Behind every great live casino there will be a team of talented individuals seeking to deliver the thrill of the real-life casino experience to players at home or on-the-go.
Casinopedia Content Editor, Luke Page, had an in-depth discussion with Todd Haushalter, Evolution’s Chief Product Officer, whose mission is, quite simply, to create the best possible live casino games that players will love.
So to start Todd, what do you see as the emerging trends that are set to change the face of online casino gaming in the coming years?
Everything will just get easier to do at online casinos in the future. Everything from logging in, to withdrawing will get easier and faster. Mobile will be smoother, all devices, big and small, will be optimized for. Games will load instantly, and moving between games will be seamless because operators will use machine learning to know just what you want to play next. This is going to come from a combination of technology, innovation, and competition in the free market.
More land-based casinos will become real players in the online space and they will get their reward programs dialled in so players can earn both online and in the casino, which will of course allow players to spend those points earned in the local casino. You can also expect those casinos to livestream their table games to players’ phones and laptops, because there should be no reason why you can’t play your local casino’s roulette table from your bedroom.
I think the bonuses will begin to get much better for the real players. With machine learning, and other advanced analytics it is getting easier to separate the real players from the bonus-chasers. As this happens, casinos realize they can relax with the play-through requirements and/or give real players more rewards.
Live casino will continue to grow as we see more 4G and soon 5G networks that allow streaming video to be even better. I know we are working on many innovations that are sure to move those players who don’t yet play live over. It is just so much more engaging to interact with live video and real people when you play, and I don’t see anything slowing this space down.
It would be nice to see someone crack the skill-based slot space, but it is going to be very hard to do. Companies will waste a lot of money trying to get this right. It is like writing a hit song – everything has to come together just right, and there is no formula, so I think that could take a while.
That’s quite a feast of change to look forward to. So how is Evolution Gaming looking to meet these new demands, and what sorts of innovations can players look forward to?
It is always tricky talking about tomorrow’s products because the competition is always watching, but look at our most recent big game release as an indication for what live casino can be in the future. It is called Dream Catcher. It is sort of a single reel slot machine meets 1980s game show. It is clearly not a table game. It is a giant wheel with numbers that pay odds between 1-1 and 40-1, but the kicker is that it has 2x and 7x multipliers, which will hit every 27 spins on average.
When they do hit, all wins get multiplied and when they hit consecutively they multiply on themselves, so 7x plus 7x plus a 40x pays 1,960 your original bet or if you get three 7x then it would pay 13,720 times your bet.
We will also keep releasing popular proven titles like Texas Hold’em Bonus which will go nicely with the rest of our poker games like 3 Card Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold’em.
In our core games we continue to add more features based on feedback we get as well as try to make them as fast as possible. For example, we just added a progressive jackpot to Casino Hold’em and Evolution is kicking in the first €1 million to get it moving. Players like the idea of having a life changing win while they are playing so we want to offer that.
I wish I could talk about the other stuff but you will just have to stay tuned!
How is improving technology changing what you can offer players? Can you talk about the mobile experience, its popularity and how it might be set to change in the coming years?
About half of the play comes from mobile in most markets and I think we are way past the stage where we should be talking of it as new or as an area that requires special focus.
Being awesome in mobile is just a ticket to the game these days. If you want to be relevant to players then you have to offer a great experience everywhere they want to play from. Today that means desktop, tablet, and phones. There is no indication yet that players want to play roulette from their watch but when they do then we will be there.
As for how mobile will change, I think it will become more mobile. What I mean is that I would guess much of our mobile play today takes place within a reasonable proximity to a laptop. We always think of the preverbal player on the bus who wants a few hands of blackjack, but I think that is the exception not the rule.
The real mobile player is not mobile at all – he is sitting on his couch, but prefers the form factor of a phone. In the future as phone networks get better and wifi gets faster you will see players playing more and shorter sessions. When players can reach for their phone and in maybe seven seconds be placing bets then they will start playing from truly everywhere. That is partially on us as an industry and partially on the technology coming to our industry to deliver such an experience. That is how Facebook and messaging works and when you can play that quickly you will see mobile play become truly mobile.
What can make or break a good live casino experience?
Well, any player will tell you the best live or any gambling experience is the one where they win! Seriously though, the goal is for players to have fun even if they lose.
That means they have a wide selection of games to choose from. Ideally they can play with dealers who speak their language. The interaction with the game is crisp and tight meaning when you ask for another card in blackjack it happens immediately. The video is in full HD quality. You have a perfect sense of everything that is going on at the table with your bets and proper attention is paid to other players.
The dealer behaviour should also be appropriate for the game type, for example high limit baccarat attracts very different players than our new Dream Catcher game which is mostly slot players trying live for the first time.
These are just some of the core elements of a great experience.
Let’s talk a bit more about Dream Catcher, which seems a real departure from the traditional live casino game What’s the potential of new formats like this?
That departure from tradition was very intentional. I kept asking: “How do we get those who don’t play table games to play live?”
The answers were typically that we have to educate the slot, bingo, and other fans to play table games. Well, this is a nice dream but it is dead on arrival. Every slot player has heard of blackjack, roulette, and Three Card Poker and if they have decided not to play it’s nearly impossible to get them to start now.
So we started thinking about how we can create a live experience for non-table game players. Rule number one was I didn’t want the game to have a physical table. It may sound obvious but literally every single game we have has a table and getting rid of it was tricky. This is where you place the cards, chips, dice, etc, so we had to rethink everything and we did so with a gameshow format. Rule number two was explained like this: “It has to be so simple to play that if your grandmother looks at the game she will know exactly what to do.”
Then the game had to be unintimidating, warm, welcoming, and even nostalgic like those 1980s game shows. Finally, players had to be able to get rich playing it and that fact had to be obvious to them. That is where the idea for the multiplier was born. Put them all together and you have Dream Catcher.
As for the future, it is real simple. If players indicate they enjoy this format of gameshow-style gambling in a live environment then we will do more of it.
There almost now seems to be an obsession in the industry with the millennial player, those 20 and 30-somethings who are apparently wanting something more than the traditional casino table or slot games. What DO millennials really want in your view, and how can Evolution cater to them?
When I was the Vice President of Gaming for MGM Resorts and oversaw gaming in 15 casinos we used to talk about this a lot because we had nightclubs that were bringing in many thousands of twenty-somethings every night.
If you are running a property and see lots of people walking through your casino on their way to the club it is pretty normal to wonder how you can get them to play.
Unfortunately, there is not a poorer age group you can have in your casino, but still, as you said, it becomes an obsession figuring out how to get them to play. Online is different. Where you could never offer a $0.10 roulette game in a land-based casino that might appeal to the younger crowd with less money, you can do it online.
Offering this sort of “value” is a huge advantage to online casinos. Millennials absolutely prefer table games to slots and data on this is crystal clear. The best way to appeal to them is honestly to offer a cheap game just like bars lure them in with cheap drinks. The problem is that with labor costs being what they are and there being just 5-7 seats on a table casinos can’t justify the lower minimums the way online can.
What do they want? It is pretty simple, they want everything, and that is fine. They want to go to a casino with a great nightclub and good music, they want great restaurants that are worth traveling to, and places that are worthy of them taking a selfie and posting it on Instagram or Snapchat. They also want the entire casino on their phone and that is what we at Evolution do. We put cameras around games inside casinos and stream them live so you can play physically on the table or from your phone at home.
I know the answer you are waiting to hear is that Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty will be turned into a slot machine that involves skill and chance and this will become the preferred gambling experience of the next generation. That would be cool, but it is extremely hard to do and therefore may take a very, very long time before you see this.
People are very switched on and they know if they are good at something, so if they play a game they are good at, they expect to win. When you violate this expectation as you would have to do for any gambling game, players quickly leave.
It may even be that players actually like knowing that the outcome is entirely luck driven – a point I think is too often overlooked. Maybe players don’t want to have to be alert and focused. They like having a drink while they play. They like being able to stop and look at their phones. All of this is tough when it comes to skill-based games. I half jokingly tell people that skill based gaming has been around for a very long time and I think that blackjack and poker, which are the original skill based games, will continue to be for a long time to come.
Will the demands of VIP players change over the coming years, and how will their experience change?
Yes. VIPs will demand more and they will get more. In an increasingly competitive world everyone is fighting for the same VIPs, the land-based operators will look to consolidate their players’ online and offline play to their brand, while everyone else will also aggressively pursue the VIPs.
Some will make crazy cashback offers, others will offer more goodies such as tickets to events and trips, others will try to forge personal relationships. VIP players will learn their value over time and will benefit from more of the royal treatment.