Since its inception in the 1990s, the iGaming (online casino and betting) sector has had three major milestones. The first was the launch of the first internet casinos in the 1990s, i.e., those static websites that allowed players to play the first games of chance for real money online. The second was the pivot to mobile in the late 2000s, which saw the industry anticipate – with greater prescience than most industries – that the future of entertainment was on mobile. Finally, in the 2010s, there was the roll-out of the live casino; that is, ‘real’ casino games hosted in a studio with the action streamed to the player’s device.
The last of those milestones was largely facilitated by Evolution Gaming, a Swedish gaming brand that has quickly become one of the most important iGaming providers in the world. From relatively humble beginnings, Evolution is arguably the most influential name in casino gaming. If you download a mobile casino app or play on a desktop, it’s almost certain you will come across an Evolution product, regardless of where you are based in the world. But how did it get here? And what lessons can other businesses learn from Evolution’s rise?
Online casinos use many game developers
First, we must appreciate the makeup of the iGaming sector. Casinos do not make their own games. Instead, they license games from game developer studios. Brands like Playtech and Microgaming dominated the industry in the 1990s and 2000s, and they were later challenged by other developers like NetEnt and Pragmatic Play. Some casinos might have scores of different developers, but the aforementioned names were among the biggest players. Consider it a bit like going to the movies, with the online casino acting as the movie theater: The brands like Playtech, Pragmatic, Microgaming, and NetEnt were like Warner Bros., Disney, Paramount, etc. You probably wouldn’t go to a movie theater that did not host movies from those studios; the same goes for visiting a casino without those brands.
Step forward, Evolution. The company was founded in 2006, but it wasn’t until the breakthrough with live casino games in the 2010s that it became well-known. The live games represented the final step on the journey that the online casino sector embarked upon in the 1990s – to replicate what you would find in a land-based casino. The technology used is impressive. Sure, you can live stream a roulette table and a croupier from anywhere in the world. But the ability for players to place bets in real-time on that table using console technology was a literal game-changer.
Evolution pioneered live game show games
But Evolution did not stop there. The company seemed to realize that the technology it pioneered could do more than just bring traditional casino games to any device. So, it decided to create new genres of casino games, such as Monpoly Live and Crazy Time. These games have been loosely described as tv game show games, hinting at their similarities with the programs you would see on television. It has transformed many casinos, allowing players to experience styles of gaming they would not be able to access in Las Vegas or anywhere else. This fact helped Evolution gain a greater market share as these new concept games exploded in popularity.
Evolution cornered the live casino market by the end of the 2010s, although there was certainly a fightback from Playtech and Microgaming. These brands also released their own live casino game show titles, some of which remain hugely popular. But Evolution had what is described in business as first mover advantage. However, Evolution did not really have a footprint in the virtual games market, so it decided to get there by creating one of the biggest acquisitions in the sector – it bought NetEnt.
NetEnt is behind some of the most successful online casino slots ever created. This includes Starburst, which is widely regarded as the most-played slot in the world. The studio has created 100s of titles, and thus Evolution gained control of them after the deal went through. Later, Evolution bought Big Time Gaming, an innovative developer best known for creating Megaways games. It also bought another studio – No Limit City.
At a stroke then, Evolution has the biggest presence in both the virtual and live casino sector. Those acquisitions were costly, but they position the company in strength as the global market continues to expand for iGaming. In the United States, for example, we see the continued easing of online gambling laws after the historic Supreme Couty ruling of 2018. As more and more states open up to online betting and gaming, Evolution is ready to capitalize.
As we mentioned, most online casinos carry games from a host of developers – perhaps as many as 50 on some sites. As such, the industry is not dominated by any one brand. But Evolution is growing at a clip, and we may see more acquisitions soon. It tends to allow its studios, like NetEnt, to operate independently, which is a boon in a sector that thrives on diversity. But as new opportunities arise, particularly with VR and the metaverse, we might see Evolution emerge as the dominant player.