A SILVER LINING

Glyn Thomas talks to Sabby Gill, Regional Vice President, South Latin America & Caribbean, Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA) at IGT

South Latin America & Caribbean, Europe, Middle East & Africa that a lot of regions to cover you must rack up a lot of air miles?

Enough to take myself around the world a couple of times I am sure. I just wish I had the time to use them! When you are responsible for three of the major continents in the world, you soon get to experience every major airport and airline that operates and so many time zones that you forget where you are on occasion. Even with all of this, I do consider that I have one of the best jobs in the industry.

What aspect of your job are you most passionate about?

Getting out and meeting people. There is nothing better that getting myself out amongst the diverse cultures of the people that I interact with, whether that be employees, customers or the players in the various casinos that I visit. Getting to see our machines in operation on casino floors and then being able to talk to players directly and ask them why they play our machines and not our competitors and vice versa; asking why are people playing competitors and not IGT. It is amazing how much intelligence you can pick up if you only ask.

Have you any particular favourites amongst the Countries?

Most recently I have had the pleasure of going to Buenos Aires, that has to be one of the most vibrant cities and the customers there love IGT. I had the pleasure of meeting some of the most senior executives across the operators and sampling some of the superb culinary delights, plus a few glasses of Malbec. This ranks extremely high on the list, though it has strong and stiff competition from Monaco and South Africa.

Do the games and slot appeal vary much with each region?

Not as much as you would expect.  We are doing some very regional targeted surveys to try and understand the players of our operators and what are their likes and dislikes when playing slot games. Do they like high volatility, low pay lines, fruit based symbols, time on device, casual player etc.

There are lots of questions you can ask to understand the types of players (consumers) that you have on the floor. In our recent research, we found that 47 per cent of 18-30 year olds in the UK play console games, so we need to ensure our games are skill based and allow players to develop their abilities.

When you understand your target  market you can then see what you have in your tool bag, if we see a gap that is when we can ensure we tweak or develop locally attuned contents for certain markets, so far this has worked with games we have introduced outperforming the floor average significantly.

What are the major challenges you are currently facing?

The macroeconomics continue to be a struggle for operators in EMEA; operators are forced to drive more revenue with less resources and return on investment has become a key priority. An operator ’s purchases needs to show value quickly.

Another major challenge is that players expect to receive the same rewards as previously but are playing less.  Finally I would say it is around the fact that social networking websites and electronic gaming (internet and/or mobile) are quickly becoming the ‘next big thing ’ in casino gaming. Casinos need to translate social gaming into the physical world, making the casino a platform for groups to arrive together and to socialise as they play, relational gaming.

Do you think responsibility for gaining new players to Casinos should be all down to the operator or can manufacture’s such as IGT do more to assist with this vitally important requirement?

Manufacturers can play a big part; the important element in your question is around ‘new players’. If you look at IGT’s DoubleDown acquisition where we are the third largest social gaming solution on Facebook, we have access to so many people who are interested in gaming style content.

We recently introduced some traditional and familiar slot titles from our land-based operations and these have excelled in performance. By exposing online players to the same content they have in casinos and then offering promotions for them to play in casinos, you can soon be found by a new demographic. Manufacturers that have an offering for social, online and land-based solutions and, more importantly, a vision to allow convergence between them has to be the vendor of choice.

To what extent will the increased industry focus on ‘community gaming ’ encourage new players to visit casinos?

The social gaming audience is always expanding. More than 235 million people play games on social channels like Facebook, and these numbers continue to rise. IGT and Double Down Interactive are constantly working to provide a quality product to surpass the wants and needs of today’s players and tomorrow’s new players.

Community games intend to be a more sociable experience than traditional standalone slots, but in many cases, refer to slots of the same type linked in a row. Casinos need to look beyond this to the experiences of social gaming, where online gamers come together to see friends, chat, and play, enhancing their relationships as they do so. We call this ‘relational gaming ’.

How is IGT differentiating itself with regards to the community games it offers?

IGT’s goal is to provide a seamless gaming experience, from land-based to mobile to social gaming, to meet the needs of the this evolving market. IGT has already begun to produce games that make social interaction a fundamental element – an imperative if younger players are to be encouraged into the casino.

We are taking active steps to make our offering of top-performing and well-known games available anytime, anywhere. The casinos must continue to build on the momentum that social gaming has created and foster ‘relational gaming ’, acting as a social destination for groups of all ages to arrive, socialise and interact as they play.

As technology increases access do you see a greater scope for games which require skill and far more interaction or will the random number generator with its constraints be with us for ever more?

With skill-based gaming, players have the chance to step away from the traditional slot game and test their actual skills to win the game as opposed to simple luck of the lever pull. These games are specifically targeting a new breed of casino gamer who are digital natives - those who have grown up with console and online gaming.

Recent research conducted by IGT found that 37 per cent of under 30s in the UK believe that slot machines are not challenging either intellectually or on a skills level. Digital natives are accustomed to console gaming and it is now up to the casinos to implement this on their floors.

How is IGT currently evolving as a company?

IGT is doing a fantastic job of leading the evolution of gaming in regard to convergence. We have created an interactive platform in our IGT rgs, that is doing extremely well, and we have also continued to grow in the social gaming space through the acquisition and build-up of the DoubleDown Casino partner program. This has signed over 40 land-based casino partners since the start of the program began in August of 2012.

How would you best describe IGT in 2013, is it primarily a cutting edge slot manufacturer and games developer or an organisation pushing the frontiers of convergence of land-based and online gaming?

IGT is a technology company. We invest over $220 million per year into research and development, and we continue to be the leader in slot machine development and sales. Our strategy is simple, to provide gaming experiences across multiple platforms, from land-based to online to mobile to social.

The convergence of on and offline gaming means that land-based games can be placed online, providing players with the same experience beyond the casino, no matter where they are located. The future casino will be one where the gambling experience is bespoke, personal and always with you.

Convergence and optimization have been key words in recent years. IGT has recently launched “Double Down” that assists its optimisation. What are your future plans to increase convergence?

With 12 game development studios on four continents throughout the world, we are most certainly laser-focused on increasing our offering of quality games. This includes increasing our licensed game content. Our already vast game theme library will continue to grow, in both land- based casinos and online.

What do you see as the major benefits of convergence and optimization?

At the end of the day, it is still the same player who is participating in land-based, online and social gaming. By providing the player with the same recognizable games on any platform we are able to build that brand loyalty and benefit from players returning to play our games.

With the continued development of the Double Down casino, new players can now experience casino style games before they enter the casino.

This ensures that negative stereotypes associated with casinos and slot machines are dispelled, and further entices a new generation into the casino. Recent research conducted by IGT found that 27 per cent of people in the UK who had not previously visited a casino would do if they knew how to play the games before they arrived.

How important is the cloud in IGTs future plans?

The IGT Cloud is very important to our future plans. We are seeing tremendous growth in the service as a software sector, and so we have also seen that the Cloud is becoming a system of choice for many in emerging markets.

We have also seen that many smaller casino clients are becoming more comfortable with the Cloud software, and so have begun to utilize the tremendous benefits that this service provides.

What are some big trends you are currently witnessing in the casino industry?

Definitely convergence. It is important that players have the option of accessing their favourite games wherever, whenever and on the device of their choice. Building the relationship between the player and the games on the floor, and expanding that relationship to mobile, online and social channels.

Relational gaming is also hugely important. Casino operators are realizing the importance of encouraging the social interaction within the casino floor, be it through slot tournaments or through a player being able to log into their Facebook account from the machine to share their big wins…it ’s about keeping the player engaged.

And finally what are the company’s main goals for 2013 and beyond?

We will continue to invest in all areas of our company and subsidiaries to remain at the top of the industry and enhance shareholder value.