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Interview: 4ThePlayer’s Marketing Director and Co-Founder Henry McLean
With the highly contested honors like Casino Beats Outperforming Small Game Studio and EGR Innovation in Slot Provision Award, London-based studio 4ThePlayer is definitely an up and coming force of the casino games industry. As the team’s name suggests, they focus on what the player wants and needs, while also incorporating responsible gambling in the DNA of their products. We had a chance to talk to 4ThePlayer’s marketing director and co-founder Henry McLean to peek behind the scenes of slots development and future releases.
iGamingNJ: Would you please introduce yourself to our readers? What is it you’re doing at 4ThePlayer?
Henry McLean: My name is Henry and I am the commercial and marketing director and one of the co-founders of 4ThePlayer.com. Great to meet you and thanks for the opportunity to talk to your readers!
4ThePlayer has been established outside the US for nearly 4 years and the founding team has a combined industry experience of over 50 years, so we know the industry very well.
We are a games supplier with a difference – as the name suggests, we put the player at the heart of everything we do. We want players to have fun for their money! It might sound cheesy, but a lot of game suppliers seem to have lost focus on the players and instead they just try to create as many games as possible. We take the opposite approach: each game has passion and purpose behind it, and hopefully we make something different and innovative for players to enjoy! We’re more of a boutique than a Walmart of the casino world.
One other thing that makes us slightly different is we are all slot players ourselves, so we really understand what makes those magic moments and what may or may not work mathematically in a game.
iGNJ: What does the creative process behind game development look like?
HM: Every game starts as a simple idea, maybe with a project name. We bounce it around internally, often with a scoring system in place to see what we all think of the idea. Once we’ve got an idea we think is good enough to leave the 4ThePlayer lab, we present the idea to a range of customers and players to get feedback and see what they think.
We then go through another process to finesse and perfect the idea, including a lot of math prototyping to get the ‘feel’ of the experience just right. I can’t elaborate too much or I’ll be giving away our secret sauce!
It’s a super creative process but is done 100% remotely – we don’t have an office and have never had one. In fact, I’ve never met a lot of my team in person as we are spread around the globe!
iGNJ: How do you find that sweet spot between maths and creativity when developing a new game?
HM: We believe both maths and art can co-exist in harmony: both are essential when developing a game! The math is what drives the experience, but the creativity is what gives it the appeal. The sweet spot is a game that looks stunning and sounds great, and that feels amazing to spin – there is nothing worse than when a game pulls you in with amazing graphics but when you spin it’s just flat.
iGNJ: How are games tested prior to the official release?
HM: We do a lot of testing; in fact, we do billions of simulations on our math, which is a lot more than some of our competitors. This is because we want to know the true experience and to really fine-tune the journey the player begins when they press spin.
The game is also tested by our internal test team. Their job is basically to try and break the game! They do everything from rotating the phone the game is being played on during a bonus to mashing all the buttons during auto-play. This is done on a wide range of devices, from computers to phones to tablets, each with a range of operating systems and specs! This causes a lot of challenges as every month there’s a new phone or an updated iOS – however, we’re proud of the stability of our games and this process is key to it!
Once we’re happy with our own tests, we have customer-specific testing. This means we follow set tests on the game on the customer’s casino or in their app, hidden away from players.
The game is then sent to an external independent team – in the case of New Jersey, this is the DGE. They test absolutely everything in the game, including checking all the text in the paytable and help file. Once they are happy, they then certify the game and we are ready to go live.
iGNJ: Who are your most significant inspirations in the gambling games industry?
HM: Every day there’s a new inspiration as it’s such a fast-moving industry! However, one clear inspiration is Nik Robinson from Big Time Gaming – he created and licensed the MegaWays mechanic, which was genius. MegaWays games are a lot of fun to play and I think the mechanic helped refocus a lot of other developers on player entertainment, which is something of which we are big advocates. Another inspiration would be Todd Haushalter from Evolution: the direction of their product and innovations have been so impressive, almost redefining the live dealer space but again with a clear entertainment drive.
iGNJ: Responsible gambling is seemingly an integral part of your mission as a creator and business. How do you implement its practices into games?
HM: We take responsible gaming and player protection very seriously. One thing we do differently is we talk directly to players and respond to all their comments, whether they are positive or negative.
We also try to engage in player education, trying to break down the math into terms players understand as not every game is right for every player. We want players to find the right game for them: one that they enjoy and that fits their appetite for risk, desired reward profile, and their budget.
Players really appreciate this approach and are often quite shocked at how engaged we are and how much we share with them.
iGNJ: 4ThePlayer’s Creative Director, Thomaz Scalzilli, has an extensive background in the film and advertising industry, specifically the VFX department. How is this experience employed in game creation?
HM: You did your homework! Yes he has, and it adds a very creative flavour to our mix. Instead of simply assuming ‘this is how you do slots’, Thomaz asks ‘why are we doing that’ when we’re creating art and animations.
He hasn’t been stuck in the industry for years, lost in repetitive slots design work, so he sees the bigger creative picture. It really adds to our different approach and style, and hopefully you can see that in our game design and creative approach.
iGNJ: Any plans to try your hand at creating products for the Metaverse or any other cutting-edge spaces?
HM: Not yet! The metaverse is fascinating but not yet mass market, and the tech is too expensive and too niche.
I remember the mobile gambling revolution: for years everyone was asking about mobile as it was ‘coming soon’. Then, boom, it happened almost overnight, and gambling hit mobile and now it’s often over 70% of a casino’s device usage. So the metaverse might get there too, one day…
iGNJ: A lot has been said about your first game release, 9K Yeti. What our readers would definitely wish to know is how the project came together and the issues you faced during the development of your first game as a team.
HM: 9k Yeti was our first game and is still in our top 5 of all time! With 9k Yeti we wanted to make a fun, yet simple game with an innovative twist. We built it on solid math with big win potential and gorgeous graphics.
It was important to get it right as this was the first chance players would get to experience 4ThePlayer. Needless to say, we are proud to say we hit the nail on the head!
In terms of how it came together, we spent a lot of time looking at themes and what character we should use and where we should set the game. The Yeti needed to be powerful – almost scary – but endearing, and I think we found the perfect balance.
Another fun thing about the Yeti is that he is a big fan of dressing up and has a Thanksgiving Hat, an Independence Day Hat, and even a Santa Hat that he’ll put on, so make sure you come back throughout the year!
iGNJ: What is it you find the most challenging in the game development industry today?
HM: The biggest challenge is the regulation. That said, we welcome regulation as it protects what is important: the player.
We have games in almost all globally regulated markets, from the UK to Finland to New Jersey.
Creating a game that can be configurable to be compliant in each and every market is no small feat. For example, we allow the disabling of autoplay, bonus buys, and side bets, all independently, which changes the splash screens, help files and paytables.
iGNJ: Maybe a few words about your next planned releases?
HM: We have lots of exciting games planned for the next 12 months in the US!
Our strategy to start with is to bring our top-performing content into the US. 90k Yeti Gigablox, 6 Wild Sharks, and 3 Secret Cities are all coming soon.
Here’s a quick video preview: YouTube
Each game has something different and fun about it. For example, in 6 Wild Sharks you can actually buy wilds on the reels by putting down chips, allowing you to play the game as you want too! In Free Games, you can trade your spins for Locked Wilds, even going down to one super volatile one-hit spin!
3 Secret Cities is an episodic adventure where the longer you wait for a bonus, the better the potential of that bonus becomes. The game saves your location across sessions and devices, so you can just pick up where you left off.
90K Yeti sees the return of the Yeti, but this time he interacts with the reels and creates exciting winning opportunities with massive Gigablox that can spin in!
The video ends on 9k Kong in Vegas, which we are especially excited to bring to the US next year, as we think the theme and no-lose gamble wheel you get after every big win will really appeal to US players.
iGNJ: Any other plans for your US expansion (collaborations, operators partnership, next states etc.)?
HM: We have just been granted a provisional license in Michigan, of which we are very excited and proud! Our first game will be live there in November.
We are also closely looking at other states and as regulation allows we’ll be looking at submitting license applications for them.
iGNJ: Where can players try 4ThePlayer games in New Jersey?
HM: You can play our first two games, 9K Yeti and 6 Wild Sharks, across most New Jersey, licensed operators, for example, BetMGM.
iGNJ: Great, we are looking forward to your launches in New Jersey and other states. Thanks for you time!
HM: It was great speaking to you today IGAMINGNJ, thanks for your time and also thanks to your readers for reading about us. Hopefully, you all found it interesting and for any more information on 4ThePlayer check out our socials or website!