Technical innovation in igaming ‘extremely strong’ but in its ‘infancy’

In our igaming innovation series we asked if the sector is currently ‘stuck in a rut’ or if we’re on the verge of the next generation. 

Opportunities for technical innovation in the igaming vertical is “extremely strong” but is in its infancy, according to Phil Lamb, Global Head of Gaming at Betsson Group, who joined other experts to delve into advancements within the online space. 

In the latest of our igaming innovation series, a topic which will be discussed at this year’s SBC Summit Barcelona 2022 on the iGaming Innovation track, we asked the question if the sector is currently ‘stuck in a rut’ or if we’re on the verge of the next generation within igaming. 

Humans are creatures of comfort. Do you believe that the igaming sector is currently stuck in a rut when it comes to innovation or are we on the cusp of the ‘next generation’ technologies?

Jo Purvis, Blueprint Gaming: It really depends on how you define innovation. For some, there’s a belief that innovation must come in the form of a ground-breaking new way of experiencing a product. For instance, we often hear about virtual reality and how it can change the way in which we experience digital casino content. 

However, the vast majority of players will still prefer to spin their favourite slots the normal way rather than wear a headset, at least for the time being.

Instead, we are seeing innovation in other areas of gaming, such as the development of unique mechanics and engaging promotional tools. For us, that level of innovation can be far more impactful.

Joey Hurtado, Wizard Games: There is a bit of both. I believe most businesses in our industry want to be leading change and innovation but the path to what is the next great innovation isn’t that clear. 

We are getting better at understanding what end users want to see and think the learnings from this will help drive the next step. Compliance, regulation and the general ‘social acceptance’ of gambling do ensure that it is a relatively small window for innovation, but if approached properly huge opportunities exist.

Fredrik Johansson, Fantasma Games: I do not believe that the sector is stuck in a rut, quite the opposite in fact. This industry is still very much in its infancy and studios are only just getting started with the mechanics, features and experiences they can and ultimately will offer to players. 

That being said, it could be argued that playing online casino and in particular slots is a solitary pass-time. I believe that players are seeking more social experiences and that is something studios and operators are going to have to offer. 

This is why streaming has become so big in such a short space of time. It allows players to enjoy the thrill of online casino and slots but in a highly interactive and social environment. As such, the next generation of technologies and games will be about delivering social interaction within the game itself. 

Shalva Bukia, Spribe: I don’t necessarily think that igaming is behind the curve when it comes to innovation. It’s just a very subtle process.

If you measure in five year terms, then you can see a lot of innovation and change within the industry. Yes, right now slot games are a bit behind in this regard, but I see growth in this area: for example, streaming of slot games is becoming increasingly popular. There is already a promising startup that is betting on this social aspect. 

Another area of innovation is crypto. Sure, metaverse is a trendy term right now and everyone is trying to use it everywhere. But, behind this buzzword there are promising developments. For example; VR casinos are going to be a reality sooner or later. 

David Mann, Swintt: I think the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” can be applied here. The fundamentals of an online slot game can only be taken so far and even though a small number of studios are trying to re-invent the reel (literally, in some instances) they really don’t know if these concepts will achieve the success they are hoping for. 

You just have to look back at over the last few years and how 3D slots and VR casinos were lauded as the next big thing but didn’t really gain traction with players. Right now, there is a lot of talk about the metaverse and how it could revolutionise the gaming and gambling sectors. It could do, but I think for now the most progress will be made by rolling out incremental improvements to slot games as we know them.

Simon Hammon, Relax Gaming: There is so much content on the market now, so yes, in some ways I think you can perceive this as being a rut, however, in that content we are seeing the emergence of new suppliers bringing different things to the table, which wouldn’t happen without innovation. 

Whilst we may not necessarily be on the next generation of technology, as this requires mass adoption of new tech by the playing community, we might be on the cusp of the “next generation” of suppliers becoming player favourites. 

Relatively unknown suppliers just a few years ago are now leading the charge and gaining significant market share ground, Relax Gaming being one of them – and we’re incredibly proud of our status within the industry.

Lahcene Merzoug, PressEnter: I do not think the sector is stuck in a rut, but I do believe that innovation has been hampered by the rapid roll-out of regulations in markets around the world and the need for operators to quickly become compliant if they want to enter or remain active in these jurisdictions. 

Not only that, but each market has its own rules and quirks so to meet all these different requirements, operators have had to divert a lot of resources to compliance. But I think we are now at a point where the fundamentals for compliance are in place so operators such as PressEnter Group – and game studios and third-party providers – will be able to refocus on innovation and delivering new player experiences. 

Phil Lamb, Betsson Group: I still think there is a lot of opportunity for innovation in the iGaming sector, but compliance and responsible gambling must always take precedence for any mechanics we build and then offer to players. This forms part of our wider commitment to player protection and safe gaming, particularly as established markets start to regulate.

However, outside of Web2, when we look at Web3 and current developments in the crypto space, I believe that is where we will see the greatest progress and the most exciting innovations over the coming years.

We are already seeing the impact and popularity of digital assets in games such as Roblox and Fortnite among Gen Z players and this is something that such players will inherently grow up with and be accustomed to in future years. This in turn will create close synergies and the easier adoption of this new technology.

It kind of reminds me of the dot com boom where the possibilities and new concepts that can be created are endless, which of course is extremely exciting. Many companies at the forefront of this innovation wave will fade away, but the ones that remain as the industry leaders could go on to become the next big tech company.

While the opportunities for technical innovation in this space are extremely strong, like any new industry in its infancy there will be a real lack of regulation and responsible gambling factors incorporated on a player level, which would worry me slightly in terms of protecting players and ensuring any gameplay that incorporates gambling is done so responsibly, particularly as such products potentially scale-up.

Andrew Braithwaite, Blue Guru Games: I think to suggest that the sector might be stuck in a rut is a bit of an overstretch. If that was the case, engagement numbers would be dropping significantly with players seeking entertainment elsewhere. 

New mechanics are important and sometimes, as with Megaways, these new styles became an accepted part of the mainstream. But in real terms, slots have changed very little over the decades and there’s a healthy element of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ to consider, too.

This presents something of a balance for developers to strike. We have a need to keep trying new mechanics in the hope that they stick and also make games modern and broadly appealing, but this has to be done without affecting the accessibility and simplicity that many players want. Intelligent evolution is equally as important as revolutionary innovation.

Author: Ava Harvey