Interview With an Innovator: How True Lab Keeps It Real
Every game developer likes to think their games are unique, but only rarely is that actually true. Ground-breaking developer True Lab is one such company, and their games truly stand out when compared to the rest of the games on the market.
Instead of the normal parade of slots that feature ancient Greek, Nordic, and Egyptian gods, True Lab has a wheel of fortune spun by a killer whale who’s also a billionaire businessman, a dice game hosted by an inventor who has tentacles instead of legs, and a video slot featuring a stingray who’s turned an old factory into a bitcoin mine. But as bizarre as these themes might sound, they aren’t the product of a fever dream; they’re the result of careful study and inspired design.
To find out more about the innovative game developer, Slotegrator interviewed True Lab CPO Mikhail Urazalinov. He shared some insights about slot creation and promotion, as well as telling us how the company has developed since it was founded in 2016 and how they’ve managed to distinguish themselves in a changing industry while pursuing the notoriously hard-to-reach Millennial demographic.
First off, Urazalinov told us where the company gets its off-the-wall ideas. The company has three groups that keep tabs on trends in pop culture, movies, TV shows, and social media, as well as analyzing new slots that strike the company as interesting. At weekly meetings, the teams discuss potential new storylines and game mechanics and choose which ones to move forward with. The themes are carefully calibrated to appeal to the Millennial demographic.
“Tracking trends allows us to see iconic iGaming subjects from new angles...Every Friday, we discuss some of our new concepts with storylines and game mechanics.”
The company’s process for creating slots starts with the initial concept, including the plot and visual themes, as well as a description of the mechanics and the game modes. If the concept is met with approval, a prototype is prepared. This is the make-or-break moment where the decision is made if the game will move forward or not. If the prototype makes the grade, the company dives into making the art, including pictures, animation, and other effects. Urazalinov estimates that “an interesting prototype and quality art are responsible for 90% of the product's success.”
After two and a half years of product testing cycles, the company’s process for getting a new title from concept to affiliate network takes around 3 months. The company’s focus is not on the quantity of releases, but their quality. The goal is to produce attention-grabbing titles that players will want to return to, not run-of-the-mill new editions of the same tired themes.
“Our priority is show-stopper releases and attention to detail.”
True Lab is well-qualified to focus on Millennial gamers - most of the staff are Millennials themselves, and while they’re familiar with classic slot themes, contemporary material is nearer and dearer to their hearts.
But while True Lab has a pinpoint focus on innovation, the company is not so foolish as to turn up its nose at tried and true methods. The big tip Urazalinov offers for beginners in game development is to go through the tradition of deconstructing successful projects in order to understand which game mechanics, art components, and other details made the game such a hit. He views the process almost as a rite of passage. Once that process is under their belt, developers can go on to make their own authentic games.
“We know the classic games have earned their popularity.”
Making a slot that will have equal appeal for first-timers and high rollers is a huge challenge. For True Lab, the solution lies in the nuts and bolts of the game. In Urazalinov’s opinion, “simple, intuitive mechanics that reward the player for their bet” and appealing visuals that make the player feel involved will engage both new and experienced players.
In Urazalinov’s view, a slot should also have retention-based math, so that players are “always waiting for the next cliffhanger” - which should come regularly. Apart from that, exceptional visuals, complex mechanics, pop culture references, a new approach to conventional plots, and careful attention to bonus mechanics all work together to make slots that keep players spinning.
The story of the company
It shouldn’t be surprising that True Lab has followed a unique path to success. Their first game was a transparently fair daily lottery with a blockchain RNG. Since then, they have been working on building their game design and production skills and introduced a variety of different game mechanics, like dice, wheels of fortune, and scratch-offs, all with the aim of launching the best products of their kind on the market.
“True Lab has a very unique story in this market.”
The company’s first six games all belong to “a single fantasy universe with overlapping storylines and characters.” Since acquiring an MGA license, they have also focused on slots, trying to fill each game with the kind of unique features they feel are missing from the other games on the market.
Urazalinov sees the iGaming market approaching a “Golden Age” as it sheds antiquated stereotypes about gambling. As industry newcomers bring their own new ideas, players are being exposed to a wider variety of gaming options. One huge change impacting the entire industry is the rise of mobile gaming. When designing a new game, developers must keep in mind how it will look on mobile, something the developers at True Lab pay a lot of attention to - after all, how often do you see a Millennial without their phone?
Knowing your audience means knowing where to find them. To promote their slots, True Lab works with a group of influencers, as well as Twitch and YouTube audiences and bloggers. To ensure steady, high-quality promotional efforts, True Lab focuses on their partner’s needs and interests, believing that “there is no better relationship than a mutually beneficial one.”
“Tournaments are extremely successful. It seems that everyone is happy with a tournament.”
According to Urazalinov, tournaments are an easy and effective promotional tool that keeps both players and operators equally happy. For the future, they have plans for daily, monthly, and even all-time jackpots.
A personal view on slots
Some slot themes are perennially popular, like treasure hunting, Nordic legends, the Wild West, and Asian themes. While True Lab’s releases have so far focused on indie looks and characters, their upcoming projects will be “kind of a tribute to some cross-cutting industry plots.”
In Urazalinov’s view, the market’s top slots share some crucial qualities, even if the two top sellers are distinctly different games. Top slots wind up having long lifetimes, massive and loyal user bases, and satisfied casino owners. While it’s hard to predict which slots will rise to the top and which will sink to the bottom, the market standards that have emerged include consistency of narrative, quality art, engaging mechanics, and absorbing bonus games. Good slots should “invoke strong emotions and produce a high crescendo” during a game session. There also needs to be a smooth, vivid gameplay experience, not an incoherent mess of colors and sounds.
“We believe something extraordinary is being developed here.”
The team played thousands of slots in preparation for designing their own games and debated their preferences during the process. But as for current personal favorites, Urazalinov has the same opinion as the rest of the True Lab team: whatever slot they’re working on right now.
Above all else, True Lab’s mission is simple: bring joy to its players. Who could disagree with that?