Andy Hollis is an iGaming industry veteran. He and his partner John Quinn both have years of experience working at industry behemoth Microgaming. By his estimation, the two have "upwards of twenty years experience" in the gaming industry, having helped shape some of the popular online slots that gamblers around the world have at casinos.
In 2021 Andy and John decided to break off on their own. They had ideas that they thought could be engaging for players and bring some changes to the industry. To Andy, Microgaming is a fantastic company and he has a lot of positive things to say about the behemoth. Although his time there was positive, he does mention that introducing new ideas or changes can take a lot of time. He and John sought flexibility to put some of their unique ideas into games directly. With that desire to change the game, Four Leaf Gaming was born.
Founding a Lean Machine
Andy and John have based Four Leaf Gaming out of the Isle of Man, an island located in the Irish sea situated between England and Ireland. The Isle is known as being a hub for iGaming, with several software development groups (including Microgaming) being based there.
Although the Four Leaf headquarters is on the Isle, the team is spread out throughout Europe. The team's mathematicians are located in Stockholm and the art team is based out of Kyiv. When asked about the reasons for having a decentralised team, Andy said that there are a few considerations. The first is price. According to Hollis, the costs associated with relocating a team to the island or in London is a big upfront expense, and recurring expenses like salaries need to reflect the higher costs of living.
"We've seen other development partners getting money to set up a business and set up some games, and they build a massive team in London or offices in expensive places. If the team's first couple of games don't resonate or there are delays, then it can be quite tricky. So we were quite keen to avoid some of the pitfalls we've seen from those studios."
A second consideration is finding talent in areas that may have not been discovered. Andy said that their previous roles lent them the opportunity to search for pockets of talent that could be outsourced. This led to them locating the talent in Ukraine, who've been designing the graphics for the company's Clover Fortunes slot, which is due for release in March of this year.
Changing the Game While Playing By the Rules
When I asked about Four Leaf's perspective on game development and product, Andy said that their goal is to design things from a player-first perspective. While this may seem like a cliche statement, Hollis certainly seems to walk the walk. He and Quinn are both gamblers that spend some of their spare time playing games. Andy is a fan of Nolimit City games and is currently playing Royal Potato from Print Studios, as he's a big fan of highly volatile games. He also cites Big Bad Wolf from Quickspin as being one of his all-time favourites.
"We're players, too. Because of that, we can put ourselves in the shoes of players, and that's what we have in mind when we design our games."
Four Leaf's philosophy is to see how they can look at game mechanics and see what players want, while also trying to disrupt the industry by putting their own little flourish on the games to make them a bit different.
"There's a lot of content in the industry, and there's no shortage of games at the moment. So we're very keen to not just put out the standard 5 reel slots that players can play from hundreds of different suppliers."
That's not to say that every Four Leaf is out to turn the entire industry on its ear. To hear Andy talk about the industry is to realise that to him, there has to be a balance. Straying too far can be catastrophic for a small developer if the game isn't a hit with the gambling crowd. In an industry full of risk for players, it seems that avoiding risk is a key business strategy for many.
This is partially why we see so many repeating game themes and slot series. With months of development time and resources, studios are looking to fall back on tropes that market data shows punters will resort to, like Ancient Egypt or Leprechauns. While it may seem lazy or boring to players, there is definitely a method to the madness.
Back to the balance discussion, Andy says that even while Four Leaf will be looking to bring unique themes to the industry, it still its their bets by offering some titles to make sure there's action on their games.
"You innovate, but you don't want to lose the player," Andy says. "They still want that element of familiarity, even if the game is quite innovative. Think of it as a drip-feed. You introduce an element and then in subsequent releases, you layer it on each game, instead of one big bang."
That balance also leads to the company's stance on variable RTP numbers on games, a topic that's proven to be divisive between casinos and players. When I relayed the experience of CL user Matthew, who was playing at a site that advertised a higher RTP for a slot than was actually in the game. Andy definitely tried to take the path down the middle of the road.
"Variable RTPs are becoming commonplace for suppliers within the industry. This allows operators to offer different versions of the same games in markets where their costs may be higher."
Andy states that while Four Leaf isn't implementing a variable RTP with their first game, it is something that they're discussing for future games. He cites factors like rising costs in regulated markets and other areas of operations as the reason for variable RTP games being introduced. At the end of the day he says, the choice is up to the operators to choose the margin they want on the game. Even if it isn't a player-friendly move.
Looking back to Mathew's issue though, Andy does agree that changes need to be documented and made known to players. He also says that he understands that players shouldn't want to be willingly giving percentage points of return back to the house in terms of theoretical value.
"We considered it at length and in order for our games to get the maximum distribution its something we will look to develop but ensure the values will be published in the paytable front and centre to make the numbers easy to see. We also want to make those RTP numbers published for when, say a player purchases a feature because often-times those numbers change."
The Development Process
As someone who's been in the industry for over a decade, I've been interested to know what a game's development cycle looks like. It's something that I've also never been able to get a firm answer on, so I was keen to ask Andy what Four Leaf's process is. Luckily, he was happy to oblige by giving me some details.
"First, John and I come up with an idea. From our previous experience, we were able to get an idea of what works for specific operators or players in a market. So we have a pretty good idea of what works from a feature and theme perspective, and we start our process there."
From there, the ideas are then sent to the mathematician, who develops a prototype of the game. This game is then run through simulations to see the payout distribution and player experience, tweaking the slot along the way.
Once the backbone gameplay elements are secured, the slot is then sent to the art team, who designs the symbols and animation. From there, the game is integrated into a software aggregation group. Recently, Four Leaf announced that they're partnering with Relax Gaming and will be putting their titles on the Silver Bullet platform. From there, Relax will offer the games to partner casinos, who'll offer the game to their customers.
In all, the game development process can be lengthy. Andy says that Clover Fortunes will have about six months of development time from start to finish and that Four Leaf is looking to be able to push out one new game per quarter. There are currently about twelve game concepts in the company's pipeline for development and distribution over the next few years.
The gaming industry can be very tight-lipped. Developers often fear poaching of ideas, which has led to secrecy. While this can help protect a valuable asset, it can also lead to games missing some features or including bugs that could have been found by others not so tightly attached to the development process.
In this area, Four Leaf is looking to others for help. Management in the company is open to working with casinos, affiliate sites, and players themselves to seek that outside opinion as they believe this will lead to a better end product.
This process was initiated with the development of Clover Fortunes, as Four Leaf consulted with casino operators for input.
"We were able to take and make some tweaks directly from feedback from the ops, which I don't think many devs are doing currently," said Andy. "It's something we want to be a lot more collaborative with."
A New Game Mechanic Enters the Arena
So what is Four Leaf Gaming going to do to shake up the gambling industry? The company is planning to debut its Game & Fortune mechanic with Clover Fortunes. Game & Fortune is a loyalty system of sorts but is tied exclusively to games put out by Four Leaf.
The mechanic sees players collecting Fortune Coins as they play the game, and as the coins accumulate players are able to use them to activate features in slots. As Clover Fortunes is the company's first slot, the coins will be used to trigger the Fortune Wheel. The Fortune Wheel gives players the chance to trigger free spins or various jackpot prizes that max out at 5000x your wager. The wheel can be set off randomly with one collected, or it can be activated manually when a player racks up 500 coins.
With one game out, the coins accumulated aren't usable on any other games, but future releases will see the coins able to be used on different releases from Four Leaf.
Additionally, Four Leaf is bringing the following game modes to their titles: Bonus Booster, which lets players gamble some or all of their free spins for a chance to possibly take more into the free spins round; Bonus Replay, which lets players replay their bonus round to see if they can possibly improve upon the results they'd previously gotten; and Lucky Spin, which will raise player stakes by 50% but will increase the frequency at which bonus events and Fortune Coins accrue.
You can put those game features to the test by playing a demo version of Clover Fortunes by clicking this link.
What the Future Holds
It's a slam dunk to think that Andy and John think there's a bright future ahead for the world of internet gambling, but what exactly does that future look like? I pitched this question to Andy, because as someone who's spent decent time with a gaming giant, it seemed like he'd have a good idea of where things are headed over the next few years.
If you're expecting holograms or drones delivering comp prizes, you'll likely be disappointed. It seems that Andy thinks the future is going to be a bit more realistic and grounded, with developers and casinos instead looking to bring players together. Over the past few years where people have been isolated more than usual, it seems like industries all over the consumer spectrum are looking for ways to bring us together (think Zoom, Facebook with its Metaverse, etc.). The iGaming industry is no different.
"I think a lot of the innovation and focus now is shifting to the product and platforms outside of the games. You look at things like multiplayer game products that bring players together, tournaments, leaderboards, social communities, progressive elements… I think there's a huge focus on that right now, especially in Europe."
It can also be said that slot machines are an old person's game. If you go to a land casino you will often see dozens of old curmudgeons perched at the machines, testing their luck. Pulling in younger demographics is something of a challenge for gaming companies. A few years ago we saw a push for some skill-based casino games, which had the aim of drawing in younger players that have grown up with video games and are looking for something different with their gambling dollars. If you go to Las Vegas you can see some examples of these games at land casinos with Gamblit machines, but for the most part, it seems that these style games haven't taken hold.
I made sure to ask Andy about these games and drawing in younger audiences, and his take was interesting.
"I don't think it (skill gaming) will ever take over traditional casino content in terms of volume and performance, but there's definitely a market and with millennials coming through, there'll be more of a demand for that type of product. But I'm not sure it'll take over the tried and tested."
It was really nice to actually get to sit down with Andy and talk a bit about his company as well as the iGaming industry as a whole. Sure, we've sat down with developers at shows like ICE and had some brief conversations, but this usually doesn't get past the puffery that the companies are trying to spin.
Without a doubt, Andy is an industry presence, and you can definitely tell that he's got an eye on the bottom line of the company he recently founded (and understandably so). At the same time, it's clear that Andy and John know games, and maybe they're onto something with the mechanics and games they're going to be releasing into a competitive space.
We don't know if Four Leaf is going to be a success with their games and mechanics, but it's at least interesting to see a group trying to do things a bit differently. At the very least, it was fantastic to get to sit down and talk shop with him for 40 minutes or so, and we appreciate doing so.
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