IN-DEPTH 12 April 2017
NetEnt's Bjorn Kranz: "We are innovating in all areas"
The Managing Director of NetEnt North America speaks exclusively to Gambling Insider about his time in the role, as the industry supplier continues the expansion of its global footprint
By Tom Lewis
Having begun your role with NetEnt in July 2014, how have you found the job so far, and what have been the main operational achievements in that time?
I have hugely enjoyed the role so far – it is amazing how quickly the time has passed. NetEnt is focusing on regulated markets, and we have a great deal of competence and ability to approach this undertaking. When we moved to target the USA, we were not doing so from scratch, so to speak.
The experience has been very positive for me, and quite smooth. Even as a European operator entering a new territory, the NetEnt brand is one that is widely recognised across the industry, so we were not starting from a standing position.
What are your ambitions for the next 12 months?
At NetEnt, we are pioneers of the online casino industry. We focus a lot of our energy on innovation and creativity, and in delivering the best portfolio of games that we can. We will continue to do that, with exciting and unique games. Our focus on regulated markets means that we are sure to follow developments in Europe at all times, and where it makes sense we will of course be considering a potential entrance into new markets, together with our partners.
We work a lot with business intelligence, meaning that we use the data and insight we have around the games we offer in order to optimise the operations of our customers. In addition, our live casino offering is a key product in our core portfolio, and we are especially excited in particular to develop that side of our offer in the coming months.
North America is a natural extension to NetEnt’s existing operations, in looking to a wider perspective outside of Europe, and we are excited to take advantage of the opportunities that offers.
What makes North America the next logical market for NetEnt’s expansion?
We have seen that the US is starting to regulate on a state-by-state basis, firstly with Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware, with online casinos only permitted to operate in Delaware and New Jersey, and New Jersey being the larger of the two with a population of more than 10m people. For us, the timing was right. We were not the first on the ground, and were able to sit back and take a measured, overall view of how the market was developing, and be more precise with our operational focus when we decided to make our move.
What would you say sets NetEnt’s online casino content apart from its competition?
We control the entire development process, from A to Z, when it comes to making games – and at NetEnt, we only create games that have something unique about them. Every time we release a new game, it is something different, which helps our partners in differentiating themselves greatly with the portfolio of offerings that we have.
It goes without saying that NetEnt is home to innovation and creativity, which is at the top of our agenda. Everyone in the company works with innovation at the forefront of their minds, to drive customer value forward at all times.
I also think that out understanding of what is around the corner sets NetEnt apart. This market is changing at a high pace, and it is crucial to understand the needs of the customer in this rapidly shifting environment. Combined with our excellent appreciation of market movements, we at NetEnt are very disciplined and focused on these growth enablers, that make us different to the rest of the pack.
How is NetEnt currently innovating?
We are innovating in all areas. NetEnt is a very focused gaming solutions provider, working solely in the online casino sector, which means that all our research and product development is taking place with a real focus on this area. Within the company we have an “Innovation Week”, aimed at encouraging new ideas from everyone in the company, which we qualify and discuss.
As for the products we showcased at ICE this year, we debuted our live dealer award functionality, and also showcased our new virtual reality product. The developments we are working on push the boundaries of innovation - we live and breathe innovation and creativity every single day.
What are the main challenges you have had to overcome in the role, and do you expect to face the same ones in the next 12 months?
From my perspective, the biggest challenge in Noerth America has definitely been the speed at which new states are being regulated. We would like to see more speed in turning around regulatory frameworks in new states. We do understand that this is ultimately a political decision that is broadly out of our control, but the most important thing for us is that we are currently on the ground, and we know that what we do works. NetEnt’s business model is very scalable, so that when things start to move we are more than ready to “rock and roll”.
With regards to the regulatory framework for gambling in the USA, when would you expect the market to begin to open up?
We always follow regulatory developments very closely, irrespective of market. When it comes to the USA specifically, again it is very politically driven. Although, the prospect of regulation in Pennsylvania has been on the table for some time, and we hope that we will see some movement there for online casinos this year. When it comes to online gaming as a whole, we know that several states are looking into regulation, such as New York, California, Michigan and Massachusetts. We believe that, over time, the USA will be a strategically important market for continued growth.
What difficulties has the relative greyness of the market in certain Canadian provinces presented?
The most important point here is that NetEnt is focusing on regulated markets. Under that heading, we have a number of provinces with important lotteries, including British Columbia, the Ontario Lottery and Loto Quebec, which offer exciting possibilities for NetEnt.
If you were to speak to speak to Gambling Insider in a year’s time, what do you think would be the big topics we would be discussing?
I think the expansion of regulated markets will be among them, while the introduction of new technologies is always on the agenda for discussion, with movements in VR an important area. With technology comes a great deal of possibilities for NetEnt to get closer to the heart of what our players want, and we will have plenty to talk about here in the coming 12 months.
With NetEnt in the process of developing VR content, when do you think that VR technology will be prevalent enough for all players to be able to access such games?
We are already seeing very strong indications that the headsets required are becoming cheaper and cheaper. To give an example, one of Sweden’s largest telecoms operators recently gave the headsets away for free with new iPhones. That is why we are also investing in the mobile solution, which makes it much cheaper for the player to have the necessary hardware at home. The development of web-based VR is also advancing, and in light of the developments in VR we will be looking to release our new VR game, based on Gonzo’s Quest, towards the end of this year or in early 2018.
If you look at the sales figures for mobile headsets, it’s in the hundreds of millions, and Oculus reported that they have more than one million unique users every month. We are seeing the numbers ramp up very quickly, and the technology behind our game is very accessible. When it launches, it will be available to all players in all regulated markets.
It underlines that NetEnt is at the forefront of this business. We learn a lot from these advancements – it should not be underestimated that when we work with new technology, even if the market is not always ready for it, we can use a lot of the developments and what we learn from them to enhance our core offering.