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Casual Games: a Serious Business

Casual Games: a Serious BusinessSigma met with Kasper Kau, Founder and CEO of Spigo, to find out more about the brand and the insatiable demand for casual games.

Always a pleasure catching up with you Kasper, one of the very first to trust SiGMA with a booth back in 2014. Tell us a bit more about Spigo. How did it all start?

Spigo started in Denmark in August 2006, and we initially launched a community site where players could sign up and play casual games for free and if they decided to, they could subscribe to a monthly subscription and pay to access more features and games on the site. The idea was very much inspired by an American site called Pogo.com. I’m not entirely sure if they are still operating, but that’s where the original idea for Spigo came from.

How did you get into creating games?

Funnily enough, I was never overly into computer games myself, but when I was in high school I bought a graph calculator and figured out how to install games on it. So while my math’s teacher thought I was working out complex equations using my graphical calculator, I was actually playing games on it! That’s where my interest in games development started. After high school, I had gone to university with the intention to study Civil Engineering, but my father had encouraged me to start Computer Science because he saw the massive potential of it.

Up until that point, I had been using my Amiga 500 for playing games and writing essays. Initially, university was a big disappointment to me – high school had a healthy mix of guys and girls whereas my Computer Science course at university was all guys and the atmosphere wasn’t very exciting. After my first year, I was close to quitting, planning to move from Computer Science to Architecture. Thankfully, the person in the faculty who needed to approve my changeover was abroad at the time, so I quickly discarded the idea and stuck it out. After that year, I actually started to enjoy the course and began to understand the language of programming games.

The first game I ever made was my own version of Tetris, built on HTML, which was available online and became extremely popular. After the success of my Tetris game, TDC, the largest Danish telecoms company, approached me to develop a set of games which included a game they needed for a Christmas advertising campaign. I was a student, and this huge company was paying me to develop games for them – it was an incredible experience! I even managed to pay off my student loan just from selling these two games. I realised there and then that developing games was definitely the way to go, as people were prepared to pay good money for well-developed games.

How do you come up with new ideas for new games?

Early on I realised that developing games similar to the gameplay of well-established games was far easier than being too creative and developing games that no one knows how to play. Players decide whether they want to play a game or not in a matter of seconds, so there has to be an element of familiarity to it in order for it to be successful. Obviously, you can’t blatantly copy a game, but delivering games that have a similar game play to another well-known game has helped us become a massive success.

So we are very much inspired by existing games but we try and think how we can add more value or enhance them to create something better than what’s already available. Otherwise, you’d simply be developing a game that’s already out there.

There are no set rules for coming up with games though. I’d just say that ironically, being too creative in this industry could be a setback. You need to make it easy for people to be able to relate to each game.

Funnily enough the first three slots we created for our community sites were created in our current CTO’s kitchen at his apartment in Denmark, so creativity can strike at anytime and anywhere! The secret is knowing what to keep, what will work, and what you should scrap.

What has been the most challenging time in Spigo’s history and how did you overcome it?

Our biggest challenge was converting the company from a subscription based access, to games service: where we asked players to pay for a subscription to access our games then selling our games on app stores and making them available to play on mobile devices. Around 2010, we decided to go after the app stores and released some games with some success – our Yatzy game was featured by Apple. In fact, they contacted us asking for AdWords and banners to use on their store. And let’s face it – receiving an email from Apple out of the blue is definitely not an email you want to ignore!

Our next issue was trying to determine how we could grow through selling our games through the app stores, as it is extremely difficult to compete. With some companies absolutely smashing it, establishing yourself is challenging, so we took the decision to move into iGaming. It just seemed like the right move to me. Luckily for us, at that point in time, the biggest operator in Denmark was interested in our games and approached us. It was hard reinventing ourselves, but to this day, we still have some of our original subscribers who helped us with the transition to the iGaming arena. We also had to rebuild all our software from the ground up to suit the industry.

It’s been a big investment, but now we have 10 or 11 partners offering our games throughout Europe, and hopefully, we’ll be investing in firms outside Europe too very soon.

How is Spigo different from other game developers?

We have a second generation platform that was built for regulated markets where many different types of games can be hosted – not just slot machines but single player, multiplayer, massive multi player, and games to win real money in a secure environment.

The iGaming industry is still very conservative, with thousands of slot machines available online everywhere, but what sets us apart from the rest is, the fact that we can create any game that could even be known locally within a matter of weeks and launch it successfully with the support of our back office.

Surprisingly, there are very few in the iGaming industry that are actually doing something different. In the past, more of the same was a sure-fire way to be successful, but I think those days are over.

What are you working on now? What’s in the pipeline?

We are getting a lot of attention from players and brands that are at the very forefront of the iGaming industry that wants to offer the next big thing. In the past, anyone could just get a license and present a package of slots (just as everyone else) and be a success.

The only reason such firms lasted a few years ago, was because of the rapid growth in the iGaming industry and people who took a shot just rode the wave while it lasted. But I believe times have changed and the industry has evolved since then. Nowadays, operators are looking for innovative ideas that echo their own vision and here at Spigo we want to be right up there helping them to achieve their goals.

We are currently working on a new framework for developing slot machines based on HTML5 that runs super smooth. We are proud to develop games that aren’t full of cheap effects as we believe that sometimes, less is more. We let our product speak for itself. Our first slots based on this framework will be coming out before Christmas, so all our partners will be able to get hold of those then.

Where do you think the iGaming industry is going?

I think we will see both Europe and the US getting more regulated state by state, with the whole world becoming regulated over time. However, regulations will differ since gaming and gambling are also very cultural. Gambling is as old as time itself, and regulations will be determined by local cultures. This is why at Spigo we need to keep offering products that comply with local regulations. The more regulated the world becomes, the better it is for us.

A bit more about you; how do you manage time? Do you dedicate a substantial part of it playing yourself for market research?

I deal with it very well, to be perfectly honest. I think I work well under pressure. I’ve always led a busy life, so stress has never got the better of me.

I used to wake up late and sleep very late, but now I sleep until I wake up. If I don’t have any meetings I won’t set an alarm, I’ll wake up when my body’s ready to. However, I’m always in the office before 10am.

While I don’t play a lot of games myself, I cannot get enough of Supercells Class Royale. I get a lot of inspiration from the app store.

This article was published first on SiGMA Magazine. The magazine was launched at SiGMA show last November. For SiGMA17 sponsorship opportunities click here.

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