As Astra Games celebrates its silver anniversary, Novomatic UK director, Chris Butler, reflects on the past, present and future of a brand whose products have helped change the face of UK gaming.
Looking back over the last 25 years what models would you cite as being Astra’s stand out products?
Chris Butler: It’s not in my nature to be overly nostalgic and I believe that the best games should always be the next ones in the product pipeline and the ones that you want your customers to invest in. However, Astra has a fantastic pedigree and has been responsible for products that quite literally changed the industry. PartyTime was the first ever community game, Slotto was also really significant and had an impact that went beyond the game itself as it represented the introduction of a new category in the market with Class 2 going on to become B3.There are also games such as Reel King and Bullion Bars and Astra’s iPub: but bringing the portfolio right up to date we have the Prismatic, which I am certain will go on to enter the Astra/Bell Fruit hall of fame.
Making its industry debut at EAG in January, Prismaticisa digital terminal that draws on content provided by the Novomatic UK Games design companies which represent the very best in the business. Coinslot readers attending EAG should prepare themselves to see a high impact product whose test performance figures are even more impressive than its looks. Of course, it’s important to recognise the great success that’s been achieved over the last 25-years but I think the core strength of an organisation is how it channels that success by looking to the future,which is exactly what we are doing with Prismatic.
How would you describe the skill set within Astra: what are the brand’s core strengths?
CB: The key strength is the commitment to R&D, which is a fundamental characteristic of every Novomatic company as is having innovation as part of the day to day business culture.With that combination you can attract the right people and as we know any organisation is nothing without its people.
Astra has a great team, people like design director, Andy Dinning, sales director Ian Shreeve, Rob Williams and Claire Peet who all have a lot of industry experience. The synergy with Bell- Fruit is also very important as is the strength and presence of Novomatic UK. Astra Games will be judged by the market’s key metrics which are cash box, consistency and ultimately, what the games deliver in terms of ROI. Manufacturers are only as good as their next product and that’s based on understanding the player and the changing dynamics of the market.The engine for success is R&D aligned to a culture of innovation.
What does the Novomatic ownership bring to the table?
CB: First and foremost it brings stability, its strength helps us to establish product and the acquisition strategy has been very strong. But not only is Novomatic one of the best known and most respected names in international gaming it is also an organisation that drives innovation and invests in innovation – which is key to delivering the business strategy.
What are the biggest dangers facing low stake gaming in the UK and can you outline Astra’s strategy for overcoming them?
CB:There’s no doubt the FOBT stake change will provide numerous opportunities for all segments of the industry. However, FOBTs will reinvent themselves and the competition will intensify. Whatever segment of the business you are in you will need to re-evaluate your offer. The key to this will be making the investment in new gaming products that have the ability to engage with players and provide the type of entertainment that can compete for their disposable income.
How important an employer is Astra in Bridgend: how would you describe the contribution it makes to the town?
CB:Astra is a very significant employer not just in the town of Bridgend but in the region as a whole. Astra Games is just part of the contribution made by Novomatic UK. We recently under- took an audit of the supply chain which confirmed that Novomatic UK purchased goods and services from a total of 316 suppliers based in 164 different towns and cities throughout the country, stretching from Blackpool to Bridgend, Glasgow to Great Yarmouth and East Kilbride to Eastbourne. Drilling down, the audit also showed that Astra works with 15 suppliers whose businesses are located in Bridgend and that the town was second behind only London in the league table of locations with suppliers used by Novomatic UK. So you can see it’s a big contribution and a really important business.