iGaming Times speaks to Ivan Montik, founder of betting and gaming software developer, SoftSwiss, about market entries, ethos and ergonomics – and why technology, above all else, will shape the future of the industry
iGAMING TIMES: SoftSwiss has seen tremendous growth in the past decade and appears to be storming into 2021 with a slew of new deals and releases. Can you briefly describe how you brought the company to where it is today?
IVAN MONTIK: SoftSwiss journey started in 2009 with a small number of talented software engineers based in Belarus and a number of Europe and US-based clients looking to outsource their IT projects. One of such clients wanted to develop an online auction but didn’t have a working business concept, so we ended up receiving no payment for the project but having the software all to ourselves instead. I quickly realized that offering your own product is a much more stable and profitable business, easier in terms of marketing and bringing higher margins.
The second product to come was SoftSwiss online casino software in 2013. We decided to take the risk and enter the industry we had no idea about. Technical expertise seemed to be enough, but was definitely not. Me and my partners had to face challenges that the sector prepared: learning online gaming laws, a lot of communication with the regulators, numerous compliance procedures to go through to get a license, banks unwilling to work with a young company with no reputation. It was tough, but it brought us to where we are today.
An important milestone was introducing the Bitcoin online casino solution to the market in 2013. Believing in the enormous potential of cryptocurrencies to change the world economy, we used our know-how and implemented the breakthrough technology in our payment processing system. SoftSwiss is still often referred to as a pioneer in cryptocurrency gaming and I’m proud of this title.
The years to follow were about improving our products and working on the new ones, building a network of trusted partners, serving the clients who trusted us, growing the human capital and adapting the company structure to the rapid growth. The online auction turned into the eCommerce software and B2B crypto payment processing solution. We created BGaming, a brand focused on developing our own games which now comprises over 60 varieties. And we launched SoftSwiss sports betting software, a long-awaited product to replenish the portfolio.
iGT: What sets SoftSwiss apart from its competitors, in terms of the angle or values you bring to the gaming industry?
IVAN MONTIK: Our key priority is the product quality. I find it much more important than quantity. For instance, it’s better to offer fewer features that work seamlessly than a bunch of functionality which breaks under higher loads. When we started working on the gaming platform, we chose Ruby on Rails as the basic technology. We knew it’s not the fastest one, and Ruby programmers are hard to find, but it can’t be compared to others in terms of performance and stability, so we stayed with it and are proud of the outcome. One of our internal important guidelines is: when you deliver a product to the client, you should be proud to put your name under it.
Innovation is another distinguishing factor. We never stop investigating new technologies and applying them in our products. We have a Research and Development department that focuses on delivering cutting edge solutions. We’ve gone really far in using artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms in our casino platform. It helps us keep up with the quick pace of our industry and always stay at the forefront, showing the competitors in which direction they can also develop.
As in any other industry, in gaming, clients are one of the biggest assets. We put client service as our top priority and provide 100 percent support at all stages, from signing the contract to operating a multi-million business. The peculiarity of the online gaming sector is that a software provider works closely with the operator through the whole lifecycle, and in case it grows into a successful business, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
iGT: Can you explain a little more about what ‘agile methodology’ is – and what that means in practice for how SoftSwiss operates?
IVAN MONTIK: When you are a team of 20 people, you don’t have to think much about the company structure and operating principles. You can personally communicate your values to your colleagues, make quick decisions and bring them to life. But when you have more than 500 people working on one global goal but maybe not knowing each other’s face, you realize that you need some methodology to bring it all together and create a working mechanism. Agile approach has turned out to be very effective in our case. I think I started following it intuitively before I actually came to reading the theory. I know that the human capital is our most valuable asset, and the agile methodology is all about putting people at the centre and empowering them to make decisions. It’s not always easy for a leader who is used to taking decisions individually and carrying the responsibility, like myself, but it really helps. At SoftSwiss, we try to avoid strict hierarchy and create a flat structure with independent teams instead, each team taking relevant decisions and making quick changes when it’s necessary. Of course, the teams always communicate with one another, because a company is like a living organism: all parts of it depend on one another and can only function together.
iGT: You recently announced an entry into Nigeria. How important is Africa to your strategy and what is your take on the Nigerian market in particular?
IVAN MONTIK: New markets are important and Africa is a huge and promising one. Due to the fast internet penetration and technology improvements, Nigeria is witnessing a significant shift to online and mobile. It is now the second largest online gaming market in Africa, behind South Africa. The Nigerians are also known for their passion for sports and betting: just think about the 60 million people between 18 and 40 years making total bets of over E4m daily. I believe we have good chances to reach a large audience with our Sportsbook platform in Nigeria.
iGT: New technologies, crypto and artificial intelligence seem to have all played a crucial role in the SoftSwiss story so far. What do you see are the most exciting trends in tech at the moment, and which promise to disrupt the gaming sector in near future?
IVAN MONTIK: Indeed, crypto and AI are the trends that have taken over the igaming sector recently, but there’s still so much to be done in both directions. In terms of crypto, the technology is basically in place and it only depends on the regulators how fast it’ll be adopted by the major part of the online entertainment industry. It’s hard to ignore the advantages it brings to the sector, from the lower operation fees to a better transparency and fraud protection, and with the large companies getting to grips with crypto, I believe we won’t have to wait long until it becomes an official igaming currency.
As for AI, it has shown noticeable progress but it’s still far from reaching its maximum power. I think it’s penetration into online casinos has reached just about 30 percent of the possible volume, but my prediction is 100 percent replacement of the human power by AI mechanisms. We are talking about such important things as improvement of UX through personalization and customization and significant increase of player lifetime, things that worry casino operators most. Moreover, it’s about fraud protection: ML has already made it possible to detect players’ uncommon behaviour and report it to the system, thus preventing illegal wins and cash outs.
Finally, igaming will continue going mobile. We are constantly working on it, creating intuitive user interfaces and mobile-compliant games to bring mobile users’ experience as close to the real life one as possible.