When it comes to competing in crowded markets, the conventional wisdom is “differentiate or die.”
Canadian esports company Rivalry is taking that advice to heart as it attempts to break into the online casino space. Today, it unveiled its new casino product, with the eyebrow-raising moniker Casino.exe.
As the name suggests, Casino.exe leans heavily into nostalgia for a bygone era of computer gaming. The interface for the new real money gaming platform features intentionally “glitchy,” low-poly graphics reminiscent of the PC games of the mid-1990s. The games themselves are presented as images of white boxes with CD-ROM icons on the side and a dollar sign where the ESRB rating should be.
Steven Salz, the company’s CEO, said in a press release:
Our technology and creative capabilities continue to drive meaningful opportunities across our business where we can innovate on product and ultimately reimagine the betting experience for a younger audience that craves interactive entertainment. The launch of Casino.exe will allow us to further diversify our offering in a way that stays true to our brand and separates our product from others. As we scale thoughtfully into the casino segment, we’ll reduce the impact of seasonality in esports, increase customer value, and offer more stable margin profiles.
Rivalry doesn’t operate in the US at the moment. It does, however, operate in Ontario’s new privatized online gambling market, as well as in Australia and internationally, with an Isle of Man license.
It says it is “currently in the process of obtaining additional country licenses.” Since the company is based in Canada, that could include the highly competitive US, where it would definitely need to differentiate itself to survive.
No Ordinary Casino
Differentiation is challenging in the online casino space, and Rivalry seems aware of this.
Despite differences in branding and promotions, most online casinos feel very similar. There’s a reason for that, which is the industry’s reliance on third-party, white-label suppliers. Many superficially different casinos run on identical platforms and overlap heavily in the games they offer.
Ontario is as saturated with competing brands as the New Jersey online casino market. As the first markets to open in their respective countries, both have become launchpads that have attracted dozens of hopefuls. Those offering generic products but without the marketing budget of BetMGM or DraftKings are not doing very well.
To avoid that fate, Rivalry has shunned the usual approach. Not only is it not using third-party software, but it also isn’t even offering traditional casino games. You won’t find blackjack, roulette, or even real money slots at Casino.exe. Instead, Rivalry offers a much more limited range of games it has developed in-house.
At the moment, that catalog consists of the following:
- Courier Sweeper
- Bomb Squad
- Penalty Shootout
- Wheel of Time
Of these, Aviator is simultaneously the most standard and the most successful. It’s a crash game along the same lines as DraftKings Rocket. Rivalry says it generated 10% of the company’s Q3 revenue with no marketing expenditures at all since its launch in July.
Meanwhile, Rushlane is unique in that it’s a player-versus-player game, albeit one with no skill element. Players buy in and watch their virtual racers compete on auto-pilot, with the top finishers winning prizes.
Differentiate and Die?
Of course, differentiation alone is no guarantee of success. Just ask Vie.gg, New Jersey’s first and only esports-first betting site. It shut down this fall without ever having achieved much traction.
It’s therefore worrisome that Rivalry is seeking to carve out a similar niche.
Just being different isn’t enough. There needs to be demand for the specific type of “different” a company is shooting for. In that regard, Rivalry claims to know its audience. Product design manager David King said:
Much of Rivalry’s success is rooted in our ability to tap into the cultural zeitgeist of our audience, whose average age is 25. Casino.exe completely redefines the traditional casino experience and puts a thoughtful and entertaining spin on it using a visual expression that our community has a shared reverence for.
There’s something a little incongruous about that statement, however. Casino.exe’s name and aesthetic evoke the tail end of the MS-DOS era, which ended with the launch of Windows 95. According to King, the average Rivalry customer wasn’t born until 1997. The nostalgia the company seems to be targeting belongs to another generation entirely, namely the younger Gen X and older Millennials.
That said, even younger gamers tend to have an affinity for the classics. Typically, that presents itself more as a love for pixel art and the console games of the 8- and 16-bit era. But that’s a different aesthetic than Casino.exe is trying for.
At the end of the day, it’s an experiment by Rivalry. However one feels about Casino.exe, one fact is indisputable: even a tiny chance of success is better than zero. And zero is the chance of success for a small company taking a more generic approach in an oversaturated market.