Introduction to Skillzzgaming
The employment of social gaming mechanics with real-money gambling products remains an intriguing subject area within the online gaming sector. The promise is that, should any provider get the mix right, they stand a good chance of attracting a larger slice of what has proved to date to be a somewhat elusive audience – the Millennials. The latest company hoping to bridge the gap between skill and gambling is Tel Aviv-based start-up Skillzzgaming. Launched by industry veterans Eran Sharar and Dadi Neeman, previously at Playtech and 888 respectively, Skillzzgaming already has already convinced many its products fulfil this promise. The company has been accepted onto the William Hill Accelerator programme and is close to seeing its games – including titles such as ‘Mega Money Rush’, ‘Bubble Travel’ and ‘Dragon Daze’ - launched on the Microgaming platform Quickfire. Sharar says the products they have produced have appeal to operators because of what they offer in terms of retention and engagement. “Not only am I playing the game for the potential of winning money but also because I am already invested in the game,” he says. “I have power-ups and I can improve my skills.”
Gamcrowd: Can you explain how you came to found your company?
DN: We’re a new game studio based in Tel Aviv in Israel. We are working on skill-based games for the gambling industry. We understand that the nature of the gamers has changed.
ES: We take games that combine skill experiences with real-money wagering and the thrill of winning prizes in chance games. There has been a change in the industry, and the change has actually been among the players. Since the iPhone was launched, most of us have become casual players, playing games form the app store, games like Candy Crush. We are familiar with experiences from the app store, we look for more control, based on our skill. This is especially focusing on the younger generation of players, the ones from 21-35 and we see a gap in the current portfolio of the operators in providing such experiences to these payers with their new gaming DNA. We base our games on popular app store genres, such as Candy Crush, Temple Run and Subway Surfer, we take successful skill mechanics, such as running into difficulty and improving, winning power-ups; we combine these mechanics with the wagering experience and create a new type of game, skill-based prize games. We believe these type of games have great potential to tap the millennial generations.
Gamcrowd: You think you have the games to attract people?
ES: Yes, we have the games for that and that these games can be a strong acquisition tool. They have great potential for user retention and engagement. User mechanics; not only am I playing the game for the potential of winning money but also because I am already invested in the game; I have power-ups and I can improve my skills.
DN: They will see these games in the gaming arena and will see the same mechanics from the sill arena.
Gamcrowd: What kind of protections are in place with regard to underage players?
ES: We are a B2B provider to the operators, so this will sit within their regualtory framework.
Gamcrowd: What are your backgrounds?
ES: There are three founders, all good friends. I was in charge of building the next generation of mobile products at Playtech; I have vast experience in terms of management, operational, R&D and delivery.
DN: I’m the gamer; I worked in various game studios, various casual games, but also 888. Then I was executive producer for a big games studio in Israel. From there we created an understanding of how to combine skill and gambling; we both understand the territory.
ES: Our third partner is not from the industry and he is that rare combination of mathematician and lawyer which fits very well with this industry.
Gamcrowd: You both come from reasonably big gaming companies; did you feel hemmed in by working there? Are there better opportunities for innovation outside of those big companies?
ES: Yes. In general, it’s hard for large companies to navigate and make a sharp turn. It’s difficult, and to introduce innovation is difficult. I think that specifically this industry has a traditional spirit, for the good but also for the bad. We feel that doing it from a start-up environment is much more agile and faster to market.
DN: Just innovation is not a major thing, but coming with something that targets a new audience, and delivering it and knowing the people and having the right connection is the right way to the market, not being part of the large companies.
Gamcrowd: There is a start-up culture in Tel Aviv; what do you think explains that?
ES: I don’t know whether it is the weather or the hummous! I feel that in general people like to come up with new ideas. To take responsibility for what they do. I worked for Playtech, Gala Coral and also Microsoft. You can find this spirit inside companies, people taking responsibility for what they do and being a start-up within organisations. But there is a very supportive culture for starting-up companies in Tel Aviv, there are spaces we can work in, there are a lot of mentors. And specifically there are a lot of gambling industry veterans in Israel.
Gamcrowd: And there is money in Tel Aviv for new ideas?
DN: Funding is very hard to get anywhere, but there is more openness in Israel to hear new ideas and be part of a start-up.
Gamcrowd: Do you have funding?
ES: We are fully boot-strapped. We are carefully proud of that; we are at the point where we are looking for investment to scale up operations. We have strong very distribution already; we have an agreement with Quickfire and Microgaming, and we are in the final stages of integration. We have Microgaming operators interested in our games. We were accepted as part of the William Hill accelerator programme; and it is great to work with the William Hill team. We have another tier one UK operator signed up; we are signed with OpenBet and we are in discussion with Playtech. They are very receptive about how to attract the new generation to the gaming environment. It suits very well the European user base, and the UK market. Casino managers are looking out at the millennial generation.
Gamcrowd: What does William Hill bring to start-ups via the accelerator programme?
ES: Essentially, they are bringing knowledge and operational capabilities. A very open company culture; we work very closely with various teams in William Hill to take the games and shape it the right way, to segment it and to market it. And then to follow the results and learn from experience.
DN: They know their users, they know how they react to different themes and mechanics. They have helped us to finalise the game.
Gamcrowd: Have you games gone live yet?
ES: Not yet. We are still in the process with Quickfire…
Gamcrowd: You are almost there…
DN: We are not frustrated, we are happy to be there. We came from the industry, we know the pace of integration. We have been on the other side. Every inch that we advance, we see the process proceeding.