Tell us a bit about yourself, John. What makes you, you; and why have you chosen to work at GJG?
I’m an avid gamer and have been designing games for the past 15 years. I started with video games at a very young age. When I was about 11, I designed my first game, programming in Basic or Pascal from a Sinclair programming manual. The only idea that I had in mind was ‘How can I create Pac-Man?’ but the walls were “@” symbols, and the Pac-Man was the letter “C”!
Then I moved into 3D animation and then started with game design, designing the structure and the entire experience. That’s when I fell in love with the process and started with my own studio back in Greece. Since then it’s been a hell of a journey. It was amazing; I moved from mobile and web video games to console games and consulting with smaller teams, working with clients internationally and in Europe.
Eventually I landed in Malta, where we worked with a Chinese operator and provider that wanted to try a more European approach to slots. I started doing slots because I wanted them to stop being boring, to be honest with you. I felt that the industry was changing (this was back in 2014/15) and slots started to not look just like fruits sat next to each other. That’s when I really took game design seriously in terms of what we could do with mechanics. From there I went to Yggdrasil, then to Gaming Corps, and now I’m here at Green Jade.
If you had to say, “what are the ingredients of John?” it’s: let’s make fun experiences through design and games – I live and breathe games. That used to be the moto of my game development studio in Greece as well.
We love big wins, so can you please let us know the top 3 winnings ever paid by GJG?
We don’t necessarily have our eyes only on the big wins. Recently, we had an amazing 888x on Cheeky Cheshire that was shared on social media from Mr. Gamble. We enjoyed it because we just happened to be watching the stream at that point, so it was quite exhilarating to see the reaction. But it’s not only about that; our partners have been telling us that we are reaching the top tiers in terms of replayability and slot stickiness. People keep playing our games – they come back, and they want to stay to play our games – and that’s something that we discuss a lot internally. We tend to focus on that as a metric and as an approach, so we create our own “Top three” in that way.
You have an impressive slots portfolio. Can you name the most successful three slots ever released by GJG?
Obviously, there are plenty of metrics that can make a slot successful in terms of their exposure and replayability, or in terms of number of plays or number of winnings. In the past year especially – and that has been one of the greatest years for Green Jade so far – I would say Cheeky Cheshire, Frankie’s Holiday and Prizefighter K.O. These three are doing very very well.
The last 18 months have been challenging for all of us. Even so, GJG had multiple releases. Which slot takes the 2020 title of the best GJG game?
We decided not to look back at the past year that much because it was a huge challenge for a lot of companies. To be honest with you, even the first six months of 2021 were tremendously different compared to the previous two years. The industry changed so drastically. The way that we see a game… the way that we see development… the way that the work has been done… it has changed so drastically that I wouldn’t necessarily give the “best game” crown to one of the games of last year because we shut down into our shells because of what happened in the world, and we tried to do the best to push what we could for 2021. So we were focused mostly there, on the future, as 2021 was during that period.
Looking to the future, what is the next big release GJG is planning?
It’s not one, it’s not two, and it’s not only slots, because we believe in Arcade, and Arcade for us is a huge pillar that we think is the future of the industry. A lot of our focus and a lot of our fundamental work in previous years has been building up to the excellent work in the pipeline that we’re creating now internally for Arcade. We have multiple releases coming within the next months for both the slots and the Arcade and they are going to merge the two pillars; they’re not going to be just a typical slot or a typical Arcade game. I personally believe that the slot is getting older, and our focus is to give something fresh and utterly fun to the market for the years to come!
In a market with hundreds of game studios, what would you say is GJG’s biggest differentiator?
One of the main important differentiators for us is that we’re not afraid to challenge ourselves and to test different things. We will never say “no” to something new. After careful consideration and the very, very careful pre-planning and research that is required, we will go into development, not just trying to be different with the visuals but to have different playable games and different products in the markets. We literally don’t stop doing that internally – from the initial ideation of a project until the very, very last moment that it goes out to the market.
We would love to hear more about the slot creation process. Can you let us know which is the most exciting part of the entire process when creating a new slot?
Because there is so much saturation in the slots, it’s so exciting to become the ‘creative detective’ in the sense of discovering what I can really do in terms of logic, themes and maths – or a package of all this in an engine. What’s really going to make it feel new, because most of the time a player plays a game and thinks “OK, this is an x y z game with this theme or that mechanic”. We’re constantly thinking “what haven’t they experienced?” How can we find the sweet spot between not alienating them and at the same time creating something that they would play? The most exciting part for me is the concept phase, which is exploring mechanics and prototyping internally, then deciding what to ditch and what to not fall in love with. That’s mainly what I love.
What about any inside funny stories, do you have something to share with us?
My favourite time at Green Jade is when we all gather together, and we pretty much do that every week. We literally gather all together, from the top management to the last person of the company – every single person that is at Green Jade. We get together and play new prototypes of the games that we’re developing and play current games that we are about to release. Here you can hear the total, unfiltered judgment and feedback – that is super-constructive and fun. Because we know each other, nobody’s afraid to say anything. Sometimes it’s so funny because you have created something and you think that it’s going to be the best, and then you have a couple of people who are gamers and gamblers, and they’ll ‘break’ the game in the first five minutes! But you’re not sad because you know what to do to fix it. It’s super-funny because nobody takes it personally and you can get some seriously useful feedback out of a fun process!
How can you tell if an online slot is going to be a hit or not?
If that is ever answered by someone, please come and tell me what they told you! Literally, there is no way to tell if a game going to be a hit or not. We do understand trends and we do understand leaning towards a direction where we think “OK, this is going to do great compared to x y z because…” but we can never say “OK, this is going to be the hit in this market” or “this is not going to be a hit in this market” simply because we have seen so many surprises as to what people play.
The thing that we’re trying to do is to constantly ‘level up’ the quality of our product development in a series. In the past months, a huge focus in the processes that I wanted to bring was to not be satisfied by a hit. To instead continue to improve.
Did you yourself use to play slots before entering the iGaming industry? Can you share with us your biggest win on an online slot?
I am a very, very responsible and careful gambler, and would like to urge everyone to be responsible and careful. I always played with my ‘research eye’ on because I am a gamer so I can get addicted to games. I avoid playing slots too much because I know that the edge will make me play more. I had one good wager where one of my wins was a 350x.
What are your hobbies?
I play video games a lot. I like to write stories. I recently started thinking about writing some interactive novel stories for children as well – I never get bored of playing with and being around children and making up stories for them. I do a bit of crypto and NFT work just for fun. I consider it a hobby still – I don’t consider making a bit of money from that a business because I literally do it just for fun; we gather with some beers and we just create NFTs and sell them.
What has been your biggest challenge and your most significant success in the gambling industry?
The biggest challenge was when I first entered the gambling industry and had to teach myself (really quickly!) how to think in order to create games for a gambling audience that might not be gamers. Until then I had nearly 10 years of experience in video games, so I had to rewire my brain in order to understand that for a gambler it’s a game but it’s a different kind of game. How they see a game… that took a lot of a lot of research and a lot of studying and a lot of actual playing of gambling games in order to understand them better.
In terms of significant success, I have created multiple products that are still making a lot of money. I recently had the call from a friend at a company I used to work for, who told me that one of my old games still makes money! I really love listening to that – it’s super-cool.
If you weren’t in the gambling industry, what other industry would you want to work in?
The obvious one is video games where I worked before; I would do that again. I also love consulting with smaller teams and new developers – I still try to train people and get them into both industries if that’s possible. My “undercover dream” is being a Pixar animator. I would really love to do something like that. If I had to restart – and video games didn’t exist – I would love to make animated movies because the stories that they tell are exactly the way that I love creating experiences.