Playstudios Founder Suggests Being Curious About Unexpected Opportunities: ‘Make It Yours’

When Playstudios founder Andrew Pascal was growing up in San Francisco, he became fascinated with the intricacies of gaming. But he never anticipated he’d spend his career creating games centered around gambling — or that he would go on to lead a company worth over $1 billion.

After spending his summers interning in Las Vegas, Pascal joined a management development program at Golden Nugget Group. Three months into a rotation, he got assigned to the slot-machine department.

“I was like, ‘Whoa, wait a second. That’s not a good place for me,'” he told TheWrap for this week’s Office With a View.

Slot-machine players were “more mature,” he recalled thinking, and the slots didn’t appeal to him: “If I can’t relate to the consumer, what value can I really bring or lend?”

But he decided to dig in and asked Golden to give him 30 days to research the business before taking on the role.

“After the first week, it was clear to me that I completely misunderstood” slots,” Pascal said. “I had no clue what these games were all about and the nuance and subtlety and sophistication of them and what made them interesting.”

The key insights he took away from the experience were not being quick to judge and discovering nuance in everything.

“If you’re curious enough and interested enough to get into the nuances of things, that’s where you’ll find your opportunity to make it yours,” he added. “It’s not just about finding the opportunity that suits you. It’s about once you get into an opportunity, really deeply understanding it. Then you can reshape it to fill your interests and skills and strengths.”

In 1994, he formed Silicon Gaming, a startup dedicated to reinventing the slot machine. That company went public two years later and was sold to IGT in 2001 for around $50 million. He then formed another interactive gambling company, Wagerworks, in 2001, which he also sold to IGT, this time for $100 million.

In 2011, he formed Playstudios, a developer of free-to-play casual games for mobile phones and social networks. The company went public through a SPAC merger in 2021, valuing it in excess of $1 billion. (The company is worth about $460 million today.)

Playstudios partners with a range of casino operators for branded games, and also runs loyalty awards programs for other popular games like Tetris.

“What my Las Vegas experience has certainly taught me was that really amazing things are born out of being bold,” he added. “If you have a big idea, then you’ve got to believe in it, lean into it.” That, he said, was what gets others excited about your idea.

What is your advice for someone looking to break into the industry or advance in their career?
Embrace discomfort and put yourself in a position where you’re doing stuff that’s unfamiliar to you and that you don’t necessarily feel like you have a grasp of. Then lean on and rely upon the people around you to help you figure it out. Don’t get so overwhelmed by the complexity that you project onto something.

The reality is you’ve just got to get started and if you just start being able to take the right first few steps and engage the right people, you’ll start to develop some momentum, and they’ll start with your problem-solving.

You’ll get into these situations that are foreign to you and complicated, but those are the moments when you enjoy real hyper-learning and growth. As long as you’re evolving and changing and being confronted with all kinds of new challenges, then you’re learning and growing and you’re in a good place.

What industry trends should people be paying more attention to?
Artificial intelligence is going to affect us and entertainment profoundly. I think the volume of content that’s going to find its way into all these different distribution channels is going to explode. Discovery — how it is that people find the content that will be interesting to them — that’s going to become more and more important.

Games are highly adaptive. The games that are forever franchises are games that people get into and there’s constantly new content being integrated into them. So the content that’s being introduced and how it gets exposed and when it gets exposed is really largely dictated by what the companies are learning about their players. So the capacity to leverage artificial intelligence to be more sophisticated in the way that you deliver and craft your content is going to be pretty profound.

What are your thoughts on consolidation in the gaming industry? Would you be open to acquisitions or merging with a larger company?
Consolidation is not new and certainly not unique to the games industry. So much of the growth has been driven by mobile games and mobile as a distribution channel. That’s like an eight-year-old industry. So as it matures, it’s not surprising that companies are going to look to drive their growth inorganically by acquiring and integrating.

With that said, we’re a public company with a public currency and a lot of cash and no debt and lots of opportunities that we’re advancing. We’ve grown primarily organically until just recently where we’ve done two acquisitions. If you project and look forward over the next three years, I think it presents a lot of really exciting opportunity.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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