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Challenges Facing a Live Casino Start-Up – An Interview with Matthew Charlesworth, Digitain

I sat down with Matthew Charlesworth, Managing Director of Digitain Live Casino, to discuss his challenges with joining a Live Casino Start-up.

Matthew joined the Digitain Team full-time in December 2021 to head up the newly formed live casino operation, having spent the previous four years leading the live casino team at Entain.

In this interview, we cover a bit of background and gain an understanding of what drives Matthew & Digitain to do things a bit differently.

In an open and honest exchange, Matthew reveals how his experience on the operator side has helped define the sort of live casino solution he wants to build with Digitain.

The learnings should help anyone considering such a move or may resonate with those who have already trodden this path.

Matthew Charlesworth Interview

I asked Matthew to give me a bit of background on his experience and how he ended up at Digitain.

Matthew has 36 years of experience in gaming. The last 12 years have been spent focusing online, with his first role at Partygaming in 2010. Besides spending a year as Head of Gaming at Aspers land-based casino, Matthew has focused on Live Casino. Notable roles include Bet365, Betfair/Paddy Power, NetEnt Live and Head of Live Casino at Entain.

While in this role, Digitain first approached Matthew to help with their new live casino project. Initially turning down a position, Digitain persisted. After visiting the new facilities with the founder of Digitain, Vardges Vardanyan, Matthew decided the opportunity to combine years of land-based and his online experience was too good to ignore and joined Digitain to lead and shape the Live Casino product.

Has there been a big learning curve in transitioning from Operator to Developer side?

As a Tier One customer of Playtech at Bet365 in 2013, I was in a lovely position to influence their product roadmap. (Not games as such, but the general player experience) and also be involved in setting up new studios. Back then, I didn’t have to worry about the technical side, which was handled by Playtech development.

Now, I have to worry about everything. Streaming, how long it takes to get equipment and from which country, recruitment, uniforms, do we buy ready-made tables or make them in-house? Does the studio floor need to be raised for the wiring? What about sound insulation?

Luckily, I am working with some of the most dedicated professional experts I have ever encountered in my 36 years of gaming. Between those people, combined with the founder’s passion, vision and dedication, no problem has been or will be insurmountable.

And then, there is the development of the software and product. Do we want to copy or develop something completely new?

Outright plagiarism is not an option for DLC (Digitain Live Casino). We take the best bits that others have done while eliminating the worst and then put our spin on it.

In my role as an operator, data was everything. One of the most enjoyable aspects of working with our product guys has been watching our back office develop. Making sure all the data points are accessible and having some of the best reporting within the industry ensures our partners have everything they need at their fingertips.

Given your background and core competencies. How important has the data you’ve seen been in setting your strategic direction? What have you learnt from the numbers?

Data and trends in the live casinos have certainly had an impact on the strategy I have developed.

Every decision we make is driven by the data. We always ask ourselves, ‘does this make it easier for our Commercial Directors (Jason Marcelino) and people in sales jobs when it comes to selling DLC in a highly competitive marketplace.?

Currently, it’s about building up the business with the trust of our partners. We have over 100 years of on and offline experience in just four people within the team. We know the player data from our previous roles and what is and isn’t essential to players, and we’re using that to help shape every aspect of DLC.

I’m a superfan of Evolution and consider them the gold standard in the industry. When you leave a great company like Entain, a footsie 100 company with a nice pension and excellent benefits, you have to think, “can I make this new venture work?” How can we compete with Evolution, Playtech, Pragmatic Play, On Air Entertainment, Stakelogic and the rest? – can we be sure to make it work?

I have to be realistic.

Are we going to build the next Crazy Time or Monopoly? – no, we’re not. Are we going to make a multiplier roulette that is better than everyone else has? – no, we are not.

But yes, of course, we will have a multiplier roulette (showcasing at ICE 2023), and yes, we will have a game show, and again this will also be available for viewing at ICE 2023.

I’ve noted that since game shows have come in, the marketers have driven players to the new game shows. As a result, there has been a decline in regular roulette by a few % points. But the game that paid the most significant price is Blackjack.

We’ve seen the low-stakes table eroded by all suppliers. Covid has exasperated this with the implementation of social distancing measures, so operators closed their low-stakes tables and kept the high-stakes tables. As a result, the big suppliers saw profit increase from the card tables, but many players could not play and were pushed to scalable Blackjacks or other games they were not necessarily looking for when they logged on to play.

So we have made the strategic decision until the end of 2023 to be a supplier with nothing but low stakes Blackjack tables within our BJ lobby area. This has eliminated the need to have stake filter buttons, so our BJ lobby auto sorts constantly a player never has to scroll.

Our Blackjack will have new features, and we deliberately did not develop Bet Behind. It’s a horrible player experience, and we don’t need it as we are committing to our supply of 7-seat tables to exceed demand.

One of the boldest strategic decisions was to say we won’t provide a scalable Blackjack game. It’s a personal view, but I don’t like these games. They run slowly, cards go out of sight of the players, and they are digital RNG and Live hybrids. My historical data tells me that if seats are available at low-stakes regular 7-seat tables, this is where the players would choose if they were able.

We will also showcase a new BJ product at the ICE in Feb 2023, which should provide a great talking point and be the first for this player experience.

Is there a risk of not having a scalable BJ table? Will this exclude players? Or will they be happy to take a seat at a standard table?

I don’t think players are coming to the lobby looking to play a slow single-hand game with a mix of live and RNG images.

As long as we have seats on tables at affordable entry-level stakes, there is simply no need for them to play a scalable Blackjack.

What are your thoughts on Innovation in Live Casino and what you are doing?

The actual game changer was Lightning Roulette, followed by Monopoly, and Crazy Time, all Evolution, of course.

Have we seen any real innovation or game changes since then? I don’t think so.

We’ve seen some failures – like Gonzos Treasure Hunt. That said, I take my hat off to Evolution for doing it. They had just bought NetEnt and naturally tried to combine a successful NetEnt slot character with a game show concept. You have to try new ideas and can’t always succeed.

I will be the first person to compliment a supplier on games I think will succeed. I am constantly reviewing new games from all suppliers, I have seen nothing of late, but I am sure there will be some blockbusters over the coming 24 months.

We are designing and working on fresh game concepts which will be new to the market.

Is Innovation part of your Strategy?

Innovation sits alongside everything we do.

You will see something special for Blackjack at ICE. Later in the year, you’ll see more Blackjack innovations as we redevelop the initial product from the floor up.

We are adding some special side bets to Baccarat. They are a scaled-down version of Egalite side bets you see at Playtech, which, incidentally, I introduced to them while I was at Betfair, so no accusations of plagiarism can be thrown at me there! With our side bets, you’re betting on ranges. It’s something different but not a game-changer.

We have also engineered an elegant solution that zooms in on the cards on the Baccarat Table. This does away with the need for computer-generated images on Mobile, vastly improving the player experience.

Will we see a Game Show?

Yes, we have a game show in production.

As I mentioned, it will be introduced at ICE this year. We have more ideas in the pipeline for the Game Show genre, but we are not obsessing over this topic.

We won’t be building to fill a lobby category, but when we do build, the games will be of good quality.

How will Operators benefit from the Experience at Digitain?

For Tier 2 and 3 operators, very. Tier 1 is less so, as they already have many employed live casino experts.

If you look at the data, live casino is not growing as the industry thought they would three years ago. It has remained relatively flat from an operator’s perspective.

From late 2018 predictions were all saying that the growth area is Live Casino. Outside of the USA, we have not seen the predicted growth, admittedly in part due to regulating markets like Germany, but still, in general, falling short of what many expected.

As an operator, if Live Casino is not contributing 25%+ of your overall casino revenue (slots, RNG and Live), then you’re underperforming and need to do something about it.

As part of our service, we look with experienced eyes at our partner’s casino pages. We give recommendations on how to improve the LC numbers, and this does not mean we say put DLC tiles at the top!

Thank you, Matthew. That was very interesting and enlightening.

You certainly have a vision of how you’re going to succeed.

Some may say some of the decisions you are taking are brave, but you’re being true to your word, refusing to follow as others have led, ploughing your path based on your experience and the underlying data.

I’m looking forward to ICE and seeing that Blackjack product come to life!

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About Neil’s Casino Comparer Reviews

I have tried to be objective and consistent with all my live casino reviews. Hopefully, they will strike a chord with you, but I thought it might be helpful to explain the criteria I use to mark each of the casinos. Hopefully, the categories and explanations make sense.

Playability – What is the overall impression of the casino? Did I have a good time? are the dealers nice and chatty and is everything easy to understand? Does it have a good set of games and is there a comprehensive set of betting options? Are high stakes players taken care of?

Software – What is the software like to use and does it integrate well with the rest of the casino?. Are the images clear and is the video streaming fast? Have they taken more than the default shared tables? Is it available on mobile?

Payment Options – Does the casino have a good variety of payment options? Do they payout quickly and on time?

Security – How good is the reputation of the casino amongst other players? Do they hold a valid gaming license? Are they transparent about the security measures they have in place? Are they regularly audited? Do they publish this information?

Support – Do they have multiple methods for communication with me? Is support available 24×7? Do they have instant chat and are they quick to respond? Are they able to help me immediately? Do they have an online FAQ and self-help library? Are the support people knowledgeable about the product I’m playing?

Bonuses – Do they have bonuses?. How strict are the wagering requirements? Do they offer repeat bonuses?. Do they offer loyalty points and can they be redeemed for cash or playing credits?

After all that, would I play there regularly?

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