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Interview with Neill Whyte, Head of Product Channels at Microgaming

Interview with Neill Whyte, Head of Product Channels at Microgaming

Have you ever wondered how your favourite Microgaming Slots come to life or perhaps what's it like working for a huge software supplier? Well, we were quite curious too, so we decided to try and get some answers. This wasn't an easy task, but we have managed to get Neill Whyte, the head of Product Channels at Microgaming, to shed some light on the story behind this powerful industry leader. 

1. The first Microgaming Casino was launched way back in 1994 and ever since you have been one of the leaders in this powerful industry. Could you let us in on your secret recipe for success?

Our continued success cannot be pinpointed to one secret; there are a number of factors that have played their part. We wouldn't be where we are today if we didn't have a fantastic team who are passionate about what they do. The second success factor is hard work; the commitment to be the very best and to work tirelessly to sustain this market-leading position. The last, but certainly not least, factor, would be technology. Our forward-thinking nature has enabled us to tackle the ever-changing technology landscape successfully. We've embraced technology to the fullest, planning ahead for the likes of mobile and wearables, allowing us to be the first to market in many areas. 

Microgaming's Oculus Rift

2. You say that your games are made to be played. That's a great quality which is not easy to achieve. Could you share with us how your amazing products come to life?

Creating a game is a highly complex process, but one which we feel we have mastered from years of experience. Our games team eat, sleep and breathe their work, and it's thanks to them that we have not only the biggest, but the best portfolio of games.

To bring a slot to life, every part of the game needs to be assessed and created in tandem. Therefore the theme of the slot will determine the colours used, audio type, features and volatility. Furthermore, we ensure we use the latest technologies to guarantee the crispest of designs and the smoothest of game-play. Plus we always try to bring something new to gaming, for example Parallax Scrolling in Jurassic Park™, and expanding reels in Terminator 2™.

3. If you check out Immortal Romance slot on AskGamblers, you will see that it has been played 5.5 thousand of times, and it has 46 winning screen shots and 25 player reviews. It's needless to say that this is one of the most popular Microgaming games among our users. Have you ever imagined that this game would become such a huge success?

With Immortal Romance, we wanted to deliver one of our most attractive slot games, to coincide with the compelling storyline of forbidden love. The launch was highly anticipated internally, as well as externally. 

We were delighted with its immediate success, but its sustained success really is something to be proud of. It is still a top-performing game to this day, and I'm sure it will continue to be popular, because its theme is timeless and even with the advances in technologies in the years following, the game was way ahead of its time in design, and still very much looks the part. 

That said, you can never be sure that a game is going to be successful. Some games will really surprise us, and outperform our expectations.

4. We are not sure whether or not you are familiar with our exclusive Certificate of Trust, but the fact is that 13 out of 16 certified casinos are powered by Microgaming. We hold high standards and do not award this certificate lightly, which led us to believe that the same goes for you. What are the standards a casino needs to meet in order to become part of the Microgaming family?

We pride ourselves on working with the best. We won't just sign up any operator – we choose carefully who we partner with. This process starts from the outset with our sales team, who will identify in the early stages whether or not the operator is of suitable standard. In addition, before any operator can go live with our software or games, our compliance team undertakes stringent probity checks. 

5. Rabcat, Leander, and Genesis are some of the software providers that distribute their games through your Quickfire platform. Are there certain criteria that need to be met here as well, or is Quickfire available to all software providers?

Yes, Quickfire has embraced the development partner model since the platform launched. We team up with established and up-and-coming developers to deliver even greater diversity to our content range. When signing up a new development partner you have to ask "what do they specialise in?", "are they bringing something new to the platform?" and "is this something our operators want?". All of the development partners we work with bring something different to the platform, for example, 3D games from Rabcat and localised Italian content from Magic Dreams. 

6. Last year Quickfire launched the innovative player achievements feature. How did your partners respond to it? Are you satisfied with the success this feature achieved?

Absolutely. Quickfire Achievements forms part of Quickfire iQ, a game management module that works out of the box on desktop and mobile. 

But our first dip into achievements was back in May 2010, when we launched Thunderstruck with an achievements structure. The concept set out various in-game milestones for players to meet. These mini-goals are tracked and clearly communicated to players. The goal is for players to complete all these milestones. 

Quickfire has extended this concept, encouraging operators to use this rewards-based achievements module, to unlock bigger spends, longer game sessions and greater loyalty. Essentially, operators can create unique marketing campaigns around player achievements, utilising Microgaming's games. It's an incredibly powerful acquisition and retention tool.

One of the operators that has embraced achievements to the fullest is Paf Casino. They've seen quantifiable changes in player behaviour when they are a part of an active achievement-based promotion! For example, when comparing player statistics of Rabbit in the Hat to a game made by a different software developer that doesn't consume achievements, the operator observed that for Rabbit in the Hat the total number of players was 60% higher and the total number of bets taken on the game was 190% greater!

7. In your extensive game portfolio there are over 40 progressive slots that give players opportunity to become instant millionaires by hitting huge jackpots. What are the 5 biggest wins Microgaming has seen so far? 

Our progressives have created a number of firsts in the industry, including the largest online jackpot win in history back in 2009 - €6.37million on Mega Moolah Slot. Then in 2012, our software generated the biggest online bingo win in history at £5.88 million

Following that, in 2013, Mega Moolah created the largest mobile gaming win in history, a £3.7 million win for a Spin Palace Casino winner. This was surpassed in 2015, when a player took home €5.37 million from a single spin on a mobile device. 

This month saw a record-breaking jackpot win on our Mega Moolah progressive. UK Betway player Jonathon Heywood hit the mega jackpot, winning £13,213,838.68 from a 25p bet. A truly life-changing win. 

Big Win on Mega Moolah slot

In total to date, the Microgaming Progressive Jackpot network has paid out over half a billion euros – an astonishing amount. 

8. While we are talking about jackpots, it has come to our attention that you have recently changed the rules and now the winning amount shown on the progressive ticker is paid out in the currency in which the winner has played the game. What are the reasons for such a change?

This isn't a change, this is how our progressives have paid out for many years. 

What's important to stress is that all wins on Microgaming's progressive network are paid out in a lump sum, unlike some of our competitors.  

9. Taking into account the huge success of Jurassic Park slot, Game of Thrones slot, and Bridesmaids slot, can we expect another branded slot before the end of the year?

In the near future! We recognise the importance of branded content, and having a portfolio of branded games alongside our broad in-house collection. This balance works very well. 

Branded games are a fantastic acquisition tool for operators. We've been working with branded partners for 10 years now, and we know it works. We'll continue to work with brands and deliver new content, and we're excited to announce our next branded game. We just can't tell you what it is yet! 

10. Two very different games were launched this September. How did they appeal to players? Which one has gained more popularity since its release?

Rugby Star Slot was a timely game, considering the sport's biggest tournament is currently in play. Contrastingly, Lucky Zodiac Slot is an oriental themed game, which would appeal to a completely different audience. You'll never get a game which will appeal to every single player, that's why it's important for us to understand players' needs and wants, and segment them, then come up with games which will appeal to these groups. 

11. Microgaming also has over 30 multiplayer slots. Which are the most popular ones? What are their advantages? 

They are all incredibly popular, and we're adding new games regularly to keep players entertained. What players play in multi-player can be dependent on the tournaments running that month. So for instance if we have a big €100K multi-player tournament running, this headline figure will naturally attract players to the game. 

Multi-player is an important product in the mix, because it adds a social element to slot play. Players compete side by side, and there is chat functionality to enable players to interact with each other. From an operator's point of view, it's a great acquisition tool. 

12. The Dark Knight Rises is the world's first online slot to be developed for the Samsung Gear 2 smartwatch. What are the players' impressions so far? Do you see the future of slots on smartwatches?

It's a really interesting one to watch. I think it's fair to say, the industry was waiting for the Apple Watch to see if smartwatches could become mainstream. When Apple released its Q3 earnings report, some hailed the sales a success, some were disappointed. It's been projected that sales in its first quarter launch amassed $1 billion – which is estimated to account for roughly 2 million units sold. Contrary to some reports, that's certainly not a bad start.

And when you consider its launch against the iPhone, actually the Apple Watch appears to have sold faster than the smartphone! It is in the early days, but when Apple put their mind to something, they usually succeed. I don't think we've seen the end to Apple's developments in the smartwatch arena. 

New technology certainly excites us as a business. We have been looking at the wearables space for a few years now, investing heavily in the channel. For example, we have taken our Thunderstruck slot to market on Android Wear, created a virtual reality app for Google Cardboard, tested augmented reality sports betting on Google Glass, and developed the award-winning VR Roulette to examine analogue interactions across real and virtual environments. 

Play Thunderstruck on the Smartwatch

The industries impression of our first smartwatch game was extremely positive. It's not an easy task to take a desktop game and develop it for a watch, due to fragmentation (in terms of platform, form factor, capability, screen size etc.) – but we know it can be done. We're continuing to watch the market very closely and we're excited for how wearables could impact our industry. 

13. In addition to slots, you have a powerful poker network as well. This September, the MPN held its very first Universal Championship of Poker tournament series (UCOP) and now you have Greatest Poker Player in the Universe. Are you satisfied with the success of the tournament?

Without doubt. The MPN runs tournaments monthly, and this was a new concept where they could get players excited about becoming the Greatest Poker Player in the Universe – not something that you could usually claim! We've built a network which is player-focused, and promotions and tournaments, as well as the live series in the MPNPT, all play their part in its success. Our poker network is in a very strong position and we plan to build on this over the next year, and continue to invest in this vertical.

14. Over the years you have won plenty of prizes to say the least. Which award are you the most proud of?

We are always honoured to receive awards, but I have to say one of our recent awards at the Global Gaming Awards for Digital Gaming Innovation was particularly special. We have always worked so hard to stay several steps ahead of the industry, predicting trends and ensuring that our content works on emerging technology, and this award recognises this. 

Also, it's an award which is voted for by 50 independent judges from the gaming industry, and audited by KPMG, so they are prestigious and credible awards.

15. In 2008, Microgaming announced their casinos would no longer accept American players due to anti-Internet gambling laws in the US. Are you planning to return to this market in the future?

Our stance hasn't changed. We are focusing on other markets. 

16. Through PlayItForward, Microgaming has been socially active in great extent. Which sphere have you most actively taken part in and helped make this world a better place?

Microgaming PlayItForward was set up to change the game for people and place. PlayItForward covers six core areas: sport, education, charity, healthcare, community and ambassadors. A lot of the work we do is on the Isle of Man, our home, where we are based. For example, we've donated over £800,000 to Manx-registered charities, and health and social care projects. We also sponsor up-and-coming sports such as Powerchair Football, help the gifted go to university and have raised money for dozens of charities and good causes. 

PlayItForward is a never-ending initiative which we continue to develop and expand. 

17. Could you please describe what working for Microgaming looks like?

It's an energetic, fast-paced and fun company to work for. No two days are ever the same, but that makes it unique and exciting. Colleagues are genuinely passionate about their jobs which makes it a fantastic place to work.

As a company we are experiencing incredible growth and as a result we are expanding our headquarters in the Isle of Man, building a second office. The new,st­ate­-of­-th­e-art, 5-storey building will sit adjacent to our existing office. It has been designed to provide employees with the environment needed to thrive in business. We can see the building's developments from our office windows, and we're all very excited for the project to complete in 2017.

18. Tell us something no one knows about you?

I have completed three Ironman events and the Marathon des Sables – an 'ultra-marathon' covering 150 miles across the Saharan desert in 50°C heat - regarded as arguably the toughest footrace on the planet.

Before we finally wrap this interview up, I would like to thank you Neill for taking the time to answer all our questions. Talking to you was a real pleasure and we wish you best of luck in all your future projects.

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