An IGN Q & A: Tony McAuslan (Part 2)

19 February 2000
(Click here for Part 1.)

Next Generation Gaming, Australia's newest online casino game designer, appears to have all the necessary ingredients for success in the gaming software business. The company has equipped itself with the right personnel--including a pair of longtime game development execs and a staff of elite programmers--and has implemented a new approach toward designing Internet casino games that perhaps signifies the arrival of the "next generation" of online gaming. Cofounder Tony McAuslan recently shared the company's game plan as well their new philosophies with Interactive Gaming News.

IGN: From a regulatory standpoint, all software involved in the production obviously has to go through stringent auditing, especially in Australia. Is the testing of the front-end software more of a task than the testing of the backend software or vice versa? How do they compare?

Tony McAuslan: We work with the same guys who test the back end. Here and Australia there's a company called GGS. They've been working with both GET and Access to get their backend systems approved. So when we build a game, we have our own in-house QA, we have our own testing facility here. So we test the game here first. We then send it over to GGS, who come back and give us a test to see that all the math is correct. And then we release it to market. It goes basically tested by the people that the regulators approve of anyway, so the only final testing that the site operator does would be testing to make sure that the game runs within their system. They have to do that independently with their own jurisdictional regulators. So they're getting a pretty well finished package when they get it from us.

IGN: So how quick is that process?

TM: We reckon we've got it town to about two weeks. Well we won't release it unless we're pretty confident. So I reckon we can get it down to about a two-week turnaround on the testing, which is fantastic, I think.

IGN: Absolutely. Right now your games aren't available at any real-money online casinos, but is there a place on the Internet where your software is being showcased?

TM: There's a new site going up in about two or three weeks where you'll get to test a lot of our games. The thing is, most of the games we're developing right now are custom-built games for people who are about to release sites. They haven't gone live with their legal sites here in Australia, except Lasseters. There are about six other legal sites about to go online all around the same time--somewhere between now and June--and most of the people, because they see content as being their unique point of difference--their trying to keep what we're doing for them under wraps until they hit the market. So, they'll be some soft launches of our product going up over the next, say, two or three months.

IGN: You previously mentioned you have a staff of 22 people. Are you looking to expand soon?

TM: Yes, we're running job vacancy ads all the time. We're looking to probably double in size between now and July.

IGN: How many offices do you have now, and have followed through with plans to expand into Europe yet?

TM: We've just opened an office up in Queensland, we've got one in Sydney, we're about to open one in Melbourne and we've got plans to open an office in London before the end of the year at the moment. That'll be servicing the European market.

IGN: And what's going on in that market? So far there aren't any regulated online casinos in Europe. Is that about to change?

TM: We're in negotiations with about six different proposed site operators who intend on getting up gaming sites that aren't sports oriented. It's becoming very lively there at the moment. The other thing is, we're still building games for land-based machines too, which is one way we keep our hand in. We're in talks right now with two or three of the biggest gaming manufacturers anywhere to put our games in their machines. There always looking for outside creativity.

IGN: So that's just one more bridge between the two industries then.

TM: Yes.

IGN: Are the same games designed for online casinos going into machines and land-based casinos?

TM: Well, they're never going to have all the graphical functions you can put up on a PC on a slot machine at the moment, but they're close. Closely aligned.

IGN: From your background in the gaming machine business, you're obviously familiar with the fact that companies like IGT are keeping their distance from the online gambling industry. How far do you think companies like IGT are from crossing the gap?

TM: I think they're a long way from that, to be honest. I think Internet-driven gaming will turn itself back on traditional land-based gaming, and I think you'll see the next move on land-based gaming will be to a server--an intelligent server with dumb terminals hanging off it. And I think that will be the next move in land-based gaming because every operator dreams of being able to change the games by time of day and day of the week rather than just having one game stuck in one slot machine. I think once that happens, even the big gaming manufactures might be caught on the back foot because, essentially, that delivery mechanism would become a commodity. If it's PCs and servers, you don't need to be an IGT or an Aristocrat to be building them and delivering them. And I think that then the content deliverers will really come to the fore. As I said, the delivery mechanism will become a commodity, and people will still be looking to content ultimately.

It's like TVs. At one stage, people put a lot of thought into what TV they were buying. Nowadays, everyone just buys any old TV and as long as they can hook it up to Foxtel or whatever their cable provider is, it's the content that comes down the pipe that's more important.

We're talking already to people in interactive TV about delivering our kinds of games to interactive TV and Web-based TV. I can see all that moving very quickly.

IGN: What you've got is unique, and if it's successful, it will surely set an example for game development in the future. Do you see competition coming along anytime soon?

TM: I think there will naturally be competition, but in terms of having people who understand, really, how to design the proper gaming-type game, there's only a handful of those guys anywhere in the world who are renown. We've certainly got probably three or four of them working for us. So, there'll be lots of people trying to get into the business, but ultimately the dollars at the end of the day and the return are what people judge good game by. I think there'll be competitors, but there'll only be two or three that really get into that business in a serious way due to the scarcity of having good staff.

IGN: How many games have you developed so far?

TM: We've got about 48 games in development. We're doing two things: We're building a library of standard games that people can choose from and have customized for them. That doesn't include project what we've got from probably a dozen very large operators who are about to launch sites where we're doing custom-made games for them. So our guys are working on close to 100 games at the moment.

I think there's going to be a real drive for content. I look at it like the movie business. Even if you make "Titanic," you can run "Titanic" at your local theater and it might run for eight or 12 weeks, but even after eight or 12 weeks, people are going to get sick of it and want something else. So there's a constant need for new content.

IGN: So you guys will constantly cranking out new games.

TM: Absolutely. I think it'll be like your video store. The latest video will be in the front window and that'll get booked out every day, and then after a few weeks it might go in the back room, but it'll still return a few bucks every week. Someone will go in the back room and say I'll just play this for awhile.

Let's face it, there are 650 gaming sites. To set those sites aside, it's got to be their content--their front end. There's only so many pirate themes and various things you can do. It's going to be the game itself and then the content that's going to drive traffic. And the guys who understand that are going to do very well. I think there's going to be a pyramid. There'll be maybe a dozen global brands that do very well, and the rest will be regional players who probably make an okay living.

IGN: Will most of your software development be exclusive games for specific casinos or will you be customizing various game templates for different clients?

TM: I think, in the short term, people will take what they can get. But in the longer term, definitely, people are already talking to us about developing unique games for them. That's why we've got not only land-based game designers, but we've taken guys from the Nintendo and Sony Playstation markets. We're assembling productivity teams and we're looking at developing new-generation games.

IGN: From a developmental standpoint, do you create several templates and come off with variations of these templates or do you repeatedly start from scratch?

TM: If you look at land-based gaming, for every successful game they do what they call clones. So they take the same mathematics and they can change the images and the theme of the game, and we do a lot of that too.

IGN: So do your developers ever run out of ideas?

TM: They've got more ideas than time to do them at the moment.

IGN: Is there anything we haven't covered that IGN readers might be interested to know?

TM: I think the main thing is that the reason our market's now coming to the fore is that... First of all they've (the operators) worked on their infrastructure, then they've gone out to multimedia design houses and said, "can you make games?" They've all had a stab at it; they look great on the screen, but when a real person who really knows gaming plays them they don't like them because there's no mathematical or psychological approach. That's really sets us apart from everybody else. And that's really what's going to drive the industry--now having real game designers taking up the challenge of making games that people will play.

The other thing is, it's a virgin medium. No one really knows what's going to work well. We all might look back in 12 months and say, "Jeez, you know every gamed that had pink in them did really well and all those with a green background died." Who knows? And because the computer technology is going so fast, you've got so much more options with sounds, graphics... the whole thing. We're looking at taking a couple of really big rock bands and making games around them. You download the whole thing and you get the music when you get a win... All those kinds of things. Basically it's an open sleight. I think it's a pretty exciting time in the industry.

Mark Balestra

Mark Balestra is the Managing Director at BolaVerde Media Group. He previously worked at Clarion Gaming and the River City Group where he was the publisher of iGamingNews. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.