Front-end innovations are too often overlooked in the iGaming business – but not by Yggdrasil. CEO Fredrik Elmqvist explains why.
“Every year has been a transformative year,” says an exultant Fredrik Elmqvist, shrugging off iGT’s first question.
And 2017 was no exception, he adds, before hurriedly rattling off a string of not insignificant developments: the creation of a new parent company; a new studio in Sweden; a new senior management team, greater market share in core regulated markets – not to mention 95 percent revenue growth.
“We’ve been leaving far too much revenue on the table for our competitors,” he sums up absently. “We came in late, so we’ve been picking up the pace.”
You get the distinct impression he’d rather talk about the something else.
While so many conversations at ICE inevitably trend towards the esoteric: cryptocurrencies, blockchain or artificial intelligence – Elmqvist and his team have become something of an anomaly in gaming. It’s weird that it’s weird, but Yggdrasil are still innovating actual games.
Having staked its claim as one of the most creative influences in the slot sector, Yggdrasil announced its entry into two new game verticals in the run up to the show. In December it was bingo and a month later it was table games.
As the conversation moves on to what triggered this decision, and how Yggdrasil can make an impact on such established genres, Elmqvist is really talking business.
“It all started with our promotional tools,” he takes off. “Two and a half years ago. That’s what has really enabled us positively over the years.”
It seems hard for Elmqvist to overstate just how transformative these tools have been for the firm. The beautifully simple set of in-game options, that entice players to switch to new games, share scores on social media, enter tournaments and chase cash prizes – has bagged Yggdrasil more than a few industry awards, seminal supply contracts, and ultimately some of the highest acquisition and retention rates in the sector.
Among its competitors, widespread “piggy-backing” on the success of Yggdrasil’s tools has become a problem, he concedes, but it’s still the firm’s strongest USP.
“Everyone wants what we have now, but to do that you need to make a lot of changes, with both the game clients and the supply side – it’s not so easy to achieve. So we have a clear momentum there, and still a clear market leadership in this area.”
All the KPI’s are “pointing in the right direction,” he adds.
“Penetration is increasing and more of our customers and using them, and more frequently.”
Yet one of the more profound implications of promotional tools, is they’ve given Yggdrasil the ability to cross sell its own games, through various rewards and incentives. “This of course gave us the courage to move into the new verticals, because we know we can cross players over to them.”
Bingo is a case in point. Notoriously popular with alternative, often softer demographics, Yggdrasil saw an opportunity to attract new players via bingo, and cross sell them into the casino.
“And because we have the tools, we can facilitate the cross selling ourselves – we don’t even have to leave it to the operator. The next question was simply whether we could create a good product.”
After extensive research into how users experience online bingo, Yggdrasil’s R&D team identified a number of neglected components (its inherently social element, for example, has been massively under exploited). And after working out how they could be fixed, “we realised we could nail it,” he explained.
Innovations in table games came later; the potential was less obvious at first, but with pandora’s box prised open, Elmqvist sees endless possibilities.
It’s the “concept” of table games that doesn’t change, he points out. While slots have moved forward, with new themes and concepts applied to each game, enabling operators to roll out new material on a regular basis – table games are still just table games.
“New slot games aren’t called Three Reel or Four Reel, they’re called whatever the new concept is. But table games are static, they’re still called Blackjack, Roulette, Hold ‘Em, or whatever they are.”
The ramifications of reinventing table games, into a continuous stream of “permutations of table games” as Elmqvist describes them, are truly innovative.
Uniquely, the dealer in Yggdrasil’s able games “is the game”, he says. Not only is a 3D dealer, that interacts with players via motion capture, placed at the heart of the player experience – but each dealer embodies the concept, the name, and the particular mechanics (RNG multiplayer progressive jackpot and so on) of that specific permutation – that game.
“We basically want to explore what table games can do in a digital format,” he adds. “The physical limitation is normally the table, so you’re going to see a lot more dealer-based permutations of these classical concepts, but with some mechanical twists.
“The whole idea is to enable them to fork out the table games at the same pace as we fork out slot games. No one is doing that.”
No mean feat either. The proof of concept for table games is “much more technologically driven”, and developed within the confines of what can realistically be done using a 3D engine and playable on a mobile phone.
“For us now it’s all about execution. Developing RNG table games and bingo, creating interesting mechanics to classical games, to make permutations. We’ll work of course on the motion capture, and getting more and more interesting dealers and environments in there, and taking that to its full potential.
“That’s going to take longer than 2018,” he says.
“But were going to start the work.”