Troy Zurawski: creating Vegas Strip magic with games informed by data

Image source: Design Works Gaming

Troy Zurawski, CEO of Design Works Gaming, spoke with SBC Americas about the firm’s journey from being a land-based game provider for Vegas to developing social games for the UK and ultimately real-money products back in the US.

For those of our readers less familiar with Design Works Gaming, can you explain more about the company?

I founded DWG in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2005 because I saw an opportunity for a games studio that was all about the games themselves. It was a simple pitch, but it resonated in an industry where sales, budgeting and other factors can sometimes overshadow the actual design process.

The bet I placed was that assembling a core team of people who loved building games as much as I do would catch our industry’s attention. We aim to build games that are informed by the data, but still capture that magic you feel when walking down the Strip in Vegas.

We’ve been lucky enough that the message and approach have resonated, across land-based, social and online casino.

Tell us about the journey from being solely a land-based game provider for Vegas to developing social games for the UK and ultimately real-money products back in the US.

The global gaming landscape is barely recognizable from what it was when we started out more than 16 years ago. 

Back in 2005, online gaming was unregulated and just beginning to build serious momentum. Social casinos weren’t even a thing; Facebook was in its infancy, and the launch of the iPhone was still a couple years away.

We started off building games for some of the biggest domestic land-based suppliers in the casino industry, including Scientific Games, Everi, Aristocrat, Konami, IGT and others. Later on, we expanded internationally and built games for Novomatic, Amatic and more.

We soon realized that our expertise and game-centric approach could be used to shake up other verticals. We’ve since built a series of social casinos which have racked up billions of spins from millions of players worldwide. And last year we entered the real-money gaming market in Europe, with launches with some of the biggest names in the UK including William Hill, Betfred and Kindred.

We’re proud to have made a success of each new challenge we’ve turned our attention towards, and that’s why we couldn’t be more excited to finally be back in the US tackling regulated, real-money online casino for the first time.

What elements of that journey do you believe set you apart from the competition in what promises to be a crowded marketplace?

We’ve got a very different story to the suppliers we’re now alongside. We haven’t reached this point by building for one particular audience. We’re not porting over a back catalog of content from Europe’s online sector or the Las Vegas casino floor, and hoping it flies in New Jersey.

Our game design team can lean on 150 years of combined experience every time we tackle a new challenge. Show me another studio with this level of experience across land-based, social and RMG.

For our New Jersey launch, we’ve followed the data to select an initial 33 titles from a cross-section of high performers from land, social and European RMG. From there, we’ll do what we’ve always done: listen, learn and build until we’re confident we have a real understanding of what the customer wants.

The big news recently was your three-year agreement with Scientific Games. How did that come about and what excites you most about the deal?

We’ve been working with SG for many years now. We’ve designed games for their land-based business, and we’ve partnered with them to distribute our games in the online space in the UK with William Hill.

Obviously these guys need no introduction, but we’ve been most impressed by their openness and willingness to work closely with us to drive some genuine innovation. We’re on the same page when it comes to what needs to be done to level up online casino content in the US. Their OpenGaming platform is flexible enough that it allows us to analyze and iterate, and ultimately deliver the types of games that players get excited about. 

New Jersey marks your official stateside launch, what’s next on the US roadmap for Design Works Gaming?

As part of our partnership with SG Digital, we’ll be launching in New Jersey with a first-of-its-kind dual pilot program. Usually, new suppliers in the market launch with a single operator, but we’ll be launching with two of the biggest names in the state. Expect official announcements very soon.

Beyond these first launches, we are already in advanced discussions with several other operators in the state, and we are also lining up launches in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Ontario. We recently received our licenses in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Ultimately, we want to be wherever online gaming is regulated in the US and Canada.

To that end, we’ll continue to expand and optimise our content for the market. Having gone through the same process with land-based, social and online in Europe, we know the drill by this stage. We’re going to be working closely with the operators and following the data so we can build the games players deserve.