Inside Asian Gaming sits down with Lloyd Robson, General Manager – APAC for Aristocrat, to find out how the company is adapting to the challenges presented by COVID-19.
Ben Blaschke: 2020 has provided challenges that nobody in our industry saw coming. How do you feel Aristocrat has navigated these past 12 months?
Lloyd Robson: 2020 was certainly a difficult year for everyone, but it was also a year that provided an opportunity to focus on the future. As always, we put our people first and implemented a series of initiatives to support their wellbeing. In fact, from September last year we have been providing Wellbeing Fridays, giving our employees some extra time at the end of the week to spend with family and friends. We know that the past year hasn’t been easy on our customers either, and so we’ve been focused on partnering and supporting them through initiatives such as our Aristocrat Assist and our Virtual Tradeshow Exhibition.
Finally, we continued our investment in content development and in fact, we didn’t slow down during this period. We are confident that this investment and focus on leading content and hardware will help drive our customer success in 2022. There was no playbook on how to handle this disruption but we feel we have invested our time on the areas that matter; our people, our customers and our product.
BB: How would you assess the outlook for 2021?
LR: This is crystal ball time! There is no doubt 2021 in Asia is going to continue to be challenging. With so many markets reliant on tourism and with COVID cases still prevalent in a number of countries, 2021 will continue to be challenging in driving the foot traffic that casinos would ideally like to see. I believe gaming revenues will continue to be softer until border restrictions are eased and travel becomes an easier proposition than it is today.
BB: What are Aristocrat’s primary goals for the year ahead, and has the focus changed from 12 months ago?
LR: Our goals have not really changed, COVID has just caused us to accelerate our focus on some of them. For example, there is still lots of uncertainty in the world, and as a result we know that this will invariably create some level of concern for our employees. We are committed to focusing on our employees and have multiple wellbeing levers in place to ensure our staff engagement is strong. As a content and technology driven company, Aristocrat never ceases to innovate and create new concepts that support our customer’s business and that cater to different player appetites. Our talented teams have continued to focus on the development pipeline during various lockdowns in Asia, to ensure that a robust portfolio of games is readily available for our ever-changing market, instilling confidence in the path ahead.
BB: What can we expect in terms of product in 2021?
LR: Aristocrat maintained our commitment to the Asian market by continuing game builds throughout the crisis. As a result, we have a stronger portfolio in 2021 than ever before. In fact, we have increased our dedicated investment for Asia year-on-year to ensure we have a suite of content readily available to support customers as players continue to migrate back to properties. In the next 12 months, we are dedicated to strengthening the Asian market with multiple new releases across a variety of Links, Standalone and Standalone Progressives.
In the Link space, we are excited to debut a new product called Lucky Fortune Link, with two recognizable characters from classic Chinese literature, Da Sheng Yeah and the Great Empress Wu Ze Tian. Lucky Fortune was built in response to the player favorite Hold & Spin feature and was launched with a new Picture Pays mechanic. Players can choose their lucky Chinese Zodiac in the Lucky Fortune feature, collect the Zodiac pictures to award the credit prizes and jackpot, while adjacent credit prizes combine to bigger symbols for bigger prizes. It was exciting to see this product launch during Chinese New Year and was a great opportunity for operators to promote, “Sending Away the Year of the Rat and Welcoming the Year of the Ox.”
BB: In your ongoing dialogue with operators across the region, has there been any obvious shift on what they are looking for from you based on the different operating conditions most are currently experiencing?
LR: There has been a variety of responses from operators, with some not prepared to do anything, effectively putting their investment in new games and hardware on hold until GGR is stronger. Some customers continue to be aggressive and demand new content, so our focus is on supporting each customer and helping them navigate this environment together.
BB: Following on from that previous question, has there been any material shift in game mix, installation or layout requirements on gaming floors?
LR: Again, it’s quite different depending on each market. Some markets have been vocal on the need to innovate and present new core standalone content, while others want the latest greatest link progressive theme with appropriate jackpot settings. In relation to layouts, we are seeing some operators across the region adopt dividers. Some have every second machine off, while others have their machines and banks spread out honoring social distancing. We are certainly assisting and supporting where we can when it comes to maximizing floor layout to optimize casino floor utilization. Every customer is different, and we’re committed to support them on what makes sense for their venue.
BB: What markets do you expect to perform best over the coming months, and is that where you will aim your focus? Which markets do you see taking longer to recover from a sales perspective?
LR: We’re operating in a challenging and uncertain environment and we need to be able to adapt and react quickly to support our customers. Markets like Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore seem to be positioned to perform stronger than some other markets in Asia. From a sales perspective, our focus is partnering with our customers and being able to shift from a transactional experience to more of a solutions partner as we assist them in navigating 2021.
BB: You recently launched a new virtual showcase concept in response to the lack of trade shows and opportunities to meet with some customers in person during the pandemic. Can you talk about the importance of this new concept and how it has been received?
LR: It is in our DNA to be innovative in everything we do and tradeshows are no different. In the absence of bringing customers together in person, we still wanted the opportunity to engage virtually. The adoption of virtual technology is now just one of the many ways we can communicate and as result, the engagement with the online platform has been fantastic. In this virtual world, customers browsed through the latest products, learned about game mechanics and different bank configurations for optimal performance. In addition, we showcased various signage options that complement the games and provide another point of difference for venue floors. We’re driven by a need to innovate and this is just one of the many ways we’ve adapted to support our customers and provide a unique experience for them.
BB: The pandemic will ease in 2021 and eventually come to an end, but do you expect any longer lasting impacts on how Aristocrat works with its customers? Will virtual showcases and other online opportunities play a greater ongoing role than perhaps they would have sans-pandemic?
LR: The way we communicate and engage with each other has changed. We’ve had to adapt and innovate and do things differently during COVID, but the one thing that will remain constant is our focus on customer service and partnership. I think we’ll continue to embrace innovative technology solutions, but there will always be a need and want to have face to face interaction with the industry. We love what we do and we’ll innovate together with our customers to ensure that we find a way of working that exceeds their expectations every time.