2014-2015 | Gamblit Gaming | Real-money online games | Unity | Adobe Air
I absolutely thrive on tackling difficult or unusual problems, but even in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have predicted the kind of ride I was in for when in early 2014 I joined Gamblit Gaming to build and run their new internal development studio (and I mean this as a very good thing).
Gamblit is built around a vision of creating and enabling an entirely new kind of experience and content when it comes to real-money gambling: games that look, feel, and play like contemporary video games, mobile games or even arcade games, feature an element of skill, yet can still be played for real money (either against the house, or competitively against other players).
The timing for this couldn’t be better, too: the established casino industry is awakening from a decade-long slumber, driven by shifting demographics, ominously declining floor revenues, and the inability to successfully engage a younger audience (the proverbial Millennials) with existing content. The press is all over this as well, there’s enormous interest from operators, and even the traditionally conservative regulatory bodies recognize the need for innovation (for example, Nevada recently passed the landmark, historic Senate Bill 9, which allows the addition of skill-based components and mechanics to gambling games).
All in all, the stars seem to be aligning for a tectonic shift to take place within the casino industry, and it’s exhilarating to be at the forefront of this change. In many ways, the current situation reminds me of the “calm before the storm” around 2006-2007, just before the emergence of social gaming, the debut of the iPhone, the subsequent golden age of mobile gaming, and the sweeping transformation of interactive entertainment we are now all familiar with.
That same transformation had also infused games with know-how and methodologies from other industries, most notably the widespread use of analytics and rapid iteration, “borrowed” from online retail and web marketing. I believe a similar cross-pollination is going to take place in the roughly $420 billion global gambling industry (which is more than 4 times the size of the $90 billion game industry), opening the door to a dizzying array of potential new content is going to bring about new ways of distributing, marketing and monetizing that content as well.
That said, the trailblazing nature of this endeavor comes with its own share of challenges.
Given the very particular intricacies and staggering complexity of running a gambling operation, we wrestle with really complex, multi-faceted issues of all varieties on a daily basis. While some of these issues are similar to what any comparable entertainment / technology company would be facing in any other space, others are extremely quirky and specific. Whether it’s regulations, compliance or consumer protection, game design, intellectual property, math models or fairness, user experience, messaging or tiered submissions, hardware manufacturing, servicing or trade show preparation, network security, licensing, integration or outsourcing… you name it, it comes up. Yet this crazy scope is also what makes it so much fun.
In less than the course of a year, we scaled the Game Studio from 3 small internal prototypes to either developing or managing the development of more than a dozen full-blown games targeted at various platforms.
The initial set of games featured here was targeted at the online gambling market in the United Kingdom, which – being one of the more liberal jurisdictions – served as a perfect test-bed to try out a wide variety of game mechanics and “gamblification” models on a real audience.
Speaking of “gamblification”: recently Cory Barlog (of God of War fame) likened the painful compromises made during game development to “hurting kittens“.
Well, applying the twisted analogy to gambling games, given the extensive set of regulations and requirements layered on top of them (especially before using skill elements was even possible), those kittens basically come pre-killed. All you’re really doing is trying to arrange the bodies into aesthetically pleasing configurations. 🙂
In all seriousness, I’m extremely proud of the team, and what we have achieved together in a short amount of time, with very few people, and shoestring per-game budgets. The mobile launch provided invaluable insight and data that we are now taking into the land-based realm, like the Gamblit Game Station, or the super-exciting interactive tables (…the mobile push still continues though, with high-profile partnerships like this or this).
And finally, please enjoy these awesome marketing trailers created for the games: