Interview with NetEnt’s CPO Simon Hammond

NetEnt’s Games and Visions

NetEnt has always been a personal favorite of mine. Their flagship casinos, Casinodomain.com and CherryCasino.com, came on board in 2002. Back then their software was pretty basic, limited, and yearning for improvement. Improve they did; a decade later they were winning awards at Casinomeister to include Best Casino Software Experience 2015,
Best Casino Software Experience 2012, and
Best Software Provider 2011. They went from clunky Java games to awesomeness like Guns ‘n Roses and the like.

Here I speak with Simon Hammon, NetEnt’s CPO – their main point of contact for their games, visions, and ideas.


Speaking with NetEnt’s Chief Product Officer

 

From the desk of Simon Hammon: I have been the CPO of NetEnt for 6 years, and my primary role is to maintain and develop the road map offering and portfolio of the company. From a product perspective, I am responsible for our game offerings new and old, new channel distributions, market penetrations, platform offerings and much more. I am very passionate about games and our gaming offering to the market, and a key focus of mine is to ensure that NetEnt has a diverse, innovative and market leading product for our players. The business is constantly changing which offers lots of unique and exciting opportunities but at the heart of all is the player experience and how we as a company can offer our players diversity, innovation and quality.

 


CM: I’ve always been a big fan of NetEnt games – and one thing that has always intrigued me is the route it takes from an idea, to a game launch. What is the process of making a slot game? If you could, please explain the route it takes from an idea to its launch.

Simon Hammon:

The process is quite well structured. We go through lots of ideas before settling on a base game design. Naturally there are many key dynamics to making a slot – a good game is one that ties it in all together. Sounds, graphics, animations, and of course the key maths and mechanics all have to be carefully constructed and considered so that they fit together well. A game will go through many design and idea iterations as well as math design before we settle on a development path. One key consideration is of course our player base and customers and what they want and like which is why we always aim for diverse mechanics and design styles. An area we pride ourselves on is bringing something new to the players – naturally, given the diversity of player base, some of these will be great for some but not always for all. I am an active follower of the Casinomeister forum boards, and read with a lot of interest the comments (must admit some are very creative), but as an industry leading software supplier we must of course try and cover a broad player base of styles, volatility and wishes. We try in a year to make games that will appeal to all player preferences.

 


CM: Thanks! Yeah, members renaming the slots – ha, Bums ‘n Hoses – ha ha. What an inspiration! Continuing with that – how do you get your ideas – meaning the creative team – how do they get theirs?

Simon Hammon:

There are many sources of inspiration for game ideas. NetEnt takes ideas from all over the company and anyone has an ability to submit a mechanic, design or theme that they feel would resonate. Some of our best games have come from a designers sketch or from a mechanic concept. Ideas are always molded and formulated into a game design from our game designers and mathematicians into a product idea and concept. NetEnt looks at many variables from mechanic, volatility, design style, theme, uniqueness and innovation levels, device and channel features and regulation to shape our ideas.

 


CM: Well, how do you know if the slot will be good? Are there any indicators during the development stage?

Simon Hammon:

Ultimately, it is the players that will decide if a slot will be good and performs well. Given the nature of the player base, a game may well be great for one but not another – good is really subjective as it depends on the individual player or players who enjoy it. We invest a lot in our player knowledge and business intelligence which can of course give you indications of performance in development phase and naturally there is also 20 years of game design that we rest on to ensure we don’t make common mistakes. For me, a slot is considered good not only by its commercial success but most importantly did it perform and do well with the players and player likes that we were targeting. For example, a player who loves DOA typically likes a volatile game with big win potential and can accept that variance swings that has on base game payouts – this doesn’t necessarily make it a fantastic commercial success but more a game that high volatility player can enjoy.


CM: Yeah, true – there are a number of slots that I stick to just because they have the same attributes as others – and I’m happy. So after a slot has been launched and the players have had a go at it, have you been surprised at the popularity or unpopularity of a slot game?

Simon Hammon:

In our road map, we of course have games that I feel may be more generally popular than others – ultimately that can also be subjective down to my own game preference. In short however, yes I would be wrong to say I am not constantly surprised (usually pleasantly) about popularity of certain games NetEnt launches. We have high ambitions to make great games, and each game we launch to the market we invest a lot of time, energy and love into it so when you have that connection to the product you take an active and keen interest on how it will perform. Over the last 6 years, there have been some games that I have felt will do fantastically but didn’t quite reach that potential, and also others that did much better than I hoped for which really highlights that it’s the players that decide a success. NetEnt strives to provide innovative, unique and great designed games which we hope the players enjoy so we hope even if a player might not like that particular style they can recognize the love and effort placed into each and every one.

 


CM: Yeah, I agree – there have been some slots that just didn’t go over well with the crowd, but are truly detailed and beautifully produced games. What is your most popular slot? What is your personal favorite?

Simon Hammon:

We have a broad mix of popular slots from Starburst, Gonzo, Bloodsuckers, Jack and the Beanstalk to Guns N Roses, and what I love about that is all of these games are so different when it comes to design, variance, volatility, mechanic complexity and even age of game. The difference in portfolio popularity really highlights the depth of the player base we have.

My personal favorite? This is such a tough one, as said each game I have a personal love for as we are all so invested into each ones production. I have to say though that my personal favorite is the original game of South Park and this for lots of reasons; it took me a very long time to secure the licensing of this and was such a fun project to work on with the brand holder. Mechanically to have a Cartman beefcake wild and Mr Hanky wild feature was great fun to do. I had a lot of pride in the outcome of that game especially.


CM: Yeah, that must have been a blast. I still feel that there should have been a “HumancentiPad” bonus round, but I digress. Do you have any favorites from your competitors?

Simon Hammon:

I play virtually all competitor games – you need to understand what is on the market and also what new and exciting features might be out there. My job is to ensure that NetEnt’s portfolio is market leading in its innovation and quality which I believe strongly that we have successfully showcasing for many years. I like several of the other games out there, but these may range from unique feature or good design. I personally like medium to high variance games, which don’t always breed great successful games. But I like a game that you can both be entertained with and feel there is a win potential. I also have a preference for darker themes than softer design-wise.

 


CM: Personally, I enjoy some of the older MGS slots – mainly for nostalgia sake. NetEnt – I’m drawn to Aloha (naturally), and Koi Princess – just to name two. Which brings me to 20/20 hindsight: if you could have changed a game after its launch – what would it have been? What would you have changed?

Simon Hammon:

When a game is launched I always feel it can be dangerous to change it as player expectations can be impacted. We have done some HTML 5 upgrades recently which haven’t touched any of the maths, mechanics or largely the design to ensure we keep as close to the original flash version as possible. Changes here are only to ensure the longevity and reliability of the game as flash dies. There are always pros and cons to revisiting games post-launch, but I am more in favor of taking any lessons learned into future productions. A game that we originally looked at a potential of a release was Boom Brothers, which is a fantastic looking production with innovative features and functionality but did not do as well as expected. We were tempted to tweak some items but again the game in its current form still has a very loyal following who love that math flow so to do so would be unfair to them.


CM: Anything new in the works that players can look forward to?

Simon Hammon:
There are lots of really exciting things in the pipe line in 2017 and beyond. You can expect as always a variety of maths, mechanics, designs and profiles as well as some new brands we will work on. One area we are particular keen to explore is to build upon our market leading mobile position with new and exciting ways to represent games and utilise mobile technology to enhance the player experience and have some exciting plans for this area.

CM: Well, thanks a lot Simon. I really appreciate you taking your time out for this. I’m really looking forward to what the future brings our players from NetEnt.

Simon Hammon:
It’s always a pleasure, Bryan. Truly it is.