Introduction: The Technology Behind A Live Dealer Studio
Thank you Marcus for taking the time to share some of your knowledge with us today. After the recent CasinoSolutionPro.com interview, the levels of interest it generated has caused me to return to the source, so to speak, for details on the rapidly developing sector of iGaming known as ‘Live Dealt Studio’.
In our last interview with Marcus, mention was made to the developments around VR technology. In the last CasinoSolutionPro interview published recently, Valery Bollier, of Oulala.com also discussed VR usage and he linked that with Social Gaming developments. In your opinion Marcus, what’s stopping this coming through strong in 2017?
“Well Steve, it’s still in need of development. Though it is getting there. Funnily enough Motion Sickness is a big draw back so it’s not perfect for everyone, yet” [Ed. Doesn’t help when you look like a pratt when wearing the visor either.]
Interesting point there, lets crack on.
For those who may have missed the first interview with Marcus, Mr. Honney has personally helped create some of the biggest and best appointed Live Dealing Studios both here in Malta and overseas. So to help give people who are interested, the benefits of his recent experiences in the design, construction, installation, then finally to the production status of a Studio operation, here’s:
Interview: Building Live Dealer Studios – for Dummies
Q 1. Really the top item on any investors agenda is always going to be the costs and time involved in a complex product like a Live Casino Studio. What’s your experience taught you here?
Never under estimate the costs of starting something new like a Live Casino Studio. Especially if the concept is new to the local Regulatory authority. All the costs are cumulative, meaning that as you achieve your goals, the next phases just add more layers of cost. So you can get to the point of having a fully functional Casino Studio, fully staffed and equipped, but until it’s approved and licensed, it can’t obtain customers and start producing revenue. So this first part can be seen as a real money pit, and pretty intimidating to an investor who’s not expecting it. Even simple product items, like new games can add drag (lead times) to the project. Being first can be very expensive; however, you do have the potential benefits of being exclusive to the market.
Having a unique selling point will always help if you can’t be first to market. So, what we talked about in regard to the VR games comes in here. The operators will always want to be sure before they sign up, so having a Beta tester to give your connectivity and scalability a full work over is important. Being fully integrable with Mobile is a must today as well.
Q 2. Everyone today is very aware of the speed that technology progresses; what should the Casino Studio feeds produced be able to offer
As I mentioned before, HTML5 and Mobile connectivity is a must.
Speed of connectivity, fast loading and ‘Direct Launch’ are now all expected, and please, suppliers must return the customer to the Operators site, not back to the Suppliers site. That is a real niggle for customers which can cause you a sign up loss.
Full functionality must also be built into your offering. Fast Deposit functions for the operators customers is very important, as are multiple language offerings. Players mustn’t be leaving your feed site to find out how to play, what to play or when the promotions start – full functionality – very important.
Q 3. What problems have you encountered in regard to the Regulatory aspects of Live Casino Studio developments?
In my experience most of the Regulators have been as flexible as they can be, but that all depends on the Legislation they work in. For the Extreme Live Casino Studio product to be sold through companies licensed here in Malta, it meant that the London studio had to be audited by the Malta Gaming Authority. This was a detailed process be not overly complicated. Whereas, as way of example, the Belgian and Spanish laws restrict much of what can be done. Having to have an actual bricks and mortar casino to stream from being just part of it. This will in fact restrict the potential success of the on-line opportunities there.
Unfortunately I’m old enough to remember that twenty-five years ago EGO (European Gaming Organisation) were talking about having a common regulatory system. Well it never happened and seems as far off now, as it did then.
As I said before, the new products will present the biggest challenges. At NetEnt we introduced ‘Common-Draw’ Blackjack to our studio and that had to be approved by the Authority first. Not too difficult if your already licensed, but still a little time consuming.
Overall I’d say the Malta Gaming Authority can be slowish, and very detailed, but ultimately they are good.
Whilst Malta can be expensive in some ways, even Evolution Gaming have now established their biggest studio operation here; which shows the iGaming industries potential here.
Q 4. How important are the Human Resource elements to these projects?
Without the Dealer there is no Live Casino. They need to be properly trained and allowed to show the product as well as it can be shown. Operators need to remember this.
Where English is an ‘official’ language locally it’s always an advantage, as when dealers who learn dealing phrases ‘parrot fashion” tend to mush them up and frequently become unintelligible.
Keeping the players involved with the games is very important, so having dealers who can talk with the customers is a must. Just recently, I noticed that the Evolution native Dutch dealers are now allowed to cross talk over the tables. As long as this doesn’t slow down the games, it seems that the players feel involved and enjoy the inter-dealer chat.
In some Studios I’ve also employed ‘Hostess’ style dealers. Who were mainly ex-models with Television presentation experience. These staff do present the products well, though they expect to be paid just when ‘on-set’ and not working, whereas tables dealers are easier in that respect.
What is obvious, is that when fully trained casino staff come over to Studio work, then these staff get pretty bored very quickly, unless they’re now working in a supervisory grade.
In my experience the best successes have been with freshly trained staff, who are trained to the Studio work by an experienced casino games trainer.
I would also always have a couple of feed monitors in the rest areas. So that the staff on break can actually see how the other dealers perform and look on camera. This will give everyone the benefit of observing the best presentation aspects available, which most staff tend to replicate to self-improve.
Q 5. Does the location of, and the construction type of the building have much of an impact?
Yes! Location is important in regard to the supply of effective internet speed and reliable services. Having the studio on or near a main bus route or Public mass transport helps as well. Though as all the studios I’ve worked on have been re-purposed buildings, almost all are, the biggest problem is usually sound proofing to broadcast quality standards. Also in some cases isolating from vibration. If you are in a developing location, then large building projects can really impact your feed quality.
If you re-purpose a building then at least consider all the phases of your project. Better to move into a property and only use 40% for the first year, than find you must move to a new property after just two years because of growth.
Security is a surprisingly important element as well. When it becomes known that inside there is a ‘Casino’ all sorts of idiots might come calling. Not to mention for insurance reasons the value of the contents and staff are paramount.
Ultimately a big open plan type building is the most flexible. Constructing the sound studio inside the main floor will be quicker and always allow for expansion. Meanwhile these type of buildings generally come with adequate car parking and environmental controls.
Q 6. How should the games dealt be selected in your opinion?
Never assume that your product will be a ‘one size fits all’ thing. The client (operator) may have very different demands and needs.
As a general rule Roulette for Europe and Baccarat for Asia is where you start, and after that your other sign ups will ask for what they want and hopefully the team will be able to supply.
Increasingly today, differentiation of the product is what is most likely to attract operators. Such development
‘JackPot Roulette’ or even VR versions of the games will be what the next Studios will have to use to gain market share.
As far as I know nobody to date has launched with a scalable new product, which operators haven’t specified first. It would take courage to do this, but it might be time.
Right now we also have co-operative systems. Partouche for example have a TV channel, hosted by a presenter who is talking about the game; and at the same time the player can play on-line, whilst at the concurrently being able to follow the game via their TV, if they want a bigger experience.
Q 7. Once all the technical challenges and physical installations have been completed, you have a nice new shiny production studio, green screen or set based; now what happens?
It should have been happening already. By which I mean that Operators or at least an Aggregator should be signed up to start taking test table feeds and check links/feed capacity before the whole studio goes ‘Live’. [Ed. ‘Aggregator’ is a gateway company, platform supplier, which already has collated feeds and API links to the bigger casino websites.]
Getting Demo versions ready and out to the market place is vital, so that the Studio can start generating fees as soon as possible. An Aggregator is better to have than a single operator as a customer, as this keeps you more flexible. Though whatever contracts you have, these should always enable you to keep options available for newer operators, start ups, to sign on. Especially if your product gains popularity. I’ve found that the bigger Affiliates, which eventually become independent casino sites, frequently want the latest product, to keep their customers engaged.
Another good, or easier, aspect of using the Aggregators is that much of the API work is already done, or at least tested and proven reliable. Which helps keep the players frustrations lower.
Q 8. What’s the best way to capture that all important ‘Market Share’?
Again, differentiation. The operators who take your feed will not ‘know’ how best to promote the product. That has to be done in co-ordination between your marketing Dept. and the Marketing people in your operators companies, and to avoid clashes you have to be careful
Having regular ongoing promotions is important, just as if you were a Land Based Casino. ‘Win a Holiday’ is quite a common offer nowadays, as are other large promotable items, like cars.
It’s difficult for a start up studio of course, for example, the Evolution product ‘Immersive Roulette’ would never have been attempted by a new Live Studio. Fourteen HD cameras on a table and wheel, with all the cut away and cut back editing for the cameras, plus the dealer training required for the timing of the camera shots. All that is too big and costly for a new studio. Though I’m sure out there, there is someone with a novel idea which will really jump out when we see it.
Suppliers have to understand that the studio dealer is in a unique position, insomuch that they are the only people that have direct contact and interaction with the players, when the players are actually placing bets. The players will assume that the dealers are from the operator, especially on the dedicated or branded tables. I think the significance of this is lost on some suppliers, which is a shame, because this is what makes Live Dealt games so special.
Q 9. Finally, what really excites you going forward into 2017 in this area of iGaming?
I’d like to have this conversation this time next year, especially in regard to VR games progress. [Ed. Okay Marcus, your booked!]
We’re coming around to ICE, again, and I know some companies are making progress in this area.
VR should really be getting the Beta testers on it soon and it will change the dynamic of the games greatly for the players, especially once the Motion sickness issues are sorted.
Social Gaming is going to start making moves toward the casino environment soon, so that’s exciting, and a must to capture the younger players.
The Live Bricks and Mortar casino Live Dealt experience is still not well represented and it has a unique shape over the Studio feeds. I remember when I was with Huxley many years ago, dealing with Irish Casinos who were working with Vuetec Gaming. This is in fact one of the oldest systems out there and it is still not evolved enough. Hopefully that will come on as well.
We would like to thank Mr. Honney for his insightful comments, and also thank you, dear readers for your time.
This part of the on-line Gaming industry is indeed building a head of steam and becoming more and more evolved. Hopefully the comments made above will help those who are interested in investing in this area.
So ultimately, the best way to build a ‘Live Studio’ for Dummies – is to be a Smart Dummy.