The UK slot market has far from reached its peak, but legacy issues are holding this potential back. According to CEO Fredrik Elmqvist, Yggdrasil’s player-first approach could be just what the market needs.
Earning yourself a slice of mature markets, up against some of the toughest competitors in the business, comes with a great deal of kudos, especially for younger firms.
Often, however, riper and more heavily regulated markets come with systemic legacy issues – both technological and contractual – which can stifle competition and innovation.
Rapidly growing slot provider Yggdrasil Gaming has long held the UK market in such high esteem, and having signed two supply deals with major British brands – William Hill last year, and more recently Betfred – is now working with operators to try and unclog inefficiencies in the British system.
For CEO Fredrik Elmqvist, the potential for the UK market is clear. “The UK will be all about mobile,” he assures. “Historically it’s been a table games market – but I think slots are growing still and it will continue to grow rapidly with mobile. And so, our experience around mobile is super important.”
Compared to its rivals, Yggdrasil’s mobile figures are impressive – generating close to 60 percent of its games win across the continent. “That’s one of the best numbers for providers today – of our size and of the bigger ones.”
Smartphone penetration and demand for mobile slots may be massive in the UK, but there are less benign differences that continue to hold potential back.
“Firstly, there are legacy issues with technology and constraints on the operating side – platforms are centralizing as companies are merging, so there’s some constipation happening there also.
“But there are contractual constraints as well, it’s very tab-controlled in the UK, which is quite interesting because you don’t find that in other European markets. And it’s something the player doesn’t necessarily care about; all they want is great content.”
Unlike other markets, it’s common for UK operators to ring-fence a tab on their website for one contracted provider – meaning no other providers can get in on that tab – reducing the ability to select and distribute a wide range of games.
“It makes no real sense for the players, on the contrary it can be confusing. This is something the Nordic market understood quite early: let the content be the dominant factor; let the player decide what’s best.
“The UK could be more competitive on content, as in many other markets, if more content was put next to each other,” he adds. “That’s why I think in the next two years what we’re going to see is that model breaking down.”
Multi-market and purely online operator GVC on the other hand, has an interesting business model that is global and player centric, says Elmqvist.
Other “faster” firms, such as LeoVegas, are also doing well; stealing market share from the bigger operators by focusing on the players. “Where everything is based around the player experience, that’s the model that’s going to last, and will potentially supersede the ‘UK model’.”
Elmqvist stressed he is not one to passively accept the status quo. “We don’t wait for anything,” he says. “We’re discussing various solutions to improve player experience, and broaden distribution. William Hill is a good company, and the people there are open to discuss what we can do together to improve player experience”.
Sooner or later those that embrace the player over the status quo “will take pole position in the online market”, he adds. And in doing so, Elmqvist is certain this development will expand the wider slot market.
And Yggdrasil’s player-first ethos could yet remedy other ills. “There’s been a lot of misleading promotion,” he reminds, “saying something is free when it’s more complicated than that.”
Elmqvist “embraces” more regulation in this area. “Because the market will become perceived as a serious market. And there are more ways to acquire and retain customers than simply to say things are free and then hide in the small print.”
Here too Elmqvist sees opportunity. Having made its name in the slot business for innovating promotional tools, tournaments and linking wins to social media – Yggdrasil embraces a new regulatory space that encourages firms to think more creatively about signing up players, rather than simply giving free spins “that cost you more and don’t make much difference to the players.”
“I think we owe that to the players as well. We owe it to the market to make sure we give them value, and not just give deposit bonuses.”
“it’s so generic,” he says. “and the only thing it leads to is inertia. Players are going to say: hang on that’s not what I wanted, and I don’t trust these guys. You get burned once or twice and then they think everyone is the same”.
“So, we’re kind of the protector of the player, and through that were protecting the longevity of the market. Because if players start spending money somewhere else, online or offline, the market is going to decrease or flatline. Ultimately, we believe our innovations will help to drive sustainable retention, and through that, drive the market forward.”