“A weight of expectation surrounds the world of virtual reality”

(Exclusive interview).- Alexandre Tomic, co-founder of ALEA and creator of SlotsMillion talked with Focus Gaming News about the gaming industry.

Malta.- Alexandre Tomic, co-founder of ALEA and creator of SlotsMillion, the world’s first real money, virtual reality, multi-player casino, discussed with Focus Gaming News their plans to develop the market, and how they currently see the industry.

In a very competitive market, ALEA is positioned as a cutting-edge gaming developer. Can we say the company has found the key to attract millennials?

Millennials are usually early adopters of new technology, and since virtual reality is such a long-awaited piece of tech that has been hyped up in movies for three decades, the focus is even greater than normal. We fully expect millennials to define the terms upon which VR enters the mainstream. The mobile platform played a huge role in opening up gaming to a new generation of customers who perhaps would not have traditionally logged in on desktop or visited a venue. This process will be magnified as VR enters the mainstream, because it can offer a gaming experience so immersive it is unlike any other channel.

How does ALEA manage the regulation issues?

As we already have a Malta licence for SlotsMillion.com, we could simply incorporate the VR casino onto the same licence. When we sat down with the regulator, the MGA, we expected to have to make quite a few changes as they have a reputation for being tough. Actually, though, they were very open-minded, and the process was informative. They didn’t request many major changes, but one of the features they did ask for is that when a user plays a slot for real money, the time is always visible on screen, even when the player moves their head. This is so players are never able to lose track of time while playing.

What are the biggest expectations of entering into the world of virtual reality gaming?

The trouble with leading the way in a cutting edge field is that you’re effectively going in blind. A weight of expectation surrounds the world of virtual reality now that the technology is finally becoming accessible, but the biggest hope we have is that the immersive nature of SlotsMillion not only gets the ball rolling for the gaming industry, but also gets people talking. We’ve already had evidence that it’s working, looking at the way the VR casino has been received by both gaming and mainstream press.

There’s no limit to what this innovative technology can achieve. Initially, we’ll simply mimic what we can do in the real world, but as VR evolves, we will be able to experience things that are not merely reproducing reality, but that we physically cannot do in the real world. A potential example of this is new types of game mechanics; a user might be able to enjoy a slot game by physically playing inside of it with their friends. This really is a case of anything being possible, and we’re happy and proud to be the driving force behind it. There are many areas within gaming where the development of virtual reality can lend itself to industry innovation, such as creating virtual spaces where operators and affiliates can interact with their customers in person. Before long, I expect these virtual spaces to become the norm, with users and staff inside the virtual casino together, ensuring everything runs smoothly. This kind of interaction between multiple parties will give staff the edge when it comes to understanding the wants and needs of the user. It’s a whole new business now, not just a game.

We fully expect millennials to define the terms upon which VR enters the mainstream. The mobile platform played a huge role in opening up gaming to a new generation of customers who perhaps would not have traditionally logged in on desktop or visited a venue.

Which are the next steps for VR to revolutionise the igaming industry?

The main thing halting mass adoption of virtual reality platforms is money, with the cost of a headset currently pricing many out of the market. Cheaper headsets are clearly the answer to making VR a part of everyday life, and in time that will happen. There are some other minor issues, such as motion sickness, which can be a problematic side effect for a small number of players. They aren’t big issues, though, and as technology continues to evolve they will be overcome.

Does ALEA have an international plan to land in further markets?

ALEA are always looking to stay one step ahead and a key part of that is reacting to change and venturing into new markets. We are currently in the planning process of expanding into the regulated UK and Danish markets, and also operate in a number of markets on our Malta licence. We are also looking into various Eastern European countries.

This year you’ve won several awards; how does a recognition in international markets impact on your future of developing the company?

We were of course thrilled to have our casino recognised at CEEGC with the Best Casino Operator award, and to be shortlisted in two categories for the eGR Awards in a couple of weeks’ time – Best In-House Development and Best Slots Operator. Accolades like this, and the Innovation of the Year award we won at the eGR Marketing and Innovation Awards in June, show that the industry is ripe for new developments and it really feels great to have our work validated that way. We are an international operator, headquartered in Spain and licensed in Malta, so we always welcome acknowledgement from around the world. We are committed to entering all viable regulated markets, so will continue to keep an eye on opportunities around Europe and beyond.

How do you see the company in the following years?

Focusing on innovation is always our main priority. We have grown quickly as an operator so far and as VR adoption gathers pace, this growth is only going to accelerate. As we have seen in the past, the gaming sector is ripe for disruption and it can be extremely hard to predict. We will continue to invest in technology and people so we are well placed to capitalise on whatever opportunities come our way.

Is ALEA working on new gaming technology?

There will be a number of changes over the next 12 months or so as the adoption of virtual reality technology becomes more and more widespread. Firstly, focusing on innovations in VR, we have recently created a separate team dedicated to working on VR alone. To do this, we have established another office, ALEA Studio, where the VR team have been busy with a new project for the last couple of months. We’re hoping to release this project in the spring of next year, but we’ll have to keep it under wraps for the moment as it’s still in the early stages. As well as an array of cosmetic improvements in SlotsMillion VR casino, such as new 3D buildings and decorations to freshen up the concept, we have introduced a balcony. From here, players will also be able to see a big screen, upon which we’ll show introductions to slots, movie clips and music videos.

We’ll also be installing a new filter on the website which will allow games to be ranked by precise features, enabling players to sort slots even more easily while being introduced to new concepts. Additionally, we have been working lately on an innovative in-house slots tournament programme which should be available in January. This will allow players to go head-to-head on particular slots in order to reach the top of the leaderboard and claim their prize. Another new and exciting feature we’ll be offering is a recommendation engine, which will help players find new games based on their past behaviours. We want to ensure players not only get exactly what they want from day one with SlotsMillion, but are also introduced to things they hadn’t even thought about.