Two years ago Relax Gaming made a big decision. After building a successful business distributing slots to online casinos, Relax Gaming decided to start developing its own original games. One of the first people the company hired to make this ambition a reality was Daniel Jonsson.
For several years, Daniel had been working at NetEnt – one of the biggest and most successful companies in the industry. Relax Gaming appointed him as its Head of Gaming, and asked him to help build a new game production system from scratch.
Daniel and his team have done an excellent job. Relax Gaming now rolls out a brand new slot every month and in 2019 were nominated for several casino-related awards from the prestigious eGaming Review (EGR).
Daniel was kind enough to give us a few minutes to ask some questions. One issue that came up immediately was how much Daniel loves slots as a player, not just as a designer.
Daniel: For me this is not just a job, it is my passion. I’ve played tens of thousands of hours of slots. It goes back to long before I got into production. I still play slots for at least an hour every day. But now this is part of my job.
Casinos We Love: So being Head of Games must be a dream job for you. Can you tell us what you do exactly?
Daniel: I’m responsible for creating new games. I work with a team and we are constantly coming up with new ideas for new mechanics and new features, plus working out the math that make everything possible.
We start by designing prototypes, which we then take to the design studios. I then work with the developers to bring the game to life. We create several versions, trying to make it slightly better each time. I’m regularly giving feedback and direction, like a producer.
We play the games a lot as part of the process. We tweak the features, balancing the variance, and making sure the volatility is right. It is a lot of fun.
CWL: You haven’t even mentioned the theme. I thought your planning sessions would start with something like, “Let’s build an Egyptian slot!”
Daniel: No, our designs almost always start with an idea for a new mechanic. It is not always the same, but the mechanic is the foundation of most games. It is much easier to create a fun game if the mechanic is great. Other game designers may have a different perspective, but I have a mathematics background and that’s my belief. But saying that, I think most game designers focus on mechanics at the start.
There are important exceptions, though. We recently released Let’s Get Ready to Rumble in partnership with the world-famous boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer, and in October we are releasing It’s Time!!, which features his brother Bruce Buffer. For these games we were starting with really strong themes. But creating quality mechanics for both of these games is still a vital part of the process. I’m really pleased with the results.
CWL: It’s impressive how much work takes place on things that players may not be aware of. It’s like a car – we can admire the colour and the comfort of the seats, but it is what is happening under the hood which makes the car move.
Daniel: I think that is a good analogy. A lot of people think designing a successful slot is just a matter of whether it looks good or doesn’t look good. But it’s not the best looking games that are ultimately the most popular with players.
The success of a game relies on quality mechanics. If you get these right, players will become devoted to a game.
CWL: Is it hard to come up with new ideas for mechanics, then? There are thousands of slots players can choose from already. Haven’t all the new ideas been tried already?
Daniel: Actually, the challenge is not coming up with new ideas. The hard part is coming up with an idea that slots players will like.
What I find really exciting is that players are increasingly open to creative, new mechanics. There was a time when slots needed to stick to more traditional formats so that players could understand what was happening. But players are increasingly sophisticated and experienced, and that gives us the freedom to be much more creative.
CWL: So where do your new ideas come from? What inspires you?
Daniel: Usually they come from playing other games. Not just slot games. It could be computer games or mobile games. I see something I really like and I think I really that would be really interesting if we could find a way to make it fit into a new slot.
The ideas can come up at any time. I might be playing a game at home and I think of an idea for a new mechanic or for a way to present a new feature and write it down. When we have our brainstorming sessions we are mostly presenting these ideas we’ve thought up at home or in the car or some other random time.
CWL: And starting from your brainstorming sessions, how long does the whole process of producing a new game take?
Daniel: From new concept to releasing the finished game usually takes about nine months. It takes time because we start every game from zero. At Relax we never reuse anything from previous games.
We spend one to two months developing the prototype, including the concept and the mathematics that will make the game work. Then we spend four to six weeks fleshing out the game concept, and then we start production.
CWL: Can you tell during the process if a game is going to be a huge hit?
Daniel: It can be hard to tell. I really loved Temple Tumble, which we released earlier this year. When I was testing the prototype I would get lost in the game for hours sometimes, not even playing for real money. I thought it would do well, but perhaps just a moderate success.
When it was released, players liked it even more than I had been expecting! That’s been very rewarding to see.
CWL: When you finish a game it must be a very exciting moment then.
Daniel: Absolutely! We always have a launch party, which usually revolves around a competition to see who can get the biggest win on the new game.
did something different for the launch of Let’s Get Ready to Rumble, though, as that was a particularly important moment. We invited about five hundred people to a party here in Malta. We had a boxing ring set up, with MMA fighters and everything. It was fantastic!
CWL: It seems like Relax Gaming is doing amazingly well. Can you give us an idea of what we can expect?
Daniel: I’m really proud overall of how far we’ve come. Two years ago the game production team was me and two other guys with nothing. Already we’ve built up two new studios, one in Sweden and one in Serbia. The pace of what we’ve done is something I’m really proud of. And I know that in the next two years that pace is not going to slow down.
Although, Relax Gaming has been exciting on the market as a poker supplier and platform aggregator for almost 10 years, the game production is still a fairly young part of the company, and I think we are happy to experiment with new ideas more than some bigger companies. We put a lot of emphasis on trying new concepts. Every game we release is unique.
CWL: How about new games?
Daniel: Besides the Bruce Buffer game, It’s Time!! – out in October – there is a new game we’re working on called Snake Arena. That is one to look forward to.
CWL: Thank you for your time Daniel. It’s been fascinating to talk to you!
Daniel: I’ve enjoyed it. Thanks for the opportunity!