Jeff Millar, Evolution, Commercial Director North America
Jeff Millar oversees Evolution’s growing commercial opportunities in North America. The gambling industry in North America is changing fast in the digital age, and Jeff is leading the way to assist
with this exciting transition. For the last 11 years, Jeff Millar has licensed online gambling software to operators in regulated markets in the US and Canada. At Evolution, he leads a diverse and talented team in the distribution of casino games that can be played over the internet from desktop computers or mobile devices. Jeff has been in the casino gaming industry for 25 years and is always striving to help his business partners reach their goals as consumer behaviours change.
Yury Ermantraut, Atmosfera, CEO
Yury Ermantraut is the Chief Executive Officer at Atmosfera and founded the company in 2020, which has since achieved great results with a modern management style including team partnership, democracy, coaching and a directive style. The company’s portfolio already consists of eight Live products including popular games such as Live Roulette, Bingo, Keno, Music Wheel, and now Atmosfera is working on a new upcoming release: Blackjack.
Simeon Hristov, Amusnet Interactive, Product Manager
Simeon Hristov has 16 years of experience in the gambling industry, 10 of which are from being a Product Manager. He knows the business extremely well because he has been working in most of its verticals – Sports Betting, Lottery, Land-Based and Live Casino.
Irina Cornides, Pragmatic Play, Chief Operating Officer
Irina Cornides is Chief Operating Officer at Pragmatic Play, a role she has held since January 2022. She is responsible for supervising the commercial, product and operational functions to ensure the seamless delivery of Pragmatic Play’s high-quality products to partners and players. Irina has extensive experience in the iGaming industry, which she joined in 2004. Most recently she was Chief Commercial Officer for Asia at Gamesys (now Bally’s), where she led the fastest-growing division within the business.
How has live gaming evolved in the last few years?
Jeff Millar: If you’re looking for the biggest change to live gaming in recent years, you don’t need to look any further than the pandemic. There’s a consensus that, if nothing else, the pandemic highlighted the importance of having an online presence. We are still in the early stages of US consumers becoming aware that they can play against a real, live person – just like they would in a land-based casino in Las Vegas. But interacting with others over video across the internet has certainly become more acceptable since the pandemic. Success now looks very different to how it once did, and a player’s criteria for choosing one operator over another is centred around whether or not they can find their favourite game anywhere – whether online or on the casino floor.
Yury Ermantraut: The market is getting full of new players, young providers appear and this segment is also discovered by market players from other areas. For example, EGT has created its own studio and large bookmakers are creating their live sections. For large local markets, such as India or Asia, products with market features are created.
Simeon Hristov: Live gaming goes back 20 years when the first live streaming casinos appeared. Since then, the rapid evolution of mobile phones, state-of-the-art online security and faster internet has taken the live casino industry to another level. The various lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic were also a significant growth factor, because we saw increased player demand for high-end online casino experiences.
Irina Cornides: As predicted, the Live Casino market has grown in size, availability and popularity as players have continued to discover experiences that bear the closest resemblance to real-life casino environments, all from the comfort of their living rooms. The circumstances surrounding the pandemic may have accelerated this growth, but at the same time, we have to acknowledge the great amounts of investment and effort that providers have put into the development of live casino products to recreate the immersive gameplay. Compared to the slot market, which is saturated by the constant rollout of products from hundreds of providers, the live casino space has remained independent and niche from the supply perspective.
Which aspects of live gaming are most popular?
Jeff Millar: The immediacy is a huge draw. The ability to log in from the comfort of your own home and suddenly feel like you’re in the middle of a casino – without even reaching for the car keys – has players coming back time and again. But it’s also the sheer variety that’s available and the level of control that operators can potentially have over their online gaming space. Individualised branded studios, running cross-promotions, the freedom that’s there to create a unique player experience is vast. The end result means a strong brand presence and greater player loyalty. There is a strong sense of community built into our live games. Players can message directly with the dealer and others can see this interaction. Players can see how many others are participating in a game. And after each game round we display the screen names and win amounts from all the lucky players who won. If players wish, they can even tip the dealer – just like they would at land-based casinos.
Yury Ermantraut: If we talk about general trends, then this is undoubtedly a show, and the emphasis has shifted from show wheels to show roulettes of all types and varieties. Now, I am watching an experiment on the introduction of high-volatility games with a low base RTP for gambling users.
Simeon Hristov: For me, it’s the ultimate entertainment experience that breaks the traditional casino models. Players enjoy low entry-level stakes, various bonus games and multipliers. These days, the most popular live games are more like a TV show experience than a traditional casino game. But classic casino games will always be popular.
Irina Cornides: The magic of live casino games is in the interaction that occurs between players, as well as with the hosts holding the event. Player interaction has always been vital to the development strategy and continues to hold value, as live casino providers seek to empower players with leading products and VIP environments. Consequently, we are always striving to enhance player connection and the audio-visual experience.
How difficult is it to launch a successful live gaming product?
Jeff Millar: Creating the game is the fun part. It takes flair and creativity, and market saturation means your team needs to be at the top of their game. But all that creative effort is only part of the process. You’ve also got to consider a player’s off-camera criteria. Streaming video one-to-one is simple but streaming to hundreds of players in perfect sync across time zones and devices is a complex set of steps – that has to be seamless. We also must build trust. The general public does not see the hundreds of Evolution professionals working behind the scenes to ensure we are compliant with local regulations and operating with the highest level of integrity. There’s no way around it, you’ve just got to get good at it. Providers and operators are only as good as their worst playing experience. If players do not trust the game, have long load times or interrupted service, they’re not coming back to play.
Yury Ermantraut: How difficult is it to bring up a child, to run a family or a new business? Obviously, it's very difficult. You must always take into account dozens of factors at the same time, use the accumulated historical experience, understand the realities, admit mistakes, experiment, believe in yourself, and surround yourself with excellent people who can help with the implementation of any task. And even all this may not be enough for the product to be successful. Let's never forget that behind the launch of a product there is also a lot of work to retain the client and its further development.
Simeon Hristov: It is definitely a challenge. Many teams must be involved, from creative and marketing to product and tech, and everything in between. The industry is also very competitive, so you must find a way to stand out. But I consider this an exciting challenge rather than an obstacle; it pushes us to think outside the box and create unique experiences for the players.
Irina Cornides: Paying attention to the peripherals of live gaming products, especially the storytelling aspects and community features that allow users to interact with other users, is of paramount importance when it comes to the marketability and success of a live casino product in 2022. That said, it also requires a considerable amount of planning, strong mathematics, and creativity for a popular product to really resonate with players and reach new levels of success. It all comes back to the fact that a product needs solid foundations to be built from, otherwise the long-term replayability of the game will diminish as the hype around it fades away.
How do you see live gaming changing over the next few years?
Jeff Millar: It’s going to become even more competitive out there – not just from fellow iGaming providers, but from entertainment platforms that are already breaking into the market. So, the question is going to become: how can you stay unique in a flooded market? We’re going to see operators wanting more freedom and control over the type of player experience they’re paying for. Technological advancements such as AR and VR are going to become more commonplace within games. Operators will want a gaming experience that is in line with their unique branding. And quite frankly operators are going to be holding suppliers to even higher standards. That means limited downtime, great customer support and a quality of game that keeps them ahead of their competitors.
Yury Ermantraut: Those who have plans and a vision of how to change the market or bring something fresh into it, firstly do it quietly on their own and then tell. We follow such a concept. I wish that all ideas are successful and the market surprises its consumers regularly.
Simeon Hristov: Diversification from the traditional casino gaming experience will be the main driver of innovation in the industry. One example will be providing cutting-edge gaming experiences for players based on virtual and augmented reality. Extending the live gaming experience to more smart devices (such as smartwatches, for example) is also an opportunity. We should not underestimate the emerging new generation and its ideas about the world.
Irina Cornides: The quality of the user experience is a key consideration for all suppliers and operators, and with entertainment being the name of the game within the segment, live casino suppliers have to become increasingly ambitious with their content. Authentic experiences that invest in the smaller details, rather than the necessities and the overall feel of the product (such as the playing environment, the sound qualities, the atmosphere generated and community features that allow players to interact) will always carry significant value over more superficial products designed with retention first in mind, rather than the player. User and client feedback are what ultimately help developers enhance their games and develop new products that stand by their ethos, and without a consistent stream of communication that goes both ways, none of this is achievable.