An interview with Yoav Dotan - founder of Genesis Global
Yoav Dotan is a 20-year veteran in the online gaming industry. He is the founder of Genesis Global, an igaming company based in Malta. We sat down with Yoav to get his take on the industry, informed by his extensive experience within it.
How has the industry changed and evolved in those 20 years?
I would divide the industry timeline into four periods, which I believe are the most significant. The industry took its first steps between 1995 and 2002. It was a very grey environment. Most operations were based in the Caribbean, with a combination of pure online companies like Microgaming and 888, and US-bound sportsbook operations which were previously pure call centers.
Between 2002 and 2006, companies started moving to Europe – to places like Gibraltar, Cyprus and the Isle of Man – and really started to grow significantly. Many of them managed to go public just before the US law banning online gaming was passed. Party Gaming went public for 8.5 billion, and there were a few others with over a billion in valuation when floated. For instance, Playtech was valued at $20 million in 2003, and went public for $1 billion in 2006.
The ‘regulated period’ starts in 2006. For about a four year span, until around 2010, the large companies tried to reroute after the collapse of the US market. We also saw regulation emerging in the EU. From 2010 onwards, we witnessed the ‘Scandinavian revolution’, as it were. Most, if not all of the most successful new operations and game providers during this period were established by Scandinavians. More about that later…
What was different back in the day?
It was actually a bit similar to how Malta evolved to be – it started as fun
start-ups turning into more corporate and serious businesses. The main difference is that now everything is regulated. You can go public, get finance, and create an asset while planning for the long run. Back in the day, it was much more difficult to think long-term and have a proper strategy. It was not growth-focused as it is today but profit-focused, as no regulations were in place. Despite a smaller market size, companies were extremely profitable. Marketing channels surprisingly did not change dramatically, but today some are dictated by regulation.
Can you share a few anecdotes from the past for our young audience?
I’m not sure I should share everything, but some of the highlights would be bringing Aerosmith over for a full concert for a company event. Another highlight would be the purchase of some strange stuff on Ebay for PR - like a grilled cheese sandwich that bore the image of the Virgin Mary for $28,000, and William Shatner’s kidney stone for $25,000. Sending a number of our VIP players to exotic destinations on private jets, which was a probably a nice perk for them, was also pretty rewarding.
You mentioned the last 8 years as the period of Scandinavian revolution, and Malta’s emergence. Can you go into more detail?
It is quite simple – I believe Scandinavians transformed our industry for the good because of their DNA as people. They are fair people. The whole manner of treatment of customer has changed, for the benefit of customers, and they pushed the whole industry in their direction. I will give you a very simple example. The old- school companies made an effort to retain as much revenue in house as possible, which meant what we call ‘hold’ was about 65%. On every 100 Euros deposited, only 35 Euros where withdrawn. The Scandinavians, because of their withdrawal policy and offering higher payout games, lowered this number to about 35% without hurting player lifetime value. Guts started a few years ago with a 4-hour withdrawal policy and Ninja promises only 15 minutes today. This is very good to players and the industry. The other thing is the community shaping up in Malta – everyone lives, works and goes out in the same few towns, so there are many opportunities created by networking. Relationships between competitors are excellent and so are the relationships between the smallest affiliate to the CEO on a personal level. There is a lot of trust and respect and I admire that. Malta is the perfect place for our industry and I believe it will remain so, despite being too small for some people.
Do you think of Malta as the hub for gaming?
Malta is the undisputed destination for iGaming and a committed prime jurisdiction for the industry. All new successful operators and marketing companies, as well as most suppliers such as game vendors and payment solutions are based in Malta. Malta is a gateway for growth and further expansion in the digital economy. Malta has the ability to meet market demands and its structure is built around this industry. There is a commitment to the higher standard in service industry and the capability of infrastructure and talent. It ensures the highest regulatory standards to make the industry safe for consumers and meeting industry demands and emerging trends within the market. Today, Malta is one of of the best technology and innovation hubs in the world and one of the fastest-growing economies globally, despite its size and lack of natural resources. You can see even more companies from other hubs, like 888 and bet365 from Gibraltar, are opening offices in Malta. The only issues for Malta are a lack of proper office buildings, the rise of living costs, especially rent, and a difficulty in finding employees, especially developers. I would suggest promoting computer programming education. The Maltese are great employees in general, on any level, so I am confident they will do well in tech positions.
What do you think the future of the industry will look like?
It’s difficult to say. Last year’s biggest buzz was VR and nothing eventually happened. This year the biggest buzz was eSports, and it will also probably not happen. Other things the industry talk about are big data, gamification, crypto, messenger gaming, social features, skill games and others. I believe the most disruptive innovation that the industry’s future lies on is development of a truly flexible tech platform, capable of evolving at the same pace as emerging technology does, which no other company has managed to create – meaning to be able to plug in any new innovation quickly and seamlessly. There is also an interesting ‘development’ which I saw with the new pay-and-play concept. It’s not only the ease of use, but it also limits the operators, because of a lack of information on the player with bonuses and promotions, which many players seem to like. No bonuses and promotions, as a concept, together with lots of talk about internet privacy, can limit the benefit of big data purposes, as they are today – mainly for retention or real time retention or ‘gamification’. Certain current and future regulations will limit the operators as well, when it comes to bonuses and promotions. I do believe gamification and other front-end and product innovation will be introduced. More companies will go public, more innovations will evolve, more M&As will go through, more governments will establish regulations. I expect the industry will continue to grow at around 10% for the next few years.
You are known to be an animal-rights and environmental advocate and activist. Can you tell us how you connect your values with our industry?
First of all, it’s about awareness. I am connected via social media to hundreds of industry colleagues, and although some of my posts can be quite graphic, I believe they are supportive of the general direction our society should go. Business- wise, I believe companies should not only promote strong Corporate Social Responsibility, but a more advanced approach of Total Societal Impact, or TSI. In short, this goes beyond your own corporation’s responsibility, but tries to solve some of the world’s problems through your business. It is difficult for pure online companies to do that, but not impossible. One direction I can imagine off the top of my head is creating games that promote good values. Many people in Malta share my values and it gives me hope for the future. I was even thinking of suggesting it as a topic for the next SiGMA conference. TSI in gaming: it’s good for us and the industry.