Let’s begin with something about yourself. Our readers love to learn more about top technocrats and their vision. How do you come into the gaming industry? What’s the backdrop?
E.S.: I got into the gaming industry through poker like many other people. I was there when it boomed back in 2004, when a poker set back in 2005 was voted the Christmas gift of the year in Sweden and “everyone” was making money and thought it would last forever. That was the good old days and I can really miss it sometimes. During that time I meet my future wife who was one of the first employees at the gaming operator called Maria Bingo which was acquired by Unibet(Kindred) in 2008. I got a bit involved with her work and it was a very different time back then. I particularly remember in the beginning of Maria Bingo, management had forgotten that players can win money and want to withdraw but they only had support for deposits in the system. It took some time to add withdrawal support and players were finally happy, but it pretty much speaks for how businesses were operated back in 2005.
After Maria was acquired, I started to work with my wife at a new bingo operator called Mamamia Bingo. The plan was to also launch a poker skin targeting the Latam market and I would be responsible for managing that one. It was also quite interesting back then because I usually refer to myself as a “street kid” no education after high school. The threshold for receiving a job in the gaming industry back in 2008 was very low. So, I had a discussion with the owner, and he said, “I heard you play poker”. “Yes, that is correct”. “Great you will be the manager of our poker skin”.
We quickly noticed that the Latam market was not ready. Mainly from a payment service provider perspective because the internet penetration was there. We had very big volumes playing our freeroll poker tournaments, but it was extremely hard to convert the players to depositing customers.
Through poker I met Jan, my future partner in SEO affiliation, who was doing rakeback affiliation back then.
During this period, I noticed how lucrative the poker affiliation was in terms of margins and no need for upfront investments if working with pure rakeback affiliation and “under the table” deals. So, the poker skin was closed, and I started to be more involved with the bingo which was the core focus of the company. On the side I started to build up a base of poker players which I was in contact with on MSN messenger. I managed to build a huge base in France and business was going quite well. I teamed up with Jan and we started to leverage on our existing network of deals. This was a very hectic time. Combination of day to day work with the bingo operator as well as chatting with 500+ players and being personal on MSN and working on retention and follow up. My wife also gave birth to our first child during this period and I working like a maniac. Starting at 08.00, coming home at 19.00, my wife had prepared dinner, eating it while reading a Donald Duck comic just to clear my mind. Then back to work to 01.00-02.00.
Looking back at it, I worked too much during the following 2-3 years and I’m surprised to this day that my wife did not divorce me. So back in 2010, France regulated online gaming and that pretty much killed 80% of the revenues for the rakeback affiliation business. We decided that we wanted to try organic traffic through SEO as we saw the opportunity in beating existing competition with a high-quality product. We were also a bit tired of the constant communication requirement that followed with rakeback affiliation. We analysed Italy which was already regulated and from experience we knew that this market was huge, one of the biggest in Europa before the regulation but the channelization was low into the regulated environment but we expected it to improve significantly over time.
We started in 2012 with our first site, we had no experience with SEO and Jan was the one responsible for the SEO part while I was the product and commercial guy. We made all the mistakes you could make, the project became a mess and was not successful. We learned a lot in practical though. At this point we didn’t know if we should continue our focus at our current day to day jobs. Eventually we decided to give it another try. , We restarted with more experience and took in a 3rd partner, John, who had a broad skill set we lacked which was design/frontend/backend, targeting Italy again, targeting specific games which was popular with exact domain match URLs. Which quite quickly became successful and we launched so many sites, too many with regards to what you should be able to carry. We also entered other regulated markets like Belgium. I quit my day to day job when we started to see traction in revenues and traffic and at LAC 2016, I meet with Erik Bergman who was currently active in Catena Media and presented our business.
They were interested and the deal was closed as quick as 1 month later. After that we worked with Catena Media in an earnout for 2 years and later in 2019 we restarted with a new affiliation business. I am still married to my wife. I tried to keep that history as short as possible and I left out a lot of details, but online gaming is pretty much the only thing I have focused on all my career.
You have been there and done that – in terms of developing a successful affiliate company, which was acquired by Catena Media a few years back. When coming back and doing it again, what are the changes that you notice, especially in customer behaviour and marketing strategy?
E.S.: SEO strategies have changed a lot the last few years. SEO used to be a lot about self-owned private blog networks and link exchanges which isn’t being used in the same extent today.
Today’s SEO is involving towards a more general marketing strategy and focusses around high quality content, keeping that content up to date, converting the content into different media and gaining authority by having authoritative writers posting on your site.
Could you describe more about your present business and its focus areas?
E.S.:Our core product is free play slot machines which was something we focused on before. Working with strictly regulated operators where applicable and trying to offer players a huge library of slot machines with an ultra-fast and user-friendly experience.
Currently we target:
The regulated Spanish and Latam market through https://www.slotjava.es
The regulated Italian market through https://www.nuovicasino.it/ and https://www.slotjava.it
The regulated Portuguese market through https://www.onlinecasinosportugal.pt
You operate both in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian markets in Europe and Latin America. How does the business strategy vary across countries and across continents?
E.S.: Latin America is still a very immature marked. You would think that a lot has happened since we operated a poker skin back in 2008 but everything is still very dependent on payments and the possibility for users to deposit money. First, you need to select operators that has focused on a specific country in Latin America with regards to payment methods. You can’t select an operator who says: “Our site is in Spanish and we target the entire Latin America” you need to establish which payment methods they have for each specific country otherwise you will see 0 conversion. The second thing is brick and mortar presence. The consensus by players/people in Latin America is to not trust online. It does not matter if it is casinos, ecommerce or another online based business. So, finding an online casino which also has brick and mortar presence will make the threshold for conversion lower. They usually have the option to fund your online account with cash within their physical venue. This obviously differs per country, but we see that the development has been going quicker in geos like Chile and Peru. Higher internet and smartphone penetration and payment options available is likely the reason for this. It is a quite funny fact the Betsson brands biggest market in terms of traffic generated is Peru. Which is not so strange as they have been live there since the year 2000.
For Italy we focus a lot on building a brand. Most of the Italian population consumes from the aspect of brand strength, perception and awareness. So, for an affiliate portal it is important to build a brand that has strong values and can be associated with the culture of the Italian gaming industry. The average Italian player also loves to read high-quality content. We were very surprised when we used to track user behaviour on how our users consumed content in Italy and the detailed level they read about it on our sites.
Portugal was quite recently regulated and have a very low channelization. Mainly due to high taxation with tax on handle for sport. So, in Portugal it is important for us to educate the players of the benefits of playing in a regulated environment and informing about the not so obvious risks of choosing an unregulated operator.
Gambling and betting regulations change across countries – even across states, for instance, in the USA. How do you see such varied and sometimes complication laws – as a hindrance for the growth of a budding gambling affiliate or as a real filter that separates a serious affiliate from the rest?
E.S.: The days when three friends could start a gambling affiliation project as a side-business is over. The compliance requirements are very time demanding and the initial financial investment needed to reach results has increased a lot. The affiliates making a living out of regulated markets is now almost only populated by the “real” and established businesses who can afford to deal with compliance. Regulation and compliance that follows will only increase going forward and you need to adapt your sites on market level, and we will see more mandatory affiliate licenses.
Could you name three major factors that play a big part in the success of an affiliate company? It would be great if you can elaborate on them too.
E.S.:I would mention three things.
1. Unique product which makes users engage. Simple comparison sites still work but I believe that you will need to contribute more user value going forward.
2. Established contact network in the gambling industry. This will help a lot in terms of getting links from relevant unique sources which becomes more and more important.
3. Commitment from founders and organisation. The main work tasks are very repetitive and boring. But it needs to get done in a good pace and small errors could have a huge ripple effect.
Finally, what do you foresee for the future of affiliate marketing? Technology disruption? Ultra-targeted, automated marketing? Or the same old wine in a new bottle? What’s your prediction?
E.S.: I expect the future to be all about a unique product, brand and delivering more value to the end user. I don’t believe that the standard comparison sites will exist in the same sense we see them today in 3-5 years. It also becomes harder and harder to sustain the same margins as Google floods the Google search results with more AdWords positions and make them look more like the organic results. That is applicable for the SEO marketing vertical. In terms of other verticals within lead generation I expect the targeting to become more of a creative game to be able to find good sources and ROI.
Exclusive Q&A with Erling Magnus Solheim CEO at Playpulse
Let’s begin with something about yourself. Our readers love to learn more about top entrepreneurs. Tell us about yourself.
Playpulse is the third company I’ve co-founded. The first was Douchebags (douchebags.com), a very successful branded consumer goods company. After 5 years I left for New York to start a new company with a former classmate there, Cesura. After 6 months I had an accident, breaking my back on a jump while downhill cycling, so I had to leave the company and go back to scratch. Then 6 months later I met Kristoffer, who was doing a PhD on what became Playpulse.
You founded Playpulse in 2017 with the aim of facilitating high intensity exercising through computer gaming. How did you hit this idea? We would love to hear the story of Playpulse’s origins.
Kristoffer and Stian, co-founders of the company, wrote a master’s thesis 5 years ago in computer science at NTNU (Norways leading tech university), which was the very early beginnings. Then Kristoffer did a PhD because the results were that good. Early 2017 I came onboard, and we started the company summer 2017.
How was people’s initial reaction towards Playpulse? In which age group that you have the most number of users? Share with us some details of your customer base.
We see an incredibly large potential for Playpulse, from kids to adults, depending on the setting. Until now we have tested with customers ranging from fitness studios, schools, hospitals, youth clubs, co-working spaces, to activity parks for kids in China.
The most engaged users are unsurprisingly the younger audience from 8 years and up.
Generally we see a lot of enthusiasm, then some testing to understand how it works, and then people typically pick it up and become better and better. The sense of mastery is incredibly important, and we’ve seen a lot of younger players that beam up after playing, who typically hasn’t had any positive experience with physical activities before.
How do you go about developing the games? Do you go for third party games or do you build games from scratch by your own? What are the primary focus areas of choosing/developing the games that catalyse exercising?
We have built three games ourselves from scratch and will continue with this for a while. When we have built out the platform, we will open for third party developers. There are several critical components of how to design a game to create both an awesome gaming experience and a cool exercise experience, and some of this is the core of Kristoffer’s PhD. In short, making sure the game is more fun when played on the bike than on a computer.
Which are the most sought-after games in your portfolio? Tell us about those crowd favourites.
PedalTanks is the deepest and most played game. It’s a capture the flag, third person multiplayer shooter. It is extremely skill-based and competitive. You unlock new tanks and abilities with XP that you accumulate while playing.
How is Playpulse doing as a business model? What revenue streams that your forecast and what are the outcomes of the last 2-3 years?
We are preparing for the first mass production batch to ship by Q4. We have pre-orders from very different customer segments like schools and municipalities to companies and fitness studios. We see strong interest from the fitness studio industry, so we’re focusing there at the moment. Typically we ship 4 bikes for a local multi-player experience, although it is also possible to play across locations.
Looking back over the last 2-3 years, what you have unlearnt and re-learnt, if any?
We’ve learned tremendously about the end-user in the different use cases, how to design the product both physically and digitally, and a lot about the different customer segments.
Finally, what is the experience of launching a gaming product from Norway? How different is it from launching computers games from, for example, the USA, the UK or Japan? Would love to hear your candid views on this.
Frankly, I haven’t launched a game from anywhere else so it’s hard to say. We’ve launched in China as well and experienced some differences when it comes to the tech roll-out and language of course, but the core game experience is the same. Gaming is a global phenomenon in 2020 so I don’t think the game itself needs be very different, it’s mostly about distribution and strategic aspects.
Q&A WITH ELLEVENS ESPORTS OWNER GARETH BALE
What is Ellevens Esports about?
Gareth Bale said: “On the pitch, my goal is always to win. With Ellevens Esports, that winning attitude is just as important. There are similarities between football and esports in that it takes real dedication and sacrifice to reach the top of your game. I am really excited to now have my own team and I am looking forward to Ellevens competing in major esports events all over the world.”
What inspired you to launch your own esports team?
Gareth Bale said: “My interest in esports started about two years ago watching Ninja stream Fortnite and as a result I naturally progressed to watching FIFA and the FIFA Global Series. The competitive side was fascinating, so I decided I wanted to provide an opportunity for gamers that take esports seriously and to play for a professional organisation at the highest level.
“I am fortunate enough to have been a professional footballer from a young age playing at some of the world’s best clubs and I feel there were lots of similarities between real life sport and esports. Therefore, I want to provide the best professional environment for gamers around the world and build an esports legacy.”
Do you play esports?
Gareth Bale said: “When I’m not training or playing football, I love to play in online FIFA tournaments, but I’m definitely not an elite competitor.
Ellevens will hold a tournament to find gamers to join the team. What’s your advice to players?
Gareth Bale said: “Enjoy it! Whatever you do in life you have to enjoy it so do your best, practice as much as you can and the rest will follow. One of the aspects that I love about esports is that it brings people together – it allows anyone in the world to try out for Ellevens Esports., it’s a fantastic chance to become a professional gamer and I wish everyone good luck! I will be watching!”
ELLEVENS ESPORTS GAMERS
Home country: Wales (Newport)
“Representing Ellevens is the proudest moment of my life. Gareth Bale is known all over the world, he is an idol for me, being from Wales. Playing for his team is a life-changing opportunity and is giving me that extra push to take my career to the next level!”
Home country: England (Birmingham)
“Fans can expect to see Ellevens be one of the best teams in the world. Having Gareth Bale as co-owner is amazing as it’s a completely new experience for all of us players.”
Pedro “Resende” Henrique Soares
Home country: Brazil
“It is an honour to be part of Ellevens. Even though we are new in the scene, we already have a very strong team. Having Gareth Bale involved brings a lot of attention which is really exciting. Hopefully we will deliver our fans a number of championship titles!”
Exclusive Interview with Christian Maglia, Head of Sales at BetGames.TV
Our colleague, Szaló Réka interviewed Christian Maglia who is the Head of Sales at BetGames.TV. Mr. Maglia is a really dynamic, proactive and open-minded person with great experience within business development (B2B Sales), marketing and management in the Payments, New Media and Internet Gaming industries.
Through the years Mr. Maglia has been working as Sales Manager and Business Developer, Sales and Marketing Manager, Director of Sales and Marketing in Sweden, Italy, UK, Germany, Spain, Israel, Gibraltar and Malta with customers in UK, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Czech Rep., Bulgaria, Romania, Russia & CIS countries, Australia, Macedonia, Sweden, Turkey, Austria and India which naturally have given him a large network of contacts. From January 2017 he moved to BetGames.TV, a developer and distributor of an innovative own video-streamed fixed odds betting on LIVE presented GAMES.
I would like to thank you for spending time to answer our questions. First I would kindly ask you to shortly introduce yourself.
CM: It’s a pleasure for me to spend sometime with you. To quickly present myself, I can tell you that I started to work in the industry almost 17 years ago…..
After a few years spent between Italy, Malta, Gibraltar and UK working for a number of gaming companies (Globet, CBM, Mediabet.com) as well as platform providers (Wirex, Portomaso) and payment solution providers (the Swedish Trustly) I worked from middle 2014 to the end of 2016 as Director sales at Sportradar AG, the world’s leading supplier of sports related data and streamed content where I had the privilege to work with some of the top gaming companies like IGT, Snai, Sisal, Eurobet, Intralot, Novomatic, Admiral, Microgame, Pokerstars and many others. From January 2017 I moved to BetGames.TV where as Head of Sales, I developed the whole new Sales organization managing different territories and regions included Africa, Asia, South America and Europe.
If I look back at what I did in the last 17 years, I’d really have a lot to talk about. I can remember between the most important facts, being the one who brought the eSports into the Italian highly regulated betting market in 2016 or being the one who brought the first betting company on a Champions’ League match as main jersey sponsor of Real Betis Balompiè (Globet.com). During my years at Sportradar, I also was able to sell the NBA, Bundesliga and the Italian Serie A live stream of the matches to the main betting operator in the Italian Market…. Here at BetGames.
A few years ago BetGames.TV presented an innovation in the betting industry; a different approach and style of betting. Will you please tell more about this for our readers?
CM: BetGames.TV is a developer and distributor of its own video-streamed LIVE GAMES. They were created based on inspiration of quote by Leonardo da Vinci „Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication“. We combine traditional betting with popular lotteries and table games. They are simple enough for players to easily catch on to the idea. We provide solutions for retail betting shops and online platforms. We offer well known games to bet on their outcomes. Three different lotteries every 5 minutes, two dice games and Wheel of Fortune every 3 minutes and three non-stop action cards games.
What does BetGames.TV offer to the players that traditional roulette does not? Will you please tell more about the services BetGames.TV provides?
CM: First of all – we offer fixed odds betting. Yes, we have tables with beautiful presenters and sometimes our service is mixed with a live dealer solution. But we started this concept with the very own idea. And didn’t want to offer what others already do. We have very different risk levels – you don’t have such variety at the traditional roulette table. We have something for everybody. Low odds (high probability) for conservative players and sky-rocketing high odds (low probability) for the jackpot hunters. In the industry there are not many products what could offer multipliers in such wide range 1.01-2000.
I suppose that the advanced and fast developing technology influences the products your company offers. What impact does consumer technology have on your choices?
CM: I think it’s a great spot to mention that UAB “TV Zaidimai” (company behind BetGames.TV brand) claimed the 13th place in the “Deloitte Technology Fast 50 in Central Europe”. Our achievement was greatly influenced by an imposing growth rate of 981% in the last four years. It takes passion, dedication, and innovation to join this elite group of the fastest-growing technology companies, and being recognized as a Fast 50 Laureate helps propel our company even further. BetGames.TV was growing up steadily from the very start. Thanks for a combined total of 100+ years betting and lottery experience of shareholders. New markets are reached and conquered every quarter by our superb sales team. New countries and new partners require innovative solutions – technical wise as well. And we’re accepting these challenges with a pride. For example, we have a solution for countries with limited internet connection. A dedicated satellite channel covers the whole of sub-Saharan Africa region.
What upcoming events is the company focusing on nowadays and how prepared is the company for these events?
CM: ICE and Enada Primavera. Everybody waits for exhibition in London. The biggest, the most important and the most visited event during the year. We are looking to meet many of our existing partners and greet a lot of possible ones. As a tradition we will distribute calendars with our beautiful presenters once again. And this year the calendar is very special. Trust me – it’s a collection of masterpieces. Come to our stand-gallery S1-102 and see yourself.
Then we will go to Rimini in March. It will be a first time with the stand in Italy. I’m very excited about that!
Tell us please about the future plans, projects of BetGames.TV.
CM: We will be working on development and improvements of games and service from different perspectives. Very interesting and challenging year is upcoming. As we’re going to enter the next level by offering bespoke studios for our partners. I can’t give you more details now but it’s going to be big in the future!
What do you think about the future of the European gambling industry, especially focusing on the markets you have more experience in?
CM: Although Europe is very much considered a “single state” in terms of economic significance, and is to some extent governed by legislation passed by the European Union, the individual countries are still ultimately responsible for passing their own laws. I hope that soon the legislation or regulation will standardize the gambling throughout Europe. Because now particularly online gambling, throughout the continent is quite a challenge. Personally, I would like to see no grey or black markets in the map. But that process will take some time.
From the Gambelli case of a few years ago to the latest development in different EU members states, I think that a pan-European gaming license is more than needed.
Talking of markets size, England and Italy are always the most important but today everyone is looking at countries and regulations like Spain, Portugal, France, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Greece… We are not an exception and we are very active in getting new licenses or certifications to be able to offer our games in more and more countries. We already have a UK GC license and the games were recently also certified for Italy (went live in September 2017 on Microgame network) and Bulgaria where we recently signed a very important deal with EFBet. Other certifications and licenses are expected for the next months but not only in Europe.
If you could make major changes in the legislation of these markets what would they be?
CM: I would make and effort in general to have the same rules for licensing or certification in different gaming legislations. You will find legislations in which we can offer our games because we have the lottery games and other where you can’t because of that. Legislations in which our games are categorized as fixed odds betting and other in which are considered casino games. I think an harmonization of rules and taxation is very important for the future development of the industry.
Which has been the most successful experience since you have worked at BetGames.TV?
CM: Last week we were in London at the SBC Awards with a nomination as Best Multi-Channel Supplier. But in the last two months we also were included in the Deloitte Fast50 technology companies in Eastern Europe and last week in Paris we entered the FAST500 in EMEA….
Also very exciting for me to actively work to bring our games to companies of the like of Stars Group, Betway, Game Account, BetCart, EFBet, Microgame, Snai, Sisal, Eurobet, Pinnacle, GVC, Betsson Group, iSOFTBet, NYX, SBTech, Hattrick.
Who is your favorite actor or actress?
CM: Hmmmm I’d say Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep
Where would you travel the most in Central Europe?
CM: Sofia, Bucharest and Prague for sure but I also have to mention Sarajevo, Belgrade and Skopije. All those cities are growing so fast in our industry and I’m sure we will also visit them more and more often in the future.
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