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Exclusive interview with David Johnson, CCO at ReelPlay

ReelPlay’s Infinity Reels technology and their latest release Joker Super Reels is in focus when we speak to David Johnson, CCO at ReelPlay.

29.09.2020
Interview with David Johnson, CCO at ReelPlay

Interview with David Johnson, CCO at ReelPlay

Welcome ReelPlay to the SC game provider spotlight series! We’re happy to have you and glad that you’ve given us some of your time. Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Hey y’all, thanks for having us! I’m Dave, responsible for the Commercial aspects of the business.

ReelPlay are based in sunny Sydney, Australia; a small but perfectly formed collective of enthusiasts drawn from across the globe.

We’re only a couple of years old as ReelPlay. We make slots. We devise and produce our games in house from the initial game sketch to the finished product.

ReelPlay also work with carefully selected partners helping them get their games to market – you’ll know Lightning Box & Games Lab of the more established studios, but you’ll also see the output of new creators such as Boomerang & Bad Dingo coming online with ReelPlay.

What’s the history behind ReelPlay?

Founded in 2014 as Chance Interactive, the business re-branded to ReelPlay in 2019.

ReelPlay have some of the most experienced folk in the business under one roof with decades of games behind them from the likes of IGT, Aristocrat & NextGen.

We felt the name ReelPlay and our victorious little man symbol best represented where we were going. We’re in the Reels business, we’re authentic; whilst we create games of Chance we don’t leave anything to Chance in the creative process; we’re players offering great play opportunities... for players!

What’s ReelPlay’s main vision and how is that visible in your company culture?

The simple answer is ReelPlay make slots, we’re players at heart – ‘by players, for players’ is absolutely the case and that rounded recreational and business experience is crucial to our output.

To create great games you need to live and breathe it, experience the rush of the win, the near miss and the gamut of emotions a session brings.

A more biz answer would be that ReelPlay create the highest quality digital gaming content for license to the world’s leading regulated casino operators – that’s games by ReelPlay for our players, core operators and markets. ReelPlay also offer game build, math, marketing, integration and commercial expertise to partner studios looking to turn their own creative ideas into reality. So, kick-ass games of our own as well as incubating competitive collaborators.

Whilst we all have our own personal specialisms, a game in its initial form could come from any one of us - we encourage everyone to contribute ideas if they want to. Indeed we’re always open to suggestions from our operator partners and indeed players.

We take a quality vs. quantity approach which will see us launch half a dozen games or so to market annually. Of these we’ll try and throw something in there that will shake things up a little - something folk wouldn’t have seen before - then the balance is the development of more easily accessible concepts. We have a live ideas hub that we all feed into and it’s a case of harvesting that into an iterative process of development from initial roughs through to the final cut.

It’s vital to ReelPlay’s quality of output that we have all the contributors on hand and collaborating – this a key element which elevates our games, where others may have a tendency to bolt together externally acquired components.

Our Infinity Reels games were born of such a process, the result being a unique concept in online slots where each spin provides the chance to add an additional reel and respin with a progressive multiplier.You’ll be seeing some exciting new Infinity Reels developments as we progress into 2021.

ReelPlay has been up and running for a while now. What has been your focus and is there anything specific you’ve learned from your first 10 titles that will have a big impact on your upcoming games?

First and foremost we have to make games that players want to play - players are always front of mind in what ReelPlay does. And it’s not a throwaway to say we’re learning all the time.

We transitioned to ReelPlay around the same time as the release of Hypernova Megaways. The timing of those two independent activities certainly helped in terms of cementing our brand recognition with the global gaming community. Following up with the launch of Infinity Reels demonstrated our innovation capability.

We’re distributed widely by a number of aggregators and closely partner with select operators in aspects such as exclusive pre-releases and bespoke games – they are treasured and trusted relationships, nurtured over time. It’s not one deal that has to date provided the impetus; moreover quality, crafted output combined with a number of important strategic plays that provided the solid foundations in the early days which we can build on now.

Are you working extra hard to please any specific target markets or player segments?

We have a fantastic opportunity to provide games for players online globally where gaming is permitted. Whilst we’re strong in core markets such as UK, Italy & Sweden, we have recently expanded outside our European reach and into Canada with Loto Quebéc. In New Jersey our initial release partners include Golden Nugget & Resorts. There’s more of Canada to explore, as there is in America as States move to legislate to permit online gaming.

Our European market presence is largely influenced by our individual operator partner profiles. Our work with the likes of LeoVegas, Betsson, Casumo & Kindred would dictate we are strong in the Nordics; you could draw a similar parallel in the UK from our games offering at William Hill, Ladbrokes & Grosvenor as you could in Italy with Lottomatica & SISAL.

The streamer & reviewer communities have become very important recently in the promotion of slots content online, but by producing games for one particular audience you also risk alienating another.

Repeat play is key in what we do… will our games have players coming back for more, regardless where they’re playing from?

From a games perspective, our latest launch Joker Super Reels is of a distinct game type that has proven popular in Northern Europe. It’s a first for us - ReelPlay’s 2020 take on the classic dual reel stepper games. We have tried to broaden the appeal in the theme we’ve chosen, whilst applying an all-ways pays mechanic in the second reel set (which hasn’t been done before) provides for the real thrill seekers.

Ultimately we know it’s not one size fits all; a challenge as a growing studio is to attract a broad audience - across media (be that handheld, desktop or other), across territory and demographic - that serves our player and operator partners, whilst developing what is possible from an enjoyable play experience.

Looking at your small but qualitative game portfolio it’s clear that you’ve taken the opportunity to implement franchised game mechanics like BTG’s Megaways. In your opinion, what are the benefits of and cons of playing around with these mechanics?

Megaways from Big Time Gaming is a key gateway partnership for sure. When launching a new studio in such a crowded space, being aligned with such a popular concept really helped in opening doors and establishing ReelPlay. Hypernova Megaways mixed it up and elevated the game above the ‘me too’ by blending the best of online with a hugely popular landbased bonus (hold n’ respin) that was under-indexed online. It was a good choice - the game has remained popular for the longer term, with three extensions to the game now available for players including Atlantis & Big Bucks Bandit with its post-feature gamble to complement the original.

Infinity Reels is original ReelPlay IP and a deliberate effort to shake-up the establishment a little. Intentionally providing a very simple reel set at the start of the game intended to attract players of all types, it only takes a few spins for players to realise there is a ton of potential within the mechanic. I’ve seen players with 17 reels on the go and multipliers into the hundreds!

There are a number of extensions of the brand in the pipeline. Players have really taken to the genre and we’ve had plenty requests for an Infinity Reels game that does this and/or that, which is great to receive and it’s clear we’ve barely scratched the surface.

We’re also busy working with competitive collaborators to help them bring their interpretations of Infinity Reel to market. We hope that their partnership with ReelPlay will open doors for them in the same way Megaways has done for us and plenty of others.

In your release Odin Infinity Reels Megaways you combined the two features. What was it like developing this game? Is there something in the game that you are extra proud of?

Odin Infinity Reels x Megaways is quite a feat of mathematical agility! Infinity Reels isn’t straightforward in itself, then combining that with Megaways put it on another level. Up to the max win amount, there is no limit to the number of reels or Megaways available – another first. We’re absolutely proud of the team behind that element of course. As ever, the game gets lots of plaudits for its front-end design and sound – we take extra special care in our games presentation tweaking right up until the last minute.

Was there something specific that you pondered over during the creation of the game?

We ponder lots of variables in the creation of any game. You can bet your bottom dollar that once we’ve locked down the scope of a particular title something awesome will come up, thus there’ll often be iterations of certain game types and I’d expect that common in the creative industries.

Let’s dive into the future! What games do you have lined up in your roadmap? Could you give us brief intros and tell us when they are planned to be released?

For sure! At the start of 2021 we’ll have a new Infinity Reels game ready for release in Europe. This game builds on the success of its predecessors whilst introducing a new bonus feature we’re sure players will like; it develops the concept by adding a few more herbs and spices to the mix which I expect to attract an even wider audience. The beauty of Infinity Reels is its ability to offer reel-based features on a scale not seen before given the amount of potential reels.

The competitor studios that have taken a license for Infinity Reels will be publishing their games soon and we’re seeing lots of different takes in the drafts of those games. Having competitors collaborate on our concepts such as this is very exciting for us, and no doubt will provide some fun competition keeping us on our toes!

Joker Super Reels released exclusively to Betsson and has just been unleashed to others on the Relax network. This was a game long in the making and close to my heart – the initial sketches date back about 2 years. It’s a real rush to play with plenty of stacked potential and huge opportunities in the 64-ways Super Game accessible any time your win meter is suitably funded.

There’s another cracking Infinity Reels game in flight which we’re collaborating on with one of our New Jersey operator partners due for release early 2021. They’re bringing a land based feel to the design with a bonus wheel mechanic, as well as a lesser seen theme – so eyes peeled for that one.

SlotCatalog love stories. Do you have a fun or interesting story behind one of your productions?

Here’s one from a former life… we’d put together a concept which I was keen would feature meerkats as the main characters. Meerkats are so much fun to watch in themselves, coupled with a hugely popular meerkat themed advertising campaign underway by one of the insurance aggregators in the UK, I really felt it was perfectly timed… meerkats were everywhere!

Towards the latter stages of dev, it transpired that said insurance aggregator had literally anything to do with meerkats tied-up in the licensing sense, so it made it very difficult for us to leverage the characters as we’d intended - we had to pivot. I was pretty upset about that given we’d gone so far, but more so when the guys told me they wanted to press ahead with foxes instead. Foxes are classed as vermin I thought; I couldn’t see it working.

But along came Foxin’ Wins with its fun animations and all that character rarely seen in our world and we had a huge hit on our hands!

If you could only pick 4 slot games to play for the rest of your life, two of your and two from your competitors, which games would you choose? Please motivate!

I’m a sucker for old skool so shout outs to Money Matrix (Realistic), Gladiator (Playtech) & Hold Your Horses (Novomatic). Of the recent games, the good people of Relax have done a stellar job with Money Train 2. So that’s four from the competition!

From ReelPlay I’m most excited about the early 2021 Infinity Reels take for Europe I mentioned earlier, whilst a solid go-to is always El Dorado Infinity Reels with the choice of bonus volatility available to players.

Some of our sister studios have some crackers also… Boomerang’s Wild Joker Stacks can be a meaty payer whilst Games Lab’s Towering Pays offers multiple level choices with the potential of plenty of riches in the final stages for those who’ve made it through.

Let’s look past regulation for the following question. In your opinion, what’re the main differences in producing a quality slot game today, compared to when you started out?

There was a time way back when getting a game to market was most of the battle. Long gone are the days when three reels, a pick-me bonus game and a rough saloon drawing gained a following.

The global business has developed to the extent that there are now thousands of competitive titles fighting for the same website space and the growing challenge is ensuring that players know a game is available.

Improvements in player devices and connectivity mean that a lot more can be squeezed into a game; be that depth of vision and animation or soundscape, number of bonuses. Players have in their hands games that can provide as rich an experience - and in many cases better - than they’d get physically sat at a machine in a casino.

Aggregators are gradually dribbling out social features such as multi-player participation and gamification if you like, which could be pretty exciting for the games lucky enough to be included in the mix. An alternate view might be that slots are quite the solitary pursuit and anything that takes away from that, or any obvious RTP cost, is going to be noticed and perhaps distance some players – it’s early days so we’ll see.

I’m quite sure however that gamblers will continue to favour repeat-playable slots underpinned by solid math for their gaming time.

Thanks for the chat, Dave! Would you like to say anything to our readers before we say goodbye?

If you got this far then thanks for reading! Have fun, stay safe :)

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