Videogame != Online Casino

A few of my 'video game industry' friends have asked me, "what is the online casino industry like?" so it seemed like a good topic for a blog post.

As someone with 20 years video games and only 5 years 'igaming' (online gambling), my data-points for comparison are admittedly lopsided.  My experiences on the video game side, for example, include many thoughts and ideas generated by the experience of being both a founder and an employee.  On the igaming side, I really have only been a founder/ceo/biz dev person for Asylum Labs ( , although perhaps this imbalance is slightly mitigated by the external-facing aspect of the ceo role and the opportunities to meet/interact/negotiate with a wide range of folks.

Both industries have much in common; they are almost like cousins or siblings with 10-years between them.  Content development (making games) for both is quite similar; both have genre's with genre conventions, best practices and tools/pipelines are remarkably similar.  There are more things similar than different so for this post i'll focus on the biggest differences.

These impact us the most:

1) Regulation - did you know online gambling is the most heavily regulated industry in the world?  More than pharmaceuticals, arms sales or healthcare industries.  This fact means significant extra costs in the area of compliance, certification and distribution.  Europe has no 'one size fits all' solution so often we end up doing multiple versions of features on a per-territory basis (this is quite apart from normal localization challenges).   Games (and the company) must pay for and maintain 'certifications' that allow us to legally develop gambling content.  New regulation for all data-collecting businesses in Europe (GDPR) adds an additional cost burden.

2) Illegal in US - related to #1, but since we are a US company, this is worth mentioning specifically.  Developing games for international markets but NOT domestic presents certain unique challenges.  It is more difficult to look at the competitive landscape for example.  Biz dev. is more difficult since most of the companies we would like to partner with are in UK/Europe.  Raising capital has additional headwinds here in US due to investors not wanting to invest in something they dont understand, as well as some bias/vilification/elitism against the industry as a whole.

3) Distribution pipeline - unlike F2P mobile games, where you put your game on the app store and thats it....the online gambling space requires a more complicated relationship with our partners that includes a 'platform provider' or 'RGS' (Remote Gaming Server) that functions as a content aggregator who then will push our games to their customers, the actual online casinos.  This means significant additional cost, patchwork solutions for maximum distribution and redundant Live Ops efforts, all which effect the bottom line.   Finally, more companies in the 'supply chain' means less revenue for those at the end (us) on a per-euro spent basis.  There are ways of solving these problems as your business grows and you move up the supply chain, but for a smalls startup there are some significant initial headwinds totally absent from the app-store model.

4) Lack of Innovation - One of the things i have always loved about video games is the creativity, innovation and 'blue sky' nature of the endeavor.  This has changed a lot over the last 2 decades with a well-known creative 'stagnation' of AAA games and the birth of a vibrant and important 'indie' scene.  The KINDS of experiences encompass a vast range in video games and it continues to expand rapidly.  On the casino side, things are more conservative.  This is for a few reasons.  Historically, online casino players tend to be older, and set in their ways...they often reject anything too novel/unique and go back to their favorites.   Also, due to regulation, (until recently) it wasn't even POSSIBLE to launch a gambling game that didn't conform to the classic structures (especially related to the odds/math).  Finally, it's always easier to repeat what you've done than innovate w/ something new.  New stuff means risk and execs are going to be less likely to take risks vs. reskinning successful games of the past.  This is similar to the AAA problem on the video game side.  This last point is actually a major opportunity and the reason we started Asylum Labs; to bring some fresh thinking into the space.

Here at Asylum Labs we are tackling each of these issues with constantly evolving strategies.  If folks find this interesting, i can elaborate further in future posts.



Startup CEO

A number of people have asked me "what do you do as a startup CEO" ?

The simple answer is "whatever it takes".  A more useful answer will vary from business to business and person to person but for my recent efforts around Asylum Labs, I can divide the work into two categories.  Efforts related to the company, and efforts related to our flagship title, Wild Party Bingo.

They roughly break down like this:


  •     Vision / market position / strategy
  •     design name / logo
  •     legal
  •     stock purchase agreements (SPA)
  •     financial management
  •     branding (games & tech)
  •     business development
  •     attend conferences
  •     investor relations
  •     team building
  •     pitch documentation


  •     product owner / scrum-master / producer
  •     marketing
    • social channels (facebook, twitter, etc)
    • website (design, creation & Maintenance)       
    • push notification design
    • paid UA strategy
    • creative 
  •     game design*
  •     economy design & tuning*
  •     analytics (design & interpretation)*
  •     artwork (logo, characters, backgrounds)*
  •     sound design
  •     music selection
  •     UI design (wireframes)
  •     testing department (survey monkey, testflight, bug database etc.)
  •     art outsource documents
  •     Rewards/Earn offers design
  •     customer support / FAQ / help docs

* indicates work with others on the team.

As you can see, there's a lot of disparate functions happening here.  Some of it is inside my 'comfort zone', and some of it is new.  I am not the ideal person to be doing many of these tasks but as a start-up we all must wear many hats.  Unless you thrive on a challenge, mental diversity and systemic complexity (like I do!) then I don't recommend it.  If you DO, then there are few things more rewarding.

Fun with MEL

Recently, I have been using Maya again, and found it necessary to batch process a whole bunch of animations from .ma to .fbx.  I couldn't find anything really useful online so ended up writing this MEL script.  In this case there is a reference file 'Avatar_Player' that needs to be imported also.  Feel free to use, modify and enjoy!

// Define Your File Paths

// movelist.txt is your list of motion files.  I used the old DOS command 'dir /w > movelist.txt' to generate mine

string $filePath = "C:\\Projects\\animations\\batch_test\\movelist.txt" ;
string $mainfolder =  "C:\\Projects\\animations\\batch_test" ;
string $outfolder =  "C:\\Projects\\animations\\batch_test\\dump" ;

// Open Your File  
$fileId = `fopen $filePath "r"` ;  
// Get The First Line  
string $nextLine = `fgetline $fileId` ; 
// Loop Until The String Size Is Zero (No Data)  
while (size($nextLine) > 0) {  
// Strip Whitespace From The Beginning And End Of The Line  
string $cleanLine = strip($nextLine) ;  

// Print Line  & Open File
file -f -new;
print ($cleanLine+"\n") ;  

file -o -f ($mainfolder + "\\" + $cleanLine);

// Do the work

//bind joints
select -r Avatar_Player:superMoverAll ;
setAttr "Avatar_Player:superMoverAll.bindJoints" 1;

//import reference object
file -importReference;

//collapse Namespace to Root
namespace -mergeNamespaceWithRoot -removeNamespace "WGT_Baseball_Player";

// do the bake.  Define minTime and maxTime to ensure whole animation is exported
//select -r Root ;
float $minTime = `playbackOptions -q -minTime`;
float $maxTime = `playbackOptions -q -maxTime`;

bakeResults -simulation true -t ($minTime +":" + $maxTime) -sampleBy 1 -disableImplicitControl true -preserveOutsideKeys true -sparseAnimCurveBake false -removeBakedAttributeFromLayer false -bakeOnOverrideLayer false -minimizeRotation true -controlPoints false -shape true {"Root"};
//performBakeSimulationArgList 1 { "0",  "animationList"};

// Save FBX
//select -r Root ;
FBXExport -f ($outfolder + "\\" + $cleanLine);

// Get Next Line And Continue  
$nextLine = `fgetline $fileId` ;  

Wild Party Bingo

We just shipped our latest game, Wild Party Bingo!   This time, I was product owner, and the art director was the talented Chris Turner.  Working on a casual game is very different than core games in a number of ways, especially with regards to the visuals.  In casual games, the User Interface is very closely tied to the art content.  In fact, with the exception of the background images, almost all the 'art' is part of the UI.  This required very close interaction with the entire team and a process that would ensure clean communications between disciplines.  

We start with the wireframes, which is a term borrowed from web-design.  We use Balsamiq , which i recommend.  This phase is to block out every screen, every pop-up and every button.  We wire them up and are able to work-out the whole scope of the product with no artwork yet.  With balsamiq, you are able to 'play' the app ,and check that the flow of menus/screens works.  It lets us workout layout, functionality and scope rather quickly.  Since the wireframes are stored in the cloud, we can collaborate with remote team members easily.  Once the wireframes are complete and approved, we can start doing the actual art content that will go into the game.  We use Adobe Cloud, and for this project, since everything was 2D, we did everything with Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash.  

For the Art Direction, we wanted a visual style that was casual and appealing but also unique.  This mostly translated into the logo, the character design and the backgrounds.  Since our core demographic is more female than male, we also wanted to avoid any stereotypical sexualized imagery.  We settled on a small cast of characters; a young couple, an older 'guru' type male and a monkey sidekick.  With these characters we are able to hit a broader range of emotions than if we settled on a single character, or went without characters entirely.  The choice to add characters was really driven by a desire to introduce a light story element and theme the product with personality and emotional engagement.  

Our biggest challenge with the visuals was performance on mobile.  At Asylum Labs we are all about pushing limits and some of the early builds just had too much 'juicyness' happening.  We love our effects and can never get enough, but Flash on older mobiles caused us to have to remove some of the bigger effects (although we kept them for desktop web/Facebook).

The game is free, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on the product!   Feel free to check it out!


Android :

iOS :



what is an art director?

(excerpt from my book, Art Directing for Video Games) 

            What is an Art Director?  The title has many different meanings across the wide range of industries, multiple meanings within videogames and sometimes it varies from project to project within the same company!   Because the title can mean so many different things to different people (and organizations) it is useful to ask the question: what are the primary, secondary and tertiary responsibilities of most ADs in the videogame industry?

            The core concept behind the AD role has always been the same; a single person the organization can identify as responsible for the visuals in the game.   In the early days of game development (gen1 to ~gen4) games were simple, and sometimes a single artist could create all the visual elements (and sometimes the sound, design and code too).  Around gen5, the software began to develop visually beyond the scope a single artist could create.  Once the first artist began working collaboratively with another artist,  it quickly became clear that some kind of hierarchical organization would be necessary to provide clear direction, visual consistency and (gasp) management duties.

            Around gen5, games began to require mid-sized art teams with discipline experts in domains like character modeling, animation, visual effects etc.  The visual fidelity of the new hardware meant that consumers would demand ‘more’ from their videogames visuals.   Each discipline had dedicated tools and aesthetics that required artists to specialize.  With all these artists came an increased need for management and direction.  For most developers at this time, the AD was both.  He/she would be part producer, part manager, part director and sometimes also an individual contributor.  Teams were big enough that the AD role was critical but not big enough that he/she  had much support (beyond the perhaps a single Producer per project).

            With gen7 and (and now especially gen8), games and teams became so large that the role of the AD began to bifurcate.  Many studios added Art Producers; production people who are dedicated to the art schedules, dependencies and deliverables.  We also saw larger teams split the AD role further into both Art Director and Art Manager.  This subtle distinction would essentially place all traditional ‘management’ responsibilities onto the Art Manager leaving the Art Director to focus exclusively on the ‘look’ of the product.  One way to consider this distinction is the AD would be holding the WHAT while the Art Manager would be responsible for the WHO & HOW.   Blizzard utilizes this structure on their larger projects.  To further confuse things, this art manager role is called an ‘Art Producer’ in some studios, while in others the Art Producer is strictly schedules and the Art Manager handles remaining management responsibilities.

            Another important position to discuss is the Visual Director.  Sometimes called ‘Lead Concept Artist’ or Visual Design Director, this role is also common on larger projects that have a strong reliance on Concept art.   This person is often also very responsible for the ‘look’ of the game.  For an AD lucky enough to have a skilled Visual Director with strong conceptual illustration (and visual design skills) this relationship should best be considered a partnership.  Both the Visual Director and the AD will bring something unique to the table and the final results will almost always be better than any one individual doing everything.  A non-technical, non-manager Art Director is essentially a Visual Director under this description.

In PC and console, it's also not uncommon to find a Technical Art Director.  These individuals are rare and extremely valuable to their teams.  They focus on enabling the vision of the AD (and/or VD) and other creatives involved.  Tools, pipelines, technologies, tech support for artists, training....often land on the TAD's plate.  A great TD has a fantastic command of both their rational/logical and creative/visual capacities.

            When considering the role, or perhaps even what kind of AD you are (or aspire to be) it can be useful to consider the Process vs. Visionary spectrum. On one side, is a very Process heavy focus with attention to the HOW of making games.  On the other side, is the Visionary; the classic ‘artist’ who has a strong imagination and sense of visual direction and is much less concerned with the HOW than the WHAT.  My recommendation is to develop both aspects equally so you can fulfill a wide range of roles throughout your career.  The downside to this approach is you may never truly be world-class in either extreme.

            Regardless of your specific art team management structure, there are characteristics of the AD job that are universal.  The most important aspects are:


- Strong vision and able to articulate it clearly

- able to voice artists needs/concerns to upper-managers

- able to solve problems of priority with minimum negative impact

- clear and logical thinker

- able to ask the right questions of both artists and non-artists

- able to ‘shield’ team from political and other noise ‘above’

- able to communicate to team important information from above

- open to criticism and be challenged; humility

- technical enough to understand each discipline at Competent or better level

- pro-active leadership pushing to make things happen.  A driver.

- provide communication between art disciplines who may otherwise remain isolated

- ability to assess risk and communicate choices to upper management

- champion for his/her artists to promote their skills

- mentor and train artists in a variety of disciplines so each grows in skill

- mentor and train artists in management skills /techniques if they so desire


- inflexible in face of facts

- un-able to articulate vision

- poor organization and planning skills

- ego driven

- poorly defined direction ie.“just make it cool” or “make it more realistic”

- overly reactionary

- takes credit for other’s work

- shows favoritism either to individuals or art disciplines

- not ‘hands on’ or available enough

- too hands on.  micromanager ; it communicates lack of confidence.


thoughts & feedback welcome!


*portfolio update* - just added some new material.  On the very bottom of the 'personal' page I've added two videos showing some pre-vis work done for next-gen (Gen 8) systems.  In that market (console/PC) every game will have more textures and polygons, but I believe there is an opportunity for titles to be substantially differentiated by focusing on visual effects.  Much like film, since 'Jurassic Park' we have seen the rise of the 'vfx movie', this could be the time for games to take that step.  These pyro and explosion tests are my first steps into that world.  They were done with FumeFX inside Max.

*note: since creating this, i met the Art Director at Epic Games, Chris Perna.  (nice guy, btw).  He explained they used the same tech as my fire-tests (FumeFX) on this video:  (look at 2:02). 

portfolio update

Just updated the portfolio!   This time I decided to go with  I like their tools, fairly comparable to other stuff out there.   Their customer support is amazing;  I had a problem and they sent me the answer, in the form of text AND a video, within 12 hours.  Also the video was someone doing it on MY website, not some generic solution.  Impressive.  The text editing/formatting isn't the greatest and they do some 'one size fits all pages' formatting depending on which 'template' you use, but otherwise i'm pretty happy with it.   Feedback welcome!