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IN-DEPTH 10 May 2018
Roger Raatgever: 17 years in the making
The online gaming market has shown no signs of slowing down, either in market growth or pace of innovation. Roger Raatgever is Chief Executive Officer at Microgaming, one of the world’s biggest gaming content and technology providers, and he shares how his stewardship has prepared the company to prosper
By Gambling Insider

It’s been 17 years since you took the helm at Microgaming, and the gaming landscape has changed immeasurably during this time. What are the highlights for you during your time at the company?

It is amazing how quickly those 17 years have passed, and yes, the landscape has changed massively over this period. The three biggest changes I think the industry, and specifically Microgaming, have seen are around the customers, markets and technology.

With regards to customers, we have had several waves, from the entrepreneurs back when the industry was taking off, to corporates and governments today; next will be media companies. In terms of markets, when it comes to regulation and the closing or opening of markets across the globe, this has completely shifted how the industry operates and how we structure our business. Yes, regulation has its challenges and frustrations, but what it has done is make the market more mainstream, and ultimately regulation is essential for future growth. Technology and its exponential advance has shifted the player journey and increased accessibility, and will continue to do so as technology progresses.

With regard to highlights, for me I am incredibly proud of what I call our ‘bounce-back-ability’. Like any business we have had trials and tribulations, but the way the company comes together during any challenging period, and the speed at which we recover always amazes me.

The opening of Sixty Two, our new HQ, in July 2017 has to be another highpoint. Having set up our first office with just six employees back in 2001, to now having a campus of nearly 250 members of staff, shows the phenomenal growth we have experienced. The building and its facilities enable our employees to thrive and feel empowered, and that is incredibly important to me.

Back in 2016 Microgaming revealed its appetite for developing games using VR platforms – what progress have you seen and will VR continue to be an area of investment?

As technology is a driving force in our industry, we can’t sit still when it comes to development and looking for the next big thing. We know it is important to invest and explore, after all that is why we were first to market with mobile back in 2004. Some people would argue we were too early, but it meant that when the time came for mobile to take off, we were ready and waiting.

We view the platforms of virtual reality and augmented reality in a similar way – explore the technology and see if it is something that has potential, and if it does, let’s be ready or it. Our R&D team has a great time discovering these innovative devices and platforms and every year at ICE we invite customers into our Immersion Room to experience it first-hand. In the past they have unveiled an award-winning VR roulette experience and augmented reality scratchcards.

Microgaming’s Idea Factory initiative had great success with the EmotiCoins online slot, how important is the Idea Factory to Microgaming’s product pipeline?

The Microgaming Idea Factory has been a massive success. Spearheaded by Lydia Barbara, our staff-powered innovation initiative now runs every six months and was taken global this year. The inaugural contest saw five winning ideas implemented, one being EmotiCoins, which became one of our top-performing slots of the year. The second iteration saw four winning ideas and the victors of Idea Factory 2.5 will be announced in January 2018. What we have seen in this process is that our staff have ideas which are beyond their day-to-day job, and the Idea Factory is a platform where they can voice those concepts. And it’s not all product-related ideas, it can be anything to do with our culture, processes and technology. We have had a real mix, which is great.

With mobile eSports growing in popularity, has Microgaming ever considered creating a game specifically for this market given its expertise in this area?

I am well known for saying “stick to your knitting”. As a business we are incredibly busy and doing very well in the areas we are focusing on right now; we don’t want to be distracted. That’s not to say eSports isn’t a popular vertical and something we should be looking at, but that’s where we can build relationships with third-party suppliers to plug into our platform. Evolution and the Live Casino agreement we sealed back in 2015 is a good example of this.

The Microgaming site states that the company releases games and updates every month, how do you ensure your creative teams deliver consistent levels of innovation?

We have the industry’s biggest portfolio of content and I genuinely believe we have some of the most creative minds. That enables us to bring about new genres, themes and features on a monthly basis. 2017 was a stand-out year for content, with Jurassic World™, Halloween®, The Phantom of the Opera™ and EmotiCoins launching, to name a few.

2018 is going to be another very exciting year for Microgaming as we look to shake up the industry and change the way we deliver our content to customers. At ICE, we will be announcing the first in a new generation of independent studios to be supplying Microgaming with exclusive content. Each independent studio will offer different styles and types of games, providing Microgaming and our operators with greater choice and innovation.

Triple Edge Studios, a Florida-based innovation house, will be the first to launch with their opening title that they have built for Microgaming, Playboy Gold.

How important was your first deal in Colombia? Is this the start of an expansion into LatAm?

LatAm is an exciting new region and our deal with is important as they were the first operator to obtain an online gaming licence in Colombia, so our games will be some of the first to go live in this newly-regulated market.

We believe Colombia is a stepping stone into the region and we hope other markets will follow with similar pragmatic regulations in the near future.

There has been a well-publicised battle for talent in gaming hotspots such as the Isle of Man, how does Microgaming differentiate itself as an employer?

Having been based on the island since 2001, and having grown from a handful of staff to over 120 employees, we have built a strong employer brand over time; it certainly doesn’t happen overnight.

I think what makes us unique is that we put people at the heart of everything. For example, when building our new HQ, we worked with a company called HATCH who conducted a combination of qualitative and quantitative data collection and research. From the results we built an environment in the office that best suited our employees.

We also have our Culture Ambassadors programme, which I am very passionate about. The initiative tasks groups of individuals with innovating and introducing new ideas, initiating change, investing time to make a difference internally, involving others and helping them to grow, and connecting teams globally. In addition, we recently signed the Employer Pledge with Time to Change, which aims to end mental health discrimination. We have had a very positive response since, and staff across the campus have stepped forward to become Mental Health Champions; they are organising initiatives geared towards promoting and embedding positive changes within our workplace.

Our focus on employment wellbeing led to us winning the Isle of Man Newspapers’ Award for Excellence for Workplace Wellbeing in November 2017 – a very proud moment, not only for the HR team but the wider company as well.

How did Microgaming’s PlayItForward initiative come about and does it benefit the business in terms of employer branding?

PlayItForward was established back in 2014 to bring all the CSR initiatives we were running under one umbrella, and to serve as an outlet of good for the island and further afield. The programme focuses on health, charity, education and sport, and I am very proud of what we are giving back to our community.

There is no doubt that in today’s world employees are keen to work for a company that has a reputation for giving back and making a difference. Research supports this, and according to the 2016 Cone Communications Millennial Employee Engagement Study, 76% of millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work.

Our HR team tell us that in most interviews candidates will make reference to PlayItForward. And our staff care about the programme too, scoring 90% in our latest employee engagement survey for CSR.

How would you describe your management style?

I am a strong believer in leading from the front. It is OK to make decisions and mistakes along the way, as long as you learn from them. And most importantly have fun and be passionate about what you do; if your heart isn’t involved in it, why do it at all?

What are some of the mistakes you have made in your career that you have learned the most from?

I am sure there have been a few, but probably the biggest mistake I have made is worrying about things that I simply can’t control or change, such as the closing of certain markets.

Are there any opportunities you regret not taking for the business?

Hindsight is a great thing and in this fast-paced industry there will always be times when you look back and question, “What would things be like now if we had gone down that path?”. But I am a strong believer in creating opportunities rather than waiting for them to come to you, and utilising these as a way to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace.

Quickfire is the perfect example here, born from a reaction to industry trends and the demand for a content-only platform for non-exclusive customers. Quickfire has opened up a new tranche of customers for Microgaming, with over 700 brands live today and that number is growing in double digits every year. What piece of advice would you give to a rising CEO in the gaming world?

First and foremost, surround yourself with great people – listen to them and value them – you can never underestimate the importance of your team. My second piece of advice would be to have a growth mind-set; take on new challenges and learn from them. In this industry there is something new to learn every day, so embrace those learnings and grow!

Last, but certainly not least, don’t pay lip service to culture. You can’t copy a company’s culture and what makes your company special, so embrace and celebrate it. In fact, make it truly remarkable!
IN-DEPTH 4 September 2019
Virtual reality: Creating next-gen experiences for players

Singular CEO George Shamugia discusses a new revenue stream for casino operators

The competition in online gaming is intensifying, with players becoming more and more demanding. In some markets, single-customer acquisition costs can reach up to €400 ($440) alongside growing churn rates. Furthermore, the online gaming sector struggles to attract one of the most lucrative groups of players – millennials. The experience provided by casinos no longer appeals to the younger generation.

On  the other hand, the video gaming industry perfectly understands the needs of millennials and by introducing elements of luck in their games offers the best of both worlds. With the launch of loot box systems and Grand Theft Auto’s in-game casino, we have seen their first successful steps in targeting the online gaming sector. GTA V online, with 33 million active players, recently opened an in-game casino, where players gamble real money on games such as poker, roulette, slots, etc. As a result, churn users returned and GTA Online reached the highest number of active players since its launch in 2013.

The online gaming industry has almost fully utilised the potential of the mobile medium. The time has come to look for new, innovative ways of delivering a next-gen experience to customers.

The potential of VR

Could the next big thing for online gaming be a fully fledged virtual reality (VR) casino delivering an immersive experience and limitless new opportunities?

Although not widely adopted yet, VR has a sizable number of customers. Analysts predict it’s poised for explosive growth to become mainstream in about five years. According to market intelligence firms, the VR market will be worth $117bn by 2022, and according to Juniper Research bets made through VR will reach $520 billion by 2021. Upcoming 5G mobile network technology will propel VR’s mass adoption by allowing the development of fully portable untethered and affordable VR headsets.

Different level of social interaction

The captivating nature of gambling comes from its social aspect. Unfortunately, personal interaction is widely missing from online gambling sites. VR technology creates multiple opportunities to bring back and even enhance that social moment. The ability to connect with other players is one of the main reasons behind Fortnite’s popularity. This form of co-experience is the next generation of entertainment. Research conducted by Facebook has found participants spend more time on VR compared to any other medium. This directly translates into increased profits for casinos.

Pokerstars has made efforts in this direction by implementing Voice UI. Instead of using hand controllers to make a call, pass, or raise, players give voice commands.

Another opportunity for bringing in the social element are the players’ avatars. They enable players to build their identity reflected in the avatars’ appearance, but also the avatar's social, competitive and community status. For instance, players are willing to pay real money for virtual drinks at the bar. Operators can offer these social touchpoints for free to VIP customers as an act of appreciation.

VR also brings a new dimension to customer support. Customer support can also be represented with avatars to assist the player in person. The social moment increases the LTV of players and contributes towards lower churn rates.

Rethinking game design

VR is a way more capable medium than a 2D mobile or desktop screen. Instead of copying the existing online experience, games must be redesigned from the ground up for a competitive advantage with VR. For example, a VR slot game can become fully immersive by teleporting the user into the slots’ world of Ancient Egypt. Next, enrich the experience with high-fidelity graphics, realistic spatial sounds and animations. When betting on virtual race cars, the user can be teleported inside the car he/she made a bet on and experience the race firsthand.

New revenue streams

VR casino lobbies create new revenue stream opportunities: ad placement of brands on the venue walls, company logos decorating the bar etc. This kind of branding is not intrusive in the VR space and feels natural from the user's perspective. VR also gives users the ability to change venues from a Las Vegas casino today, to Macau or even Mars casino, the very next day. The dynamic and diverse experience increases retention rates.

The majority of profits for online gaming operators come from their high-roller players. Although they represent a small subset of active players, an operator can launch a separate VR casino brand for them. Providing exclusive VR gaming experiences to high rollers/VIPs, the operator can minimise churn and maximise VR efforts for these player demographics.

The catch with VR is to focus on quality, rather than scale. The target audience might be limited yet, once these players experience it, they will become ambassadors for your offering.

Surely, the opportunities and possibilities offered by the VR medium truly exceed anything offered by mobile and desktop. VR is a new frontier not just for gaming but for every industry, and it’s exciting to see where it takes the industry and what kind of innovation it brings upon us.