Casino.org spoke to Steve Cutler, CEO and co-founder of Kalamba Games, about pushing the boundaries of innovation in game development, standing out from the competition and what the future holds for the casino industry.
You founded Kalamba Games in 2016, but what inspired you?
Along with my co-founder, Alex Cohen, we spent time in the real money gaming industry and then the social gaming industry and thus, after gaining significant experience in both, we decided there was a gap in the market for a content creator who could bring the best of social into real money gaming. We were driven to create something new and build a distinctive voice amongst the many casino content suppliers out there.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far since starting out?
The biggest challenges we have faced so far are extending our distribution, getting perpetual traction with operators, ensuring we compete commercially while hitting certain margin targets and, last but not least, finding the best in class people to join us at the right time at Kalamba.
How does your social gaming experience shape what you do?
If we look back at how gaming overall has evolved, you can see conceptual convergence pretty much across the board. For example, loot boxes in ‘traditional’ AAA gaming titles, role playing or character development elements in non-open world games etc. We believe, therefore, that in social and real money gaming, two closely related genres should share some key characteristics, certainly in terms of UX as a minimum, but also with in-game features and the concepts that drive them.
Most important though is ensuring that we innovate in the genre without getting in the way of what makes a slot game successful.
What makes you stand out from your competition?
We’re not a big corporate, yet we have big corporate expertise and we’re growing rapidly. We are constantly working to use insight to drive game development which we believe is the key to understanding player behaviour and making our partners successful. We want to build the most engaging slots on the market and recently our distribution partners flagged up our games as having much higher than average retention.
This is a measure of success because it shows that our strategy of building engagement is paying off. There’s more depth within our games by being focused on engagement features than there is with many other slots games, and in a crowded market it certainly helps to be a little different.
There are so many slots out there. How do you cut through the noise?
First and foremost, we are data driven and we build games with the players needs and wants firmly entrenched in our company psyche. We like to work closely with our partners to align expectations around game design, as well as to share insights of player and game behaviours and performance. We do a lot of work on theme development and, of course, the maths.
As I said before, it’s really important to us to be distinctive, but not at the expense of what makes a slot game work. That can be a challenge but we put players first and allow them to engage with games on their own terms and accommodate lots of different playing styles through our signature features such as HyperBonus, HyperBet and LuckyLoops.
What’s been your favorite title release?
Every last game released is a favourite, of course, but I would say Machina and Caribbean Anne are the games I enjoy playing the most of late. As I cast my mind back to the last 2.5 years, I am most proud of the fact that the team and the games get better and better with every release and we don’t believe in the old saying: The sky’s the limit. We are constantly learning and improving and seeing that in execution and the results is the best motivator we at Kalamba could ask for.
You are a young company – what’s the future like for Kalamba?
The last few months have certainly been pretty exciting time, since we unveiled our new sporty branding and releasing great titles such as Caribbean Anne, that demonstrate the talent we have in the company. We’re focused on taking that momentum into 2020 and continuing to push the boundaries of innovation in game development and promotional tools.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I split my week between our Head Office in Malta and our development studio in Krakow, Poland, helping with operations there. We are a multidisciplinary and multi-national team, so while it’s great fun working to develop corporate strategies, I also like to leverage as much of my operational background as a product specialist.
Do think we’ll likely see any major innovations for the gaming industry in the future?
There is a multitude of ways to be “innovative” and, generally, the Casino industry has always been a bit slow in regards to online innovation. There has been more in Sportsbook and Poker but these products lend themselves better due to the far greater scalability within the game mechanics, nuances and flexibility.
Casino is a lot tougher due to the more rigid nature of the games but the key message across the board is that our customers need more data/AI driven promotional and marketing tools to engage their customers better with. This is where most of the innovation will come from over the next few years. Content suppliers will of course try to tweak their games and there are always ways to innovate or improve the customer experience from the operator side.
As to where the next ‘step change’ will come from, I think you will see more and more casino content creators diversify their offerings and start looking at platforms/promo tools as a part of their core offering. As for the very next major change? What this space. That’s what makes the industry so exciting.