Top Banana Slot Machine – Simon Hammon, recently appointed General Manager of Relax Gaming, insists he is not a typical “product guy”. But the games released under his direction, like Starburst during his time at NetEnt, had a massive impact on the industry. In part two of a three-part interview, Hammon offers advice for businesses in today’s crowded slots space.
Simon Hammon’s success at NetEnt eventually brought him to Relax Gaming. In part one of this series, Hammon discussed how the move might have felt like a “descent.”
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But since his arrival, the company has grown significantly. For Q2 2022, revenue grew 20% quarter-over-quarter to £5.2m, with six new titles rolled out and the Dream Drop jackpot feature going live.
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Its partner base grew to 15 new operators over the same period, while 132 studios were added to its RGS, while its reach expanded to Italy and Spain, with a license for Ontario preparing him for entry into North America.
This business outlook facilitated his transition to the position of CEO of Relax, making the promotion “much more natural than the title suggests”.
“I think it’s because I have such a keen eye on the business, and really what’s going on with the competition, the financials, the product positioning, the marketing, the branding – any the proposal from start to finish. And of course, being excited about building something.
“What is a CEO? A CEO should, in my opinion, be connected to these facets”, he continues on the theme. “Because if you’re not, you’re just a figurehead.
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“It’s all well and good to talk to investors and evangelize X, Y and Z. But the answer is if you’re not in touch with the life of a developer or the idea or the realities of launching something something or score something or cost something, how can you fly?”
Relax is a multifaceted company – it is a platform provider, aggregator and accelerator as well as a game developer.
“We’re really proud of our great productions ourselves,” said new general manager Hammon. “But we are also a platform provider for 70 different studios. Some of them are quite independent, have their own platform, and we’re basically middleware to reach distribution.
“But some are highly dependent on many facets of the technology we provide – even down to commercial exploitation, billing, financing, sheltering; In other words, without us, they probably wouldn’t exist.
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This is arguably part of the larger trend seen in the slot space, where studios are evolving into multi-faceted businesses in order to cement their place in the supply chain. But that’s only part – to truly succeed, these companies must try to do something different. Pump up the 5×3 slots, and people won’t sit down and notice.
Relax, active for more than a decade, is not content with having a solid distribution network. Hammon can’t think of any traditional 5×3 slot he’s released, ever.
“Of course, there are still slots and a reel complex, but we completely avoided 5×3 from day one,” he says, arguing that operators are looking for differentiation.
To change what is being done, Relax looks at what is being done elsewhere. This could be through operator feedback, industry data analysis, lobby monitoring and game positioning. This shows market trends, especially when a brand or theme rises to the top of casino sites in the industry.
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But developers who simply see this as the blueprint to follow are unlikely to have much success, he warns. “The moment you’ve observed this [trend] and then created your own iteration or twist on it, the market might change again.
“And the reality is, you’re not alone. Look at the market now; I’d venture to assume that probably one in 10 games launched is a fishing game. This, of course, was driven by the success of Big Bass Bonanza , but whether the theme is leprechauns, ancient Egypt or the Wild West, each success is followed by a wave of imitators.
“It’s kind of weird how people pick up on the same trends,” Hammon continues. “The smart thing to do is say, ‘It’s a hit, I see there’s going to be six months down the line, a slew of things, let’s not go that route because we won’t stand out.
Relax experienced this: “We made Money Train 2. Six months later, I saw so many iterations of this mechanic being made. Funny enough, I always say that’s the highest form of flattery.
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It is bracing for a wave of imitators for the provider’s jackpots feature (Dream Drop), which went live in March this year. For Hammon, Dream Drop was “a true labor of love”.
“There was definitely a market need for innovation in this area,” he explains, and the ultimate goal was to ensure a high volume of jackpot winners. “I wanted to see the wins, and we had two big wins in less than two months after launch.
“Typically, this can happen in two or three years of a normal product. The real satisfaction for me is that we designed something and built something that actually achieved its goals.
“We have a solid track record,” he adds. “The jackpots will now start to increase as we are already going all the way up to £1.5m, we are close to hitting half a million individual jackpot wins.”
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While Hammon is under no illusions about the wave of similar products about to hit the market, he warns that many developers are “in for a bit of a rude awakening.” “The market and operator demand is actually quite challenging,” he says. “They look at their ecosystem, they look at what jackpots are funded and what volume of product they want.
“But even if you have the most innovative system in the world, ultimately you’re diluting the proposition value for your jackpot players or your casual players, it’s not going to be interesting.”
The daily jackpot ecosystem, he continues, has “worn off a bit” in the wake of a wave of companies introducing their own variant in recent years. For this to work, vendors need broad distribution, strong liquidity, robust systems and strong banking compliance – in Hammon’s eyes, it’s less a product and more a service provided. to the operator.
This type of successful product – or service – helps to boost a provider’s profile and position their content more prominently in an operator’s casino lobby. But that in turn creates pressure to follow that up with another shot.
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That kind of hot streak is hard to come by, admits Hammon — he doubts Starburst would have the same impact if launched today. There’s always “a great degree of chance of making a hit,” he says. “I think the expectation that you can follow with another can almost be unrealistic in that sense. Some people can launch a game in the right month with the right conditions, with the right support, and that can just propel something.
“Market conditions are an unknown factor, as well as general brand image or visibility,” he continues. “I think a lot of vendors take advantage of the immediate consequences of successful games because there’s hype and expectation.
“This can drop quite quickly as a large amount of content is then launched between the next hit. This in turn can lead to the perception that a provider is ‘hot’ or ‘not’.
And unfortunately, there is no simple formula. “It just takes time, and it takes the good stuff out of the equation that you can’t predict,” he says. “Sometimes it can be due to an employee who was there at the time and had a brilliant idea but has now left.”
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Hammon goes so far as to wonder if many studios can even consider themselves brands, suggesting that sometimes it’s as simple as having a developer or producer with a great idea. If they leave, “that creative spark is no longer in the building.”
Even then, there are very few “names” in the slots space, in the same way that John Romero (Doom), Markus Persson (Minecraft) or Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear) have arguably become as famous as their creations. This, Hammon suggests, is because people don’t have vast scope for innovation – it’s about iterating and innovating in what is a largely unchanged space.
He admits there aren’t many names he would retire. “I can tell you there are a lot of charlatans who claim to be the people behind X, Y and Z and they just aren’t.
“I was in charge of releasing hundreds of slot machines,” he continues. “If you look at my record, I could probably say I had some of the biggest plays in the business, but I also probably had 90% of those flops, right? You you are only recognized for