Gaming giant Play’n GO has dominated the global online regulated slot market for the better part of a decade.
Having gone live with their first customer in the US within the last 12 months, we sat down with CEO and co-founder Johan Törnqvist to reflect upon the first year of the company’s entry into the US market, and how big, listed businesses based in the US may shape the industry over the next decade.
iGN: How would you categorise Play’n GO’s first year in the US market? What are the major differences, if any, between the US and other highly regulated markets?
JT: For us, it has always been important to do things at the right pace. Of course, there’s the temptation to push to be the first to market in new jurisdictions, and especially in the US, but we’d rather do things our way. So, we’re taking the time to build those deep relationships with operators, listening carefully to feedback and paying attention to how things are progressing.
This mindset has served us really well, because in a little more than a year we’ve gone live in three states (New Jersey, Michigan and West Virginia) and expect to add a fourth in Pennsylvania to that list imminently.
These states are responding very positively to our games. Operators are very open to working closely with us and building the types of true partnership we love. Remember, the US igaming market as a whole is still in its infancy, perhaps with the exception of New Jersey. The revenue potential is obvious, but when it comes to things like game type and preferred mechanics, the character of these markets is something still to be clearly defined.
That said, we are seeing a few early trends. Play’n GO was the first studio to deliver grid slots and these are doing very well in the US. These games require a huge amount of expertise to build, so we’re in a great position to drive innovation here.
Our library of more than 350 premium titles is performing strongly. I’ve always said that really great content is often consistent across markets, and that’s certainly proving the case for us.
iGN: Do US consumers prefer a different type of playing experience than European consumers? Does the US market require a separate strategy?
JT: Before talking about differences, it’s important to remember that wherever they are in the world, players love great games with engaging storylines that provide entertaining experiences. That’s what keeps them coming back for more.
This is particularly true in the US, where unique traits are beginning to emerge. American operators are really doubling down on differentiation in their casino lobbies, perhaps more so than in Europe and elsewhere. This doesn’t necessarily require a wildly different strategy, but it does present certain opportunities. For instance, our vast portfolio is a huge asset for those operators looking to offer something a little different.
iGN: Online sports betting has had more success in regulating across US states than iGaming. Do you expect iGaming regulation to expand in the coming months and years?
JT: We will absolutely see iGaming expand, although I don’t think it will exactly mirror online sports betting. More important than the expansion, however, is the regulation that comes alongside it. There’s already quite a spread of approaches in the sports betting space, and some states are changing things like taxation levels. This will continue to evolve.
If we’re talking igaming specifically, a lot of the focus from regulators is on advertising and promotional activity. I’d hope they consider game types and mechanics as well. We’ve talked a lot about how we think Bonus Buy features can be harmful to players and our industry more widely, and we’ve taken a stance by not including the feature in any of our games. Regulators and stakeholders in other markets are increasingly agreeing with that view.
Gaming should be about entertainment. We want to help build an industry that can thrive for decades to come, and that means prioritising the player experience and the joy it can bring over short term revenue.
iGN: Why is the US market important for the regulated gambling industry? What do you think the impact of a strong US-based operator set will be on the global industry over the next decade?
JT: The potential scale is simply unmatched anywhere else. The big US listed gaming businesses will shape the future direction of our sector for the next decade, and that process is already well underway.
We’re in an extremely interesting moment in igaming history right now. These US giants need to grow, and if the domestic market doesn’t expand quickly enough for that, they will seek opportunities elsewhere. But at the same time, exposure to the stock market could cause issues when working in pre-regulated jurisdictions.
It’s a huge chance to change the global industry for the better, set higher standards and define the type of responsible, sustainable business we all want to be in. I welcome it with open arms.
iGN: Finally, will we see you in Las Vegas for G2E?
JT: Of course! We’ll be at booth 4030 in the new iGaming Zone this year. It’s only our second year exhibiting at G2E – although we’ve attended for many more – and we’ve already needed to double the size of our stand.
Now we are licensed in four states, this show is important for more of the US-based industry to continue to get to know Play’n GO. Our ‘We Are Game’ campaign is set to feature heavily, and we’re confident it will resonate with everyone.
Johan Törnqvist is CEO and co-founder of Play’n GO, where he’s been delivering the world’s best casino content since 2005.
Play’n GO CEO Johan Törnqvist outlines his vision for a different type of online gaming industry, and how the company is making it a reality.
2023 will be a defining year for the online casino industry
At this stage, I think we’re all aware of the headlines. More markets will regulate, we’ll face greater scrutiny in those markets that have already regulated, and this will happen against a backdrop of global economic uncertainty.
All of this is often framed as a series of challenges we need to ‘overcome’ if we’re to succeed. But we see evolving market realities as an opportunity to create a better industry.
I wanted to take a moment to outline our vision in the hope that we can find common ground with others. Play’n GO has always tried to lead by example, but we know we can’t do this alone. For us, the guiding principle informing not just the next 12 months, but the next decade, is all about delivering the absolute best entertainment in the most sustainable way possible.
We’ve always said that the only way forward for the online casino sector is to become truly competitive as a form of entertainment.
“We can’t bury our heads in the sand and assume the deep pockets of a handful of VIPs can sustain the entire industry.”
There are a couple of angles to this thinking. Firstly, we’re competing against an unprecedented selection of options for a share of people’s entertainment budget. If we can’t offer something that matches up in terms of pure fun and excitement against mobile games, console games, streaming services and much more, there’s simply no real future for our industry.
Secondly, we need to compete on these terms because, as we are already seeing, any other approach simply isn’t sustainable. We need to take seriously our duty of care to players. We can’t bury our heads in the sand and assume the deep pockets of a handful of VIPs can sustain an entire industry.
This needs to be a genuinely mass-market proposition, and that kind of thinking should inform everything, including what kinds of mechanics and stories should be included in games to ensure we are appealing to players regularly and not just once.
How do we get to where we need to be?
As ever, our people will be at the heart of everything. At a time when many companies are cutting staff amid difficult global economic conditions, we’re investing in the future. We need more storytellers, amazing designers, artists and developers to create the truly engaging games the players will expect.
We also need to think about sustainability on multiple levels. As I’ve touched upon, the first of these is the games themselves. We’re increasingly working closely with our operator partners on issues around responsible gaming because we believe operators can’t provide a safe environment for customers without the full support of their suppliers.
There’s also sustainability on a companywide level. This is all about providing our people with the attention and care they need to thrive, whether that be via diverse representation at every level or day-to-day flexibility and freedom to choose if you want to work remotely or not.
“We believe operators can’t provide a safe environment for customers without the full support of their suppliers.”
Finally, there’s the global picture, where we can make our small contribution on the key challenges of our day, including our pledge to be carbon neutral by 2025.
Ultimately, this is about maximum entertainment with minimal negative impact.
When we started out more than 15 years ago, online gaming was something quite different to what it has grown into today.
Over this time, large parts of Europe and now the Americas have introduced sensible legislation that provides a framework to deliver this unique form of entertainment to millions of people in a far safer way than most could have imagined.
We’ve lived this story and are now active in more than 25 of these jurisdictions, but we’re not naive enough to believe that everything has been perfect.
By drawing upon this experience, learning from what hasn’t worked, and bringing this knowledge into both new and established markets that are on this same journey, we know we can play our part in building a better industry for everyone.
Play’n GO CEO Johan Törnqvist talks exclusively to iGaming NEXT about going live in the US, the art of building games and why the company is leading the charge towards a more sustainable industry.
iGaming NEXT: As we approach the end of the year, what would you say has been Play’n GO’s biggest achievement of 2022?
Johan Törnqvist: It’s impossible to sum up an entire year in a few lines, but I think it’s fair to say the highlight of 2022 has been our launch in North America. We’ve gone live in both Ontario and New Jersey, are poised to go live in Michigan shortly, and are on track to expand into other regulated states.
Our move into the US in particular has been years in the making; we didn’t want to rush into things until we were certain we had the correct approach. We’re now working closely with partners in these new markets to ensure Play’n GO’s games deliver the same, breathtaking experience players elsewhere around the world already enjoy.
iGN: Is the focus now firmly on the US?
JT: We’re certainly working hard to expand our footprint in the US, but our focus is always on regulated markets globally. Just north of the border in Canada, we launched earlier this year in Ontario.
We’re already enjoying a great reception among players in the province. Latin America is another region that’s really exciting right now, with jurisdictions such as Peru, Chile, Argentina and others introducing (or soon to introduce) sensible new gaming frameworks – and that’s before we mention the potential of a regulated market in Brazil. We’re now active in more than 25 regulated markets globally, and as long as lawmakers worldwide continue to see the bulletproof logic in legislating for sustainable online gaming, that number will continue to increase.
But we will never forget where we came from, and our European business is still hugely important to us. I think we are well positioned to significantly grow our footprint in regulated markets like the UK, Italy and Spain, in addition to continuing to build upon our strong Nordic base.
iGN: Let’s talk about your games. How is your approach to building casino content evolving? Is the process different to what it was 10 years ago?
JT: I think “maturity” is the right word. There are core fundamentals when it comes to building great casino games, but there are also uncountable variables that mean you can’t just repeat a formula and expect success forever. Look, we’re probably best known for Book of Dead, which is one of, if not the, most played and beloved online casino game ever. If it was a question of just recreating that, everyone would be doing the same thing. Many have tried, of course.
What we do is empower our team to drive the process and build the games they are passionate about. We have amazing people who are capable of creating astonishing games, but they need that freedom. We can then back that up with local market knowledge, our understanding of our players and other factors so the games find their right home. The ever-changing challenges of building these games is what keeps us coming back for more.
iGN: Play’n GO is one of the most talked about suppliers in our industry. So tell us something we might not know about the company.
JT: I think a lot of people still don’t quite appreciate how seriously we are taking the challenge of creating a truly sustainable industry.
It’s quite simple in our view. If we don’t protect and nurture the industry we have right now, there simply won’t be an industry in the future to make games for.
If we as an industry are providing a bad experience that turns players off, they’ll quite quickly wander over to another form of entertainment. For us, that kind of thinking impacts the games we make and don’t make, the markets we enter and the ones we do not.
Let me give you a concrete example.
We believe that we have a duty of care to our players, and so we build all our games with that in mind. We could make any game with any mechanic we wanted to, but we choose not to make certain game types like Bonus Buy games because we don’t believe those games lay on the path to a sustainable industry.
We have left literal millions on the table by taking the decision to not make Bonus Buy games, but we felt it was the right thing to do to ensure players had a good experience with our games. The regulators in the UK and the Netherlands agree with us and have banned Bonus Buy games. So the question for both operators and suppliers in other jurisdictions to ask themselves is – why are you offering Bonus Buy games at all?
Responsible gaming is not solely the responsibility of the operator in our opinion, and we continue to set the standard when it comes to building great games that don’t rely on exploitative mechanics. Games should focus on entertainment and fun, win or lose you should always have had a great time enjoying that game session.
We’re absolutely focused on delivering a sustainable future for our industry and I’m really excited that Play’n GO is not only playing a vocal part in that discussion but is leading the way with our actions as well.
The future of our entire industry depends on all of us taking a long term view.
Johan Törnqvist is CEO and co-founder of Play’n GO, where he’s been delivering the world’s best casino content since 2005.