White Hat Studios is now live in the US, having announced a slew of high-profile deals over the past year, with market-leading operator BetMGM its first customer to go live in Michigan.
In the run up to his appearance at SBC NA, where White Hat Studios is an exhibitor and sponsor, CEO Andy Whitworth spoke with SBC Americas about introducing the company to the US and how he expects slots to evolve in this new market.
White Hat has just gone live in the US with Michigan as its first state. How is the igaming landscape in this state?
Michigan has made an extremely positive start. We have now gone live with our first customer there, BetMGM, who are making enormous strides. It’s incredible that, from a standing start, Michigan has reached similar levels to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, two of the country’s most established jurisdictions. This rapid development just goes to show how quickly a state can begin to see the benefits of igaming and good examples like this should lead to more states coming online soon.
That being said, many would have expected more states to be live at this stage. There has been pronounced demand for sports betting, but companies have been making significant losses. The need for effective cross-sell and bigger margins with casino, as well as the stability that offers, is becoming far more important for companies to become profitable.
Has the response to online slots been what you expected?
Generally, players are still favoring the online versions of their favourite land-based games, as online slots are still so new in the US. However, there is an increasing trend of players taking to more evolved versions that follow in those game styles.
As the market develops, players will become more discerning and seek more innovative offerings. We see differentiated products such as Megaways and features such as bonus bets becoming more and more popular.
At White Hat Studios, we couldn’t be happier with our first game launches. They’re not only competing with proven titles but outperforming. It’s very early days, but the response to some of our more innovative feature-rich games has been so exceptional that players have taken to them from day one. For example, Megaways has had some good traction. Our first Megaways release is Almighty Buffalo, that also has a feature buy and we are seeing unbelievable traction.
We thought there was a big gap in the market for feature-rich slots, so to test the water, we launched Thriller Gorilla, which has more than 10 features to achieve, and again it already has a huge following, leaving us very excited to get our next wave of content out. We already have 100 games in progress as we look to become a leading US supplier.
Popular brand IPs alongside exciting jackpots is our USP for the US market. This is why we’ve secured and heavily invested in our branded offering with several hit titles within each deal, including Ted, Deal or No Deal and Peaky Blinders, and will be launching new branded titles monthly. Our first branded launch is Ted, which is certainly entertaining customers on BetMGM sites.
For RNG table games, IP is equally as important as it is for slots. It’s vital to bring the casino floor experience to online players. We have some fantastic deals in place, which will see us bring out new and innovative blackjack and roulette titles.
Has there been a notable difference in introducing slots to the US compared with doing so in Europe?
One thing that has stood out is that a strong brand IP in games is a lot more impactful as an acquisition and retention tool in the US than it is in Europe, especially because players are less familiar with online slots here. Presenting them with a brand they already know goes a long way to bridging the gap and helps acquire new players.
One of the advantages we have is that there are so many brands that have been tried and tested in Europe that we have been able to optimise them to appeal to a US audience.
Last, but not least, how do you see the US market moving forward with regards to its appetite for slots?
Slots have taken off at pace in the US and that will only continue as more states regulate. In time, US players will evolve their own tastes and preferences, and studios should track these changes in order to appeal effectively to this incredibly exciting market.
As time goes by, it will be interesting to see whether US players in different states prefer various types of games. There are major differences between player preferences and behavior in Romania and the UK, for example, and in all likelihood, we will see this replicated in the US as well.
In the coming months, I expect a lot more casinos to be displaying White Hat Studio’s content on their homepage as we continue our exciting expansion.