Team SBC speaks with Gamevy Marketing Director Helen Walton after the company’s recent success in winning Pitch ICE and their journey as start-up targeting the igaming market
Helen Walton is co-founder and marketing director of Gamevy. The online games developer was named winner of the inaugural Pitch ICE competition, produced by GamCrowd and Clarion Events. The employee-owned company was judged to be the start-up with the most potential after it received 32% of the public vote, which took place online after this year’s ICE Totally Gaming. Prior to being part of the team that set-up Gamevy, Walton previously worked at Unilever and Boots and with National Trust, Channel 4 and Daily Mail.
SBC: Congratulations on winning Pitch ICE. Can you summarise your journey as a start-up, from concept stage, to researching your proposition, and to your product launch?
Helen: Two years ago, the three company founders [Chairman Paul Dolman-Darrall, marketing director Helen Walton and CTO Dan Rough] were working together on an IT education product. We could see that it was clearly going to be a success, which was great, but meant we were all wondering about what to do next. Actually, we were all certain we wanted to build something else together. We also knew we wanted to build a different kind of company – one that would be employee-owned and have no bosses.
We had a few ideas about the product, and after an intense period of research, we created a range of game prototypes and set out building them. That meant recruiting some skilled developers and designers. Partly because of the unique way our company is set up, we’ve been able to attract some of the most talented people in the industry.
Our first game was a sort of trial, bypassing what we knew would mean heavy investment to gain a Gambling License, by operating in the social gaming space. We learned a great deal through the process of building and releasing a free social game. It meant that when we started building our real money gameshows we did so far quicker than most companies would be able to.
The process of applying for and receiving our gambling license was more time-consuming and intensive than we had anticipated, but it instilled real discipline in us and the company. Now, having tested the games extensively, we’re in beta as part of the App Store submission. That means we should be only days or weeks away from being really and truly live on the App Store – no words can express how anxiously we await that moment!
Getting to this point meant we were also ready to bring the product to a wider audience, which we were able to do, thanks to GamCrowd and Pitch ICE.
Along with the other start-ups that took part, the competition allowed us to gain fantastic exposure that we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to generate at the show. Winning Pitch ICE was a massive endorsement of our product and a reward for all our efforts to date. Now, gaining entry to the GamCrowd Incubator allows us to take our development to the next level.
SBC: Your team has chosen to revamp gameshow formats for gambling consumers. Why is the gameshow theme attractive to you?
Helen: Finally, we can justify all those hours spent watching gameshows as research! In all seriousness, gameshows are an astonishingly popular format – 10 million people in the UK watch gameshows regularly and – importantly – they are popular across all demographic groups.
People have strong connections to the formats – many of their catchphrases and concepts have entered into our cultural consciousness. Not only do people love to watch gameshows (and talk about them), but they also apply in their thousands to be on the programmes, in spite of the fact that the process is a difficult and time-consuming one.
The social version of the gameshow that people attend all over the world is the pub quiz. We felt that it was bizarre that such a popular and appealing format had not yet successfully translated into a digital product.
Now, of course, non-prize-winning versions of gameshows exist – many of which are premium or paid-for apps. They are extremely successful, but they don’t allow you to win real money – and the ability to win, or lose, a jackpot gives gameshows their emotional excitement. It seemed like such an obvious idea to us: TV-style gameshows with real prizes, and the best way of funding those prizes was through a simple wagering mechanic.
SBC: You have placed a high emphasis on fusing skill gaming with gambling mechanics, which can be no easy task. What has been your team’s approach to game development?
Helen: We began our development process by researching thousands of gameshows from around the world and created over the last 30 years. It was quite a task!
From there we worked out a quasi-DNA for gameshow formats, which meant that we really understood the differing mechanics and models that lay behind the superficial styling and various formats. Then we spent time working on how we could combine these. That means we have dozens of potential games ready to put into development.
Different games offer different challenges, from technical to marketing, to us as a company. Each title also offers potential players a different mix of benefits, from win rate to possible size of jackpot. Our job in development is essentially to play with these until we have the mix right, then create a playable prototype and spend time tweaking the different elements using customer feedback and refining our mathematical model. The design, styling and interaction of the game, develops alongside this.
I wouldn’t say it was easy, but on the other hand, it’s definitely fun. And, believe me, we have some absolutely superb ideas waiting.
SBC: Interestingly your team’s background is non-gambling related, do you feel that this may be an advantage in what some call a saturated market?
Helen: That’s an interesting question! There are plenty of examples of start-ups succeeding where the experts haven’t even tried, because the start-up proceeded in blissful ignorance of the difficulties.
We would be the first to admit that there are some aspects of the industry in which expert knowledge would have helped us. But part of our advantage is that we see some things with fresh eyes. It’s interesting the number of operators who have told us that combining skill with the game is simply impossible, for example. It’s not. And I don’t believe that we’re especially brilliant – simply that we’re not bound by the same experiences.
Of course, most gaming companies are highly focused on a particular type of customer that they know delivers the majority of their profits. But that means they’re all chasing the same group of people and competing against ever larger promotional budgets. We have a bolder vision – we believe that gameshows appeal to gamers who might not even think of themselves as ‘gamblers’, but who buy the odd scratchcard and play in pub quizzes. By focusing on unique content, we believe that we have a chance to compete against companies far larger and better resourced.
SBC: As an independent start-up how will you look to roll-out your unique products into the igaming market, especially when dealing with operators’ complicated igaming frameworks?
Helen: We are right at the start of that process. Our long-term vision is to be our own operator, bringing customers to our games via the BornLucky Gameshows app. However, of course, we’re also considering partnerships with the right kind of operator, bringing our gameshows to their customers. On the technic side we’re confident that we’ll be able to work with the major frameworks and platforms. We’ve had a look at the largest ones and we don’t see that as a stumbling block, although of course it’ll mean some intense work for our development team.
SBC: Finally, what are your start-up goals for 2015, in terms of game development and operations?
Helen: This is a huge year for us. Our product goes live in a matter of weeks and we will start some small marketing operations. We’re also in conversations with several possible partners and we’ll be looking to raise some funds as well to support some specific development and marketing plans. Pitch ICE was a great springboard and has helped us generate a number of new leads and opportunities. Finally, we have some really exciting ideas in the pipeline for development.
If you could grant me three wishes, they would be: one, to see that customers love playing our existing games, giving us the repeat play numbers that will make us a success. The second would be launching some extraordinary new games – including a vast multi-player live gameshow and, finally, to pay out a £1 million jackpot. Actually – that’s just for starters. Just occasionally I stop and look at the size of our ambitions and I don’t know whether to laugh or gasp!
Helen Walton Marketing Director Gamevy