Crash, mine, plinko and keno games are no longer few and far between, with countless game studios aiming to reap the benefits of a varied product portfolio. 

While slots, table games and live casino titles have reigned supreme in the online casino space, operators are starting to turn to niche games as an essential tool for attracting a wide range of players. 

Ahead of the CasinoBeats Summit, we spoke with Ross Parkhill, CEO at Rhino Entertainment Group, to discuss how these ‘niche’ game types have broken into the mainstream and the impact they can have on acquiring new customers. 

SlotBeats: At CBS, you will be appearing on a panel looking at the rise of more ‘niche’ games in the online casino space. How would you describe the rise in popularity for these games? 

Ross Parkhill: We can see an increase in visibility and popularity of more ‘niche’ games. In reality, a lot of these game formats and styles have been around for a long time, but some more recent, higher-quality productions and increased exposure has helped accelerate their growth. 

Obviously there is a wide range of games that can be described as niche, and by that very nature they are still not the go-to-game for many players. However, we can definitely see more players trying these out, but also these games being used as an entry point for some new players. 

I think it’s an area where we are seeing a decent level of innovation, and as the products continue to improve I expect the popularity to increase. 

SB: Is there a threat to responsible gambling when it comes to these game formats, and are there any safeguards needed to ensure a player’s safety for these games?

RP: I don’t think there is any bigger threat here in terms of responsible gaming. The fundamentals of a niche game are no different to that of a slot or blackjack, in that you provide entertainment through a gambling component.  

The safeguards we have in place to protect our players are vital regardless of the type of game that’s played. As an operator, you will still be monitoring spend levels, gameplay behaviours and providing tools for players to manage their gaming responsibly, regardless of the format. 

CB: A lot of events are starting to see more and more ‘niche’ games being showcased on exhibition floors. Why do you think this is the case? 

RP: I think this is expected as they are different and a bit exciting. It’s quite hard to drum up interest for standard slots or live casino titles, even though that’s still where the majority of turnover comes from. 

What all niche games, or new formats of games offer is the potential to target and appeal to a subset of players. This could be completely new players, or existing players looking for something a little different. 

As an operator this is always appealing because it’s very hard to truly differentiate yourself from the competition, as in most cases we have a lot of the same content. 

Having the possibility of being one of the first to embrace and promote a new game format might give you a small edge in acquisition or retention. A small edge in the competitive environment of operating online casinos is certainly appealing and hence why we’re seeing more niche games being showcased.  

SB: How can these types of games compete with slots, a format that has dominated the online casino industry since its inception? 

RP: As a product I don’t think they need to compete with slots, rather they should complement a good slot offering. These days you can’t force a player to play a certain game, you can encourage them and give them options, which in the long run will be better for the entertainment value.  

I can appreciate that the producers of any type of niche game will need to get players and generate turnover through their games and eventually make some revenues. I think a key component here is making sure the quality and playability is to the point where these games demand good visibility on casino sites.  

If we look at crash games I think we can see a good example of a game format that had been around for a long time, but not mainstream. Then a few good quality versions were released by a few suppliers, they got some decent distribution and eventually got more and more exposure on sites as players started playing. Now we see many casino’s offering crash games, including dedicated categories that fit well with the RNG or slot area of the casino.  

SB: Do you think the growing desire for niche games aligns with the need for operators to appeal to a newer generation of players? 

RP: As a business, most operators are generally looking to grow and push their business forward. Longer-term, to be successful you will likely need to acquire players from the ‘newer generation’, but that could be younger players trying out online casinos or older land-based players coming online for the first time. 

So yes, having something more niche like multiplayer games or skill games might help with the translation of the younger generation, but who’s to say they won’t prefer slots or roulette? The producers of these games are also focusing on UX/UI and entertainment value so they can appeal to these players as well. 

I personally think you could end up losing a lot of money, resources and time trying to acquire the wrong type of players. Marketing an online casino is expensive and I think, regardless of the product, your potential customer needs to have a bit of gamble in them to become customers you can build a business around. 

I think the better way to view this is that we’re adding niche games to increase our overall entertainment value to a broader audience, whether that be a new generation or players who’ve played regularly for years. 

SB: To what extent do you think the appeal of ‘niche’ games comes from society’s growing reliance on instant-gratification? 

RP: I don’t really think that’s what’s happening here. Again, I think opening up your portfolio of entertainment products is to reach a wider group of people. Getting people on site and depositing are the fundamentals of this business, so you’re better having more entertainment products on there, and the challenge is actually finding a good way to allow players to navigate and find products they can understand and enjoy. 

I do think we are seeing the instant gratification aspect with the likes of bonus buys and other elements being introduced across standard games, but I think this should be embraced and we shouldn’t be scared of this. If our customers want this in the products they come to us for then we should provide that. 

SB: With CasinoBeats Summit just around the corner, what do you expect from the event and what does Rhino Entertainment have planned for its visit to Malta?

RP: We’ll have a strong presence there as I think this conference in particular is excellent for giving people access to good discussions, learning material and perspective around casino trends, products and innovation. 

We all have so many other projects and daily challenges that I think it’s easy to lose sight or focus on the key aspects of why and how our businesses actually exist.