November 26, 2020 Casino, Online, Interview

Synergy Blue CEO: Innovate not terminate

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Gaming America speaks with Georg Washington, CEO of Synergy Blue, about the gaming supplier’s development over the past decade and why the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked even greater innovation. This interview appeared in Gaming America's recent CEO Special magazine.

You’ve been CEO of Synergy Blue since 2009. Could you explain a bit about how the company has developed in those 11 years 

2013 was when we partnered with Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians. That’s when things began to develop from a very small team. Back then we were developing service window applications and games for IGT. We still do that to this day so we were always in that gambling phase from the very inception of Synergy Blue. We grew very naturally developing these types of products.  

The people I brought onto the team were all from the video game industry, so they wanted to build video games. Even though we were creating these little flash games at the time, they were always saying, ‘Hey let’s build something that’s fun; we don’t play slot games.’ That’s really how the skill influenced or interactive gambling came about.  

In about 2016 or 2017 was when Nevada came up with the regulations for skill-style games. Around that time was when we debuted our HAWG platform with multi-player in the skill style. In 2018, we announced a couple of distribution deals and brought out several other games in moving the company forward. In 2019, we came out with our report on the state of skill-based gaming, signed further distribution deals and announced our Jade Entertainment partnership for the Asia-Pacific market.  

Now in 2020, we’ve kept moving forward in terms of production. We have kept the production team moving at full speed with the aim of G2E. Even when they announced it wasn’t going to happen we kept that goal in mind. We will still be announcing a whole bunch of products around that time.  

If you had to pinpoint a couple of achievements in your time as CEO that you were most proud of, what would they be?  

Being the first Native American enterprise to be licensed in Nevada with approved products is pretty substantial. It’s pretty much been from dollar zero all the way up now, so it’s been pretty amazing to watch the footprint of Synergy expand out into the digital world as well.  

How does Synergy Blue ensure it remains at the forefront of innovation in the gaming sector?  

We have many meetings and work with a lot of people, including Nolan Bushnell the founder of Atari. It’s about always looking at what we can do to improve the player experience, how can we simplify or make it more fun.  

COVID-19 has totally disrupted this industry and challenged it. That also means this industry is very ripe for innovation as operators must adapt to the changing landscape. Synergy Blue’s games are very much designed to appeal to that younger gambler who is used to having their games in their pockets on their cell phones.

When we look at the bigger companies like IGT or Sci Games, they’ve had lots of years in development to build up their content, platform and core infrastructure. As a young company getting into the gaming industry and one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world, we have to build, so we’ve been doing that in the background, building up our platforms to make sure we can continue in developing really fun games.  

What have been the main challenges posed by the pandemic for Synergy Blue, and how have you responded to these?  

COVID-19 in general really did shut down the world and its casinos. Even while casinos are open, some are doing fantastic but others are paying a pretty heavy toll right now because they’re either limited or still closed. For us, being a supplier to the casino industry, there has obviously been a slowdown from a sales perspective. However, from a product development perspective we kept that same speed knowing that we are going to have to continue to innovate and be at the forefront.  

This is especially important considering the first people who are going to come back to casinos will be a much younger demographic. We did a survey in April this year in which we asked 1,000 gamblers when they expected to return to casinos. We found that younger gamblers were most confident in returning sooner. That seems to be holding true, at least in the Nevada market and some of the other markets. We think our products help in those types of scenarios. 

The pandemic has totally disrupted this industry and challenged it. That also means this industry is very ripe for innovation as operators must adapt to the changing landscape. Synergy Blue’s games are very much designed to appeal to that younger gambler who is used to having their games in their pockets on their cell phones. For any brick-and-mortar business out there that is looking to innovate – which I believe all of them are – there will be plenty of new ways of adapting to the situation.  

What would you say is the key to attracting and retaining that younger demographic?  

I think its just about having fun games. At the moment entertainment is being limited by the pandemic. You have to provide other entertainment aspects. Our games fit into that mix by providing something different to a traditional slot machine. Of course, there’s always a place for a traditional slot machine, but we’re providing something a bit different for that more adventurous gambler or entertainment seeker.  

You mentioned that last year you partnered with Jade Entertainment for the Asia-Pacific market. How important will this market be in the long-run 

All our markets are very important for us. Jade Entertainment is in the Philippines and they’ve been under heavy lockdowns for quite some time. Once that market begins to reopen we will see some movement there and in the surrounding South Pacific. The Asia market is a great market for us and our style of gaming. That market has always been pretty heavy in the social pay-to-win style of play. It’s an interesting market and one we’re very excited about.  

As we look toward the rest of 2020 and into 2021, what is the absolute focus for Synergy Blue?  

It’s always about building fun games, but also rounding out the portfolio. Then we have some other big announcements coming at the end of October. The company is really moving forward in a lot of ways. We are creating more game titles, and building more momentum with our skill-based games.  

We just announced our 2600 cabinet line designed in consultation with Nolan Bushnell. We were coming to the finalisation of the 2600 cabinet series just as the pandemic hit, so one thing we asked was how could we make it more sanitary and user friendly. As a result, all the cabinets have Blue Safe Touch – anti-microbial products that are imbedded in the plastics and paint providing a sanitary environment for our players. Added to that we have a UVC air filtration system within the cabinet, which eliminates any airborne germs out there.   

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