Matthew Charlesworth, Imagine Live: “I believe we stole the show in terms of innovation and visual impact”

Matthew Charlesworth, Global CEO at Imagine Live.
Matthew Charlesworth, Global CEO at Imagine Live.

In an exclusive interview with Focus Gaming News, Matthew Charlesworth, the CEO of Imagine Live, has revealed that his company’s exhibition at the ICE London 2023 exceeded expectations.

Exclusive interview.- Matthew Charlesworth, the CEO of Imagine Live, has 36 years within the gaming industry both on and offline. 

He held senior management positions in several London casinos including deputy general manager at the Barracuda Casino on Baker Street and opening the largest casino in the UK with Aspers in Stratford in London as Head of Gaming in 2012. 

Matthew also spent a year working in Las Vegas at the Mirage. Later moving to online with various T1 operators including bet365, Betfair (later PPBF), Netent, and prior to switching to the current role was for former Head of Live Casino at Entain (GVC).

In this exclusive interview with Focus Gaming News, Charlesworth talked about Imagine Live’s presence at ICE London 2023, the feedback he received from the audience, and the plans he has for the coming months.

Can you tell us about the launch of Imagine live at this ICE London edition?

We took a significant risk for ICE 2023, our first expo with a dedicated stand revealing the new company and branding, we brought to life a captivating product experience I had only been dreaming of for a very long time and one that we only finalized in late January. 

As our core product is blackjack and as the most recently launched live casino supplier, we simply have to offer partners and their players a different player-centric experience from all the others. We took 7 technicians, 2 dealers and recreated on the stand our No1 studio environment based in Yerevan. 

Back in December 2022, we placed a full-size studio blackjack table, dealer’s chair, shoes, discard holder, table felt and our robot arm into a wooden crate, said, a small prayer and sent it all off by air freight to London. 

A huge expense and as I said a significant risk, but everything arrived in one piece, and by 9:30 am on Day 1 we were all set up, dealers at the table and I believe we stole the show in terms of innovation and visual impact of a never seen before player experience for Blackjack

At ICE 2022 when the Live product launched on the Digitain stand, we welcomed Todd Haushalter ‘The God’ of Live Casino innovation and CPO at Evolution were we demoed what we had built so far, over a few beers I explained that at ICE 2023 we had a dream to make other Live Casino suppliers stop, look and think to themselves ‘I wish I had thought of that’ in the same way we all do with so many Evolution games, judging by the feedback on the stand and many comments since I am pretty sure the dream was realized. 

Besides the blackjack experience, we also teased with our first Game Show, Pirates Plunder. This is a classic 54-segment wheel game with bonus rounds, we have literally recreated what we describe as the lower deck of a pirate ship in a dedicated studio. Walking into the studio the smell of wood is amazing.

What was the visitors’ feedback like?

The feedback on the products as well as the short and long-term vision was fantastic. We are incredibly open with our plans in terms of strategy and product roadmap, and that was very well received. We are committed to not copy-paste products, Promo Tools, or the Back Office, but lead the way via innovation and putting the player at the center of the experience.

How do you see the European market at the moment?

Highly competitive from the supplier perspective, so content is key. All big operators have all suppliers and it’s hard to stick out from the crowd, commercials are key as well as offering new games that the decision makers look at and think they must have them. 

I think operators are a lot smarter of late, just because a supplier launches a new game, it is not necessarily going to be promoted or given important positioning, if the game tile does not make it to the top of the pages, then it is not going to be especially successful. This applies to slots, RNG table & Live.

What is your opinion regarding the change of location of ICE expo for 2025 and in which of the 4 cities (Madrid, Barcelona, Paris and London) would you like this show to be held?

All of those locations are cold in February. I think the important part for ICE is getting the show into the summer months. 40,000 people converging into a space for 3 days always has the same result, we are all sick the next week. From a selfish point of view, I would prefer it was moved to Spain and renamed so ‘Sol’.

Can you tell us the goals and plans for this year and in which countries would you like to expand or grow?

We are in the licence acquisition period, so all markets and countries are on our radar. The goals are simple, we have a very challenging road map of new games, some are mainstream must-haves, Asian-themed, Indian-themed, and others will be brand new not seen before in the marketplace. We will also open our first European studio in Romania, as well as launch our brand-new building in Yerevan which has 8 floors where Live Casino has 2, I am pleased to say that space is absolutely not an issue.

“We are in the licence acquisition period, so all markets and countries are on our radar.”

Matthew Charlesworth, Global CEO at Imagine Live.

Which other trade shows are you going to participate this year?

You will see Imagine Live in Amsterdam, Barcelona & Malta with a stand, plus we will attend a few select others without a stand.

Did you manage to meet the expectations when you presented Imagine Live at ICE London 2023?

Not only did we meet our internal expectations, but I also believe we met the expectations of visitors to our stand. During 2022 we spoke about innovation and new games, and at ICE we delivered. The new blackjack experience with the elegant Robot arm, the multiplier Roulette that launched a few days before ICE and the sneak preview of our first game show ‘Pirates Plunder’.

Your brand-new Robot Arm was the sensation of the show. Can you share its further advantages for operators and players?

Of course, the advantage for an operator is that it is new content and gives their marketing something completely new to talk about, new content is king. From the player’s point of view, especially those experienced blackjack players, it demonstrates they and their playing experiences are being thought about, it’s a very personal experience now with the player and the dealer. 

Talking about the dealer, the design of the game means it is much easier and faster for the dealer, they no longer have to look at a screen to know if the player is giving the command to ‘stand’ as the robot arm is moving to the next player (or box) so the dealer knows the action on that box is finished with.

What was the attendees’ reception regarding your portfolio offering?

We were very transparent with the entire 2023 roadmap for games and promo tools. Over recent years suppliers have had to keep their road maps close to their chest due to copy culture, our view is that if we are copied you are helping us gain exposure and damaging your own reputation. 

With our partners and future partners, we met during the show, each one was impressed with what we have tasked ourselves with for 2023, all we have to do now is deliver!

Imagine Live is relatively new in the industry. Which are your next steps for 2023? Are you aiming for any specific market?

Licence acquisition is full steam ahead, no regulated market is off the table. Partners drive our priority, and actually, the priority order of licence applications changed after ICE as certain operators committed to us as soon as the correct license is in place.

Which are the biggest challenges for the igaming sector? And for Imagine Live?

Having been an operator for a long time I have a good idea of what drives player acquisition and retention, so for us, we focus on new content that we can shout about and the operator can easily promote. Combine this with some in-game promotional tools that are engaging for the players and simple to set-up for the operator. 

I am not a big fan of wagering promos that do not reach across the entire player base, and I don’t especially like random in-game cash prizes that fall from the sky unless you have previously been a lucky recipient of a prize the winnability and believability can turn players off.

“We focus on new content that we can shout about and the operator can easily promote.”

Matthew Charlesworth, Global CEO at Imagine Live.

Which other industry events are you planning to attend next?

You will see Imagine Live in Amsterdam, Barcelona & Malta with a stand, plus we will attend a few select others without a stand.

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Imagine Live interviews