Alastair Harris is something of an anomaly. With no family background in the industry and armed with an impressive first class honours degree in maths and computing, he applied for the first vacancy he saw after graduating, accepted the job offer and started at Maygay with immediate effect. From there he went on to work for a flush of leading gaming brands including JPM, Ace, Mazooma, Global Games and Betcom. 26-years after leaving Leicester University he enhanced an already stellar CV accepting the job of creative director at Bell-Fruit, arguably the best known name in low stake gaming. Coinslot met up with him to discuss what he finds so attractive about gaming machines and what made him take the latest fork in his career journey.
What have been the highlights in your career so far?
I’ve had the privilege of working with some incredibly bright and motivated people throughout my career, which I consider a highlight in itself. The vast majority of my time in the industry has been really rewarding and I’ve been involved with the development and launch of some iconic games including Pot of Gold, Beaver LasVegas, Bank Job, Jail Break and Juggling Jackpots. Its also been good helping to build brands such as Global Games and more recently, BetCom which I started in 2008 and sold six years later. This industry is,in my opinion, a classic meritocracy: if you work hard and do well,you progress and with that come the rewards.It’s also incredibly entrepreneurial, which is to be admired.
How would you describe the role of creative director – what does it entail?
Overall, the role is to make sure that the games carrying the Bell-Fruit badge are of the highest quality and that I manage risk. The way that we arrive at such an out- come is more complex:from a people perspective my job is to get the very most from a talented team of clever and creative individuals. This means challenging them, motivating and mentoring.
Organisationally, departments comprising the statisticians, the art department and game design report into me and I’m involved at all stages of a game’s development. Essentially it’s about getting the very most out of what is a talented team.
What was the attraction of working with Bell-Fruit?
Bell-Fruit is the best known name in gaming and the badge is recognised on the international stage. Being part of the Novomatic group was also a big attraction as was helping Novomatic UK to reach its full potential. From a personal point of view it was also an opportunity to link-up with Bell- Fruit/Astra Sales and marketing director Ian Shreeve who I know well from our time at Global Games and Ian was instrumental in bringing me across. One of the most interesting debates in the low stake sector is the relationship between analogue and digital gaming and managing that balance is a key challenge and an attraction. Our aim is to develop great games whether they are digital or analogue and to cater for the needs of players across all sectors. We are currently having great success with games on the iPub estate and with analogue where we’ve moved on with both the quality of the graphics and the stats. In the last three months we’ve received retailer approvals on three hi-tech games,the most recent, which was for Chase The Rainbow,came even before it was officially launched.
What are your impressions of the team and the company?
I’ve just taken over from Pete Farrell who was with Bell-Fruit for more than 50-years which is remarkable. Other people in the team have 30+ years service,so it’s an incredibly knowledgeable, close knit team and I have to say I’ve been made to feel extremely welcome.As we’ve said, Bell-Fruit is an iconic brand and it’s involved in a lot of different markets throughout the world – it’s a very exciting place to be.
How is the content team working to expand the player base?
From the moment I joined Maygay the industry has been consumed by the challenge of broadening the player base,however I think the real challenge is how to achieve this central objective without alienating the core player. Digital compendiums have enabled us to keep games on for core players while still offering something new and different.Online has succeeded in attracting a significant female player base and the challenge for us and our competitors is how to replicate that success in the street sector.Part of my job as creative director is to challenge the conventional way of doing things.In order to do this I’ve opened a dialogue with all staff inviting their ideas on game themes and concepts.Those that participate haven’t got any pre-conceived ideas and they are not wedded to any dogmatic view of what an AWP should be or look like. It’s important to explore ways of doing things differently and I’m pleased with the approach and how it’s working.
What are the big issues facing the pub AWP?
We are facing a whole lot of challenges. It’s not just cashless, although that’s really important,it’s also the massive challenge of young adults that don’t drink alcohol and that don’t go to the pub,and for those that do go, we have the crazy situation in which they are able to have a drink and play for massive jackpots on their phones.Our response has to be to provide high impact, visually stunning in-venue attractions, all within a budget. What’s possible within an LBO isn’t cost effective in a pub but there are things that we can do with screens and LEDs. Once we’ve attracted the player the game has to live up to expectations and keep them entertained.
Where do you and the team get your/their inspiration for games ideas?
My team thinks machines both in and out of work! Certainly from my own perspective I’m always jotting down ideas and concepts. You have to be very aware of trends in the market,movements and cultural shifts. Also,you can’t think on one level – what works well in London and within the M25 probably won’t in the north or in Scotland. Mass media plays a big role in stimulating your thinking and can be a really rich source of inspiration. It would be a lot more interesting if I could say we all go on Yoga Retreats or use ice cold baths to take our minds somewhere different but ultimately it’s about having an alert,open and creative mind. If you haven’t got that your just in the wrong job!