Recently the industry has been buzzing with news about Realistic Games, a UK based game developer that has been present since 2002. Andy Harris has just been promoted to their CEO and there’s the launch of a brand new game The Fruit Machine slot. And since Andy has significant experience in both online and retail sector, we figured he has lots to say.
You’ll probably be curious to learn that Andy started out in land-based casinos with Grosvenor Casinos as a General Manager, and then moved into Rank’s online division, in the first instance to support the launch of some of their early gaming brands. From there he moved to BetVictor Casino, where he oversaw their online casino and games operation.
Andy subsequently worked as Director of Gaming at Ladbrokes Casino, during a period of excellent growth for the company. Adding this online perspective and expertise to his retail grounding has undoubtedly been an invaluable combination. So keep up on reading and don’t miss a chance to find out more about land-based and online casinos, and Realistic Games which have been supplying leading brands with great games for years now.
Hi, Andy, how are you? Just recently you have been made CEO at Realistic Games, so could you share with us what’s it like to get a huge promotion like this?
I am very excited about moving into the new role. We have a fantastic business and an exceptional team, and are very proud of our ability to deliver great content to a wide range of excellent operating partners. But we have a significant appetite to improve the company in many ways, and have set ourselves some ambitious future goals and targets. We hope to achieve these by delivering our new business plan intelligently.
How valuable was the experience working both in retail and online betting and gaming industry for you to get this far?
Working in a land-based environment and then being at the forefront of online and particularly mobile gaming has given me invaluable experience. With the launch of our first truly omni-channel game (desktop, mobile, and retail) I feel that I’ve come full circle in many respects.
The land-based experience in betting shops and casinos has been invaluable for many reasons, not least because of the understanding and insight it has provided me with from both a product and player perspective. In terms of understanding players and having a real empathy for what they want from their gaming experience, nothing can replace the opportunity for the sort of personal interaction that you can only experience in the retail environment.
Realistic Games supply a lot of big online casinos and it has been present in the online gaming industry since 2002. Could you bring the brand a bit closer to players that have never tried your games before?
We like to think of ourselves as players first and foremost. We design games that we ourselves like to play. We have many decades’ worth of experience between us that we have channeled into creating genuinely innovative game features rather than copying other things that are on the market.
We have a large range of both five and three-reel slot games with a wide variety of themes and volatilities. We also have some of the most realistic table games, complete with sidebets, available anywhere online, as well as our own range of pull tabs and keno. These are all available on our own ReGaL games server.
Since you’re based in the UK, can we say that this is your primary market or perhaps some other ones are your niche too?
We all began life in the UK land-based and online markets, so the UK has very much been our first home. But our games are now a staple of some of the world’s leading operators and content aggregators, who have large player bases outside of the UK, including bet365, BetVictor, and NYX. The deal we did with NYX last year is in the process of opening lots of new markets for us, including Scandinavia. But there are further opportunities in emerging markets too.
Which game would you say is your top product and perhaps recommend it to newbies?
For many years, our top performing slot was Super Graphics Upside Down slot, which is a phenomenally popular five-reel game based on a Japanese anime theme. If you get three or more Super Graphics symbols the reels rotate round giving you 15 free spins, with all of the high value ‘7s’ now positioned on the left-hand side. The game’s main character, Satsuki, has proven a real hit with male and female players alike.
However, Super Graphics Upside Down has recently been overtaken by Fireworks slot, which launched in September 2015 and has been our best performer ever since. This is our first ‘full screen’ game, making the most of the full real estate on the devices for which it is provisioned. It also boasts stunning graphics and a unique feature round. I would recommend this game to any new players.
We’ve recently launched Super Graphics Super Lucky slot a three-reel spin-off of the original, which shares many of the themes but is a totally different game. We have done the same for Hot Cross Bunnies slot and Hot Cross Bunnies LoadsABunny slot, which are also very popular games. We don’t re-skin games but we realise there is a value in keeping popular themes and moving them on.
Having said all of this, our top performers across all of our product suite are still roulette and blackjack. Our unique versions of these age-old classics really are the market-leaders.
You have just released a new title, The Fruit Machine. Please tell us a bit more about this brand new slot and your expectations.
The Fruit Machine slot is our first truly multi-channel game. It is a five reel, 20 line B2/B3 slot, which boasts a unique Reel Runner bonus round and an innovative gamble feature. It is now available to Ladbrokes’ retail players via the terminals in their 2,000 strong UK estate. We’ve also launched the online game simultaneously with the retail version and it showcases many of the same features, appropriately tailored for its digital environment.
The game includes a Super Game mode consisting of five linked spins, where the chances of entry to the bonus round are increased. If three or four Reel Runner scatter symbols appear anywhere on the reels, the Reel Runner Bonus Round is awarded, while the appearance of five of them triggers the jackpot. A near namesake version, called the Fruit Factory slot, has also gone live with our other digital operating partners. We’re expecting both to be very popular with players and operators alike.
Realistic Games is providing content to online casinos for desktop, tablet and mobile phone devices, and also to the old-fashioned brick and mortar betting shops. Is there any difference between the games you develop for online and retail?
There is a real skill to creating content for retail and online, which is why few land-based providers have done it and next to no online ones. Firstly, there is the challenge around staking structures and how you tailor these according to channel. There are different return to player requirements too, which can fundamentally change the way the game plays.
There are also environmental differences. Retail games have to be very visually appealing to capture the imagination of people playing, and attract others to play them from across the shop. It is a much more social experience in comparison to the solitary world of online play. You also have to take into account different session times, which are far shorter in retail.
It is a big decision to do retail games as it is a ruthless environment. There is no quarter given on a forty game terminal that doesn’t have the real estate and ease of navigation of a desktop environment. Any title that doesn’t perform gets kicked off pretty quickly.
Many software providers have been following the Omni-channel trend, but what in your opinion separates Realistic Games from the competition?
Some software providers have been properly provisioning games for phone, tablet and desktop. Very few are actually doing it for retail too. The land-based retail market is huge in a number of jurisdictions around the world, but hardly any of the more innovative online developers have been able to tailor their games for it.
That means that players who play their favourite games online have little opportunity to do so when they’re in a bricks and mortar casino or a betting shop. We think it’s time to address that, as other industries have.
There is no way someone who likes shopping for clothes would expect to miss out on a particular channel because the supplier doesn’t offer it or has not been able to get the experience right. Consumers demand more these days and as an industry we’ve not yet joined the dots properly.
Do you yourself play casino games? If yes, do you prefer land based or online casinos? And what’s your favourite game?
The simple answer is yes, and I am happy to play on whatever channel is available to me! I have to say that I prefer playing online, if given the choice. My favourite game has always been blackjack but that has recently been usurped by one of our own slot games, 6 Appeal. It incorporates a devilish dice-based bonus feature which is hugely engrossing. It also has an extremely volatile maths model; this isn’t to everyone’s liking - but it is mine!
As a newly appointed CEO of Realistic Games you surly have the appetite to improve the company. Could you perhaps share your plans and goals for the upcoming period?
I’ve just headed up a strategic review of the company and as a team we have a pressing desire to continue to deliver great games for players and great service for our operating partners. We have recently expanded that team, both on the development and commercial fronts.
We feel we provide premium quality products, but there is always room for higher levels of service and further innovation. We pride ourselves in pushing the boundaries of game design and never want to follow the herd. Players are going to see some great new games being released over the coming few months.
Thank you Andy for this exclusive interview. We wish you the best of luck in your new role and expect greatness from Realistic in the following period.
Thanks very much – pleasure speaking with you and I hope your readers enjoy playing The Fruit Machine and the other games in our portfolio.