Q&A: Ian Sims on Thor: The Trials of Asgard
Ian Sims is a slot developer and former iGaming affiliate. He most recently co-founded Rightlander, a compliance monitoring solution, and he continues to produce slot games when the opportunity arises. In this Q&A interview Gambling.com spoke with Ian about his most recent slot game project ‘Thor: The Trials of Asgard’, developed in collaboration with Green Valley Games, the game development arm of SkillOnNet.
Q: Hi Ian! Thanks for joining us. First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself and your experience in the industry.
A: I was a slots affiliate for 12 or so years. Some of the sites had a broader casino focus of course but in essence, slots was my passion. I stumbled into affiliation when I was playing video poker and slot games on Ladbrokes one day in 2004 and saw a link to "affiliates".
Not knowing what it meant, I clicked and soon realised that my background as a programmer and my passion for slots might provide a nice little hobby! Prior to that I was in music publishing and ran a small dance label in a very challenging post-Napster world so looking back, it was inevitable that affiliation would become my full time job and it did so about a year or so later.
Q: Your latest design, Thor: The Trials of Asgard, was recently released by Green Valley Games. What is it like working with them?
A: I have been involved in the conceptualisation of 5 online slot games over the years and every company has a different process. Thor: The Trials of Asgard was easily the longest game in development at something around 2 years from start to finish but it's also the most beautifully crafted. I have to say that the Green Valley Games team totally understood the vision and when they first delivered a test version I was quite stunned by how fantastic it looked.
Q: What has player feedback been like for Thor: The Trials of Asgard?
A: It's early days as the game has only recently gone live (across the SkillOnNet network, so over 50 casinos worldwide like PlayOjo) but those I have shown it to certainly provided very good feedback.
Q: The game has some really charming artwork. What inspired the theme?
A: During my affiliate days, I got a friend I met through Casinomeister (where I was a moderator) involved - "DazzaG'' with helping me on my content. We are both avid slots fans so we often chatted and shared ideas which we wrote in a document and I keep for odd moments like this. Thor was inspired by a combination of his love of Norse Mythology and my love of those types of slot games, most notably Microgaming's Thunderstruck which I have a soft spot for ever since I played online back in 2004!
Q: Norse Mythology features heavily in many modern slots. Why do you think it’s so popular with players?
A: Playing slots for many is escapism. It's not always about winning a lot of money: it's about switching off, taking some time away from the everyday and getting short adrenaline pumps. The mythology theme is one of those where it bears little resemblance to real life and takes you away. It also introduces a level of familiarity which can be comforting. Yes there are a lot of games based around this theme but that's not at all surprising considering the sheer volume of games out there and it's ability to engage someone.
Q: What is your favourite feature in the game?
A: I don't have one: The game is deliberately designed to give players options when it comes to features and the options are all twists on favourite features I have had down the years. I love big multipliers, sticky wilds and wild reels or anything where you know there is a chance of something big. I wanted the game to have at least the possibility of a 1,000x payout in a spin without going too high variance and creating a game that gobbles for too long. Volatility is one of the most difficult things to balance in a game and when it goes wrong, it can ruin a game for a lot of people.
Q: What type of slots player will enjoy Thor: The Trials of Asgard? Is this a suitable, easy to learn ‘entry-level’ title?
A: I would hope that it strikes a good balance for everyone as the gameplay is deliberately varied, especially when you get to the free spins and get choices. I've never been involved in the analysis side of a game's audience although I know from a past life the sorts of demographics involved and there is some obvious targeting that can be done. I'd probably say that it is a tad more complicated than a lot of "press play" games but not to the extent of being confusing. I've seen some games in the past where even an experienced slot player struggles to know what's going on but hopefully not here!
Q: What do you think are the three key ingredients for creating a quality online slot?
A: The obvious ones are great design and interesting game play but there the single most important aspect for me is volatility. One of the unfortunate things about slots (and oddly overlooked by developers, casinos and even regulators) is that players are often not aware of how volatility can impact their enjoyment, so their expectations are not managed.
This is probably even more important in a time where regulation has focused the mind on compliant marketing and game design but it means that as a developer, you are leaving the targeting of your audience open to chance.
When I was an affiliate, I developed a slots comparer site to provide that level of education in a way that makes sense to a player. Even when you explain the impact of volatility, a lot of players still don't understand it - they go a long lean streak and build a view that a game is rigged or deliberately designed to take their money back the moment they win big.
The reality is that high volatility slots do that by nature: they can provide the odd massive win in a 20 minute period of mundane smaller payouts. It's a topic that is worth a seminar to be honest but even then, a lot of players will not understand that high volatility games are still 'fair'. Obviously every game has a house edge or else there would be no casinos but most players understand that and if they don't then the casino should be worried that they have a potentially vulnerable player on their hands.
Q: What separates your slot designs from the rest?
A: With over 10,000 online slots games and an audience that wants different things (entertainment, winning, escapism, etc) that's not really possible any more. What you have to do is to try and show that your game provides a specific audience with what they want so this is targeted at an audience that likes to escape into a world where they can enjoy themselves and potentially walk away with something tangible, even though the odds are always clearly against them!
Related: To play slot games check out top slots sites.
Q: What other projects are you working on at the moment?
A: At the moment, no. I finished another project earlier this year but I started a compliance company called Rightlander in 2018 and that is now my main focus. I get involved in slot projects when approached from time to time but obviously with what's gone on this year with Covid-19, things are a little up in the air for many people. To be honest, having seen how the slots market has exploded, the idea of trying to produce something that stands out seems quite daunting.
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