Interview Spotlight: Juha Kauppinen, CEO of Gaming Corps
This week we’ve had the luxury of chatting with Juha Kauppinen, CEO of Gaming Corps, about the company’s quest for success in combining Gaming and iGaming. Juha also shared his thoughts on the importance of securing distribution early on in a game producer’s journey.
Juha Kauppinen, CEO of Gaming Corps
Thank you for having me! For me personally my journey with Gaming Corps started in 2015 when Gaming Corps was listed on Nasdaq First North Growth Market in Stockholm. I was working within real estate automation but devoting a lot of my free time to trading on the stock market, a passion of mine. Gaming Corps caught my eye, I found the company to be a promising new player on the market and I believed in the business idea of combining Gaming and iGaming, so I decided to invest.
As time passed by Gaming Corps did poorly, costs skyrocketed, and it became clear to us shareholders that the company was not managed properly. I teamed up with my now colleagues Bülent Balikci, Daniel Redén and Claes Tellman, and a few others, and we called for an extraordinary general meeting on November 8th, 2018. On that day we were elected to the board and shortly after I became CEO, we changed the entire management team and started the next chapter in Gaming Corps history.
What is your experience so far in the iGaming industry?
One of the promises made by Gaming Corps early on was to introduce iGaming to the already existing Gaming business and benefit from synergy effects. This was one of the reasons a lot of people, me included, kept investing in the company despite the downward trajectory between 2015 and 2018. So, for me and my new management team, back in early 2019, it was crucial to honour that promise, not just because shareholders were expecting it but also because we believed in the business idea.
Hence my experience with iGaming and our experience as a developer of casino slots, is a short one. It has certainly been a steep learning curve and I have done all I can in every given situation to absorb as much information as possible, digest it and apply it to our special set of circumstances. So far it has been an enjoyable and truly exciting journey, together with some really talented colleagues in the production team, the management team and the board.
Tell us more of the history of Gaming Corps and the strategic decision of moving from video games to also include casino slots.
Gaming Corps was founded in 2014 by a group of people with experience from Gaming and Gambling, with the goal of establishing the next big Swedish developing studio. The first project was a multiplatform game aimed at large audiences.
When exiting onto the stock market 2015 Gaming Corps held the license to the mobile game “Riddick: The Merc Files” and a partnership agreement to develop the game onto other platforms. Later that license was cancelled, and the work already carried out transformed into what became the game “The Descendant”. From there onwards Gaming Corps mostly did work for hire in Gaming, still with the ambition to enter the iGaming market, but never did.
When we took over in November 2018, we did so with the outspoken strategy of finally deploying the business idea of combining Gaming and iGaming. There are synergy effects to harness in terms of competence, development cycles and the sharing of graphic assets, and this idea was just never given a proper chance. Not long after we started, it became clear to us that the road to success in Gaming is long and demands high levels of investments, and for us to either attract those investments or raise the money ourselves we needed to start where we can establish a self-sustaining business the fastest.
Our analysis was, and is, that it is smarter to start on the opposite end and first put the main focus on iGaming due to shorter development cycles, so that is what we have done. Given the starting point we had back then, it was clearly too risky to put all our eggs, or even most of them, in the Gaming basket again. Daniel Redén also had an idea for an exclusive casino slot in partnership with ATG, something which caught their attention at an early stage, so we knew we had a good starting point in iGaming.
In your opinion, what are the key advantages your history in video games can bring into your new business of developing slot games?
It is our vision to become a leading iGaming developer, and in order to do that we need to create unique casino slots that are truly completive. From the Gaming business we bring a different type of thinking when it comes to mechanics and features, and as we progress the audience will find that our casino slots will provide more and more in terms of gamification.
Since there is only one button to push on a casino slot one might think that it is a simple product – it is not, it is a challenge to make it advanced despite the one button and that is where we know that over time the Gaming / iGaming synergy effects we have will pay off.
What are your ambitions in the iGaming market?
As I just mentioned, it is our vision to become a leading iGaming developer. It may seem boastful since we are currently in our humble beginnings, but it is important to strive upwards. We want to be a prime mover in the market and make a difference when it comes to the category itself, we think that makes us a more interesting company to work for and in the long run a more reliable investment.
Our first games had a different goal, we first had to establish capacity and routines, and the next step is to ramp up innovation. So our target group in the next stage is experienced, mature players who are selective when it comes to what they play and enjoy.
Since we are still developing our organization and have run into a few blockers in production along the way, I am hesitant to talk about dates and release schedules. Of course, we want to bring out a lot of games so we can ensure steady income, but it is not a goal in itself to just churn out simple products to keep a high pace. Frequent output, yes, but most importantly quality output with high earning potential.
When it comes to target markets geographically, we have focused on the markets allowed us via our MGA license, and the next step is acquiring a Curacao licence which will allow a wider geographic spread.
You acquired your MGA licence in February 2020 and had your first slot, Book of Pirates released in July. How would you describe this journey?
For Gaming Corps to finally acquire the MGA-License and to release the first iGaming-product was fantastic for everyone at the company. It was really a long time coming. It also triggered us all to innovations and ideas for future games to be released as well as target more operators to join forces with.
Book of Pirates is distributed through iSoftBet’s platform and was from the start playable at Swedish horse betting and casino operator ATG, shortly after also on Videoslots and Mr. Vegas. How important was it to you that your game reached players early on? And what was it like selling your first game to aggregation platforms?
When I first talked with our current CCO Mats Lundin, who at the time was Head of Sales at iSoftBet, he asked politely what our plan was and it was obvious that he had never heard of Gaming Corps!
But, as mentioned earlier we came into the iGaming business with a strong idea which was to partner with ATG. They purchased an exclusive casino slot from us and also the right to launch a number of non-exclusive games in Sweden. So as a newcomer, we had a great position when approaching iSoftBet since at the time we were already in negotiations with ATG and were able through the signing of an NDA to bring iSoftBet into the conversation. Hence we were lucky that our first game was marketed by ATG and available on three sites.
Book of Pirates is a great game, not the truly innovative type of game we plan to focus on later, but it did its job as our first game from the perspective that it got a good amount of attention and showed our shareholders that we are moving forward.
In your opinion, what were the most important lessons you and your team took away from developing Book of Pirates?
When it comes to development in general we have had a very intense year of two steps forward and one step back. We have learned so much and also changed a lot along the way. Book of Pirates gave us much insight, but we got more insight – and made more structural changes – after the launch of Undead Vikings. For a number of reasons it had to be pulled from the market shortly after the launch and triggered a lot of changes in the way we manage our front end development. On November 2nd we will publish a Memorandum for our upcoming share issue and it will cover some of these lessons more in detail. In short – we have learned a lot from the entire process of launching both Book of Pirates, Undead Vikings and then Jellos, and of course strive to do better every time around.
We all got our stress levels tested, that is for sure! Since starting at Gaming Corps, this management team has always been set on being extremely transparent with our shareholders. So we communicated which day the game would be released. However, we did not know that the live testing environment that ATG would put the game in for a couple of hours, meant that it was accessible to the public. So many hours before we ourselves had launched it in our marketing channels, our devoted shareholders found the game at the very bottom of the ATG Casino page. The word spread like fire and suddenly people were playing it and tweeting and commenting! Since it was the first ATG / iSoftBet / Gaming Corps integration it needed some tweaking, and there were also some platform capacity problems that day, so we had a couple of very stressful hours before the game was actually ready to properly go live.
From this we have now learned not to communicate launch dates unless it is absolutely necessary.
What upcoming games do you have in your pipeline and why should we look forward to them?
We very much look forward to the re-release of Undead Vikings and also the exclusive slot for ATG which was pushed forward to accommodate changes in their schedule. The ATG slot is of course something special to look forward to since exclusive slots are still quite rare and a lot of extra attention to detail has been put into it. I also think shareholders and players will very much like “Clumsy Witch” that is currently in production, it has a quirky and different theme and fun mechanics. Also in the pipeline are “Baby Hercules, “Pan’s Tale” and “Angels and Demons”. And, maybe, if we are lucky, there might be a little Christmas gift in everyone’s stocking this year.
In your opinion, what recently innovative slot features do you find the most interesting?
I follow the market closely and see evolution taking place each quarter. Most providers hit the nail once in a while and really find something innovative and fun for the players. When it comes to what we find the most interesting I actually won’t answer that, as it corresponds with what we have in our game design pipeline. So ask me again in a year!
What competitors inspire you and what do you think they do well?
I don’t want to mention names, but many of the providers out there inspire us and we also try our utmost to follow the movements of the market, stay in tune with trends and the changes in consumer wants that we notice.
It is a very competitive and fast-paced market, so I think the companies that do well are the ones who push themselves to reinvent often, something which is difficult to do but necessary.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Juha. Would you like to say anything to our readers (players, possible employees and investors) before we say goodbye?
Since we are a publicly listed company, we have rules and regulations to follow when it comes to our communication to the market. That does have bearing on for instance how much we can say in an interview like this. But we have always been transparent regarding our information to as high a degree as we can, given the regulations, and intend to continue to do so.
What we have also strived for is to create a robust foundation for long term success, and for us we believe that means focusing heavily on connecting with new operators. It has been our main strategy this year to ensure we have that foundation in place, so that when we launch new games, we will reach a wider market. It makes me happy to see that a lot of that foundation is now in place, hence I am positive that in 2021 Gaming Corps will have a stronger position than the company has ever had before.