In the first of an ongoing series, Around the World in 80 Slots examines various countries and delves into key issues facing their regulated markets, from profiling typical slot players and assessing comparisons with similar jurisdictions, to looking at how they can prosper in the coming decade.

In this edition, we find ourselves in the UK where, over the last 12 months, we have seen a series of events unfold, be that due to the pandemic or a little thing known as Brexit. We talked to James Marshall, CEO of Push Gaming, who provided an in-depth view on the UK player base.

Marshall highlighted that, despite the UK being considered as an established gaming territory, there has been ‘significant movement’ in the market over the last 10 years. He noted: “We’ve moved from a place that was pretty much dominated by two key casino suppliers. 

“Land-based content, such as Scientific Games’ Barcrest division, saw great growth with their style of content, then we started to see Blueprint – which came from a similar background – producing some really good UK-focused content.

James Marshall, CEO of Push Gaming

“Over the last five years or so, companies like NetEnt have made their presence felt and offered unique content which many players had never seen before and this brought about the beginning of the slow shift toward newer-style gameplay.

“There’s still plenty of historical games in the market with traditional themes, but I think it would be a mistake to think that isn’t changing now. Although that swing is gradual, what we’re seeing now is the advent of new types of players coming through. 

“Like in a lot of markets, these players are hungry for streaming and social media and the provision of that is having an indelible effect on their appetites for the types of game play they want. The land-based style games are still the most prominent, but we’re seeing that dominance slowly being eroded and falling in line with the trends that we’re seeing globally.”

Another factor that Marshall took into consideration is the UK Gambling Commission, which he described as ‘the most pro-active regulator in the world’ when it comes to issues such as like product design. 

“The challenge for us is to work out how to keep players engaged and entertained within the new regulatory framework.”

“We’ve seen the introduction of elements like the 2.5 second rule on spins, no bonus buy-ins and we’ll no doubt see stake limits sooner or later – and while the changes will generally be positive, they’ll bring their own challenges,” he continued. 

“Suppliers will have to drive the growth demanded in the market and at the same time not lose the entertainment element that our games are designed for. The challenge for us is to work out how to keep players engaged and entertained within the new regulatory framework.”

When considering player engagement across the UK, Marshall emphasised that he has seen a variety of multiple feature types ‘perform well’ that offer ‘pure entertainment’ whilst not including a high volatility – something that has been more evident in other markets. 

“Operators and suppliers must be careful to not put too much weight on player profiles.”

“The crossover we’re seeing from players coming in from sports betting is reflective of that – lots of features and pure entertainment value. Ultimately, that will be the focal point moving forward: providing that entertainment against that background,” Marshall claimed.

“Operators and suppliers must be careful to not put too much weight on player profiles. As an operator, you can look at the new players coming through and work out what kind of media they will engage with, but we shouldn’t profile too much as what works now may not work in a few years.

“There will always be a new player demographic emerging and that’s what we have to keep a careful eye on, as they will eat away at the existing player base over time, so it’s vital to be able to have a plan in place to be ahead of the curve in terms of preparing the next generation of games. 

“The great thing for operators now, of course, is that they can work with 30+ suppliers – which enables them to cater to a wealth of players and their tastes.

“The resulting challenge for suppliers with the proliferation of new studios, is the competition that they bring, which therefore makes the need to focus on developing for and supplying those future markets essential and that’s one of the core strategies we have for ourselves at Push.”

“We need to look at not what’s worked for the last 10 years, but rather consider what will perform over the next 10 years.”

When asked if UK players seek out a particular style of gameplay that requires a tailored development strategy, when compared to its neighbours in Scandinavia, Italy and Belgium, Marshall claimed that ‘historically’ that would have been the case, yet players preferences are now ‘evolving’.

He added: “We need to look at not what’s worked for the last 10 years, but rather consider what will perform over the next 10 years.

“What people engage with is changing and having one strategy is not enough. Going forward – we shouldn’t base that on historical data. For any studio that isn’t making 50 games a year, it just doesn’t make sense to create games for individual markets.”

As we enter a new decade, Marshall was pressed on whether the UK market has entered its final phase of progression and whether new markets will take precedence – something which he noted is dependent on ‘who you are’.

“Push sees the UK as having high growth potential as we’ve only been introducing our games to UK players for the last three years, so we have plenty of potential growth here,” he concluded.

“If you’re a company that has been here for a while, it’s likely your share will decline and you’ll be looking at other regions for growth, simply due to the increased competition. For newcomers, it’s going to be a big opportunity to acquire players.”

“It’s our job to look at how we’re currently engaging players and work out how we take that forward.”

Looking to the year ahead, after a not so pleasant 2020 for the world – let alone the UK – we asked what the key will be for staying ahead in the market and the types of gaming elements  that players will be seeking. 

“The key will be to look at how we get a high volume of players and reduce reliance on those more VIP-types,” Marshall concluded. “This needs to be a focus for a lot of businesses right now, it’s going to be about sustainability.

“Our ongoing challenge is, how do we entertain players with lower stakes sustainably and affordably within this regulated environment? It’s our job to look at how we’re currently engaging players and work out how we take that forward.”