Published with the permission of iGB.
Patrik Österåker co-founded Relax Gaming in 2010 and was instrumental to the start of its success story. Together with his business partner Jani Tekoniemi, Patrik formed the foundations of the company, initiating a legacy of technical excellence. Prior to this, Patrik’s extensive experience spans a background in software development in telecoms and a highly successful industry position at iGame Malta as Chief Technology Officer.
Content creators must be equally focused on both differentiation and quality if they are to succeed and survive in this most cut-throat of times, according to Patrik Österåker, chairman and co-founder of Relax Gaming.
Österåker’s company is among the leading content and aggregation suppliers in the European online gaming sector and this year celebrates 10 years since its foundation. Over the course of the last decade it has established itself as an important partner for major operators such as Leo Vegas, Kindred and Playfortuna, as well as pioneering game studios like Fantasma Games and Big Time Gaming.
Relax offers its own content and games from around 35 content partners – with the capacity to absorb many more – and Österåker is adamant that in a more mature market it takes even more for a game to impress decision-makers at aggregation services or B2C operators. The increasingly discerning player also has greater demands of game designers.
“We have a market flooded with games,” said Österåker, who launched the company with Jani Tekoniemi in March 2010. “For a studio to make a breakthrough they need to establish quality, but also differentiation.
“However, it’s a mistake to focus on one but not the other. You have to take in both. Is the differentiation because the game’s too off-beat or no good? Is the quality of the game high but exactly the same as hundreds of others?
“I have seen lots of games over the years, but I am still occasionally wowed. The nature of the business is that there are quite a few misses before you have a hit. When we start working with a partner, we realise that it can take some time before they get the big hits.”
Much has changed in the 10 years since Relax Gaming was founded with an initial goal of becoming a leading technical provider of high-quality gaming solutions. Originally envisaged as a technology partner within a sector considered lagging behind many others in terms of innovation, Relax moved towards content creation and aggregation as it became more obvious that this was a growing area of potential which suited its capabilities.
“Aggregation is essentially enabling access to games,” said Österåker, whose company has offices in Estonia, Malta, Sweden, Finland and Serbia.
“There has been a huge influx of suppliers in the last five years, and even more so in the last two years.
“Many of these newcomers hope for direct reach to operators and many now try that with their own platform. However, operators wish to limit the number of partners they have due to the headache of matters such as compliance and invoicing. That drives them towards the aggregator model, with larger companies such as ours being able to offer not only a large number of games but also a comprehensive compliance service across many markets.
“Underestimating the challenge of compliance is a clear mistake that can bite operators and studios. Regulation in Europe is becoming more complex, which favours established content providers with the resources to ensure compliance, such as ourselves.”
Relax has accomplished much in the years since 2010, but one of its greatest milestones came in 2015 when it built a new poker product from scratch for global gaming giant Kindred. With the stakes so high, it was the kind of project that can make or break a company.
“That changed everything for us,” Österåker said. “For eight months it was pretty much the only thing our entire business was working on. We knew that it would be such an important deal for us, that it would completely change how we were viewed by the rest of the industry.
“There were times when it was hard. Looking back, you think about the achievement, but for a long time there was so much pressure to succeed and satisfy the client.
This built upon what Relax now identifies as one of its core promises – delivering on its promises through technical prowess: “When you complete a high-profile project like that you show that you are able to play with the big boys as a trusted supplier. That achievement made us both more confident and more ambitious.”
Looking ahead, Österåker sees the continued development of Relax’s casino offering as the most important area of focus, with a view to continue delivering aggregation with scale and sustainability.
“We see ourselves as a multi-product house, but casino is where we are scaling up and ramping up game production,” he said. “Operators maybe just have a single supplier for poker and bingo, but there are many more opportunities in casino.
“Five years ago, poker was our No.1 focus because that was where our expertise lay. You have to move with the market and make the right decisions.”
Speaking of “the right decisions” Österåker is relieved that Relax’s choices over the last 10 years seem to have led it away from those verticals most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. “We are so far untouched,” he said, although cautioning that no-one yet knows the wider, long-term impact on Relax, its partners and its competitors.
He added: “We have an open mind to the future. It might be that we are interested in an IPO or some of the M&A developments that have been so prevalent in the industry in the last decade. However, it’s not something we are actively pursuing, and this is not a time for risk. This is a time to be grateful for the solid base we have established.”