Despite the almost universally gloomy media reports on the global economy, the general attitude of exhibitors in the interactive section at Clarion’s International Casino Exhibition in London this week was upbeat, confident and full of energy.
Online gambling software suppliers, game developers, licensing jurisdictions and payment processors turned out in an impressive display of confidence in the future of the industry, showcasing new products and ambitious plans for the future.
Trends that were apparent include the explosion of live dealer providers and interesting technology advances in that genre, gaming exchange deals between providers, the rise of bingo and how far slots have come in terms of animation and opportunities to win through free spins, bonus games within the game and multipliers – a far cry from even a few years ago.
And the appearance of famous movie titles in elaborate and beautifully executed feature-rich slots continues to escalate.
The trend towards including mini games on gambling sites as an added player benefit is also marked, with several companies working on mini versions of table games and slots.
Wagerworks-IGT scored the first impression on InfoPowa with an innovative and comprehensive press pack in the international Press Room at the show. The pack included a wealth of relevant information and a clever pen-cum-USB external plug-in which carried more visual material – good planning on the part of the company's PR man Keith Fagan.
Wagerworks was right upfront as one entered the exhibition, too with Marketing Manager Manyee Li-Roberts fronting large, high-impact and brightly coloured illustrations on the company's latest branded games Dungeons and Dragons: Fortress of Fortunes and Battleship: Search and Destroy.
Dungeons and Dragons: Fortress of Fortunes is a 5 reel, 20 pay-line epic in which players can explore dungeons, fight monsters and access a dragon's lair where a reward of up to 180 Free Spins with a 10x multiplier awaits.
Battleship: Search and Destroy features the popular stacked wilds action and two bonus rounds involving some very entertaining naval battle strategy.
Look out, too for several new offerings from this company, including MegaJackpots Cleopatra, which marries the popular slot to the power of the progressive jackpot as its title suggests; Lil' Lady, a 5 reel, 40 pay-line slot with a cast of cartoon bug characters that delivers stacked wilds and up to 255 spins with re-triggers and Triple Fortune Dragon, an addition to Wagerworks' Multiway slot genre with 243 different ways to win on relatively small stakes.
Wagerworks will continue its strategy of providing its gaming content cross-platforms to other major online gambling groups like 888, Party Gaming and Betfair, with which it has established business relationships through 2008.
The Isle of Man-based gambling software giant Microgaming occupied a large and well staffed stand in the middle of the ICE(i) action, strategically placed next to the main watering hole which the company sponsored this year. Stressed out show-goers (even those who has just arrived!) were treated to free neck and shoulder massages by an energetic and attractive eight women team, providing a little fun and relaxation amid the intense commercial activity of a busy show.
Microgaming head of marketing Janine Woodford was working the big news that day – a major online casino deal with European sports betting giant Interwetten which strengthens the impressive list of 120 tier one licensees using this well established and highly successful brand.
The Interwetten package includes all the bells and whistles on the comprehensive MGS backend, and a massive games suite of over 400 multi-lingual download games, augmented by 160 instant-play offerings.
Despite the disappointment at losing Doyle's Room from its poker network, and the need to halt new US signups due to the uncertain legislative situation in that country, Microgaming has enjoyed another successful year and maintained its hectic games release schedule of 4 new offerings every month.
The company's popular Mega Moolah progressive has been climbing steadily, passing the $5 million mark and presenting the possibility of setting a new Internet gambling progressive win record. Woodford pointed out that Microgaming pioneered online progressives, and its range of 25 games in this genre has paid out some $250 million over recent years.
In terms of innovation, the company has scored another first with its Myslot product, which enables players to import graphics and music to build their own slot – the ultimate player-customising treat. Launched early December 2008, Myslot is proving a big favourite with the players according to an independent study.
The publication e-Gaming Review tasked the independent customer experience consultancy Foviance with reviewing Myslot as presented on Microgaming licensee 32Red recently, part of a regular review of new products on the market.
Foviance returned a score sheet that showed remarkably high customer scores for the slot, prompting Foviance to report: "Overall, Myslot is an innovative, user-friendly slot and a clear sign of things to come, as sites across all industries are providing greater customisation and personalisation to engage their users. This product shows what a great future lies ahead."
MGS is also energetically promoting mobile gambling associate Spin3, which has introduced iPhone and iPod capability and has augmented the mobile 14 game suite with faves like Thunderstruck and the top branded Tomb Raider series. Betstone, a server based gaming provider from Ireland that is also associated with the Isle of Man company is pushing up its commercial profile, adding the Lara Croft epic game to its SBG offering.
MGS continues to support the player protection and standards body eCOGRA which has itself enjoyed an outstanding year of acceptance by many of the industry's leading business groups and licensing jurisdictions, extending its services to embrace all sectors of online gambling from casinos to poker rooms, bingo to mobile, with sports betting in the wings. The London-based organisation has made major training advances in responsible gambling, whilst the Fair Gaming Advocate has continued to mediate player complaints with a remarkably high success record.
In the innovative hardware category, Poker Controls.com was at the forefront at the ICE(i) show. This UK company has developed a wireless poker-specific hand controller that concentrates all the relevant controls, included rapid switching whilst multi-tabling, bet raising, fold, check and sit-out in one compact and aesthetically pleasing unit. Poker players will be able to sit back in comfort and play the game with minimum errors caused by keyboard or mouse fumbles, with the added protection of their moves on-screen identified by a colour code.
Not yet available in a retail sense, Poker Control has apparently attracted some interest from poker site operators and networks keen to give their VIP players a highly relevant and practical loyalty gift that can branded. Once released at retail levels, the unit will probably sell for around $50 and comes complete with tutorial CD, dongle and controller.
Another stunning innovation was introduced by the Live Games Systems company in the shape of its Casino Broadcast Network product.
Feel like multi-tabling at four different real land establishments from the comfort of home? This is the product you need. Using proprietary software and deals with land casinos spread over the globe, CBN makes it possible for online casino operators to provide their players with the ability to choose a preferred land casino and play it online….or flip between up to four different land casinos, playing on each one.
LGS directors Michael Ryan and Ross Hassett demonstrated their remarkable product to crowds of interested show-goers, inviting them to get into the international action by trying the system out.
It’s a development that takes live dealer gambling into a higher and more sophisticated dimension, with more choice for the player.
Looselines.com is currently operating the global system successfully, and the Partouche group has shown an interest. With the gambling clampdown in Russia, operators from that country are also looking for alternatives using this sort of truly international facility.
Leon Aguirre took us through the latest developments at the Surrey, UK software provider Betsoft, which has clearly been busy developing new games such as the multi-featured no-download Heist 3D video slot just starting to appear on sites like Totesports. The graphics and animation on these new games are worthy of mention, and are achieved by advanced compression technology.
In Heist, a choice of three bonus rounds enables the player to break into the bank vault for rewards. The firm's amusing Aztec Treasure slot has been upgraded, as has the 30 pay-line Slotfather, and the five reel feature-rich Gladiator captures the spirit of the popular movie on arena fighters in ancient Rome with rose-scattering maidens and the tough fighters themselves.
This company's growing range of instant play games provides players with an attractive alternative to those on offer from the bigger and perhaps better known software companies.
Betsoft is also now promoting live dealer gaming videostreamed from East Europe – joining several other exhibitors pushing this popular Internet gaming option at ICE(i).
Topped by a roof-hugging Spiderman – one its most popular branded games icons – Cryptologic's massive stand was full of action. Large flatscreen monitors showcased the extreme action and violence of the Call to Duty 4 branded slot which is on the company's new release list and is sure to be a favourite with shoot 'em up fans, capturing the brilliant graphics and action from the world famous video game in an online gambling application.
The affable Senior Product Manager at Cryptologic, Jeff Cabral, has been involved in the fascinating games development field for over a decade and has seen some dramatic technological advances in that time. He took InfoPowa through the forthcoming attractions in Bonus Pack 17 and 17b, scheduled for release in February and March 2009.
The crowd-pulling Millionaire's Club progressive jackpot 5 reel 20 pay-line slot is top of the list in a third iteration that features 2 bonus levels of spins and a wheel portrayed through outstanding upgraded graphics and sound effects so brilliant as to appear almost three dimensional. The game resets at $175 000 each time the jackpot is won.
Call of Duty 4 is also on the horizon, as is Samba Nights, the firm's first 50 liner which features stacked wilds and sexy Brazilian dancing babes. Penguins in Paradise adds an element of fun to the mix and should arrive sometime in March, followed by an online gambling version of the popular game Jenga in April.
Jeff Cabral's expanding team continues to be fully committed to a slew of projects as the year progresses, with more branded games on the books – some of these from Warner Brothers – and a significant revamping of the company's VP and table games, introducing more current and effective graphics and sound technologies to deliver considerably higher quality. The project takes into account the increasing use by players of widescreen monitors.
Crypto, an industry veteran, remains one of the industry leaders, continually adding to its games inventory that now includes branded top sellers like King Kong, The Incredible Hulk and Spiderman.
The theme at the Boss Media stand appeared to underline the corporate group ethos that now surrounds the company following its takeover by G-Tech. The stand illustrated the dominance of G-Tech's New Media and Sports Betting Company over group subsidiaries like Boss Media, Finsoft, St Minver, Dynamite Idea and Skilljuice, with the interaction between the companies very much in evidence in the product exhibits.
Atul Bali, the president of New Media and Sports Betting Company says that the goal of the company is to lead the field in what he terms "the high growth interactive gaming market" using the combined resources of the group and the reputation of its component parts.
Among the recent deals G-Tech group has clinched has been one with Swedish games developer Solidicon, which is to provide virtual racing games and slots according to Boss Instant Games Manager Henrik Fagerlund. Boss has, in common with other prominent industry companies, made the most of cross-platform deals to deliver a wider choice of games to its players.
On the new releases front, Boss remains fully engaged with its sophisticated multi-functional Gaming Management System and will be launching several new game titles in addition to upgraded versions of gaming platforms for casino, poker and bingo action.
Expect some outstanding productions in the form of animated slots like the 5 reel, 9 liner Wild Pirates and the car racing themed 5 reel, 25 pay-liner Formula X; video poker on Tens or Better and Table Keno, together with a seriously upgraded French Roulette that is also in the line-up.
Throughout 2009 players will also be offered new games like Bingo Casino Extreme, Casino Dice, Fortune 36, Golden Sevens and Spin Win.
Bingo is high on the group's priority list, with Bingo Product Manager Jennifer Ekholtz fully cogniscent of the booming market for this game in Europe and intent on securing pole position for her new bingo offering on the group's International Bingo Network. The software gives players some customising ability to design the presentation to individual tastes and importantly allows the addition of mini-games.
"Mini-games may be tiny, but they are a very important bingo element," says Ekholtz. "Mini-games are responsible for up to 70 percent of the total revenues in online bingo, and our portfolio of min-games has been designed with the bingo player in mind. Games like slots are especially popular with bingo players."
Later this year Boss plans to release an advanced chat management system as an essential community building tool. Ekholtz's bingo team is expected to double to 20 specialists this year, an indication of the emphasis G-Tech places on this genre of gaming.
Over at the Net Entertainment stand Sales Manager Nadine Busuttil reported on the continued success of the firm’s Casino Module turnkey product which has won NetEnt over 21 licensees since its introduction. New games scheduled for imminent launch include the 5 reel, 25 pay-line Hot City that will appeal to the legions of women slot fans, the more male oriented 5 reel 30 pay-line Champion of the Track and Mega Fortune, a classy, upmarket looking 5 reel 25 liner.
Recent slots released by the company include Reel Steel, which is reportedly proving a big hit with players, yielding significant revenues.
NetEnt’s future plans include ramping up the new games releases to three every quarter and eventually 2 each month, and the company is working on its poker product which sister company Betsson has been successfully trialing in the Turkish market for the past 18 months.
One of the regulars at ICE(i) is mobile gambling operator mFortune, which usually has new proprietary games to showcase. This year was no exception with the UK firm displaying an entertaining greyhound racing game, bingo and an amusing new slot titled Alien Fruits. Showing a buoyancy and confidence much in evidence among all the exhibitors, mFortune staff said that its mobile gambling business has been well up to expectations so far.
Rick Brownlow, the business development manager for UK mobile gambling technology provider Mfuse talked about the company's latest moves, which take it into the games development and supply arena.
Mfuse now offers a cross-platform games capability using its own engines, with the first three games centred on slots, roulette and blackjack. Mfuse has a major advantage in that its mobile sports betting services are being used by 90 percent of UK bookie companies – the client list includes most of Britain's major betting companies. Brownlow explained that the company's strategy for the new games provision venture is to release them first through its established mobile clients to test acceptability and demand.
Openlot is another new company with big plans for online gambling, for which it has already developed poker, lottery and sports betting products. From April 2009 it intends to launch a suit of casino and bingo games from its software centres in Atlanta USA and Pune, India. The company has its sights set on the white label market.
Openlot offers mobile and Internet channels and has offices in Holland, Beijing and the Netherlands Antilles.
Parlay Entertainment's senior vice president Peter Trinz said that over and above its core expertise in bingo software, the company is also developing casino games, soft games and is active in third party cross-platform deals. The main thrust of Parlay's ICE(i) stand was clearly its advanced Parlay5 software, to which Trinz announced a major expansion during the show.
Essentially, Parlay is making all of its popular side games available in the embedded mini-game format, which allows players to play mini-games within their bingo game window. This collection of new embedded mini-games further extends the Parlay5 offering, providing players with increased entertainment value, and includes some of the most popular brands from the Parlay catalogue. The mini-game feature has been designed for plug-and-play operation, allowing seamless deployments of new mini-games as they become available.
The company is also expanding its joint solutions portfolio with Orbis Technology by adding six additional Orbis 20-line slot games. The new Orbis games are integrated into the Parlay5 back-office system through Parlay's open, FOG-compatible platform.
The release of a new 80-ball bingo game as well as a new suite of pari-mutuel games additionally extends the Parlay5 multiplayer game system with bingo-style game variants as well as new pari-mutuel slots. This new suite of games from Parlay will allow players to compete with each other whilst socially interacting – giving Parlay's clients new ways to enhance the player experience.
Parlay echoed Boss Media's bullish views on bingo, pointing out that between May and October 2008 the UK online bingo sector alone grew by 80 percent, and a recent independent PWC survey predicts that in a global sense the online gambling sector will grow more than any other form of gaming. The study projected a 10.4 percent growth rate that will mainly start to manifest itself from 2010 as the world economy emerges from recession. The Italian market is particularly flagged as growing by 17.6 percent over this period.
Effervescent vice president sales and marketing at Chartwell Technology, Aideen Shortt had a bagful of new game goodies on the Canadian company’s stand. The company is making important improvements to many of its table games and multiplayer blackjack to give players enhanced control and enjoyment, and is bringing forward some Paramount movie branded slot action based on the Italian Job theme.
Chartwell's Rapid Games Deployment system enables the company to more easily integrate new games into licensee operations as the new offerings come out of the development and testing phases, and a cross-platform deal with Games Marketing Company has seen the addition of six games: Caribbean Stud Poker, Texas Bonus Hold ‘Em, Triple Action Texas Hold ‘Em, Perfect Pairs Blackjack and Progressive Blackjack.
Forthcoming attractions include The Great Casini, Shogun Showdown, and a new animated 5 reel 30 liner of exceptional quality titled Kat Lee – Bounty Hunter. Other slots include 3D video animation on the 15 liner Fortune Teller, which has both freespins and bonus rewards, and games like Surf's Up and Berry Blast.
Sweden's NYX Interactive has big plans for the Isle of Man, where it has recently attained the status of master licensor from the government's respected "advertising white listed" regulatory regime. Operations director Jonas Blomqvist is enthusiastic about the possibilities for both licensing and physical support services on the Isle of Man, which is geographically well placed for European-targeted business. NYX continues to develop its advanced management system and games for online casino, poker, bingo and skill games, and is working on a new sports betting product that has significant potential for the company.
Blomqvist said that despite the strength of IOM regulations and the international respect accorded them, the efficiency of NYX's relationship with the government enabled his company to affect a full turnkey solution for clients within ten weeks, and that 5 applications were currently being processed. White label provider Trimark continues to work with NYX.
Making a major appearance at the show was Italian and Malta online gambling software provider WM (World Match), where Sergio Nikopoulos showed InfoPowa through a professional looking group of casino, bingo, scratch card, poker and sports betting products triple licensed through the exacting standards of the UK Gambling Commission, Italy's AAMS and the LGA in Malta. WM offers internationally customisable, single account skin solutions to would be operators, powered by in-house developed proprietary software which will soon include live dealer action videostreamed from a physical Malta studio.
Presenting what they claim is the first live online Texas Hold ‘Em poker, MediaLive Casino broadcasts the action by webcam from its Malta studios, account manager Marco Cupito revealed. The company is working on the provision of more live games for the market, including chemin de fer and baccarat and offers clients branding on both dealers and tables.
Another live dealer provider on show was London-based Lucky 8 Limited, which has a license from the UK Gambling Commission and streams its casino card and table games over the Internet from a casino dealing room in Birmingham, UK.
Operations manager Anthony Wong says the company offers a complete range of solutions to would be operators, all to the highest standards.
Latvia-based CTXM has already made a name for itself in cross-platform deals with major companies like 888.com, and was showing off its impressive range of games. But Maxim Terehovich was focused on the company's latest venture, the introduction of mini-games suitable as time-killers and side entertainment for players on poker, bingo and affiliate websites. CTXM is also making a big push into the social networking market, and has applications up on major sites like Facebook and its Russian equivalents. The company is upping its new releases game and expects to launch two new games a month as the year progresses.
UK, Spain and Italian provider Mirada was showcasing its slick new virtual dealer show which is broadcast from a Wapping studio and broadcast by Sky television. This newer breed of live action features an interactive televised show in which viewers can participate in a gambling sense, and Mirada will have noted the appearance of similarly targeted technology on the Playtech stand at the show. Mirada, which merged with New Media Group recently, continues to develop and provide white label turnkey solutions.
Entraction network, which recently characterised itself as the fastest growing poker network – a fact confirmed by the independent Pokerpulse website – demonstrated the significant impact to its player liquidity of the arrival of NoIQpoker.com, which left the iPoker network after a row over rakeback. The graphs of Entraction action show a pronounced and immediate uptick following the arrival of the site. Entraction continued to grow, and now has over 100 partner skins, revealed product manager Daniel Eskola.
Markus Lund at Bwin's Ongame poker subsidiary also reported buoyant business conditions as the company prepares to transition its advanced P5 engine to global operations after the outstanding success of its launch into the Italian market.
Due to Italian regulatory requirements, online poker companies cannot offer the standard international network to Italian players, and a growing number of companies, including Ongame have launched standalone networks for that specific market. The P5 has been welcomed as making player use more intuitive and enjoyable and was designed "from scratch" incorporating player input. It represents a significant investment in resources and time by Ongame, but Lund said the result will be worth the wait.
Playtech's exhibit again showed the diversity of this major online gambling software company's offering, with a host of new games. The emphasis was on two similar products – a more conventional live dealer product videostreamed from an Eastern European location, and its more recent Broadcast Gaming offering which can enable interactive televised shows in which viewers can gamble. Playtech promises high production value, mass-multiplayer, interactive gaming shows using the technology opening the way for broadcast via the Web, television or mobile phone.
Expect more great games from Playtech, InfoPowa was told by company spokesperson Ofri Noler. These include the stunning 5 reel 25 pay-line movie branded game Gladiator, Wild Spirit, Silent Samurai, Great Blue, Captain's Treasure, Live Mahjong and Farmer's Market.
Playtech's online game quality has apparently been enhanced by the involvement of staff from the company's land-gaming development division, and in common with other software companies, Playtech is in the process of upgrading many of its older games.
UK provider Orbis Openbet is benefiting from the wider range of games following its takeover of Electracade, and is about to release its Package 16 with over a dozen new games, some from its own studios and others from games exchange deals with companies like Cryptologic.
Package 16 includes some stunning looking games, notably Battle of the Atlantic, a 5 reel 20 line slot with absolutely superb graphics and plenty of warlike animated action features. The package also contains a raft of mini games that include table games, bingo and slots, including variations on the Reactor series that has proved so popular on major sites like the Betfair Arcade.
Orbis was showing off an intriguing new game with a lot of potential, titled Top Trumps. This is a variation on the old card game, but with a 21st century difference where the cards present competing values in subjects like celebrities, jet fighters, famous sportsmen and the like. Brandable by operators, the concept looks sure to take off.
Among the many live dealer providers on show was newcomer Visionary iGaming, whose top management was at one time employed by the VueTec firm. Business development manager Ryan St. James reported keen interest in the product, which is videostreamed from studios in Costa Rica, by visitors to ICE (i). It was Visionary’s first time at ICE(i) but probably not the last.
St. John noted the sudden escalation in live dealer providers, attributing this to the improvement in broadband acceptance globally and the desire for more human interaction and direct sight of the cards by players.
Visionary has 2 licencees with a third about to be announced.
Another ICE (i) newcomer reporting brisk business was server based gaming supplier Noble Gaming out of the Czech Republic and England. With a range of over 50 games, Noble has plans to move into the virtual casino market in the second quarter 2009 and is well advanced in preparing both its games and a comprehensive backend management system, Sales Manager Rosen Androvski revealed.
Proactive Gaming AB is a Scandinavian company specialising in 3D poker and casino software backed by an effective and multi-functional management system. Although a new firm, the quality and smoothness of its work is noticeable.
Management are interested in getting into the white label market, providing both individual sites or, if required, a network. Games include Texas Hold’Em, Omaha, Five Card Draw, Badugi, Five and Seven Card Stud and the system allows for a full range of tournaments and multi-tabling action.
The company has an interesting background, having entered the industry as a contractor to Swedish listed online gambling company DQE in 2006. The company eventually took over DQE’s skilled staff and products in August 2008, adding them to others it had acquired. Johan Nilsson is sales and marketing director.
Former 888 executive Vahe Baloulian’s Red Planet Gaming company continues to do well, and has achieved a quality award in Las Vegas, where it recently opened an office. With customers like the French Partouche group and Everleaf Gaming, the future is looking bright for the company
Chris Derossi, CEO at Cyberarts says the company's platform enables it to work across Apple, Flash and Windows systems, and that new games in development include a bingo offering and an Asian game titled Big 2. The company is doing particularly well in the Italian market.
Although still heavily involved in skill gaming, Green Tube has branched out into supplying online casino games on Flash, Java and Download platforms and reports good responses and interest from the market for its attractive games. There have already been three prospective licensees. Green Tube has good contacts among sports betting sites which it services with skill games, and this is its primary target, says CEO Dr. Eberhard Durrschmid.
Licensing jurisdictions were again well represented with large stands at ICE(i) this year with Alderney, Malta, the Isle of Man, Khanawake and even distant Antigua and Barbuda staffed by helpful and knowledgeable staff.
The Isle of Man was arguably the more impressive of the stands, and certainly was thronged with visitors on the occasions when InfoPowa stopped by. Head of e-gaming development Garth Kimber and his staff were kept busy explaining the island's benevolent tax regime, UK advertising white list status, multi-purpose gambling licensing and efficient approval process.
The Antigua stand added a warm tropical ambience to the wintry London weather outside, with Regulatory Enforcement Officer Joelle Harley in charge of a friendly and well informed staff.
ICE(i) established a new record in exhibitors, with 99 companies on the floor – 30 more than in 2008 and an indication of the resilience of an industry that has been subjected to both economic and legislative negative pressures, but survives and even flourishes.
Stand space exceeded that last year by an impressive 40 percent, and the companies involved are to be complimented for their efforts to present interesting as well as informative exhibits at this industry must-attend show.
In keeping with the international nature of the online gambling business, the companies came from 24 different jurisdictions around the world, with 37 new exhibitors which included the appearance for the first time of the Antigua and Barbuda licensing jurisdiction.
In terms of new products and technologies, ICE(i) once again showcased a progressive and confident industry with optimism for the future.