9 March, 2021

Roundtable: Land-based versus online slots

Industry experts from Pragmatic Play, Pariplay and Relax Gaming discuss the differences between land-based and online slot design, and give their insight into innovation for the digital sphere.

What do you think are the main differences between the creative process for land-based slots and online slots?

Amichai Marmor: The main difference is on the device side. When you can play slots on a mobile device, everything is faster and smaller. You have to take that into account when you create the games. We have to work with small screens and small buttons. When players are on land-based machines, they'll sit for a while and move between machines. When they play on mobile, they're expecting much faster response times. The feeling of the game has to be faster because they are playing when they have less time.

Simon Hammon: There are several factors at play here, beginning with the players themselves. While land-based players may be perceived to be more traditional and prefer that style of game, it's actually the overall physical experience and social environment that die-hard brick-and-mortar guests seek out. The aesthetics of a machine, the tactility of button presses and quality of audio makes for a highly sensory attraction. Conversely, replicating this on a mobile device is more challenging, the game mechanics and content have to possess a high entertainment value to hold the same level of attention. The benefit here of course is that more focus can be given to the gameplay rather than the cabinet that presents it.

Catalin Bratosin: Online slots allow for more design freedom, but the process is more demanding. The nature of online means there are, in theory, fewer barriers to creativity than with land-based games, particularly given that the advent of increasing technology levels allow us to design video slots with a higher level of detail than ever before.

Do you believe online slots generally appeal to a different demographic than land-based?

AM: In today's world with everything going on, playing online slots is easier for a lot of people. I think younger audiences are finding it easier and more approachable to play slots online than going to a casino. But that said, there is something missing, at least from my perspective. The feeling of being in a huge room with all the machines around you is something you don't have when you play online. More or less, I would say the same demographic is playing both with more of a tendency towards younger audiences.

SH: Generally speaking, research and statistics support this theory, but there is an argument that a fun and engaging slot can transcend both demographics. There has always been discussion of whether one would cannibalise the other, but many studies have shown that in essence it can do the opposite. There are, of course, those that have feet in both camps but if a truly engaging mechanic or maths model adds to the overall experience, it can do so regardless, leaving the key difference in the physical packaging of the product. In these cases, there's definitely room to take the best of both genres and make it available across the board.

How do you ensure that online slots and land-based ones are accessible to both young and older generations?

AM: It requires research. I am a very strong believer in data-driven design and understanding which slots, designs and maths are working in different markets. From that, we can also review different generations. Older generations will go for a simple slot design with fewer celebrations and animations. They're looking for a classic-feel. The younger generation is looking for more gamified elements. They find it much more interesting when they're having an impact on the game. I think the feeling of being able to win big is also an important element, which appeals to both generations. This is about playing a game, seeing the different features happen and getting the sense that you can win big.

SH: Answering this from a content perspective, the strategy is usually one of tailoring content to certain player profiles while being mindful of restrictions in local markets. The key is understanding shifts in behaviour by accessing, listening and implementing feedback from customers and players. It's something we put a lot of emphasis on due to the ultimate impact on the success of any given title. We can serve different profiles via our aggregated content as well as our own, but the goal when you have access to a good supply of great content is to ensure we find or create the blockbuster titles that offer wide appeal as well.

CB: The most important thing for any online slot is that it's engaging. You can't please everyone with every title but having a diverse mix of themes and mechanics within your portfolio helps capture a broader audience, regardless of their tastes. Older generations are more likely to have a connection with the land-based experience and may gravitate towards content that transports them to enjoyable moments of their past, while younger generations tend to prefer slots that bring in elements from video gaming. Developing content that transcends these trends is important, regardless of what their preferred method of slot gameplay is, be it land-based or online, as we move towards an ever mobile-first world.

How do you keep slots as engaging as possible to maintain a customer's attention?

SH: There is a misconception, in online terms at least, that bigger productions with heavy intro movies and super high-end graphics always enhance player enjoyment. While these design elements can help with gaining attention initially, like other forms of interactive entertainment, it's engaging mechanics and gameplay that create a loyal following. Add to this the right win potential and you're likely to retain players. Slot developers face the challenge of increasing competition and lack of visibility, so creating a fast-hitting, engaging experience has never been more important for game designers.

CB: Engaging maths models, immersive themes or exciting games series are all key to retain customers and gain fans, but increasingly we're seeing the importance of player engagement solutions. Toolkits such as our own Enhance solution are proven to drive engagement and retain players, which is vital in any company's quest to stand out in an increasingly saturated marketplace.

What is the latest in the slot space? Is there any new technology that you think could be the future for slots?

AM: I think the more players are moving towards mobile, they're looking for more features. As I mentioned, they'e looking to be able to affect the game more in certain elements. They're looking for slots that will give them a sense of strategy. Those are the winning machines with younger markets. We have the classics, which will always be successful, but the more we learn how to use data in order to design proper gaming elements within slot games, the more success we see with those games.

SH: Slot innovation, from the outside, can appear to stall for some time, then leap forward creating a rush of copycat games or mechanics but all true innovations should be commended. Perhaps more importantly, so should the studios that still want to invest in taking a risk to deliver something new and unique.

Smaller suppliers with great ideas are now able to challenge those longer established on a product-for-product basis, which is causing some positive shifts in demand. Technology is always changing and therefore suppliers must continually adapt and optimise to the best available platforms and devices, depending of course on whether the trajectory of that tech is promising for mass adoption.

CB: The slot space is one of the fastest moving industries and there are always new innovations and products being brought to the market. Technology such as virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) has the capabilities to change the landscape of online slots, with the rate of technological expansion adding near limitless possibilities to the industry.

What is your own company currently offering that sets it apart from the rest of the market? AM: First of all we are data-driven, so we tailor the games towards specific markets. We are focusing on many markets, both popular and new ones. We understand from the data based on previous games what works in each market. That way we can cater our games to players in each region while also innovating.

We have Power Strike coming up which has a reel-in-reel feature. We have released Dragons of the North Deluxe, which was born out of the thinking as I just explained, and we see the great success in the way players enjoy the games. We released King of the Trident Deluxe also with the same design thinking, which proves the success of this approach. We're looking at interesting features and progression mechanics in the games. We see that working very well with players. They are interested and want to progress within the story of the game.

We're also looking at previous games and fitting them to certain markets. For example, we have an upcoming slot, Power of the Gods, which will be Dragons of the North but Egyptian-themed. That will be focussed on the German market.

SH: There's much to choose from - speed, agility, tech, experience on a business level, down to keynote product launches like Money Train 2, which has been one of the biggest releases in the industry for years. In terms of compliance and adaptability, we've been among the fastest to adapt to new regulations, ensuring our content is safe for operators to use, and our partners have all the support they need. In this competitive landscape you need more than just one thing that sets you apart - it must be a combination of factors that customers can draw value from. Relax Gaming is tirelessly driving differentiation to stand out, concentrating on quality, speed, reliability and innovation.

CB: Our offering isn't just limited to slot games, which allows us to expand boundaries across our entire portfolio. Gamification tools, like Enhance, and our Drops and Wins network promotions, allow us to engage with players more than ever, while our single API integration means it's easier than ever for our operator partners to take our content.

We innovate by simplifying processes for our partners, ensuring they can focus on their players while continually making every step as smooth as possible for them.

Finally, what advice would you have for any start-up company hoping to make it in the online slot sphere?

AM: Build very good data analytics tools for your needs. Make sure you're measuring everything you do and you're basing your strategy on data. We know in the social market you have the big companies and they are all data driven. No decision is taken on those games without looking at the data first. Then start to iterate on your games. Create a game with a certain feature or element and iterate on it.

SH: To be mindful that the landscape is changing, and that you need to showcase excellence to stand a chance of longer-term success. The market is as tough as it's ever been, and you must have the resolve to drive your vision home as well as the investment to create enough content to be appealing.

CB: Find a niche in the market and work as hard as possible to bring innovation to the space. There are plenty of examples of really impressive performances from start-ups in our space. It's an exciting vertical with huge opportunity, but hard work and perseverance are key, regardless of the status of the business.