Alina Dandörfer, co-founder at Apparat Gaming, says that effectiveness and efficiency are more important than fruit bowls and yoga mats when it comes to company culture.

Company culture is a hot topic right now, and so it should be. The culture of an organisation acts as a mirror, reflecting the ambitions, processes, communication and ultimately the identity of the business back to those who work for and with it.

Of course, companies have had cultures for many years and the culture that exists today is often the result of past frameworks and decisions, and that’s why it’s important to embrace evolution and not shy away from what you once were.

Just like people, companies mature and change, and so does the context and environment in which the business is being run. That said, it’s important to have a company culture that aligns with current expectations as well as the goals and aspirations of the business.

Before talking more about how we have shaped our culture and how that trickles down into the games we develop, it’s important to define what we actually mean by a company culture.

For me, it is a set of official (and unofficial) rules followed by new and existing employees. While these rules can at first appear to be the same at most companies, only when you start working for the organisation do you get to understand what makes its culture unique.

That is why it’s important for applicants to understand their own expectations before applying for a job with a company so that they can be sure they align. Smart candidates will also enquire about the specifics of a company’s culture while going for the role – if they don’t align, there’s not much point in putting themselves forward.

The frameworks that form a company culture are there to allow employees to reach their full potential, which in turn makes the company succeed. It holds everyone to account and to the same standards, acting as a uniting force for the entire organisation.

Yoga mats and fruit bowls

A significant aspect of any company culture is how it allows employees to strike the right product-market-fit. While some organisations look to fruit bowls and yoga sessions, at Apparat Gaming, we take a German approach and focus on effectiveness and efficiency.

I sincerely believe that tangible effectiveness is the best way to spread everyone’s wings as there is no better motivator than seeing one’s own ideas and work take off and fly, especially when the finished product hits the market successfully.

The main aim of our actions is to create an environment of responsible action, trust, shared values and appreciation. Motivating employees behind a common goal, honestly addressing challenges and issues, being transparent and learning from failure is in our DNA.

Of course, the health and well-being of employees are vital and that’s why a lot of organisations have adopted different working practices and hours in recent years – some of which have been driven by the pandemic and the shift to remote working.

Less work, more play

In terms of working hours, we have seen plenty of companies embrace the Scandinavian model of six-hour workdays.

Elsewhere, studies have shown that changing to a four-day week has a positive effect on employee well-being, which in turn has many benefits for the company.

Employees were less stressed and had reduced levels of burnout. Likewise, levels of anxiety, fatigue and sleep issues decreased while mental and physical health both improved. Employees were able to strike a better balance with their home life, with leisure and family activities being more compatible with their work schedules.

This in turn meant organisations could offer greater equality and access to more talent as they were able to allow employees to have a successful family and work life.

This had a significant impact on the business and interestingly, company revenues remained the same despite staff working one day a week less. Staff turnover also declined while occupational health was improved leading to less absenteeism.

Of course, deploying a four-day workweek does present some challenges for the organisation and creativity is required to come up with solutions that work for both the business and its employees.

But there’s no doubt that businesses that offer shorter working hours or four-day weeks are incredibly attractive to top talent.

It’s actually reverse: our aspiration of game development influences the company’s culture

At Apparat Gaming, we develop slots with a German accent. And this means bringing core German characteristics – solid engineering, augenweide (eye candy) and our deadpan sense of humour into the slots we produce.

If we did not have a strong idea, vision in place, and a team of people that align, our games would lack the special touch that makes them truly different and stand out in operator lobbies.

That is why a company’s DNA is so important to slot studios. It is the magnet that draws in talent that aligns with the organisation’s goals and that enjoys how that company goes about achieving them.

We are a relatively new company, but our culture has evolved over the years based on the lessons we have learned and the changing landscape in which we are developing and launching slots and casino games.

And it will continue to change but at its core will always be the values we have held from day one underpinned by our passion for online casino and our magnificent home country of Germany.

This is what makes our culture unique, and what makes us appeal to certain people more than others. When it comes to it, that’s the primary purpose of a company’s culture – to establish its identity and attract the best people in the industry while providing them with the right environment to achieve their full potential.

Welcome to the second instalment of NEXT INSiDE. In this edition, we delve deep into industry dynamics, offering insights from innovative start-ups and ambitious scale-ups.

We’ll explore captivating strategies that resonate with Gen Zs and some of the ingenious solutions game studios have adopted to tackle content challenges.

Meeting customer needs

The iGaming industry is no stranger to cutthroat competition.

But competition, as inherent as it is in all businesses, isn’t a drawback. It’s a driving force that significantly influences business strategies and has forced companies, including many start-ups, to put customer-centric approaches at the forefront of their agendas.

This isn’t without reason; as any economics textbook underscores, a pivotal strategy for standing out is tailoring your offerings to precisely match customer demands.

Personalised experiences

One striking example of a company leading the charge in this customer-focused paradigm shift is Kero Gaming.

Founder and CEO Tomash Devenishek firmly believes that Kero Gaming’s platform has the potential to reshape the industry by offering personalised in-game micro-betting experiences.

“Sports betting today is highly cognitive and testing. You have to think, you have to browse, calculate probabilities, and eventually find that one thing that you want to bet on. Twitter and Instagram are not like that. Because all you have to do is just scroll your thumb and things appear,” he said.

Recognising that betting should become more aligned with the instant gratification and social elements found in popular social media platforms, Kero Sports aims to transform sports betting into a seamless, more enjoyable experience.

Yet, the firm’s innovation extends beyond its customer-facing aspects.

Kero Gaming has developed a patent-pending single model pricing system which leverages generative AI for oddsmaking simulations.

Internally known as BetGPT, the model can produce thousands of coherent variations of a specific match when prompted.

Learning from operator partnerships

Elsewhere, emerging game studios are boldly taking on the challenge of revenue generation in an ever-evolving gaming market.

Fabíola Jaeger is CEO and co-founder of Caleta Games, a dynamic Brazilian game studio established in 2013. She champions the creation of robust partnerships with operators and aggregators, viewing the journey as an invaluable learning experience.

While some partners eagerly share insights into their audience’s preferences, helping Caleta Games identify customer-favourite games, Jaeger understands that every partnership is unique.

“We’ve embraced a fail-fast culture, and although some partners readily share insights on what resonates or doesn’t with their audience, others take a different approach,” Jaeger noted.

“However, for us, it’s an invaluable opportunity to pinpoint our successful games and identify areas for improvement,” she emphasised.

Differentiation and localisation remain the keys to unlocking success, and Caleta Games has celebrated remarkable achievements in the realm of bingo games — a genre that captures the hearts of enthusiastic Brazilians, as Jaeger pointed out.

“While there is a widespread interest in Brazil,” she stated, “navigating this vibrant landscape becomes an exciting challenge when you embrace and understand the culture.”

Navigating challenges

During an interview with iGaming NEXT, Thomas Wendt, co-founder and director of Apparat Gaming, certainly agreed.

He suggested that Apparat Gaming had come to be recognised as the embodiment of iGaming with a German accent, which involves a strong commitment to quality.

Wendt, who had substantial experience in the land-based industry before co-founding Apparat in 2020, acknowledged the current challenges faced by game studios.

“We currently have an excess of content, as several major studios are releasing new games on a weekly basis,” he said.

Blending old and new concepts

Apparat Gaming has released 19 titles to date and is affiliated with almost 150 operators and most aggregators.

“Our main focus is on finding the right mix of direct integrations and aggregators, taking platform fees into careful consideration,” he clarified.

“We’ve experimented with blending old and new concepts a few times. Although the initial outlook promised only mixed results, some have proved surprisingly satisfactory in the longer term.”

Apparat plans to release a total of 25 games by the end of the year, including captivating German-themed titles such as Oktoberfest and Autobahn.

“I expected swifter progress for Apparat. Yet, navigating the complexities of German regulations, with various operators still awaiting from Germany’s GGL approval for Apparat games that have long been approved elsewhere, posed its challenges.”

Nonetheless, Wendt maintains a strong sense of optimism when it comes to Apparat’s future prospects in the market.

Targeting Gen Zs and Millennials

Competition isn’t merely intensifying among game studios; operators, both big and small, are also undeniably feeling the pressure.

Workforce reductions and restructuring initiatives are making an impact across the board, affecting companies like Hero Gaming and Kindred Group, among others.

Nevertheless, a fresh wave of operators is emerging, aiming to secure their share of the market by specifically targeting Gen Z and Millennials.

Alongside Kero Gaming, another contender in the industry is Australian sports betting app Dabble, established in 2020 and currently embracing the scale-up journey.

“One of the significant differentiating factors for businesses that have successfully transitioned from start-up to scaling up is the presence of what we refer to as a ‘B-HAG,’ which stands for a big, hairy, audacious goal,” says Emilie Jirsch, CMO of Dabble.

Jirsch further noted that upon her arrival at Dabble, she encountered a remarkable pool of talented individuals. However, she emphasised they wouldn’t be tapping into their full potential if they didn’t have a shared goal to strive for, or “Northstar” as she describes it.

“With the help of our investment partner, Tabcorp, our exec team took a proactive approach by confining ourselves to a room within Tabcorp’s Melbourne offices for two days. Our purpose was clear: we wouldn’t be leaving without formulating both an ambitious vision and a strategy that unites everyone’s efforts,” Jirsch explained.

Dabble came up with the plan to be the social betting platform that through immersive and community-based experience wins market share of Gen Z. “And that’s a really, really bold goal in a competitive market like Australia,” said Jirsch.

Instead of relying on promotional offers, Dabble drew inspiration from platforms like TikTok.

“We asked ourselves: How can we sustain engagement by delivering exceptional experiences and a user-friendly interface?” she explained.

She added that Dabble’s goal is to create a platform that players want to share with their friends within the community they’re interacting with, instead of incurring costs for customer acquisition.

Affiliates in transition

This raises an important question: With more operators recognising the need to attract a younger demographic using new methods, how will this impact affiliates?

Raketech CEO Oskar Mühlbach recently pointed out a gradual but consistent shift towards higher quality.

This shift aligns with the consolidation efforts of operators, stricter regulations, and increasing competition within the marketing sector, Mühlbach explained.

He said that as a result, Raketech is now focusing on “fewer but better products than we did a few years ago”.

However, a change in strategy at times results in adverse consequences, and for example led to redundancies at Malta-based affiliate marketing company Game Lounge during the summer months.

Most of the layoffs impacted the company’s content division.

Game Lounge CEO and co-founder Jonas Cederholm said the company was adapting its strategy to align more closely with significant individual markets.

“This change aims to improve our responsiveness to local needs, strengthen our partnerships, and create brands that genuinely connect with users,” Cederholm stressed.

Change and opportunity

As the iGaming landscape continues to evolve, it’s evident that success hinges on a commitment to quality.

Yet, above all, it’s the ability to adapt to the times and experiment with new concepts that keeps these companies moving forward while capitalising on new opportunities.

Apparat Gaming co-founder Martin Frindt has agreed to take on an active role in the operations of the German games development start-up.

Frindt’s primary responsibilities will be to assist with the alignment of the rapidly expanding company and to close more top-tier partnership deals in the German market and beyond.

Founded in 2020, Apparat Gaming is on a mission to deliver ‘iGaming with a German Accent’ and has struck high-profile partnerships with Relax Gaming, Pariplay and others.

It recently received investment in excess of €1m from venture capital firm Yolo Investments.

Apparat Gaming director Thomas Wendt: “Martin is a crazy slot nerd, and his experience in the industry speaks for itself.”

As a serial entrepreneur, Frindt is one of the co-founders of Apparat Gaming, but he has now joined the team in an official capacity.

Frindt commented: “I’ve been involved with Apparat Gaming since its inception, but now I am officially part of the team, and that feels great.

“The company has achieved so much in such a short space of time. All I can say is I’m proud to be involved, and I am ready to go full throttle,” he added.

Before Apparat Gaming, Frindt was co-founder of Crowdpark, a social betting and gaming start-up, which was backed by Earlybird and Target Partners.

It was later partially acquired by one of the largest land-based casino operators in Germany, which was when he met Thomas Wendt, another co-founder of Apparat Gaming.

“Martin is a crazy slot nerd, and his experience in the industry speaks for itself,” said Wendt.

“With his tech background, his ability to familiarise himself with almost any topic and his proven record of building companies, it was a no-brainer to found with him. And it’s always fun to work with him,” he added.

In his previous role as head of online and MD of the iGaming subsidiary of Bally Wulff – the number three slot machine manufacturer in Germany – Frindt was responsible for the development of more than 40 online casino titles.

Frindt is a cycling enthusiast and vegetarian by conviction. He owns a bike clothing company, and often can’t decide in the morning which of his six bikes he will use to get to work.

Venture capital fund Yolo Investments has acquired an interest in German game development start-up Apparat Gaming.

While financial details of the transaction were not disclosed, iGamingNEXT understands Yolo’s investment in the start-up is in excess of €1m.

This is the first round of external investment for Apparat Gaming, which was founded in 2020 by a team of eight gaming professionals. They have the ambition to “deliver slots that meet German engineering standards as well as the highest artistic quality”.

The company received a B2B licence form the Malta Gaming Authority back in 2021 and has become a supplier of online content for operators in Germany and other European markets.

Alina Dandörfer, co-founder and director at Apparat Gaming, said: “We’re excited that Yolo has chosen us because we know they only invest in the best. It’s a real vindication of everything we’ve worked for. And with Yolo’s backing, we can achieve even greater things.”

Apparat Gaming is the latest in a long line of gaming industry investments for Yolo, including Green Jade Games, Turbo Games and Kalamba.

Yolo Investments founder Tim Heath: “We’re always on the lookout for start-ups with a passion for evolution and Apparat ticks that box.”

The Guernsey-based venture capital fund focuses on seed- and A-stage investment opportunities across gaming and fintech, with an emphasis on innovation and tech disruption.

Founded in 2017, the fund today holds investments in more than 55 companies, with assets under management (AUM) of approximately €375m.

Yolo Investments founder and general partner Tim Heath said Apparat Gaming had impressed by achieving remarkable visibility in a very short space of time while making inroads throughout Germany and Europe.

Meanwhile, its technology was eye-catching, as was its commitment to recruiting talent, he said.

“We’re always on the lookout for start-ups with a passion for evolution, and Apparat ticks that box,” Heath added.

“At Yolo, we have a ‘people first’ attitude and we recognise that Apparat has put together an amazing team of creative individuals with a 360-degree understanding of the industry. We’re delighted to be part of their developing story.”

Last month, Heath talked to the iGaming NEXT podcast about managing crypto investments through a market crash.