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Bridging the digital divide

By - 2 November 2020

Following our interview with SciGame’s Michael Mastropietro on the relationship between the land-based and online arms of the company, SG Digital’s Rob Procter, Content Specialist Director, answers our questions levelled at the digital side of the business.

Operationally, how does SG Digital differ from Scientific Games? Is there a different organisational structure within the division?

As part of the same business, there are several similarities in how we are structured across gaming and digital. For the gaming guys it is more hands-on for the operational stuff they cover whereas for digital it is simpler as everything is online. From a core competencies point of view, it is very much the same despite the differences in services between the units.

From a digital perspective, we are looking at two of the biggest product suites in the industry with OpenSports and OpenGaming that require complex organisational work behind the scenes to make day to day operations as easy as possible for our customers.

How independent is SG Digital from the company’s land-based operations with regards to game development and division of assets?

More than you might think. Historically, we have always leant on our gaming brothers. Many of our most successful games and content inspiration have performed well in the land-based market whether it be the US arm with 888fortunes and Raging Rhino or our land-based omnichannel in the UK with Rainbow Riches being the big one. There is a lot of cross-pollination between the teams – we do not silo ourselves into land-based and digital.

We regularly speak to our land-based peers in the US to update each other on what we are doing. Looking at our roadmap, there is a flow of land-based content coming into digital therefore the marketing, game design, artists, and legal teams need to work together on a daily basis to ensure things come together as we expect.

How has the pandemic impacted the allocation of resources and scale of investment into SG Digital?

It has had a big impact across our business as it has the wider industry. We approached the pandemic pragmatically as we continue to see the knock-on effects of remote working and the operational challenges that brings. With such a diverse range of content and the scale of the business, we played to our strengths and leaned on areas of the business that have flourished during the pandemic.

The gaming side in the US pretty much totally shutdown and measures were put in place to protect us as a business and we saw exponential growth in digital. The figures for March and April were very impressive as there have been many players, particularly in the US, unable to go to casinos and discovering online gaming. The upshot and long-term effect of this is still to be known. To summarise, different areas of the business were struggling, and other areas stepped up to push us over the line.

SG Digital is a massive operation yet Scientific Games is perceived by many as a predominantly land-based company. Is this perception changing?

I would go along with that. If you speak to the average player in the UK and Europe, they will largely see both sides. They know that SG Digital is a big gaming division in the UK with land-based operations in the US.

The size of the digital business is growing rapidly year on year and therefore the noise and reputation stands on its own two feet as a digital-first supplier in our own right. As we see more states open up in the US and Canada, the digital brand of SG will continue to grow as seen recently in New Jersey and BCLC which has helped propel ourselves up to and alongside the work we are doing on the gaming front.

How are the platforms and design processes used in the creation of online and land-based games different? Do designers work across both land-based and online titles?

Creating games from scratch is different to porting games from land-based so the digital roadmap for us is divided into two streams of content: strong performers on the land-based market we would like to bring online and ‘digital-first’ content – concepts which come from within and are tailored for the digital market. Bringing a land-based game online is not as simple as taking all the assets online. It does not work like that – the digital space is vastly different from land-based. There is a lot of work that goes into making games digital- ready. Even though it might be the same game to look at and share the same name, they are totally different in the back end.

Looking at talent working across both, not as such. Historically, it is something we did more than we do today although there is still some cross-pollination with our omnichannel in the UK when bringing games from the offline market in bookies and FOBT’s online. In the main, digital artists work on digital content.

There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing to get the assets and layouts right. They do work together but ultimately digital artists are responsible for digital content across our studios. This is typified by how different these games are. A game going live in the land-based in the US sits on a 12-foot-high curved machine with surround sound and a big comfy chair whereas we have to fit the same game onto an iPhone 5, an iPhone 11 and a desktop. Different skill sets are required to get the games where they need to be.

How complicated is the transitioning of titles from tall, curved land-based screens to the horizontal medium of mobile phones and tablets? How are the graphic assets managed? Is it a transition or do games undergo a total rebuild?

I wish it were a transition where you could simply port a file! When a game comes across from land-based to digital, they are still four to six months in the making. All the elements need changing aside from the logo. The mathematics is a great example. The math in land-based content is far from what we want to go into digital games – it would not work as the games appeal to a totally different market. In land-based, the mathematics appeal to a casual player coming in and sticking $20, $50, or $100 into a machine and having 50 spins.

Online players want longer session times and for their money to last. They want entertainment whilst playing on their phone. Tonight, do you want to make use of your Netflix subscription or deposit £20 into a casino and have some fun that way? It is an entertainment business we are in so there is a lot of time spent in math, art, UI, the front-end, engine development, and the creation of the GLM that powers the game. We get a head start with land-based content as we have their take on it but ultimately it is for us to bring it to the digital market.

How do you know what titles will perform well across land-based and digital? Do you first until a game proves itself in the land-based market first before bringing it across?

My peers in the land-based side have been doing this a long time so they have a lot of experience of content that works well in land- based and they know that market very well. The decision to bring games across to digital requires several data points to be examined.

Firstly, it is to get the opinion of the land-based team. If they have launched a game in the US that has been on the casino floor for six months that hasn’t performed very well they will be up front and candid to say it has not hit the mark for them. We then take the game internally and play it ourselves as well as examining YouTube clips and the data we can mine from the offline guys. We then make a judgement call on whether it is a game that could perform in the digital space. If it has not performed in land- based, there needs to something compelling to make me want to bring it online.

On the flip side of that is when there is a land- based game that has flown since launch whose family of titles sits within a brand we are familiar with, such as 88Fortunes and JJBX. 88Fortunes is one of our top games and JJBX works in all the markets in goes in. There is a fair degree of certainty that these games will work well as players are familiar with them and respond to the genre, mechanics, and maths – making it a no brainer to bring online. There are others that are more difficult to judge and sometimes you do take a punt based on gut feeling or that a mechanic looks good.

How do player expectations differ depending on the device they are playing on? Are players looking to play the same game on a desktop computer and mobile phone?

Online players have a sense of reality when they are playing whether it be on a mobile phone sitting at the bus stop or on the laptop in the evening. I do not think they expect the phone to be vibrating every two minutes with sound blaring out as that is not what they are after. They want a good experience whilst understanding they are not sat at a cabinet with a gin and tonic being brought over.

Our artists and sound engineers continuously tweak their respective assets to the point where titles that share the same title are built for different customers and mindsets. We want a great offline product that works for its market to become a compelling product on online devices that players want to play.

Does it necessarily have to be a downgrade going from a sizeable and expensive cabinet to a mobile phone?

There are a lot of advantages to digital that land- based do not have access to. An example I have used before is when you are in a casino and are playing on a slot. We have seen with progressive jackpots in the US queues forming behind players to try and take the machine whilst it is ‘hot’ and take the previous player’s jackpot. As a land-based player this is to your detriment. You are only in a casino for a limited time or have a certain amount of money to put into a session.

On the digital side, we can create games with increased levels of persistence that store your data. As you play, you can build your power up, collect bonuses or start your journey to collecting 40 diamonds. When you close it down and finish your session, be it you need to leave or have reached your deposit limit for the day, your progress and RTP is stored.

Next time you come back online; you pick up where you left off. It is a huge advantage for what digital can offer players that they cannot get in the land-based world.

We often see popular trends within online gaming with the current favourite being the Megaways mechanic. How do you stay ahead of the competition and anticipate the next big theme or mechanic?

If I knew the answer, I would not tell you and would be on my yacht somewhere! We have a longstanding relationship with Megaways and Big Time and it is great to see it really take off. For the past two years, it has become the thing – every big game that launches are generally a Megaways game. The licence model that Big Time has taken is interesting and has proven very profitable. Megaways looks complex but is very simple and that is what players appreciate.

The visualisation of the potential mammoth win from a small stake is enticing. Megaways has been, is and will continue to be a very powerful mechanic that we look to leverage more – we have Spartacus Megaways coming out this year and have more planned for 2021. Megaways hasn’t necessarily hit its peak yet, especially if Megaways continues to innovate and push itself that little bit further.

Outside of Megaways, as with every other gaming supplier we are looking for the next big mechanic that will cause a stir within the industry. We have some great ones that we have launched this year. Last month, we launched Jackpot Wars which has been a long time in the making.

We have invested a lot of time and effort into getting it where it is today which is a true piece of innovation. Other suppliers who speak of innovation have often simply added a new Wild, reel, tweaked the maths or a new gimmick to pay the player. Is that real innovation? I have been on a few panels discussing this, and in my humble opinion these are just neat little mechanics.

I would not call games that we are releasing innovative unless I truly believe they are. Jackpot Wars is. I have never seen anything like it across land-based or digital.

Players are collecting cogs and tickets to enter a tournament which is a robot wars style battle to take down the rest of your competitors and scoop a portion of the pot. This has never been seen before and demonstrates the power of our platform and what we can do at scale, as well as the willingness to take a chance on new ways of gaming. This is a game for anyone who comes into online casino who likes millennial- type games that we see being played for hours on end. We are bringing that experience into the digital gaming realm.

Your description of Jackpot Wars could easily have been for a videogame. Is this intentional?

It is, yes. You are playing and building up your avatar by earning gold cogs and modifying your robot’s armour, weapon, and tattoos.

The robot has your chosen name and is your character that will hopefully win you a jackpot. That whole feeling and experience is something we have tried to bring into the real money gaming market. The team have done a fantastic job with it.

The online gaming scene is becoming ever more competitive, particularly in the current climate. What are your goals and expectations for the next 12 months?

We have one of the best content brains sets here in SG that I know in the industry with content specialists and game designers across our worldwide studios that pitch in ideas to shape our first-party digital content roadmap. There are some fantastic games coming up for the rest of the year.

We have another game coming out later this year to support Jackpot Wars. We also have Monopoly Big Spin going live in September – a game I saw at G2E last year which I immediately wanted to bring online. It is a roulette style betting board whose wheel spins round.

Depending on the value of the square you are betting on, for example Mayfair or Park Lane, the section of the wheel is smaller but the greater the reward. Demon Code will also launch later this month, a cluster game that is popular in the UK and Europe following last month’s launch of Rainbow Riches Cluster Magic.

All our operators have given brilliant feedback thus far as it looks and feels like a game that players will respond to. Alongside this, we have Raging Rhino Rampage and Raging Rhino Ultra, which has a mega drop progressive, Spartacus Megaways, and Spartacus Super Colossal Reels. Month on month there is must-have content for our operators.

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