EEGReport Magazine: Since the development of social gaming are moving at a rapid pace all around the world, what do you think the outcome of this development will be in Eastern and Central Europe? Do you think it’s going to surpass other gaming sectors in the region?
Rasmus Sojmark: Well the good thing about social gaming is that it is flexible enough to work around existing regulations and find a route to market that works. That isn’t the case with actual gaming which tends to operate within highly regulated boundaries or in the absence of regulation.
In countries where online gaming is illegal, social gaming can occupy the vacuum and desire of the public to indulge in gaming. Just look at its popularity in the US, especially the recent pexplosion in fantasy sports. These operations will then become ever more valuable when regulation does come in. By positioning yourself in these markets you will gain lots of future advantages from your data, but you need to work with local people to understand the culture, their needs and especially interest for participation in gambling related games. You will then stand a greater chance of success, but you still need to spend time and resources to fully localise your product and ensure there actually is market fit.
For those jurisdictions already with an established gambling industry, social gaming can still find its market and in some instances can be an effective acquisition and retention tool for real money gaming.
EEGReport Magazine: We have seen a lot of activity that involves your company in the region, especially in Ukraine and Bulgaria. What is your impression about these markets in terms of online gambling and of course in terms of social gaming?
Rasmus Sojmark: The online gaming market in Bulgaria has recently been regulated, and it is still in its early stages with only a few operators entering the market such as Betfair. We have seen that social gaming has a strong future here next to online gaming, and with growing interest we will keep evolving through our close partnership with local sports media powerhouse Sportal.bg.
The Ukraine market is pretty big compared to many other European markets. The Internet is well developed and been steadily growing every year with around 17 million users. Consumer research will also tell you that Ukrainians trust in local brands and are very loyal which means that new operators planning to enter the market might consider teaming up with bookmakers with local experience, knowledge and contacts within the market before entering. However, in Ukraine, the 2009 gaming laws still only prohibits the local lotteries to operate legally, which means that new entrants will have to be careful until the market will be fully regulated. Such discussions are already underway, and for now social gaming companies, such as Oddslife, are having a huge untapped market in front of them.
EEGReport Magazine: As we know you were born in Denmark and your first touch of the igaming world began in 2005. How much has the igaming industry evolved in the recent 10 years in Europe, but especially have you seen significant growth in Eastern and Central Europe or maybe the Scandinavian region recently?
Rasmus Sojmark: Scandinavia has always been a big online gaming region. Sweden is one of the hotbeds of development for the sector, aided by an extremely aggressive monopoly operator in the shape of Svenska Spel which really pushed the online market forward in the country.Denmark, similar to Sweden and Svenska Spel, has been dominated by Danske Spil for many years, but the latest market regulations has seen new entrants and more aggressive marketing from other than Danske Spil. The Danish market is considered by many as one of the strong examples of a well-regulated gaming market.
The last ten years has really been about the regulation of the online gaming industry across Europe. At first it seemed that an open market model was going to be the case, as demonstrated by the UK’s 2005 Gambling Act, in order to comply with European law.
However soon afterwards Italy introduced a closed, local licensing approach which was supported by the European lawmakers and most EU countries have now gone down that route. Even the UK has followed suit with their point of consumption licensing changes implemented last year.
EEGReport Magazine: How big is the impact of having gaming software providers being present in Eastern Europe and owning certain products and platforms to the developments igaming in the region?
Rasmus Sojmark: We have seen more focus on Eastern Europe in recent years from medium and large suppliers like Betconstruct, EveryMatrix and Betinvest (Favbet). Next to them we have some strong operators like Marathonbet and Pari Match that most likely will start white labelling if the markets in Eastern Europe would be regulated. Gtech is already supplying the lotteries with their platforms, but I am not sure about the interest from the likes of LVS, OpenBet and other big supplier names. All in all it does seem like the interest in the market is steadily growing.
EEGReport Magazine: Do you think that young software developers, which are at a rather high number in Eastern Europe, should start focusing on building startups and maybe innovate the already known platforms rather than start working for the already stable companies?
Rasmus Sojmark: That all depends on what they want to do with their lives. A lot of the innovation around the industry seems to come from start-ups these days, but there’s no denying that it’s hard work to get funding for an idea when there are so many out there. Fortunately there are a number of igaming specific incubators for start-ups these days as well as crowdfunding sites that also support gamign start-ups. Some of the bigger operators have started using the ‘Labs’ format to try and generate innovation from outside sources and start-ups get more of an opportunity around trade conferences as well.
Personally, I have had plenty of experience in this area by setting up a few gaming businesses myself. As fun and rewarding as this can be, as tough and hopeless it can all seem the following day. My advice would always be to go ahead with this if you have a good ideas, but you need to be clear about the challenges that lies ahead before you will reap the benefits and become successful. Planning and research are both important factors before you move forward with your idea / venture, and ideally find one or two persons that share your passion and start together with them. Especially, if you can find someone that have skills and capabilities that complement yours, so that you all together can fill the roles of strategy, sales, marketing, finance, and especially development and tech. Remember that it’s very easy to get blown away by an idea or two, but it’s crucial that you do not compromise the initial steps of building a strong foundation and support around your start up.
EEGReport Magazine: Which are the most popular social gaming activities in the Eastern and Central European region? Or is it so new that patterns are just starting to be recorded?
In your opinion, how big will the impact of Euro 2016 be for the development of social gaming in the European region?
Rasmus Sojmark: In my opinion any social gaming product will have to have a huge sports focus to get anything out of Euro 2016. There has traditionally been a drop off in online gaming during these summer football tournaments, although the sportsbooks obviously experience extreme growth during these competitions.
If a social gaming experience lends itself to football in general and the tournament in particular, combined with the right marketing strategy then it could be very successful. However there is a lot of gaming noise around these tournaments, so it is important to offer something different and not just expect the business to flood in.
Rasmus has more than ten years’ experience from the online gaming industry, and during this period he was part of the EveryMatrix.com founding team, founded social sports and gaming company Oddslife.com, and founded the Sports Betting Community (also known as SBC and SBCNews.co.uk).
He has won Best Sportsbook Innovation 2010, Sports Betting Rising Star 2011 and special commendation for White Label Partner of the Year 2011, all coveted EGR awards. In 2008 and 2009 he also collected the awards for Best Sports Betting Affiliate back-to-back and the Best Overall Affiliate with leading Odds Comparison site BetBrain.com, which is part of the EveryMatrix group of companies.
He is considered and industry expert in the online gaming and social gaming space, and with his company SBC he is part of organising the successful Betting on Football conferences (next one is 10 September at Emirates in London, www.SBCEvents.co.uk).
Rasmus hold an MSc in International Marketing with his studies being used for publishing academic articles on online sports betting by Aalborg University in 2006. Linkedin: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/rasmussojmark