Rob Smith examined the intersection of video games and gambling as part of a panel during Casual Connect Europe 2015. “I think there is that one (real-money) game that’s out there that’s very innovative and is just going to blow everything else away, so I’m excited about that coming through,” he says. For more, see a video of the full panel below.
Rob Smith is the Head of Business Affairs at Odobo, a developer program for real-money gaming. The company applies the concepts set out by Facebook and Apple to help bring content to the iGaming industry. Multiple studios now use their APIs to rapidly build a wide variety of gaming content in a cost-effective manner. Developers use the sophisticated technologies and regulated gaming licenses provided by Odobo, knowing the content will be fully compliant, regardless of the team behind it.
Smith’s role is focused on partner outreach, commercial strategy and customer acquisition. He actively pursues commercial opportunities and identifies possible new revenue channels for Odobo. He also manages the legal and compliance teams, including the development of commercial and contractual policies, regulatory compliance, brand licensing, distribution and game development agreements, as well as other aspects of corporate administration.
When Smith joined Odobo in 2012, the company consisted of less than 25 people. He had been working as a consultant and networked with his current manager, who was looking for legal and business development support in building his team. Smith’s skillset was perfectly suited to this position and has grown considerably since he joined the company.
Smith believes the essential skills for this career are having a good working knowledge of computers and an appreciation for how applications and distributed systems are developed, intertwined with a good grounding in commercial strategy. One key advantage was his degree in Information Systems, which was Computer Science at its core, with more emphasis on business development than on programming. Initially he pursued a technical path, working in IT for Mars, Inc., and while there he realized there was opportunity for technically competent people who understood business. He returned to university to obtain a law degree and qualified as a solicitor for one of the larger commercial firms, DLA Piper. Here he received an excellent grounding in commercial law, legal contracts, IP, data protection and other aspects of corporate administration. He then joined a number of small web startup companies, continuing to gain experience in software/web development, operations and management while still using his legal skills, especially in contract negotiation and intellectual property management.
A New Perception of Work
At the early age of 8, Smith was already becoming seriously interested in gaming, and since then has owned almost every console in existence. Eventually his involvement was so intense that he was regularly passing out at his keyboard during late night raids in WOW. However, working at Odobo was his first formal venture into working in the games industry. Since then he has come to realize that working in an industry that you are passionate about brings and entirely new perspective to your perception of work.
Seeing Odobo grow from a small startup to the burgeoning business it has already become is definitely a highlight of his working life. He says, “Being there at the start gives you a strong personal investment in the success of the brand. There was a time when we had to convince developers to spend money building their games with us without having any confirmed distribution. On the opposite side, casino operators wanted to see quality games coming through before taking the plunge. We were caught in a ‘chicken-and-egg’ situation. Everyone agreed that if we got the model off the ground it would be a success, but the early conversations were focused on convincing third parties to take a leap of faith. I was heavily involved in many of those early and most of the subsequent conversations, so I feel a sense of pride in seeing what we’re now achieving. I’m still championing the opportunity and I believe in what we’re doing. Now that those early hurdles are behind us, it’s incredibly satisfying to look back and see what we’ve accomplished.”
Smith particularly enjoys working with a broad range of subject areas, including game and product development, brand licensing with well-known global brands and working directly with developers looking to enter this part of the gaming sector. Although his workload seems to increase daily, no day is ever boring and he is constantly challenged.
His greatest challenge is the need to juggle so many balls at once. In the same day he can be using his legal skills to review a licensing agreement and then reviewing a game specification for a new developer interested in building a game in this sector. He must repeatedly switch from procedural and objective tasks to creative, subjective tasks.
It is also demanding to work in a startup that has grown from 20 to over 80 employees in only two years. There are no defined processes to follow and no rules to guide you. He emphasizes, “You have to think on your feet and make quick decisions based on your knowledge at the time. Unfortunately, you’ll look back and wish you had done something different, but ultimately you have to let go of regrets and stand proud of the rest of the things you did that turned out right.”
Finding a Great Game
For the real-money gaming sector, Smith looks for a game that looks great or does something different to distinguish itself. Desirable qualities include premium-quality artwork, 3D graphics (which are not yet standard in the real-money sector), niche and upcoming themes, and new innovations in game mechanics. Odobo is now starting to see this type of content coming from new entrants into the real-money sector; they are thinking outside the box about what can be produced from a real-money game.
The most popular games in single player, real-money gaming are slots; there is a demand for slots that incorporate very innovative features or push the boundaries between casual game mechanics and real-money mechanics. And innovation excites Smith; every day he hopes to see a developer submitting a concept that combines CCG mechanics with a real-money-compliant design. But traditional casino games, such as blackjack and roulette, still drive the greatest revenues, since they are institutionalised, are simple to play, and are well understood by all casino players.
The Problem of Distribution
The problem of licensing and distribution can be daunting to studios without experience in real-money gaming. The cost of building a game and the complexities of the technical regulations have led to reluctance to deviate from proven formulas, and, consequently, innovation has suffered. So Odobo asked how they could reduce the barrier to real money gaming for other types of studios — for instance, those who specialize in casual or mobile games and who understand sticky features such as the drive behind earning achievements or progressive game features. Because it is easy for developers to integrate with Odobo and reduce production cost using their technologies, more creative games are now coming through. They then go into Odobo’s marketplace, where casino operators browse for new content. Smith insists that simplifying this process as much as possible while maintaining a quality standard is changing the current end-to-end distribution process.
Within the next few years, Smith expects the games industry to be impacted in a major way by the “Internet of Everything,” to include health data, e-payments, social interaction, personal files and data, retailing, gaming, home integrated technology and cars. It is already happening to some degree, but he believes no one is prepared for where it may go.
Games will make use of technology such as NFC and Beacons to a much smarter degree in terms of multiplayer discovery or more advanced augmented-reality gaming mechanics.
Smith admits to being a bit apprehensive about having every aspect of his life interconnected, so he is preparing for the Internet of Everything by considering exactly what he wants to share and by giving much more consideration to his and his family’s personal privacy.
A second important coming trend he sees in the games industry is the rise of e-sports as they take hold in Western markets such as America or Europe. Large companies, including Google, Amazon, Sony, Valve and Microsoft are already planning for growth in these markets with their product development and M&A activity; it’s only a matter of time before e-sports become mainstream. Related industries, including branding, TV scheduling and program production, advertising and sponsorship, and of course sports betting, will also be impacted. And e-sports will become a viable career path for both players and professionals.
Smith spends most of his free time with his family and finds time spent with his toddler is an excellent way to detach from work and appreciate some of life’s simple pleasures. He considers himself an outdoor person who enjoys running, biking and skiing. And he is still a huge gamer, having recently upgraded to a PlayStation 4, although his gaming time is now severely limited.
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.