From the outside looking in, Microgaming has undergone a period of massive change in recent years. In 2020, the Microgaming Poker Network (later MPN) closed its doors. Two years on, an even bigger shift followed when Games Global acquired its aggregation platform Quickfire and a vast catalogue of games.
Over the past decade Microgaming’s PR strategy centred around slots and casino, so Quickfire’s sale feels like a major change. But it’s not so much a change of direction, explains chief executive Stephen Fisk, and more a case of focusing on what made the business thrive in the first place.
“You have to remember Microgaming started as a full platform provider, offering a number of services beyond game and content provisions,” Fisk, appointed CEO in May, explains. “We’ve had our poker and bingo networks as well as other services and products along the way, but we’ve always retained an identity around our full platform product.”
Quickfire serviced more than 900 brands. While Microgaming’s platform technology supports those brands as a supplier to Games Global, Microgaming is narrowing its attention to a small group of core partners, including Super Group’s sports and casino operator, Betway.
That eases Fisk’s transition to the top job. As chief operating officer, a role he took up in 2018, his focus was on platform development.
“There’s always a certain level of learning,” he adds. “And it never stops. As CEO, I continue to learn new things every single day in terms of what it takes to manage the business as effectively as I can.
“Leading everyone and the buck stopping with me is a change and a challenge and I am sure there’ll definitely be more learning to come.”
Microgaming’s talent factory
Fisk is the latest executive to move up through Microgaming’s C-suite to the top job. After Roger Raatgever served as CEO for 17 years, Microgaming faced a period of relative upheaval.
In the five years since Raatgever’s departure in 2018, John Coleman, Andrew Clucas and now Fisk have taken charge. There’s a recurring trend to these appointments.
Coleman was chief financial officer before stepping up. His replacement Clucas previously served as chief operating officer. Fisk replaced Clucas as COO, and now replaces him as CEO, continuing a long run of internal promotions.
Fisk is arguably an outlier, in that Coleman and Clucas both served for more than 10 years before their elevations. He’s still approaching a decade with the business.
He comes with a strong track record in gaming, having spent over 20 years in the industry. Previously at PokerStars operator Rational Group, he was charged with expanding into sports betting back in 2013, when it was still very much a poker-centric operation.
“In a very traditional poker business, as PokerStars was at that point, I think everyone was very happy to be moving into sports betting,” he recalls. “But it was also a big change to the day to day. It taught you about management and leadership in terms of how to bring people along with you.
“Change requires a lot of focus, dedication and drive. The more you can align everyone with the same focus and driving towards the same goals, the better off the business will be.”
Communication is key, he adds, in building buy-in from a team.
Back to the future for Microgaming
So does that set him up for shepherding Microgaming into a brave new world free from slots and poker?
Quickfire may have a new owner but Games Global remains a close partner to Microgaming. “For Games Global to distribute their games around the world, we still provide the technology platform to do that,” he notes.
The same focus on tracking the market across products, content and services remains. Focusing on providing bespoke services to a smaller number of partners still requires the latest solutions.
“We are going back to Microgaming’s core identity as a platform provider,” Fisk continues. “However, we have to remember that casino forms a very large part of our customer and revenue base. It’s extraordinarily important to us.”
How does sports fit into Microgaming’s future?
Sports betting will play a growing role. Microgaming powers Betway around the world so it’s a proven solution, one that’s arguably underrated. That small but perfectly formed client base will spur it forward.
Fisk doesn’t envisage the supplier going toe to toe with other B2B sports giants. “I think that’s the key to our success,” he says. “We provide bespoke products and solutions to our partners.
“We will provide them with products they need, that we believe will service their customers well and grow both of our businesses simultaneously. It’s a true partnership. If they see space in a market or a different product set than perhaps we do, it’s a very open honest conversation in terms of what needs to be done.”
That bespoke path, he argues, is Microgaming’s differentiator going forward. Working with a select client base lets the business move quickly when opportunities arise.
Sizing up new markets
“We are keeping our eye on many, many different markets around the world,” he says of those opportunities. “There are obviously some key [markets] and up-and-coming ones we would like to see regulate.
“The work that’s gone into Ontario over the last few years, for example, is a very good sign for us and for the industry as a whole.”
Microgaming advocates for regulated, safe operating environments, he continues, with a particular focus around safer gambling. A focus on bespoke solutions means it can build in regulatory compliance requirements and go further in developing additional safeguards. If a customer wants to build their own tools, Microgaming provides the tech and advice.
This extends to supporting industry-wide projects such as GamCare’s National Gambling Helpline and peer-to-peer group therapy trials, as well as local programmes on the Isle of Man. “It goes into the culture and the mindset of staff, not just the products we offer.
“It’s something we try to ingrain in the organisation, responsible gaming awareness is baked into our business as a whole. We figure if we do that, we will provide better products and services to our customers as well.”
Leveraging one of igaming’s heritage brands
That focus on improvement is especially important when Microgaming undergoes something of a repositioning in the market. As Fisk says, the narrower focus is less a change in direction and more of a return to its roots, but that still requires something of a reset.
There’s a lot of brand equity in the name as well. Everyone remembers Microgaming powered the first online casino, back in 1994, some six years before Fisk started in the industry.
The quality of its products and its level of service has helped it endure for 29 years and counting, Fisk stresses.
“We need to focus on the heritage of always delivering for customers and continue to leverage those relationships as best as possible. As well as communicating to the rest of the industry we’re still leaders.
“Almost 30 years on, we’re still going strong. It’s an iconic place to be.”