INTERVIEW WITH YGGDRASIL CPO: KRZYSZTOF OPAŁKA

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Yggdrasil Gaming is a provider of superior online and mobile casino games. They are one of the industry’s most respected and acclaimed suppliers, providing games for some of the world’s biggest operators. We recently had the pleasure of speaking to the CPO at Yggdrasil, Krzysztof Opałka. He tells us about his role, how user research has given them a competitive edge and much more. Continue reading for the full interview.

In recent years Yggdrasil has gone from strength to strength. What do you attribute to the company’s success?

I think one of the most important reasons is that we keep being hungry. So in that sense I think we very often still act like a start-up even though we are now 200+ people in the company. When we see a cool opportunity on the horizon we can quickly adapt our plans and we just go for it – so very much like a start-up. It’s all about the mind set – being hungry, being curious, wanting new things all the time, trying it out and staying agile and flexible.

As CPO at Yggdrasil, what are your main responsibilities?

My main responsibility is to look after the portfolio of different products. It used to be only slots but now we’re expanding to table games and bingo. And of course, I supervise roadmap creation and execution and I also make sure that we make fun and entertaining games because this is the main reason that we’re here.

How do you and your teams come up with new ideas for products at Yggdrasil?

I think coming up with new ideas is easy! It’s not just about coming up with new ideas - what really matters is what you do with them afterwards.

How do you and your team validate new ideas?

First of all, we investigate the market, the competitors and overall situation very carefully. Very often we verify the concept with our clients, get their feedback and sometimes we also build a proof of concept if technology allows for that. Most importantly we have to believe that it is cool and it has potential to fly. It is really hard to get internal buy-in if people don’t believe in what they do.

How do you prioritize the ideas you want to go ahead with – let’s say with the bigger projects?

I think it’s very subjective. I mean one thing is prioritizing the backlog. I think it’s easier when you have to prioritize features or user stories, but when you have to prioritize the big initiatives and new product verticals, it’s much harder.

Like I said we need to believe in something and believe something is cool – you can just feel it inside. You can do a lot of calculations, but at the end of the day it is very often just a guesstimate. I think it’s very important that if you believe in something you should just try it out and see how it works in practice.

Back when we met last year, what made you decide it was time for Yggdrasil to start testing games with players ahead of launch?

First of all, competition is very tough so operators have a lot of games to choose from and the quality of games has gone up significantly over the last years.

It used to be like operators got 2 or 3 decent quality games out of 40 and now they get a choice of 10 or 15 good quality games out of 40. When the games are so comparable in terms of quality, it is the small things that can make a difference. We thought that user research and user testing could lead us to make games that are a bit better than our competitors.

And when you say the quality is much better than it used to be? In what aspects?

In all aspects. Graphically they’ve made huge progress. Also, when it comes to mechanical ideas, huge progress as well. Client technology is getting better as well. The difference is smaller between top providers and mid-providers than it used to be a couple years ago.

How did you get buy-in from your CEO, Fredrik to invest in regular player testing?

It’s all about investing money to make more money, so usually it’s not a problem to get CEOs to buy in to things like this - it was quite easy.

Often when teams produce games they believe they know exactly what players want. While they certainly have expert knowledge, have you had to convince people internally why player testing is still important? How did you manage to do this?

Well not necessarily. People realize that when they’ve spent 3 -4 months looking at a game every single day it’s easy to lose the distance and forget about things. Having a fresh look on a game is often quite eye opening, so I think the idea of doing user testing was very welcomed.

Can you think of a video slot you wish you had tested before launch? Why did you pick this game in particular?

One of our games called Alchymedes. We actually tested it after it had been launched, and the user research proved that the general idea, the general thinking behind the game was correct, but we could have done a much better job when it came to UI and the user flows. These small things could have improved the game significantly.

I think if we had tested it before it had launched, the numbers would have been much better.

Yggdrasil is moving to the table games and bingo space this year. What role has user testing played in shaping your new bingo product so far?

For bingo, we decided to invest in many testing areas I would say. First we did competitor research to understand players’ mindset and this was also part of validating the product idea and shaping our strategy based on the market. Now as we are getting closer to the launch we also plan to run more user research & usability testing to fine tune the product.

Are there any insights from the Bingo research that you can share with our readers?

I think maybe one of the videos was very eye opening.

The video presented a player who couldn’t even buy the bingo coupons (on a gaming site), so he couldn’t even play the game - that was so bad.

It was just eye opening again to see how these little things can actually matter a lot.

When it comes to using the feedback from players to shape your final products, do you have a process that your teams follow?

We don’t really have a strict process around it. The whole team sits down together and discusses the feedback and we decide as a team how we want to proceed. We decide if we want to address particular issues or if we can launch with them because time is limited. It’s all about prioritization. We process the insights from user research in the same way we process feedback from other stakeholders.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing game suppliers in 2018?

As I said before the quality has gone up significantly, so operators have more and more decent games to choose from. I think making good games is not good enough anymore and there needs to be more of a focus on the smaller things. We need to focus on being just a little bit better than the competition, and this is hard.

How do you think suppliers are going to distinguish themselves from each other as competition gets stronger?

I think that’s a very hard question. At the end of the day it’s an entertainment industry so we have to make something that is more fun than the rest. I think some providers will find that their opportunity is to have better graphics. Other providers will invest more in experimenting in mechanics. Some will invest in mobile friendly experiences and mobile friendly mechanics. There are probably a lot of different ways to make a difference. Different providers will take different routes.

As CPO, what would be your advice to other gaming companies who are not doing any type of user research?

My advice to competitors would be to stay away from player testing and user research, so we can use it as an advantage for as long as we can! :)

Finally, what can we expect to see from Yggdrasil this year? Any big plans on the horizon?

This year will be all about new verticals and cross selling between those. But, I’m pretty sure we can come up with some other smaller and bigger surprises as well!

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Interview with Yggdrasil CPO : Krzysztof Opalka

Krzysztof Opałka is CPO at Yggdrasil Gaming, where he is responsible the product road map, games, platform features and promotional tools. He has previously worked for a number of different IT and gaming companies, including the maker of Candy Crush, King.