A Cheerful Discussion with Germany’s Apparat Gaming’s Director

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Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you and what is your role at Apparat Gaming? How did your journey in the gambling industry begin?

I’m Thomas, one of the founders of Apparat Gaming and, alongside my colleague Alina, one of the two directors. As is often the case with start-ups, as a founder you have to take on a lot of tasks at the beginning that you are not particularly enthusiastic about. Contracts, for example, will not be one of my passions in this life. They are more likely to be strategy, business development and partnerships. I also enjoy being creative, but admittedly not everyone in the team is always so enthusiastic about it.

My journey started with a gaming company I co-founded in 1993 and sold to a listed TV production company in 2000 – computer games, not gambling. In 2004, I became managing director of the IT subsidiary of one of the largest gaming arcade operators in Germany. This is how I came into contact with online gambling in 2011. Initially more as an astonished observer, but in 2014 I became the managing director of the third-largest slot machine manufacturer in Germany, Bally Wulff, for which I built up the online business, among other things. Then in 2020, in the wake of the upcoming German regulation, I set up my own business with the Apparat team. And I haven’t regretted it for a minute. Well, one minute maybe…

How do Apparat Gaming’s German roots influence the themes and features of your new slot games, especially in a global market?

Our ‘iGaming with a German Accent’ truly reflects our heritage. The founding team, all German, brings extensive experience from the German market to our games. We create ‘proven winners’ for Germany that also resonate globally, in places like Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, Greece, and even Brazil.

Our topics are not really new, and the preference for fruit games in some markets in particular is still very much alive today. But we look at the themes very carefully, because we don’t want to deliver a me-too product, of course, but rather games that are independent in terms of theme and features, that are of high quality despite our size, that are convincing in terms of gameplay, features and visuals. Immediately understandable, popular topics are always a criterion, but often with a self-ironic wink.

And that’s where the twist about our German roots comes into play. We deliberately play with German clichés and don’t take ourselves too seriously. Our predominantly non-German staff now even fear that we are destroying the myth that Germans lack a sense of humour. But we are working hard on it. And quintessentially German themes such as our Oktoberfest game “October Bier Frenzy”, the upcoming “Gartenzwerge” (Garden gnomes) or an Autobahn game hopefully show that German myths are absolutely sacred to us. Not.

Your website hints at a forward-thinking approach in game development. Could you elaborate on how Apparat Gaming is integrating advanced technologies like AI or VR into your game development process to enhance user experience?

Well, this entire interview has been answered by ChatGPT while I’ve been enjoying a pint of beer in the pub. Just kidding. To be honest, a lot of the chatter around AI is still hot air, at least in our industry. For Apparat, we use it as a tool to make our work easier, improve quality and increase efficiency. When it comes to VR, as a small team we are dedicated to finding our place in the mass market and despite impressive use cases from the likes of Apple and Meta, I don’t see it really taking off any time soon. In our industry, the real innovation comes from far less exciting areas such as data analysis, but AI can certainly help here.

What are your top 3 favourite slots from Apparat Gaming, and what makes them stand out in terms of player engagement and experience?

Before we release a game, we run an internal competition. The challenge is simple – each employee has two hours and a limited points budget to spin the reels and score points across a range of criteria. The person with the most points wins an Amazon voucher. It really is amazing how many spins you can place in such a short time, and my favourite games are often the ones where I win our internal challenge. These games are usually highly volatile, so Warlocks Book, October Bier Frenzy or the just-released Total Eclipse XXL make my current top three.

Each stands out for a different reason – in Warlock’s Book, I love the expansion of the classic book game delivered through the Expanding Wild in the Free Games and the additional winning symbol. Total Eclipse XXL, on the other hand, takes the always-popular Hold & Spin feature to the next level by unlocking additional rows.

What are the top 3 slots from Apparat Gaming that you believe uniquely capture player engagement, and what makes them stand out?

Total Eclipse XXL has only just hit the market but is off to a flying start despite the highly competitive end-of-year period. It’s not only a matter of days before it dethrones our current top performer, 40 Sevens. This is one of our first games but still one of our most successful, showing that we really did hit the ground running with our “made in Germany” approach to slot development.

Overall, our fruit games are all performing well beyond our expectations. I can honestly only speculate as to the reason for this, as I am neither a player of such games myself, nor can a causal relationship be derived from our data. While with games like “Total Eclipse XXL” it can be traced back to the special features of the game, I suspect that with the fruit games we simply achieve a very good mix in the interplay of graphical quality, simplicity and this mystery called “game feel”, which is probably the result of the many years of experience of our game designers.

How do you incorporate elements of player psychology into the design of your slot games to enhance engagement and entertainment?

We all know that from our own life experience, the taste of success is sweet. This absolutely can be applied to online slots – if the player doesn’t have to wait too long for success, or to win, they are more likely to keep playing and to return to the game again. The data confirms this, too. I also know from my time in the land-based world that if you ask a player who has just lost, they will say the game sucks. On the flip side, those who win often reinvest an element or all of their prize back into the game, expecting more wins to follow. This is all about inspiring the player’s winning imagination, but this can be taken too far, especially in multiplier slots with high volatility. At Apparat, we strike the balance by ensuring our games entertain as well as provide the sweet taste of success.

From your experience at Apparat Gaming, how do you gauge if a slot game will be a hit? What factors are considered during development?

If someone has a formula for success, please get in touch with me. This is a fast-moving space where player preferences are always changing. Studios must be agile and experimental to keep pace. That said, there are some fundamentals and quality is the most important. Games must look good – if they don’t players just don’t want to play them – but they must play well, too. So, this means building the game around the right features and bonuses. It’s all about bringing together the whole package.

As a new studio, we use our own experience but also look to the wider industry and especially our competition which we monitor closely. Experience and observations often lead us to combine proven features but in different ways. Like creating a new recipe from familiar ingredients. Sometimes, it tastes better to the player, others not so much. Of course, if we only ever derive the future from the past, it’s impossible to create something new.

Looking ahead, what exciting developments or big releases can players expect from Apparat Gaming?

We’ve already got our plans in place for the first half of 2024, with 10 new titles launching to players. This includes slots with German themes, but also some new and exciting features that we will be trying for the first time. Of course, each slot will be built with the quality that Germany is famous for. I’m especially excited about a game we are working on for the European Football Championship – it will be interesting to see how players react to it. Of course, as a German, I am looking at football with a certain sense of humour. Were we not the hosts of the tournament, I doubt we would have qualified in the first instance.

If you weren’t in the gambling industry, what other industry would you want to work in?

I used to want to be a journalist or a writer but once I learned that colleagues, especially those in our development team, use ChatGPT to have my texts shortened to understand them, I think I made the right choice with the career path I have taken. Anyway, if I was to work in another sector it would have to be creative and based on people. And nothing too serious.

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