Ever since the relaxing of regulations in the US and now Canada, there has been a steady stream of slot studios entering the North American market, buoyed by success in Europe and elsewhere. We examine if the influx of Euro-styled content has made a splash on the other side of the pond and what changes might we see as players become accustomed to the more diverse range of games available.
Niklas Mravjle, Director of Product Marketing at Oryx Gaming joins Armen Tatarevic, Business Development Director at White Hat Studios and James Marshall, CEO at Push Gaming to share their thoughts.
What are the main differences between US-tailored games and those designed with the European markets in mind?
NM – We have seen U.S. players gravitate toward games that have roots in land-based casinos. This can be attributed to brand recognition but it’s the underlying popular game mechanics from land-based titles that are also attracting players. While some games can work in both markets, we do see some fundamental overall differences in general player preferences in maths and art style. At Bragg, we look to customise the maths between markets where we may look to increase volatility, modify entry bet amounts or line count feature frequency and average win sizes, however, it really depends on the overall maths design as not all European markets are alike.
Europe can have off-the-charts volatility, but we are seeing demand in the other direction as well so diversity in our portfolio will be key. When it comes to art, we can see an even greater disparity in style and direction. Asian art styles make up a significant portion of top performance in the U.S. market while European art packages tend to incorporate a more cartoony style, often with 3D elements, and include some edgy or darker themes. Another real difference is the focus on fruit-themed games in Europe while the U.S. market will have more emphasis on classic steppers.
AT – One of the most obvious differences is that brand IP is far more effective as an acquisition and retention tool in the US than it seems to be in Europe.
With an increasing number of US states opening up to audiences that probably aren’t that engaged with online slot games, operators are going to immediately see the benefits of a familiar theme for grabbing players’ attention.
The big advantage we have is that there are so many brands that have been tried and tested in European markets that we can optimise to appeal to a US audience. We’re also bringing our new and highly popular brands to the US market, which are tailored to the local market, handing operators powerful tools for acquisition and cross-selling.
A key difference is that US players seem to prefer fast-paced games with a simple and volatile outcome, while European feature and graphicly rich games are pushing into the Top 10 more and more. This will be a trend we can’t neglect, while game providers also have to adapt their games to American preferences.
JM – I would say there’s less of a difference now than there was when the industry started to bring online games from the likes of NetEnt into the UK market some time ago. I think there was a drastic difference there, but for the titles that are going over to the US today the difference is less defined.
European suppliers have been inspired by US games from their experience of Vegas-style titles, so there is some inspiration from US gaming already which will lessen the impact of slots from European studios arriving in the states. You’ve also got to remember that the European region is segmented between the likes of the UK, Germany, and all the different markets that we have and these can’t necessarily be spoken of as a general whole.
When we talk about the US market, we’re still talking predominantly about land-based content – the likes of SG, IGT, and Aristocrat and their content still isn’t quite online just yet, but it’s imminent. US-developed titles have improved drastically over the last decade or so, previous to that it was quite flat with rather basic concepts and mechanics but the industry has improved that dramatically.
In Europe, the market has been competitive for a long time in both online and mobile, with this competitiveness being a major difference between the regions. We’ve been against more than 80 studios and that has increased the quality of content generally. As a result, I would argue that European content currently is more premium whereas because of the relative infancy of the US online market and the talent that exists there is currently less so, however, I expect the gap to close over time.
How have North American players responded to these new arrivals?
NM – I think we have seen mixed success from straight European imports into the North American market. While still in its infancy, the markets and response by game designers and suppliers have rapidly evolved. The early days saw European games constitute most of the releases, but U.S. online operators saw a pickup from U.S.-based companies bringing the land-based games online with a lot of success. I think a lot of the latest designs from Europe are including more gameplay styles from the land-based game slot manufacturers and becoming increasingly competitive as they can see success in Europe with these designs as well.
AT – We’re still seeing players gravitating to the online versions of their favourite land-based games, as online slots are still so new in the states. However, there is a growing trend of players taking to more evolved versions that follow on in those game styles.
As the market develops and players seek more innovative offerings, we see differentiated products such as Megaways and features such as bonus bets becoming increasingly popular, especially with VIP players. As well as that, games that effectively integrate popular IPs are enjoying much longer lifecycles, sticking in the top games lists for longer periods.
At White Hat Studios, we see brand IP alongside jackpots as our key USP for entering the market and have secured more than 10 branded deals with multiple hit titles within each deal, including Ted, Deal or No Deal and Peaky Blinders, and will be launching a new branded title each month. For RNG table games, IP is equally as important as it is for slots. It’s vital to bring the casino floor experience to online players. We have some fantastic deals, which will see us bring out new and innovative Blackjack and roulette titles.
JM – I can only base my opinion on the data that we see and the games that have performed well have got some clear similarities with the titles that work within the land-based sector. Jackpot games have performed well but you can also see that, predictably, the games that possess predominately land-based familiarity have returned the best numbers, which is to be expected in the short term.
It’s similar to what we saw in the UK market back in the day with Barcrest, Blueprint and all the established traditional suppliers. They’ll always have that head start because there’s the familiarity players lean towards. They then move over from land-based to online and it makes sense for them to play the games that they’re already accustomed to.
Will European-style slots eventually hold sway in North America or will they find it harder to gain a foothold than some expect?
NM – No doubt that as the player base grows, the demand for a differentiated experience will as well. While I believe certain styles will remain relatively specific to certain markets such as traditional steppers in the U.S. and fruit games in Europe, I foresee that there will be some shared learnings from both markets.
While I often hear that Europe online gaming is a much more mature market and certainly from an operational perspective it is, game design from land-based has a much more established history. Eventually, I think we will see a hybrid style of gameplay and experiences as players will have more choice than ever.
AT – As the format is so new in the US, it makes sense that local operators will look to more mature markets to inform the products they introduce. On top of that, there’s a significant amount of cultural crossover between Europe and the states, so it’s a fantastic litmus test for what American players will find engaging. Ultimately, as the market develops, customers here will want a more bespoke offering, which will be very exciting to track and develop when the time comes.
As well as slots, we expect the jackpots that enhance them to develop as well. It’s a dynamic that has resonated enormously with US players, which hasn’t been a surprise, given how effective they have been in US land-based operations. We won’t see global shared jackpots, such as Mega Moolah, take the market, as those are not allowed by strict state regulations. Our very own Jackpot Royale is the perfect fit for operator’s needs.
It is unique in the market as it offers a local operator jackpot with funds generated from their player base from multiple games. This means the operators will eventually have the honour of awarding lucky players with large and regular jackpot prizes, rather than running the risk of another operator enjoying a major jackpot win, creating a positive relationship between operators and their players.
JM – It will heavily depend on the styles of games that studios develop. If the content has a clear European slant I think it will struggle because the players there will not appreciate the game as much as they might if the gameplay contains inspiration from Vegas and land-based casino games.
What I think US players will appreciate is the level up in development for mobile and online that we see from European studios. What’s interesting about the US is that I see it as a mature slots market, compared to Europe – what I mean by that is Europe has hardly any casinos in comparison, so US players have a heritage in slots and will appreciate what the new wave of games offer so they’ll convert to them a lot easier than they would in other markets.
Should studios be evolving their output to consider North America or will the trends of a more diversified market simply dictate going forward?
NM – The answer is both in the short to mid-term as U.S. players will have different preferences just like parts of Europe have their own. We see customisations by market in so many industries – take for example a well-known fast-food chain with locations around the world. While they have certain standardised products, each region will have adaptations to fit the local culture and diner expectations. The critical element we see in game design is building the highest quality, but tailored content is also a must-have in the portfolio. Over time, players will ultimately choose the style of the content as both markets continue to evolve and change at a rapid pace. Game studios will need to be agile and adapt to market forces.
AT – Slots have taken off at pace in the US and that is only going to continue as more states regulate. Steadily the US market will develop its own tastes and preferences, and studios should track these changes in order to appeal effectively to this incredibly promising market. Down the line, it will be interesting to see whether US players in different states prefer different games. There are major differences between player preference and behaviour in Romania and UK, for example. It will be interesting to see whether this replicates in the US with more states opening up for iGaming.
JM – It’s probably going to be a bit of both. To assume as a studio that you’re going to enter a new market and players are going to love your content because they perform well in another market is naive. For Push Gaming, we’re confident in our content because we think there’s a lot of similarities that US players are going to enjoy.
What we’re also going to do (and have already been doing) is examine the data to understand what players like or dislike about our content and try and adapt that accordingly. Simultaneously, we’ll be continuing to research, develop and deliver in ways that are quite different to our competitors – this is what has proved so successful for us thus far.
You can still innovate while keeping true to what players enjoy, and given that there’s not a huge range of content in the US right now, especially in comparison to Europe, you’ve also got your back catalogue to lay with. We know about the content that’s going to work moving from land-based to online and when it comes to new content, it’s going to be a bit more of trial and error. Studios are going to have to be agile and flexible, adapting to the feedback from this new demographic.
While we are using what we’ve learned from other markets there is the possibility that this may count for nothing as individual states continue to open up – it may well be that the reaction from the market dictates the games that are supplied – no one really knows for certain at the moment.
What Push will also be doing, regardless of the reaction from North America, is ramping up our game production to almost double where it is currently. With a larger, diversely skilled team we’ll have the capacity to keep creating the content that we know players will love and have enough capacity to cater for all. These are exciting times but ones we’re absolutely relishing.