Connective Games CEO Serge Mukhanov: “We Bring Our Offer to a Global Audience and Add Innovation to the Industry”

Connective Games is a respected name in the online poker industry with more than 15 years of experience in building localized poker products and powering some of the biggest brands in the market. The company operates in more than 12 countries and has developed 500+ gaming solutions to cater to all tastes and player preferences.

Today, Connective Games collaborates with more than 100 partners in developing new products and it has launched 22+ poker rooms which combined offer one of the largest liquidity pools in the world. The company holds multiple licenses and certifications from the likes of the Malta Gaming Authority, iTech Labs, and GLI to name just a few.

From building state-of-the-art poker solutions to developing social gaming experiences, the Connective Games team has its hands full. We sat down with Connective Games CEO Serge Mukhanov at Connective Games, to learn more about how it plans to continue to disrupt the online poker world over the coming months.

Q: Last year we saw a spike in online poker traffic around the world brought on by lockdowns. Traffic peaked around March and April and then started sliding down. What is the outlook for 2021? Have there been any lasting gains for online poker traffic since 2020?

A: According to traffic monitoring data across the main poker rooms, the global pool of cash players grew by 40% in 2020. But the growth in the total number of players entering poker rooms grew even more due to a surge in tournament traffic. Last year the majority of land-based tournaments were moved online and tournament formats such as Jackpot Sit&Gos became hugely popular.

Traffic has dropped since its April peak, but I think it is fair to say that 2020 was a fully-fledged poker boom. We continued to see growth in the first half of the year but now we are seeing the traditional summer decline. What’s more, the COVID-19 vaccination is gaining momentum as well, and we forecast a gradual lifting of restrictions in the second half of 2021 and a slight decrease in online poker traffic.

In any case, online poker has gained new fans and players, and therefore overall traffic in 2021 will be ahead of pre-pandemic levels. The success of specific online poker operators will depend on whether they can retain the players they gained during 2020 and that is something we are working with our operator partners to achieve.

Q: You have built numerous localized poker solutions. It’s an interesting approach and one we appreciate. Do you reckon that by creating tailored solutions, the game’s popularity is more likely to grow?

A: Yes, this is our area of expertise and it allows our operators to compete with the biggest global poker rooms. The impact of localized content can be seen in the Miner’s Jackpot promotion run by PokerMatch (one of our operators). The innovative game format we developed gives players multiple chances to win the progressive bad beat jackpot from a very small bet.

Within ten days of launching its marketing campaign around the new game, PokerMatch had become the biggest online poker room in the world (it was at 12th before) despite being virtually unknown outside of Ukraine. Shortly after, it was at the top of PokerScout’s traffic rankings with a seven-day average of 8,400 players. In contrast, former top dog PokerStars had a seven-day average of 7,000 players.

Q: What have been some of the significant improvements you have been able to bring to the poker segment over the past few years? We looked up the Poker Tournament Live Streaming feature and we think this is great!

1) The Poker Tournament Live Stream feature allows viewers to see each players’ cards at all times (of course with a safe delay to prevent cheating), and to watch their strategy as the game and tournament unfolds. Each stream includes commentary from several poker experts, players, and fans adding another layer of engagement to the footage.

Our operator Spartan Poker broadcasted the Final Table Series in November 2020, Indian OPC in January-February 2021, and the Final Table Series March 2021 to more than 3 million viewers.

What’s more, the Russian movie “The Gambler”, produced by Timur Bekmambetov, used this feature to show gameplay at another of our operator partners, Pokerdom, in a scene during the film.

2) As an answer to the tendency to mobilize the game, in 2019 Connective Games developed a brand new mobile poker client which simultaneously allowed for both vertical and horizontal play (players easily switch between them by rotating their device). This means players can have the best possible experience when on the move and when playing from home.

This mobile poker client won an award for Mobile Product of the Year at the International Gaming Awards 2020.

3) The global poker community is constantly searching for new game formats, and experimenting with new games and variations of classical ones, in an attempt to make poker more attractive to a new generation of players.

In October 2015, Connective Games introduced Texas Hold’em 6+ and started to promote it together with our operators. On average such innovations don’t have a long lifespan, but this has proved to be an exception. Today, all large global online poker operators have launched this format across their own networks, proving that our initial concept has changed the game and has stood the test of time.

Q: Is compliance an issue when you deliver a new poker product?

A: Compliance is not as big an issue in the poker vertical as it is in casinos although it is something we still have to consider. Connective Games supplies its products to operators servicing regulated markets including Spain, Denmark, Georgia, Belorussia, and Ukraine while our Indian poker operator, Spartan Poker, holds a license from the Government of Nagaland.

In addition to this, Connective Games has received certification for a Portuguese license from Gaming Laboratories International (GLI) and UK certification from iTech Labs. Our platform meets the standards set by online gambling authorities including the Malta Gaming Authority and the Curacao Gaming Commission.

What’s more, GLI and iTech Labs have also recertified Connective Games’ random number generator in recent months.

Q: Since the pandemic showed us that staying at home is related to higher player numbers, do you reckon there is some lesson to learn there about how to motivate more people to try poker?

A: It is very clear that the cancelation of sports events drove a lot of sports bettors to poker. This actually shows that we underestimated the cross-sell potential between sports and poker for operators that offer both verticals.  

Most poker aficionados like to mix and match their poker play with slots, sports betting, lottery, and scratch cards. For example, a huge number of players will spin a few slots in between tournaments.

The pandemic showed that the same applies to sports bettors and online casino players wishing to take a break and try their hand at more skill-based table games such as poker. Without a substantial poker offering, online gambling operators will miss out on the additional revenues from these players, and also from cross-selling revenues.

So offering more table games will allow operators to leverage this “side-interest” and bring more fresh blood to poker.

Q: What do you reckon the biggest challenges to online poker adoption/popularity are in 2021 and beyond?

A: We believe that blockchain technology in poker is a great innovation that will gain popularity in the near future. It is no secret that sometimes poker players feel insecure and lack trust in platforms and games. This includes concerns around payments and in particular withdrawals, worries that the RNG is rigged and shuffles cards in favor of the opponent, and of course fears surrounding bot farms, team-play, collusion, chip dumps, and so on.

Blockchain technology in poker addresses these concerns and we think that many features will be adopted by classical poker rooms once they have been proven at blockchain sites.

For example, the idea of playing crypto currency tables using money directly from the player’s crypto wallet managed by a smart contract instead of deposits/withdrawals to the operator site will definitely create more trust among players.

In addition, decentralized shuffling protects the deck and guarantees that no one has a complete, unencrypted deck that would enable them to cheat. In short, it makes the technology behind a poker room more transparent and trustworthy.

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