It is our pleasure to introduce Peter Causley, a Managing Director and a co-founder of Lightning Box Games. Most of you already know that this software provider has been an important name in the iGaming industry since 2009, when they started supplying online slots. However, Lightning Box Games were founded in 2004 and, ever since, they have been partnering with a growing list of land-based casinos, online casinos, mobile casinos as well as social casino clients.
Lightning Box Games are famous for delivering entertaining gaming experience. As they say, to make a great slot, you need – a mix of a great math, striking graphics, cinematic audio and just a touch of magic. In case there are some of you who haven’t had a chance to meet Lightning Box Games so far, read our story and learn all about this software giant, their gorgeous games and mathematically unique slot features. The chances are that Lightning Box Games will end up being one of your new favourite providers.
As a co-founder of Lightning Box Games and a Managing Director, who has a strong background in the development of online slots for some of the largest manufacturers in the business, please give us an overview of your personal experience in the gaming industry.
I started off in 1993 as a young game designer at Aristocrat. I was one of three and it was a great experience bouncing ideas off very experienced designers. I then moved to the US office in Reno as the company introduced video slots to the North American market for the first time. Physical reel games were the dominant product of the time, but we were at the forefront of changing that, starting with the Indian gaming casinos. From designing games, I moved into an overall product management role, which gave a more holistic view of the product and the industry.
After eleven and a half happy years at Aristocrat I decided I wanted to give it a go myself as a third-party supplier, so we set up Lightning Box Games. Initially we supplied IGT exclusively, before going our own way and getting into the online market in 2009. Our first games went live in 2010 with Chartwell, which became Amaya, and then NYX Interactive. Seventy per cent of our business is now focused online. It’s a very fast-paced industry and changes so much more quickly than land-based with the adoption of new technologies. It’s a very exciting business to be in.
Lightning Box Games’ founders each have more than 20 years of math-focused game design experience. As you’ve mentioned, some of you have designed math models behind Aristocrat and IGT’s top performing games. How valuable is the combination of your experience working as a mathematician in the casino industry?
I think you could say that working from the math up is our niche and gives us a different angle to other suppliers, especially in the online industry. It all starts with the math for us and we then think about the themes, audio, and the graphics. We use the graphics and the visual elements of the game as the vehicle to convey the essence of the game to the player – the math. Working with other game designers we can test out ideas and get little improvements in each game.
It helps that we’re avid players ourselves and put the knowledge we’ve gained from playing into the base of our games. That is the seed from which the games come to life. The arcade industry guys and a lot of the European studios have tended to go with graphics first and then add the math model to fit in. We’re the other way around. Our core players are probably more interested in the game mechanic than how the game looks. I don’t think there are many other suppliers catering for those types of players.
As games design specialist, your studio has been supplying online slots in the gaming industry since 2009. Today you have more than 25 partners and affiliates, can you please name some of them?
We have several different operating partners through our deal with NYX. These include LeoVegas Casino, Mr Green Casino, Unibet Casino, and Betsson Casino. We’ve done a number of exclusive game launches with these companies over the last few months. AskGamblers readers probably remember that our very successful game Silver Lion slot had its initial launch on LeoVegas, for instance. We also have deals with some of the bigger UK-facing sportsbooks such as Coral Casino, Ladbrokes Casino, and Bet365 Casino.
In addition, we’ll be going live on the machines in William Hill Casino’s retail estate shortly, via a deal with Inspired. We’re live in South America via Scientific Game and in the U.S. via Incredible Technologies and Everi, as well Ainsworth, who also take our games in our home market, in Australia. Lastly, we went live on PokerStars Casino with a couple of games in December 2016. and will be launching another one later in January 2017.
Facing more competition and a new generation of consumers, how hard is it to strike it big in the igaming industry (especially when you are developing new games for land-based, online, mobile and social gaming)?
It is bloody hard, to put it bluntly! There are so many good suppliers out there and our competition is very fierce. It’s easy to say and harder to do, but you have to find something that strikes a chord with a collection of players, and keep supplying them quality games to keep them loyal. The Scandinavian graphics-first approach obviously appeals to a large chunk of players and has been successful. But we’ve come up with an Australian land-based model, which we think will attract a significant number of players who are not fully catered for, at the moment.
As a supplier, you need the right partners to get to a critical mass, which thankfully we have through our amazing comrades at NYX. Online casinos are shown around 40 games a month and are not short of choice. But they only launch two or three per week, and maybe 15 games in total a month. It’s very hard to get cut-through, as a result. But hopefully some of ours can shine through.
So far, Lightning Box Games have been strongly focused on the markets in the USA, UK, South America, Asia, and Australia. You have recently entered European market, so can we expect your wider expansion there?
Betsson Casino was the first big gaming brand to trial our games in Europe, initially with Dolphin Gold in 2015. I think the success of this game, which doesn’t focus heavily on graphics, was a bit of a surprise to the European market. However, its fantastic take-up by players has allowed us to follow up with several new games over 2016. We launched Viking Fire slot with Betsson in November.
We also teamed up with Mr Green Casino to launch Astro Cat slot, so players with access to their site in Europe can have a look at that game. From a territory point of view, we’ve just gone live in Italy via our NYX integration, and Denmark shouldn’t be too far away.
Apart from the successful Viking Fire slot, Astro Cat slot and Dolphin Gold, there are plenty of other games that have a strong track record including Stellar Jackpots Chilli Gold x2, Silver Lion, and many more. Is it possible to single out one of them and, if so, which one was the most successful and why?
It’s hard to single one out in particular, to be honest, as many of them have been successful for different reasons. The Stellar Jackpots Chilli Gold jackpot bonus feature has been very popular among players. On the surface, Silver Lion is a fairly simple hard-core land-based game. But it is proving to be hugely popular online too, as is Astro Cat which is also massive in the US land-based market.
Between them, I think they demonstrate that good quality games can have universal appeal, wherever players are based and however they prefer to play. It also shows the need for proper multi-channel content, including retail.
During the process of creating an online slot, what do you focus on and what do you try to emphasize the most? In addition, how much time does it usually require to make it?
First and foremost, we focus on the math mechanic. That is the spark that lights the fire every time. Once we’re happy that it works robustly and will appeal to players we then let the designers loose on the game theme, graphics, and audio. It’s probably three or four months in development just getting these assets together. It’s then ready to go to software houses, before the coding is done after that.
Altogether, we’re talking ten months to go live online, and around 15 months offline. And that’s another reason why it’s hard to get your content live online. It’s not a quick process producing quality content that stands the test of time.
Where do you find the inspiration and do you get the feedback from your final consumers?
We get our inspiration from all sorts of places. Sometimes it’s from older games we’ve played or other gaming environments that don’t involve gambling. There’s also popular culture, of course. It’s quite rare to get a lot of feedback from players, to be honest – not that we don’t welcome it or like to hear it.
Casinos sometimes tell us if they’ve had comments, but we’re obviously not consumer-facing so we don’t have that direct communication. But players tend to vote with their wallets and we can see if they like the games by the amount of times they’re played. The key to all good games is sustainability and retention. If players have an enjoyable experience they’ll come back again and again.
As someone who has worked in the gaming industry for decades, do you like to play online slots? If so, which ones are your favourite?
Yes, we like to play, and spend a lot of time looking at other games in the market place. I don’t really have a favourite, in all honesty, but I do like gimmicks in games. One of the recent releases I’ve liked is Esqueleto Explosivo Slot by Thunderkick. It’s a cascading reels game like Candy Crush and has big multipliers in it. It’s great entertainment and I like the Day of the Dead theme. It’s also got one of the best audio packages I’ve ever heard. I’ve grown to like Poltava: Flames of War Slot from Elk Studios. I hated it at first, but then it really grew on me.
What are your future plans for the upcoming period, can we expect any new releases soon?
We will have eight new releases this year, starting with the next one in March. We released three games in a row at back end of last year to kick start our plans in Europe. But we will be more consistent and regular with our output in 2017. I don’t want to give too much away at this stage, but I can reveal that an upcoming game will be called Mummy Crush. It’s a very different model to what we’ve done before and we’re very pleased with it – so watch this space!
Thank you Peter for this exclusive interview. We wish you the best of luck and we can’t wait to see more great releases from Lightning Box Games in the following period.