and Pop Wins.

Finally, how do you see online slots industry evolving over the coming years?

Over the years for the United States as more states approve online slots, providers will lead with what has worked best from other markets, from the top hits in Europe to land-based ported slots of legacy titles. Smaller studio locals will have their chance to break out with market specific titles as well.

Interests and cultures are of course not the same across the US and it is going to be intriguing to compare how players are receptive to different play styles, themes, mechanics and math models.

Overall, in iGaming, I expect more community play, better and new forms of jackpots, and new ways of playing. Interactive play with games like Lightning Roulette and live slot play will also maintain their popularity.

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