CB100 pathways through gaming and beyond, with Bryan Upton

CB100 pathways through gaming and beyond, with Bryan Upton

The necessity of building and maintaining a strong network is a familiar construct among numerous industries, and is certainly one that is not lost in the gaming community.

However, among the multitude of strategies and expert tutorials on how best to achieve such a goal, is the question of: how much do you know about your network? With this in mind, CasinoBeats is aiming to take a look under the hood, if you will, and has tasked the 100 Club to help out.

Bryan Upton, Founder and Director at Lucksome, elaborates on the necessity of pivoting strengthens before entering the gambling industry, eventually taking the plunge, applying land-based learnings to the online space and a worry regarding a perceived lack of evidence-based policies and regulations.

CasinoBeats: Could you begin by talking us through any past experiences that have been gained outside of the gambling industry? Could your career have taken any different paths?

Bryan Upton: I’ve been in the gambling industry all of my professional life, so I would have to refer to my experiences as a young and aspiring 3D art student. One of hardest things to learn and accept, especially when you’re young, is knowing your limits, your capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. 

It requires the ability of introspection, self-reflection and honesty, something the average twenty somethings aren’t known for! Back in the days of my youth (now sounding old), studying 3D visualisation at University I would be thinking about how to get a job with Pixar, and would practice for hours and hours in the labs, modelling, rigging, and animating characters, I would practice rendering techniques, creating textures and learning graphical maths and programming techniques. 

I quickly learned that I was absolutely not good enough to be character animator, or concept artist, and I entirely loathed the aspect of programming although I loved the maths. This realisation was a difficult thing to take, but on reflection – I was pretty quick to pivot to my strengths and figure out what I could do with those. 

Emerging roles in the animation and video games industries of technical artists where I could fill gaps between programmers and artists seemed to be a great choice. This is what I was working towards until the job that opened me up to the wonderful world of gambling appeared. 

Perhaps I would’ve ended up at an animation house or game studio helping artists and programmers work together to make great things…wait…I did! Couple my passion for working with graphics, sounds, math and my love of solving tricky problems such as a how to create an overall fun experience with potential losing outcomes – this gambling world was entirely irresistible! Fate assuredly took a hand, I think.

“…this gambling world was entirely irresistible”

CB: What was it that eventually led you into this industry?

BU: After I finished my Master’s Degree and I left University, I worked hard to refine my portfolio and show reel and started the interview process. Soon after a role popped up for a small studio in Birmingham.

The pay was better than most which is good, but what piqued my interest was that I could have an impact on all the games’ development, rather than a small part like I would’ve in video games. It also needed someone multi-skilled and not specialised which matched my profile at the time. So, I took the plunge and never looked back!

CB: How would you assess your progress through the industry to date? Are there any interesting anecdotes that would interest our readers, or any stand out experiences that may not have been possible without the current, or a past, role?

BU: Extremely varied, at least within the sphere of casino, and fast paced. I owe so much of my education and understanding to my time at GTECH and then later when it became IGT. Working with the teams on land-based opened my eyes and brain to a higher level of games design and slot mathematics; in particular the team in Graz, Austria who are world class, they truly make wonders happen. 

IGT gave me the chance to explore many markets, product verticals and segments. The level of exposure was truly superb, from street market AWP and VLT games, to premium product on Vegas casino floors. From spearheading the integrated GTECH online game development effort to starting up an exploration into skill based games for global casino markets, it was a privilege, all thanks to my mentors Guenter Bluemel and Gianluca Ballocci pushing me forward, and colleagues like Todd Nash and Mike Brennan putting up with my hair-brained ideas! 

“I worry in particular about the lack of evidence-based policies and regulations”

After IGT, NetEnt gave me a platform to come back into online and take what I’d learnt at IGT and apply it to the online space, concepts like brand management, content strategy and casino product development methodologies. In some ways the online space could learn so much from the more mature land-based games industry, so it was interesting to apply some of these paradigms to a mature business like NetEnt.  It was then I got to experience the innovation and speed of pace here in Malta, which was exhilarating to come into.   

NetEnt was in a difficult place when I arrived, where the industry had moved on and NetEnt was trying find itself again on many levels: technology, core focus, and what players and operators wanted from them, while simultaneously, at that time, dealing with the new world of complex regulation and vastly increased competition. 

I learned a lot from that experience, as much on what not to do as what to do. Among the most poignant, having good internal technology partners is key to deliver on a new vision, new innovative products and dealing with daily technical challenges in a rapidly changing market.

CB: What would you say have been the major changes during your time working in the industry? Both for the better and worse.

BU: I don’t think I’m going to say anything new here, but regulation stands out for me. I believe in regulation, it’s a good thing overall, but only if done well. I worry in particular about the lack of evidence-based policies and regulations that have been applied over the last few years, the lack of follow up to effectively and consistently measure results on player protection and gambling harm. 

“This is key for us to continue forward into the mainstream”

I do hope that in key markets we will see common sense come to the fore to help the sustainability of our industry and to provide leadership and guidance to those emerging markets.  

Another change is something my esteemed colleague Ben McDonagh mentioned on a previous CB100 article. Our industry is ‘growing up’. I think it’s interesting to think about what that actually means? Our tech is better (although I still think we have a way to go!), processes, specialisation of roles and players have become more refined too, but I’m more interested in the people in our industry and the attitudes and changes seen there. 

We are seeing a more mature approach to business, which brings with it stability and growth of which I’m thankful for. I feel this breeds a more meritocratic approach and opens the door away from stagnation and towards diversity in multiple ways. 

The more obvious is a robust approach to diversity in the workplace; culture, gender, ethnicity, more opportunities for all to flourish from the application of talent and hard work. This is key for us to continue forward into the mainstream. 

I feel we have this momentum now, which is encouraging. The other less obvious upshot of this is the creation of new products, and, just as importantly the fresh and open minds that will embrace them in our industry.

CB: If you could ask the 100 Club any questions, or task them with tackling any issue, what would that be?

BU: Do you feel that there are any aspects of the online casino space that has stagnated? If so, what are your thoughts on how we can move away from it?

Author: Ava Harvey