Play’n GO CEO interview: “We don’t take shortcuts – we focus on building great games”

20th July 2022 10:13 am GMT

As the leading slots supplier gains approval to serve iGaming operators in the United States, Gaming Intelligence speaks with CEO and Co-Founder Johan Törnqvist about steering Play’n GO through the choppy waters of European regulation over the past 15 years, and what he hopes to discover when landfall in America is achieved. 

Play’n GO recently received its first license in the United States, in Michigan. How significant a step is this for the company? 

When we started out more than 15 years ago, the idea of regulated online gaming in the US felt like a very distant prospect. Fortunately, states like Michigan, New Jersey and others across the country are realizing that sensible regulation is the only way to build a sustainable sector. 

It’s no secret that Michigan is one of the most exciting online gaming markets in the world right now. That’s both as a market in its own right, and also as a launching pad into other regulated states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  

This brings with it significant competition. We know that our history and reputation won’t guarantee us success, but we strongly believe that our experience, our games and our approach position us well to replicate what we’ve achieved in Europe. 

Where does expansion in the US fit into the next chapter of the Play’n GO journey? 

Entering the US is a significant milestone. We’ve been a globally minded company from the very beginning and boast a presence in more than 25 regulated jurisdictions. It has been a remarkable journey so far; I think it is fair to say that there is now an expectation from players in regulated markets to see our content in whichever online casino they choose. 

People often ask me for the “secret” of our success, but I don’t think we have one. We’ve always been very open about how we work. We focus on building great games, we don’t take shortcuts and we think long-term. 

But we do have significant experience to bring to the table too. 

As the market leader in Europe, we’ve had to adapt as jurisdictions went on their own regulatory journeys – and those regulations continue to change all the time placing a premium on the ability of suppliers to adapt quickly. 

Now that same regulatory process is underway in the US, we aren’t making any assumptions. We’ll draw on our experience, but we approach every new challenge just the same as we’ve always done – with Trust, Energy and Quality. 

How is the Play’n GO team evolving as it expands into new markets such as the US? 

We’ve always prided ourselves on being a progressive business when it comes to our people, and the challenges posed by the global pandemic have really accelerated our development in this area. 

Our philosophy is simple: we believe that to get to where we want to go, we need great talent. And great talent is always going to be in demand. Our offer to world-class people must be compelling. 

This is part of the thinking behind our digital-first model, which is now implemented across all areas of our business.  

Ultimately, we want people who buy into our vision and share our values, and we know we have the tech infrastructure in place to reap the benefits of a truly global team. 

One focus for us now is to find similarly-minded people in the US to expand upon the big plans we have in markets across the country. I think it’s fair to say there’s never been a more exciting time to join Play’n GO. 

Against this backdrop of newly regulating markets around the world, how is Play’n GO adapting the way it creates and delivers content? 

We’ve been very clear: we absolutely believe we have a duty of care for players. 

It’s not good enough anymore for suppliers to defer all responsibility for player safety to the operator. We are the ones building these games after all, and the decisions we make literally shape this industry.

We’ve always been focused on entertainment. We want people to play our games simply because they are fun to play. That's our DNA – fun and entertainment first.  

There have been many, many times where taking another path would have been more profitable. But Play’n GO has always decided to put the interests of players, and the sustainability of the industry first, and I’m extremely proud of the choices we’ve made. I’d make the same choices again too.

I spoke recently about why Play’n GO doesn’t make any so-called ‘Bonus Buy’ games, where players can essentially pay upfront to buy into the bonus round.  

We could make them, of course, and we’d do very well financially out of doing so but I couldn’t be happier that we don’t. Those types of games with overly aggressive mechanics aren’t good for players, or the health of the industry, in my opinion.  

It's just not a sustainable approach and I really wish more operators would think about the longer term when choosing which games to put in their casino lobbies and which suppliers to work with. 

We back our vision to succeed for two reasons.  

Firstly, we know that Play’n GO is not just competing with other online slot suppliers. Our games need to work as a form of pure entertainment that can compete with the latest release from the mobile gaming space, or what’s hot on Netflix right now. 

Secondly, regulators around the world are getting increasingly interested in rules around bonusing, free spins, maximum stake limits, affordability and much more.  

All of these interventions serve to refocus attention on the games themselves, and as we’ve got the best games in the business, that’s just fine by us. 

How is Play’n GO evolving as a business? 

It’s not just online casino that’s changed dramatically over the last decade or so, it’s the very way companies of all shapes and sizes are expected to do business. At Play’n GO, we don’t want to meet minimum requirements, we want to set new standards across the board. 

Take the example of sustainability and the environment. We’re not a small games studio that can bury our heads in the ground on these big issues. We’re a modern business with a team of more than 650 people. We feel it's our responsibility to set an example for our industry.  

And don’t get me wrong, we’re doing this both because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s the best way to continue to grow. We want Play’n GO to maintain its reputation as the creator of the best casino games in the world for the next 10, 20, 50 years. That means taking these challenges seriously today. 

What advice would you give operators in the US looking to replicate the success of the European industry over the coming years? 

Although there’s been a euphoric rush of excitement these past few years, it’s still incredibly early in the US online casino journey. However, a lot of the focus and competition in iGaming states has been on user acquisition, as you might expect. That’s not sustainable in the long run and I'm confident that retention will ultimately become the key battleground, as is the case in Europe now. Content will be king. 

A casino is like any other business. You want customers to leave your online casino feeling happy with their experience, win or lose. You can only achieve this with high quality content that keeps the player entertained. Content is the strongest retention tool there is. 

 What comes next for Play’n GO, in the US and beyond? 

We’re committed to growing our presence in the US, and obviously that means going beyond Michigan. There are already a handful of other states that have regulated online casino that we’re looking at. This isn’t an overnight process, but the direction of travel is clear.  

We want Play’n GO content to become as beloved in the US as it already is in regulated markets around the world. 

We might be the market leader in Europe and one of the largest online slot suppliers in the world, but I truly feel like we are just getting started.

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