"Building new features that the players can learn and explore" - An interview with Will Mathieson at Golden Rock Studios
Innovative features, volatility trends and Golden Rocks Studios upcoming entrance into the US market is in focus when we've talked to the legendary Will Mathieson, CPO and Co-founder at GRS.
Interview with Will Mathieson at Golden Rock Studios
Welcome Will! We’re honoured that you’ve taken the time to chat with us. Please introduce yourself and your history within the iGaming sector to our readers that aren’t familiar with your name yet.
My name is Will Mathieson and I am one of the founders and CPO at Golden Rock Studios.
My foray into the gambling industry started with humble beginnings in 2003 taking bets over the phone for William Hill. I instantly fell in love with the industry and moved roles to become a test analyst, testing the very first online slot on their Vegas casino site. It wasn’t long before I started to live and breathe online Slots! I would play them all day for my job and then go home to play for real money.
Over time my role changed from a test analyst to giving feedback on the games and eventually heading up the Slots product in Gibraltar working with 3rd party suppliers building bespoke and exclusive slots for William Hill. It was an honour to work with the biggest and best suppliers in the industry like Blueprint, NetEnt, Nextgen gaming, Inspired, IGT and many others.
What has it meant for you to go out on your own and co-found Golden Rock Studios together with James Curwen?
It was always an ultimate life goal to start a new studio and replicate the success we had at William Hill. So to be given that opportunity was a great honour and we’ve not looked back since!
It is great to be in control over our own destiny and I would say that is the real appeal in setting up a business. On the flip side it comes with healthy pressure and responsibility.
You guys set out on your journey in 2019. Which opportunities did you see at the time and what is the Golden Rock Studios vision?
Our vision is to create the best gambling games in the industry, built by gamblers for gamblers. To make this happen you need innovative ideas and concepts. There is an incredible amount of competition in the slots market right now, up to 20+ new games every week.
In order to stand out and appeal to customers you need to offer unique features and highly engaging and entertaining games. We felt and I still feel the industry is lacking innovations. Megaways has been a phenomenal success in the gaming sphere. We want to and expect to deliver many industry firsts with at last one new groundbreaking launch like Megaways in the next 12 months.
What has the journey been like so far?
It has been challenging but rewarding at the same time. Initially it was a steep learning curve hiring the right people whilst producing high quality content on time. We have been hit by delays, with some of our most exciting features still to come.
We’ve taken a lot of learnings on the delivery side with new processes in place and have already seen improvements in delivery times.
Looking at the SlotRank data for all of your releases it’s clear that they’ve been received very well among players from different regions! What would you say are the key factors behind your success?
We’ve launched a wide variety of content over the last year, ranging from very simple slots like Wild Predators to more intricate and features rich games like Gold n Rocks. One fundamental feature we have built into our games is guaranteeing a winning bonus experience. Using different mechanics on each game we ensure players are guaranteed a minimum win, one example is in Volatile Slot, if you get less than 20x total bet the game will continue to retrigger free spins. It means players are more confident when playing our games.There is nothing worse spending a long time to trigger a bonus feature and getting paid nothing or a really low payout.
One fundamental feature we have built into our games is guaranteeing a winning bonus experience. There is nothing worse spending a long time to trigger a bonus feature and getting paid nothing or a really low payout.
We have also brought with each game at least one new slot mechanic not seen before online, it is important to still build new features that players can learn and explore.
Is there a specific release of yours that you are extra proud of? Please motivate!
Volatile slot was our first game launch and holds a special place in my heart. The maths is really special plus it has to be one of the best named slots launched in the year right!?
One of my personal favourite games is Gold n Rocks, a tumbling reels game, with explosions and lots of mini features it is a highly entertaining and fun game.
Are there areas where you feel you’ve had revelations lately and see opportunities for improvement / innovations in future games?
One of our struggles with our first batch of games was our art quality. It had been described as flat whilst others said it lacked the wow factor. We have been working hard on enhancing the visual elements in our games, and already players and operators can see that with our most recent launches.
In terms of innovations we had planned to have launched some of the most exciting ones by now. The main one being our Rollercoaster feature; a truly innovative and improved take on the buy bonus mechanic.
Speaking of future games, what does your roadmap look like?
VERY EXCITING!!! I cannot wait for 2021 to launch our latest and best innovations. We will be launching fewer games next year with a focus on higher quality and larger games.
We have entertaining themes and features like Super Money World. This will take the player to a fantasy world built around money! A gamblers dream; this game will be the first to come with our Rollercoaster feature. Plus it has 3 in-reel modifiers, a highly engaging free spin bonus round with 3 phases to unlock. The graphics are 3D and we have a money tree on display at all times, just watch out for a gust of wind to blow money your way.
We also have another first in the industry, a slot with no base game payouts called bonus only.
Another first will be our Back Blackjack game which launches January featuring a unique side bet that effectively allows the player to back the dealer.
I could go on and on about our innovations next year but need to protect the IP due out longer term. Hopefully the above gives you a taste of what will come in the short term :)
Are there any game features that you’ve found particularly interesting during the last months?
I am a big fan of tumbling reels/reaction games, so naturally one of my favourite games was Play n Go’s Reactoonz, so the sequel Reactoonz 2 was of particular interest for me! I really liked it, they’ve done a great job. I also like Money Train 1 and 2, the buy bonus feature is very engaging.
What’s your opinion on the current math models & volatility trends?
Over the last few years there has been a trend towards more volatile slots, especially since Bonanza and the subsequent Megaways releases. I think volatile slots will always be popular though I do see the next trend moving towards lower volatility again. This will be driven by operators in regulated markets as the VIP market continues to shrink.
What’s the Golden Rock Studios ambition going forward?
We plan to become a top 5 gaming studio in the next 2 years. We already have some strong and innovative features planned for next year.
A big focus next year will be the US market, our content is currently unavailable but we have plans to fast track the distribution and go live towards the end of 2021.
How do you interpret the competitive landscape today compared to two years ago?
There is certainly a lot more content being released! The European market has become very competitive. Whilst the US market has grown significantly and is the hot new market everybody is looking at.
Regulated markets continue to tighten the rules; it is a challenging environment for both suppliers and operators.
And on top of that we continue to see consolidation, originally with SG buying WMS, Bally, Next Gen. We saw NetEnt spend £200M to buy Red Tiger followed by Evolution buying NetEnt. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see more of these deals over the next 2 years.
Are there any specific competitors that have impressed you lately? For which qualities?
I have always been a big fan of Play n Go’s content, they produce a good mix of content, from the classic titles Cat Wilde Doom of the Dead to their latest update of Reactoonz 2. Whilst Relax have been releasing some strong content especially with Money Train 1 and 2.
We’re reaching the end of this interview but it would be fun to hear where you see Golden Rock Studios in a year from now?
We genuinely have some really innovative game features and mechanics coming out over the next 6 months, my expectation is for at least one of them to become a major hit and help influence the trends in the industry.
Whilst; in the next 12 months we will be launching our first batch of games outside of the Quickfire platform giving us distribution in the USA for the first time.
Thanks for the chat Will! Is there anything you would like to say to your fans, partners or possible employees before we say goodbye?
And thank you for the interview! I would like to thank the GRS team first and foremost, we are very lucky to have the talent and experience. We have a very strong commercial team which has led to some fantastic relationships with all the big operators which as cheesy as it sounds we couldn’t do it without them all!
Happy Christmas and all the best for 2021.