Creativity Trumps Technology

There is a danger of looking at technology for technology’s sake, says Ebba Arnred, CMO of game developer Play’n GO. While VR, AR and DLT solutions are touted as the next big thing in gaming, she believes creativity is more important than technology.

Can you tell us a bit about Play’n go and your offices in Malta?

We opened our Malta office in 2014. At this time, Malta had already become a strong iGaming hub, and we felt the need to be closer to our customers. Before that we had flown in from Sweden quite regularly to see clients, so a move to Malta also made sense logistically. Today, we have around 80 people in the Malta office and 400 in the company in total. In addition to Malta, we also have offices in Växjö (Sweden), London, Budapest and Manila. As a company, we are dedicated to pushing the boundaries of what’s expected from us. There is a non-stop demand for creativity in our industry and this drives us and fuels our ambition to be the best. It’s been full-go for over a decade now, and we like it like that.


You have an impressive portfolio, what other services are you offering to the industry?

We currently have around 150 games in our portfolio, but that number is constantly growing, as we are launching around 40 new games per year. While we are a games development organisation at heart, we also offer a casino platform and other back-office services. Our platform allows operators to integrate other third-party game providers, business intelligence solutions as well as localised payment options. Our multi-channel, server-based gaming solution OMNY allows players to enjoy our games with the same high quality, regardless of where, or how, they play.


What are players looking for in a game today and what’s your hit rate?

We always push the limits in whatever we do, especially on the mobile front. While not every game makes it into the top 10, we don’t have games that are not performing. The focus for our games is very much on their quality. The founders of Play’n GO have a background in the video gaming industry, and from the very start of Play’n GO, our vision was to produce top quality games with outstanding graphics and animations. This is something players have always appreciated, and which is still a huge factor in their gaming choices today.  The immediate success of a game upon its release depends on many factors, including the theme, math model and even the time of year it is released. But more than anything else, a good game needs to be entertaining, so we always add a bit of ‘Play’n GO spice’.


How long does it take to develop a game? 

The game development process has become increasingly complicated in recent years due mainly to an increase in regulations. These days, we need a lead-time of 6 to 12 months, depending on both the complexity of the game and the number of markets we would seek to get it certified in. While this can seem like a long time for one title, we are more concerned with making sure we are releasing the best quality products rather than getting them out of the door quickly.


Has the life span of a game changed in recent years and how is this affecting your business as a technology company?

I would say that the life cycle of a game is actually longer today than it was a few years ago. There are two reasons for that. One is that we are truly a games provider for the whole world, and games can have different life cycles depending on the market and strategy of the operator. For instance, operators targeting the Scandinavian region are very time-conscious and competitive. For them it is very important to be able to offer a game the same day it is launched; while this is not the case for clients from other regions, who might include a new game into their portfolio a few weeks after its launch, when it fits in with their market strategy.  

Today, we also operate on many different platforms; not only mobile and desktop, but we are also supplying games to land-based operators, which means we have a wider client base, which ultimately extends the life span of our games. 

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Do you see IP brands gaining in importance?

We haven’t really gone down that route. We have one character in our portfolio, the 1990s cartoon TV troll Hugo. Thus far, we developed three games around him, and while they were all successful, I don’t think IP brands will play a bigger role in the future of Play’n GO. For example, with our slot House of Doom, rather than relying on the IP of an artist and repurposing their back catalogue, we worked with the band Candlemass to create a game based on a brand-new song, which also served as an official single. We like to realise our own ideas and be free in our creative process, which IPs don’t always allow you to do.


Are VR and AR technologies part of your strategy for the future?  

We always keep abreast of new technologies. We were the first online game developer to move into the mobile arena – way before the advent of the smart phone. However, the situation with VR and AR is different. VR has been around for quite some time now, and it still hasn’t broken into the market. While we are keeping an eye on VR developments, we are not yet actively pursuing any VR projects. AR, on the other hand, could become interesting for us if the technology continues to mature. I don’t think AR will radically change our industry; it will be just another channel that players can access via an AR application on mobile devices or desktops. Any move we make will be carefully considered for the benefit of ourselves and the industry, rather than just hopping on the latest technology for the sake of it. 


What are your expectations for the future of the games development industry?  

We are already seeing a lot of consolidation, while, at the same time, there are many innovative and creative game developers out there who are keen to break into the industry. It is a tough environment for start-ups; and young entrepreneurs need to have deep pockets to fund the development of a new game given the increased regulatory and compliance requirements of the modern industry. Our own operations are the best example for this; not long ago, we had just one person working part-time on compliance issues, now we have an entire department. While we favour regulation, as an industry we have to be mindful not to stifle innovation with too many constraints. I also think we have to be more open to new forms of collaboration, whereby start-ups join forces with larger operators.


In your opinion, what other key trends will affect the games development industry in the coming years?  

We believe, as we always have, that the biggest trend is still the development of mobile gaming. Just as players moved from a land-based setting to personal computers, they are now moving from personal computers to personal devices. Last year a worldwide survey showed that 10% of the mobile users questioned listed online gambling as the primary use for their phone, and the number of people who use their mobile phone for gambling, whether as their primary activity or not, is rapidly increasing.  The growth of mobile gaming still has a hugely significant part to play in the industry’s future. This also feeds into the modern player’s expectations of getting the same gaming experience no matter what channel they are playing through. 

Be it mobile, desktop or any local or major casino, players now expect a top-class entertainment experience across any medium, making multi-channel capabilities a must.  

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What impact does the rise of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies have on your business?

I think the more pertinent question is its effect on the industry as a whole. Of course, we’ve seen the use of cryptocurrency within the industry already, but it brings both benefits and drawbacks.  

The biggest advantages are the security transactions provide, and also the transparency it would give to players, reassuring them that whoever they choose to play with is an honest and fair operator. This could ultimately generate an increase in new players and player retention, which would be a positive for the industry.  However, the anonymity it can provide could fall afoul of regulations at some point. That, along with some of the noted instances of hacking which is affecting the value of currencies, make it a less viable proposition. I think it is a cloudy issue at the moment and, until it becomes clearer it’s not going to have a major affect.


Play’n go has enjoyed great success. Where do you want to go from here?

We believe that a key reason for our success was that we have remained an agile organisation, which can easily adapt to market changes. We want this to remain the case for the foreseeable future.  We are now future-proofing our organisation, and we believe the best way to do this is by continuing building on our tech foundation and hiring the best and most creative people in the industry. 


Ebba Arnred started her iGaming career nearly 20 years ago as a Key Account Manager.  Before joining Play’n GO, she also enjoyed a successful career as Head of Operations at an online game development company. In 2007, she joined Play’n GO as Head of Marketing and CRM. In 2015, Ebba was appointed CMO and went on to win the Leader of the Year at the Women in Gaming Awards.


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