Simon Hammon’s Lessons from a Life in Slots: The Past – Slots

Simon Hammon, recently appointed General Manager of Relax Gaming, insists he is not a typical “product guy”. But the games released under his direction, like Starburst during his time at NetEnt, had a massive impact on the industry. In the first of a three-part interview, he talks about his more than 15 years in the industry.

In an industry that’s only been around since 1994, anything more than ten years seems like a lifetime, when things can change quickly and drastically in a matter of months.

Simon Hammon has spent over 15 years in the industry so far, the majority of that time in senior product roles. He spent seven years at NetEnt, where he rose to the position of Chief Product Officer, before joining Relax Gaming where he was appointed Managing Director in July this year.

For someone with a long career in slot development, he is keen to point out that he is not the typical slot developer. “I am not Mr. Product Roadmap, an agile evangelist. I’m not that guy,” Hammon says.

“I look at the product as a business ultimately, and the economics of the business, the dynamics, the competition, the financials, the proposition, the marketable proposition value of the product,” he explains. “It’s actually my talent. I have great people complementing me on the tech side, brilliant people who know much better.

If that’s what sets him apart from other CPOs, it’s served him well. During NetEnt’s heyday, his tenure as CPO included releases such as Starburst – his first job launch – and branded titles such as Aliens, South Park, and Guns N’ Roses.

Simon Hamon

Take a Calculated Risk: Leaving NetEnt to Relax

Of course, given that Hammon’s seven-year stint at NetEnt coincided with his glory days, the very fact that he took on a challenge at Relax in 2018 might be considered surprising. It was an established name, yes, but it would have been hard to claim it was on par with a NetEnt, Playtech or Microgaming.

He admits that due to NetEnt’s reputation at the time, he was “spoiled for choice” when he decided to move on. “The usual suspects have emerged. It’s a good thing to have a press release [and on a CV] but I didn’t want that – my real joy is creating something and then challenging the market.

“Safe to say, I’d say very few people knew who Relax was at the time, on paper, and in the right view, it would look like a pretty big step forward. But I saw the move as a calculation , a calculated risk. I wanted to continue to mark the spirits a little and I saw in Relax something special.

“People think Relax is a new business. It’s not, it’s been around for 12 years so there were already a lot of fantastic things technically in place, great founders who were people who were really in tune with the business and passionate about what ‘They did.

He viewed the company as a “diamond in the rough” and his role was to polish the diamond. “There are hundreds of suppliers out there that you honestly look at and you think, ‘Great, but where is this going?’ I think for us we are a horse that you can support for many years. years, and I think we’ve done a great job – everyone knows who we are now!

And since July last year it has had a significant new parent company in the Kindred group, building on a relationship in which Relax provides operator Unibet with exclusive poker and bingo products. Going forward, Kindred talked about Relax’s role in giving him more control over his tech stack, which he’s also pursuing in esports with a proprietary platform, meaning he’ll be ending his long-standing agreement with the former subsidiary Kambi.

But for Hammon, the takeover hasn’t affected or affected Relax’s day-to-day operations at all.

“That’s pretty unusual for a takeover, isn’t it?” You would expect heavy influence or guidance or whatever,” he says. “There are real synergies between the companies we have carried out, mainly commercial and positioning, but on the operational level, we are left to do what we want.

“We have a separate board, we have a separate management, we have a separate strategy. We operate independently. And that’s actually been a huge benefit of this takeover because yes, we can now complement Kindred with initiatives and benefits, [and provide] income to the business. But we are a B2B supplier. We work in the B2B environment, and we work with competitors, but it’s respected.

Sometimes the Stars Align: Launching a Hit Slot Machine

But this B2B environment is almost unrecognizable from the one he joined in February 2011, when he transitioned from a NetEnt affiliate role.

It only took him six months to go from product manager to CPO, though he says it just came down to being able to see what was done well and what wasn’t in the way games were packaged. and presented to the industry.

And then there was Starburst, a game that still lurks atop the monthly eGaming Monitor rankings in iGB’s Casino Dashboard a decade after its launch. Many claimed credit for Starburst. As CPO for his exit, Hammon has a bigger claim than most.

“I take absolutely no credit for that,” he says.

“I remember launching this game, it was a very well done game and it was very well timed, with free spins and open marketing.” It had a different feel, he says, at a time when a lot of time and money was spent on 3D productions.

Even then, there was no guarantee of its success. Another 3D title, Boom Brothers, was “a bit of a flop,” he points out, and Starburst had a much simpler look. Yet the launch, and Gonzo’s Quest before it, launched what was undeniably the provider’s golden age.

It wasn’t a case of lightning in the bottle, however. “I would say an integral part of that was due to great quality and production, but also limited competition,” Hammon says. “Let’s be honest [it was an] open market, limited competition. In all honesty, I don’t think it took much to stand out from the crowd.

“It wasn’t hard to make waves in that time as long as we stayed true to what we were doing, and we were super, super proud of that era. And I think we did some great things and I think that’s the kind of quality philosophy that I really tried to instill in Relax.

No Formula for Success: Building a Competitive Slots Studio

A cliché often trotted out is that Starburst wouldn’t make it today. But it’s less of a cliché and more of a fact of life, Hammon says. “I can say hand on my heart that if we launched Starburst today, this game would absolutely fail.

“At the time, it was the right game with the right promotional elements that unknowingly captured market interest and accelerated. If it launched today, I don’t know if it would even do part of an operator’s top 500.

At launch, the release pipeline for the industry would be no more than 15 games per month.

“Fast forward to where we are today,” Hammon continues. “We have operators, depending on their strategy, who launch between 70 and 150 games per month.

“Just huge volumes. And this has a huge impact on product visibility and operator enthusiasm. They used to be super excited about the next game or features, but now you get hit with so many games, it’s quite hard to get super excited and order site takeovers or product positioning. Only the pure ROI of things has changed significantly.

For vendors, it’s easier than ever to get a game to market. Relax, Hammon points out, captures some of that through its Silver Bullet program, an accelerator that provides the platform and expertise provider to bring small studios into play.

“You have young brands that could be 10 guys who worked for a big name, have big ideas and got funding and want to get to market,” he says. “They could never have dreamed of the distribution, licensing or hosting opportunities they are getting today.

“It’s also helped increase the number of titles, because it’s actually easier to stream your games live. You would have had to work years to get that kind of exposure before.

However, this does not translate into success. It’s increasingly difficult for these smaller studios to gain traction in such a crowded market, and Hammon is under no illusions that many will struggle.

“I think there’s probably a perception that given enough time with enough launches, we’ll get a game that will stick and therefore give us sustained revenue for traction. Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen and it becomes an increasingly rare commodity.

Putting a game on the market is not enough. Studios need to define their value proposition, get their prices right, and create gaming communities to ensure there is demand among the end user. And, of course, come out with great content. “And then it’s still in the lap of the gods, so to speak.”

But that elusive success can dramatically change a studio’s outlook, he says, pointing out that a number of developers brought in over the past two years were in the red before the initial success changed their trajectory. “Then they become a brand and their supplemental content probably becomes more effective simply because of the virtue of brand recognition.”