Virtual Is Real – An Interview with Steven Spartinos From Kiron Interactive
Virtual Sports, eSports, Fantasy Sports have established themselves quite actively in gaming a few years ago. In this interview, SiGMA’s own Sophie Crouzet asks Co-CEO Steven Spartinos for his insights on such emerging trend and how Kiron Interactive is embracing this movement.
Pleasure to sit with Steven Spartinos, Co-founder and CEO of Kiron Interactive, and discuss virtual sports. Can you confirm and elaborate that virtual sport is evolving and becoming a much bigger piece of the Operator’s portfolio. What is contributing to this increased market share?
Yes, this is correct for a number of reasons. The high frequency nature of virtual sports events means that operators have access to a steady stream of betting content on a 24/7 basis. Time-sensitive players can also enjoy a bet whenever they have a spare few minutes in their busy day, and no longer need to wait until a live scheduled game begins. Due to their high frequency and RNG derived results, the products also appeal to a wider gaming audience thereby allowing operators to attract new players to their sports betting venues or websites. Further, the consistent and attractive margins delivered by virtual sports make them a valuable component to any operator’s product mix.
Virtual Sports were initially used to fill the dead time between racing and other live events, but many betting shops decided to cast them aside. That’s how the Virtual Sports mania started. But why, in your opinion, Virtual Sports has become a unique feature in itself?
Virtual offerings may have started life as filler content for high street bookmakers more than a decade ago, but they have quickly become an integral part of an operator’s portfolio. Unfairly dubbed ‘cartoon racing’ when first introduced, players quickly adopted them on the back of the similar betting experience they offered to real racing. Over the years, the improvement in graphics and engaging audio have allowed virtual sports to rival the latest games console offerings and in so doing grow their appeal with the millennial generation. Time has become a big factor in our daily lives and with this in mind, players no longer have the time to wait around watching live sports matches. Virtual sports matches scheduled every couple of minutes o er an attractive alternative. Not only do they o er similar betting markets, but the shorter duration events immerse players into the action with exciting and enticing rapid play.
Why are players happier to play on Virtual sport and not real sport? Are we dealing with a totally different player demographic? Is this the beginning of a new area where virtual sport will dominate over all other betting styles?
I wouldn’t say that virtual sports will dominate over real sports or other betting styles. Rather they are a complimentary product to real sports betting, and are likely to continue to be played in parallel for the foreseeable future. A younger generation of players accustomed to computer-based gaming are, however, more inclined to bet on new generation products such as virtual sports and e-sports, thereby growing the popularity of these products with operators. The mobile betting boom is also largely attributable to a young tech-savvy market, and virtual sports t perfectly with this demographic. Younger players seek instant gratification and high frequency games that are available at the click of a button suit this time-sensitive world we live in.
When it comes to Virtual Sports, a big debate rages on which features make VS better than others. Some brands focus on graphics. Others focus on retention thanks to a strong meta-game and player experience (realistic odds, large wage of different sport event etc.). What’s your opinion on that?
Growing up with the latest gaming consoles, mobile phones and tablets means the latest generation of players demand high quality graphics and immersive game play. Regardless, even though these players hold a lot more trust in computer-based gaming than those before them, they still need to be catered for with a high level of care to ensure player retention. It is very important that virtual offerings are believable, realistic and as enticing as possible. Only then can they be treated as a true substitute for live action. A variety of betting options, considering local preferences, as well as attractive odds are also necessary ingredients for a successful offering.
What’s the technology behind your Virtual Sports product? What are you using to make your games as good as real? Basically, what makes Kiron Interactive stand out from the clutter?
Kiron uses state of the art technology to offer the widest range of virtual sports titles on the market. With 17 titles that include a variety of racing, racquet and team based sports, Kiron has the largest and most varied virtual sports portfolio on the market, and we can tailor any of our offerings to suit the local markets and operators we are supplying. We place a great deal of emphasis on realism and capturing the essence and excitement of each real sport we simulate, albeit in a condensed format. This includes a combination of high end graphics, game play variants and realistic human audio commentary. By always ensuring we do our research, we can o er the best product on the market while also ensuring operators are left with a profitable and reliable offering. Our flexible and configurable solutions, including a number of playout options, ensure we can offer a tailored package for operators across industry verticals.
Besides your Virtual Sports Products, you also offer a Remote Gamer Server which provides a fully hosted and managed turnkey virtual sports betting solution: BetMan Online. Can you tell us a bit more about it? Why is it a good investment for Operators?
Our proprietary Betman Online RGS provides a market leading omni-channel fixed odds betting platform dedicated to virtuals, allowing players to bet at high frequency on our large portfolio of virtual sports on both desktop and mobile devices. Our RGS seamlessly integrates with an operator’s player wallet system, offering a large range of standard and unique betting markets, to sit alongside Kiron’s extensive virtuals catalogue. We offer a fully managed and hosted solution which requires minimum investment on the part of the operator. Together with an extensive back office, operators have all the tools required to fine tune the games to their preferences and operating requirements as well as analyse performance in infinite detail through the large number of statistics and reports that are available.
This platform allows player to bet on both desktop and mobile device. Would you say that the dazzling penetration pace of mobile and its impact on the customer journey has changed the way of building and thinking the Virtual Sports?
The rapid play nature of virtual sports lends itself perfectly to mobile delivery. With events beginning and ending every minute and with the proliferation of mobile bandwidth allowing for high quality videos to be streamed across all devices, virtual sports suit the modern-day player. We need to continue to stay ahead of mobile trends and technologies ensuring that we deliver a mobile product of the highest quality for users, including a high load-bearing and responsive betting interface.
You have a pretty impressive portfolio in the industry offering a large variety of virtual sports product and games such as football, archery, horse/dog races, table tennis etc. You even introduced the aptly-themed winter sports to the virtual gaming world a few months ago. In terms of Buzzwords and trends, what is in your opinion the most popular Virtual Sports product?
On a global scale, football continues to be a king. The sport has billions of fans worldwide, and virtual football offers those with time constraints in their life to enjoy the buzz of the game without needing to take two hours out of their busy schedule. In partnership with VSoftCo we continue to offer the industry’s only real time football game, rather than pre-recorded highlights, ensuring that players are engrossed in the action as they would be with a live football match, creating a much more real to life football experience. Racing continues to be a massive product in the virtuals world and continues to perform incredibly well in most markets irrespective of whether they have an established real racing industry or not. However, it’s important to tailor your content to fit the market, as football is not considered as a main sport in places such as Scandinavia. Our winter-themed sports are a great example of how a one size fits all mentality will see you left behind.
Kiron Interactive was also the first to introduce virtual sports in Malta with its leading retail sports betting operator, IZIBET. How do you approach the Maltese market? What does this introduction mean for your expansion strategy?
Kiron is always looking to push into new markets with principal local operators. The strategy used to introduce our products into the Maltese market is a similar one that we have used successfully in other new markets we have entered. The perfect opportunity presented itself to work alongside IZIBET, which shares our own beliefs when it comes to virtual sports. The deal was enabled via BGT terminals which were already well distributed across the IZIBET shops. As always, we tailored our package to perfectly suit both the market and IZIBET to ensure we maximize penetration and profitability. The products we have launched in the market have already proved popular with local players and the tools used to promote them, have worked well in terms of notification and education.