We sat down with Geoff Scaplehorn, Product Director at 4ThePlayer to discuss the first half of 2021, new releases, expanding markets and if crypto can have a serious place in the igaming space.
Hi Geoff, thank you for speaking with us. How are things and what you’ve been up to so far in 2021?
It’s been a busy year! We’ve just released 3 Secret Cities and we’re finishing off 12 Trojan Mysteries, we’ve got 3 other games in various stages of development, and now we’re starting to plan out our next wave. We’ve been shortlisted for EGR awards for Rising Star and Innovation, and 12 Trojan Mysteries is on the list for the Casino Beats Slot to Watch, so it’s an exciting time for us right now!
Can you tell us a little about your latest release 3 Secret Cities?
We’re very proud of 3 Secret Cities: it’s an amazing game with an amazing feature, and so far it appears players are enjoying playing it as much as we’ve enjoyed making it.
3 Secret Cities features our innovative new BONUS↑UP mechanic, which keeps the game exciting by improving the Free Spins bonus the longer you play without hitting one. The Free Spins play out in 3 mysterious locations with multiple prize levels; climb each Temple to win Free Spins, Multipliers, and Super Stacked symbols.
In addition, once you complete a bonus we improve the chance to hit the next one quickly! Importantly, Unlike a traditional collection game, no RTP is stored for later prizes, so the player sees the full value of every spin.
Many nations are currently opening their markets to legalised online gaming. Do you have any plans on entering any of these emerging markets?
Yes, we’re aiming to launch our games in new regulated markets wherever we can. We’re currently in the process of applying for our USA license—watch this space!
You’ve mentioned you’re in the process of gaining a US licence. In 4theplayer’s view, what are the key differences between the UK and US slot markets?
The UK online market is very crowded, very mature, because it’s been around for so long. It’s a tough market; innovation is key to getting your game noticed. Online, the USA market is a lot newer with fewer suppliers stepping on each other’s toes. It’s got a huge offline presence—Las Vegas being the most famous example—and players are used to those kinds of games, so we’ll have to adapt in different ways to make an impact. It’s an exciting challenge!
How important are innovative gameplay mechanics to a slot’s success in a crowded market, and could you highlight some 4ThePlayer mechanics that have been particularly successful among slot fans?
There are so many games on the market right now, most of which are just clones of other, more successful games. Players have so many options, but so little real choice about what they can play.
That’s why 4ThePlayer prioritise innovation. In 3 Secret Cities, we’ve created BONUS↑UP to help players who are frustrated with waiting for tiny bonuses, while in 6 Wild Sharks we had WILD CHOICE so that players could play a slot game more like they might Roulette. We also have Big Reel Portrait Mode in all our games, which players love because it lets them play properly on their mobile devices.
And, of course, we try to keep the RTPs of our games higher than the industry average. Savvy players can feel when the maths is right, and we want to make sure we’re delivering good value.
What has driven your mobile-first approach to game development, and what further enhancements to mobile play are on the horizon for slots fans?
So many players play games exclusively on mobile now, which is amazing because generally they still don’t get a great experience compared to desktop. Playing most games in portrait can make it very difficult to see what’s going on, especially when you’re an old man like me! That’s why players respond so well to our Big Reel Portrait Mode ®. And we have a bunch of exciting concepts in our pipeline, each with a mobile first approach to design.
How do you select themes for your new titles, and are there any novel trends in player tastes driving innovative concepts?
There are a combination of factors that determine what themes we use. Obviously we look at what’s popular, but we don’t just want to dump a theme that is already used everywhere onto a game. I think that one of the things we do well is put our own twist on themes that we enjoy in other media—movies, books, and so on. We only want to make games that we want to play, so we ultimately choose themes that we would enjoy ourselves!
What have been the main drivers of your success in the Japanese market, and how has the innovative 100 Bit Dice played a role in this success?
Japan’s a very Crypto-aware market, so 100 Bit Dice—a game heavily inspired by a format that’s already available to Crypto players—had a natural advantage. I think Japan is a good market for dice games in general too, so that was a bonus.
Cryptocurrencies are slowly becoming more commonplace at online casinos. Do you think the appetite for crypto payments is growing in the UK and Europe to the extent that they could become mainstream in the near future, and could early adoption of the payment method benefit online casinos?
Possibly. We’re definitely seeing more influence on game types from the Crypto space, including 100 Bit Dice and 1000x Busta in our own portfolio, so there is definitely a bit of crossover between the Crypto crowd and the players at online casinos. That said, I think we’re a long way off thinking of anything involving Crypto as mainstream.
Crypto and blockchain remain relatively niche, although the rise of products like non-fungible tokens are increasing visibility of and interest in these technologies. What do you think are the barriers to crypto and blockchain’s potential success at a mainstream level, and do you factor any remedial ideas for these barriers into your blockchain-based game development?
I think Crypto in general has a long way to go before we can start thinking of it as mainstream. More people are picking it up, but until it’s easy enough to just use without the level of technical knowledge you currently need and until the prices all stabilise to a point that a single user can’t affect them—and, of course, until we examine the effects of Crypto mining on the environment—it’s not going to be mainstream. NFTs have certainly had their day in the spotlight recently, but they seem to be tailing away again already, and I think there are still a lot of questions as to their usefulness and value that need to be answered.
Of course, that’s just my opinion; we’re not a hive mind at 4ThePlayer and I know we have a range of thoughts on the long-term prospects for Crypto and the blockchain.
What’s in store for the rest of 2021?
More games, of course! However we’re a boutique not a factory so we’re not churning out a game a week or anything, but we’ve got some really cool titles in development that I think people will be really excited to play. And I think I’m allowed to say that we have a Gigablox title in the works which has been fun to get into!