Interview with ReelNRG CEO Calvin Kent
London-based online slot game developer ReelNRG was founded in 2016 and has already succeeded in making waves in the iGaming industry. The company prides itself on developing slots with compelling storylines and has quickly developed a reputation for providing entertaining gaming experiences for players.
Between the two of them, cofounders CTO Amit Majumdar and CEO Calvin Kent have over 40 years of experience in figuring out why some slots are so successful - and why even successful ones can fail. They bring their extensive knowledge to the table every time they design a new slot, aiming to entertain players with dazzling visuals and engaging gameplay and deliver high profits to operators.
ReelNRG is licensed in the UK, Malta, Curacao, and Gibraltar, and is certified by eCOGRA, the international testing agency and player protection organization. The developer also cooperates with GambleAware, a UK organization dedicated to helping problem gamblers.
Despite the company’s relative youth, ReelNRG is enjoying noteworthy success, especially in the Asian market with high-volatility games like Caifu Laile and the Eastern European market with games like Ivan - Not the Fool (designed with one of their secret weapons, which you’ll read about below). With offices in the UK and India, ReelNRG also operates in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.
The company focuses exclusively on slots. Some of the company’s popular titles include Goddess of Asia, Ella’s Riches, Snow Wild, Dragon’s Lair, Shanghai Respin, and Nefertiti’s Gold.
To learn more about how the company found success so quickly, we interviewed CEO Calvin Kent. He told us about the company’s creative process, the future of the iGaming industry, the essential qualities of a successful slot, how the company tailors slots to target markets, and the advice he wishes he had gotten when he was first starting out in the industry.
The creative process
Slotegrator: Let’s talk about creativity. Where do you find inspiration for your slots? Do you look more towards classic themes or do you look for new ideas?
Calvin Kent: The creative team at ReelNRG spends a lot of our time researching what the players are playing most and what they enjoy. We analyze where the trends are going and look ahead to festive seasons. I myself grew up enjoying classical slots, but today we also see a lot of new inspiration and new ideas incorporated into slot games, and that’s a good thing, players are looking for new stuff as well as the classics. So we do also aim to challenge the market with new ideas, as well as developing some classic slots like our three-reel “Reel Joker” slot for example.
We have some great creatives and artists, many who are from Russia, so it was no surprise that when we developed Riches of Moscow or Ivan (Not the Fool), they went crazy with excitement and really dug deep into their history and fairytales. We had so many great comments from some of our players and customers in the Eastern European markets, asking how we were able to capture the essence of the themes so well. I smiled and thought of my artists involved.
S: Once you have an idea for a new slot, what does your creative process look like?
CK: Once we have an idea for a new slot, we try to build a story around the theme. We go through many mood boards and isolate what feels great. We try to find things that players will relate to and even find humorous. After that, we leave it to the artists to start sketching, and that’s where the magic starts. Every successful sketch goes through for coloring and then its sent off to our animation team.
S: What qualities do you think are essential for a successful slot?
CK: Players are playing for fun! So we build games for entertainment first. There is always going to be the chase for that win, and celebrating that win is equally as important. Whenever you see a player win big on the casino floor, you see them look around as the coin shower is flooding the screen with ‘Victory’. Players love that! So it is important to incorporate the ability for a player to know they can win big on a slot and get lucky, and in the meantime, “Let me enjoy the thrill and entertainment while I wait!”
The best non-multiplied prize you a player can win on our Wild Karaoke title is 30,000 coins. Couple that with the maximum win multiplier and this rises to 150,000 coins, or 3,750x your bet. Few slots do that.
S: There are few themes we see again and again, like Ancient Egypt and Vikings. Why do you think these themes are so undyingly popular?
CK: I am a fan of those themes myself; I feel there are some themes out there which the player does not have to think too much about regarding the storyline or concept. They can just jump straight into the game, already understanding the theme and the usual symbol suspects. The games are usually built with a more simplistic approach, and they are usually high variance slots with a lot of pay-out balance pushed into a bonus or feature win. This generally causes players to pace themselves with lower bets until they feel the big hit is coming. We see a great deal of play with our Nefertiti’s Gold title, it has three amazing features in the main game with a great payout in the Free Spins feature, which can be retriggered.
S: How do you choose the titles for your slots?
CK: When choosing our next slot title, we like to play with title names that players will remember. Snow Wild was the first title I came up with, some time ago now. Even today, when I tell people about that game I often make the initial mistake of saying “Snow White.” I would not say the name of a game can make it or break it, but if it’s a great name people want to remember it and it’s a lot easier to recall if it's simple and clever.
S: Can you describe the style of art used in your slots?
CK: We design our graphics a little unusual compared to the rest of the crowd. We sit right in the middle of the normal flat vector graphics style and traditional 3D modeling. 3D can be hugely disadvantageous to the filesizes of game titles, and we want players to jump straight into games without the heavy downloads of animations. I did come across a review of our game graphics in particular, and they had stated:
“Every game ReelNRG has released has been stunningly created. The graphics for every video slot is reminiscent of top-tier console video games or movie-quality animation studios, which is sure to delight anyone playing their games.”
That was a delight to read for sure. It is good to know you're doing something right.
S: Do you think ReelNRG’s slots have a particular personality? How would you describe it?
CK: We almost always feature characters in our games and one particular account manager at SG pointed this out to me and said it was a great thing. We tie that character into the story of the game. I like to think of it as giving the player something to associate with the title and the game.
S: Do you choose specific themes to target certain player segments?
CK: Absolutely. It's important to give the player something they can feel comfortable playing, and I am almost sure there is a little bit of patriotism in everyone. It's also great for us as we always learn a lot from research into different countries, and can then have some fun through our rendition of our game. For example Feria Loca is our take on “A crazy Spanish party – Feriiaaa Loca!” – We also target certain player segments through the volatility of our maths. For example, in Asia we usually have a much higher volatility game, which you can experience in Caifu Laile.
S: Which promotional strategies have you found to be the most effective?
CK: Tournaments are always a good thing. We have also developed some unique bonus tools ourselves, which can land the player with free passes to our feature rounds. This has been hugely successful for us. I think in today's highly competitive market, as a supplier, you have to be able to give back to the players and more so assist the operators in doing so. I believe the promotional tools can also help differentiate you from the crowd.
S: How has ReelNRG changed in the course of the company’s history?
CK: Well, we are relatively still new in the market, we have only been going for 2.5 years now. But having said that, we have great people behind us and already have 30 games in our library covering a number of territories in 30 different languages. We have also spread our reach to the cryptocurrency market. During the last two years, we have gained our UKGC, Malta, Curacao, and Gibraltar licenses.
S: Would you say ReelNRG has a mission? What is it?
CK: To bring energy and entertainment to the gambling industry, through engaging games that players will recognize and enjoy.
S: What sets ReelNRG’s slots apart from all the rest?
CK: We get a lot of comments on our artwork, themes and storylines. A lot of that is owed to our Product Manager Harsharan Gill. She loves slots and has a real passion for them. She manages to find some crazy stuff out there, which she pushes to get included in some way or another into the games.
S: Sum up your company in ten words or fewer.
CK: ReelNRG is extremely ambitious. We prioritize delivering spectacular quality and entertainment.
S: Where do you see the iGaming industry going in the next five years, and how will ReelNRG adapt to those changes?
CK: Online gambling has been snowballing in the past two decades, thanks to the rise of the Internet and various technological advancements. The internet is home to thousands of casinos with millions of players. The industry is set to be worth a whopping $60 billion in 2020. The latter means that the competition among casinos will become even more fierce and that software providers will be even more innovative than ever before.
Each year comes with advanced technological innovations bringing fresh ideas and new projects to the market, and we expect this to continue throughout 2020 as well.
A.I. and machine learning are usually interchangeable and often confused. A.I. is the simulation of human intelligence by machines and computer systems. Machine Learning is a branch of A.I. that uses algorithms and statistical models which allow computer systems to automatically learn and improve themselves.
I think something which really excites me is A.I and machine learning. AI can not only be used in many ways to bring you a better experience by learning your playing habits but also it can be used in other areas such as customer support. Some casinos already use highly sophisticated chatbots to help clients with their queries. The chatbot is able to learn from every question and become even better for the next question. AI systems can also be used to find cheating players and frauds by analyzing patterns in behavior, which can be a difficult task for most people. This will bring more security both to the casino owners and players as well. Gaming addiction is another problem that can be tackled by AI, as the system can easily detect players’ behavior.
There has been a view already into VR and augmented reality. I remember playing the first one at ICE, I believe it was 2018. It was cool, although I think the old school slot will take a lot to beat. Maybe the VR in slots is a completely different player base that might lean more towards the younger generation. I have played on VR and I think it's great, but I do know after about 20 -30 mins it can get a little much. I once walked around a showhome in New York on VR, and after about 15 mins, I literally felt like I had been somewhere. It was great but the mind took a little time to re-adjust.
S: Speaking of the future, what do you think are the most exciting changes you see coming?
CK: I think this question goes hand in hand with the previous question. I would only add I am excited to see more of how AI and machine learning integrates itself into the iGaming sector.
A personal note
S: If you could give your younger self advice, what would it be?
CK: Keep knocking on the doors and don’t give up, as it is often hard to break into any well-established market place. Someone once told me: There are two things that make success happen, competency and endurance, and there was truth to that statement. I would also tell myself that I am not as important as I think I am, and if I really want to be successful it's going to be a lot harder than I think it would be.
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