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Matt Wilson introduces a brand new ethos to Light & Wonder

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In the last two years, Light & Wonder has reshaped itself by divesting its lottery and betting arm to focus on gaming. To make it work, Matt Wilson needed to manage a culture shift beyond the change of brand.

Matt Wilson will lead what has become Light & Wonder in a brand new direction. Scientific Games decided to sell its sports betting and lottery divisions by 2021.

In particular, the sale of lottery operations marked a significant break with the past. Scientific Games began, after all as a manufacturer of scratchcards.

By selling this business along with sports betting, the debt could be reduced. It was also clear that the remaining gaming businesses had a strategic direction, something which many people would have said has been missing in recent years.

The corporate rebranding adds to the feeling that an era is ending. Scientific Games has been rebranded as Light & Wonder, with its gaming division now under Light & Wonder. Matt Wilson, who replaced Barry Cottle in October 2022 as CEO, is now in charge.

Light & Wonder has a new north star: focusing on games gives it a distinct vision.

Wilson is an Aristocrat vet who was previously CEO of Light & Wonder’s gaming division. He has a clear vision for his business. Wilson wants it to be the leading provider of slot games, digital games, and social games.

He said, shortly after being appointed: “That is the mission. That’s our north star.” That’s the direction we are heading. It’s now time to move forward and continue executing on that.”

How has he managed to achieve this goal for the company?

What is in a Name?

The name of the game is the first thing you should notice. Light & Wonder’s tagline, “New Worlds of Play”, suggests a major departure from Scientific Games.

He explains, “It is more than a simple rebrand.” It is a total change in the company’s ethos.

We wanted to get into the remaining businesses and find out what really matters. “It all comes down to content and gaming.”

Wilson says that there are three parties who care about the name of a business. Investors are the first to care, but share performance will be of more interest. Customers care about the content, and are more interested in the brand than company names.

The third group is most crucial: the employees. The employees are the ones who make magic happen. They design games and bring content to the market.

Light & Wonder shares more similarities with George Lucas Industrial Light & Magic as a company name than with Scientific Games. This is now owned by Disney, and it’s responsible for the special effects of franchises like Star Wars and Marvel.

Wilson is looking to tap that same talent pool. He says, “We are trying to reach out to the next generation of creatives.” If you look at the heart of our business, which is games and content, mathematicians are involved, as well as animators and software engineers. They are all creative individuals.

The next generation of graduates will be asked: “Will they work at Light & Wonder or Scientific Games?” “We’re building this brand with levity, that focuses on making games as a career.”

Cultural change across Light & Wonders business

A new creative approach is needed to attract talent. There’s also a more collaborative, coherent, and isolated way to work for the existing staff.

Wilson says that before the gambling and lottery sales began, Light & Wonder resembled a conglomerate rather than a company.

Light & Wonder CEO Matt Wilson aims to create a more connected development process across all channels

He says, “The teams did not talk.” They were very independent. There was a large moat surrounding each business.

Now they are working together. “We spend over $200m R&D per year,” the igaming and gaming teams discuss. What should we make? What games should we be making?

Wilson, who is the CEO of Light & Wonder Games, believes that social media plays a crucial role in game development. The company has begun the acquisition process for SciPlay. You can do A/B testing and rapid asset tests with millions of eyes.

The studios that create the slots for land-based casinos use this feedback to develop the online versions. There’s a flywheel-effect from the businesses sharing the same portfolio.

Thinking in a group

The Best Games Workshop is one of the initiatives that keeps the wheel turning. The Best Games Workshop brings together Light & Wonder’s igaming and social casino developers with their land-based slots, typically in a Casino.

Wilson says, “They play together and share ideas and riffs off of each other.” It’s a very simple idea, yet it’s so powerful. You’re bringing perspectives from different sources together.

Faster horse

Wilson has spent a lifetime working in this industry. Wilson began as an Aristocrat graduate trainee and rose up the corporate ladder.

“I began working on these games at the age of 22. I am still very excited to see what comes next.” It’s a constant feeling that the next release could change the entire industry. It’s exciting.”

He says that there are many new data and tools to help with the slot development, but creativity is the main driver for the performance of the slots.

Slot development may start in social, but makes its way through to land-based channels then online casino sites

Wilson: “I believe that as an industry, we must be conscious of the need to continue to innovate.” If we all make the same types of games, that is a path to nowhere. It’s important to build what the players want.

You also need to keep in mind the Ford saying: “If you asked consumers what they wanted, they would say they want a faster car, not a horse.”

In essence, it’s about “looking around the corner” to see what future end users might want. According to him, suppliers like Light & Wonder should be looking for new game formats and types. It’s easy to play it safe, but that won’t set any new standards for slot machines and table games.

He argues that “Light & Wonder, and our competitors must continue to push boundaries because we have big budgets which should allow us lead the industry when it comes to innovation.”

It’s about combining the ability to take the correct shots at goal with the innovation needed to move the industry forward.

Studio that slots into the roadmap

There’s a risk that a small, agile competitor could outpace the leaders in an industry as diverse, crowded and broad as games development. Light & Wonder’s aggregation system Open Gaming System allows it to identify innovators early on.

Mega deals from the Scientific Games period, such as those for Bally Technologies and SHFL or WMS, OpenBet etc., have passed. Acquisitions have been smaller since 2021 and OGS has proven to be a “beautiful M&A tool”.

Wilson says, “We can see the early success of companies on OGS. We also know which ones are creating unique content for players.”

We can then take over their company and infuse the R&D, assist them in making more money and step in even to buy them.

Its performance on Light & Wonder’s OGS alerted the supplier to Lightning Box’s potential

We did it with Elk Studios and we did it with Lightning Box. We are fortunate to be able to control this part of the value-chain.

We can look at up-and-coming studios and tell them, “Hey guys, your stuff is great.” “If we give you $10m, could you make 30 games to create a mutually beneficial relationship?”

M&A has become very easy. Light & Wonder aims to be the top games developer worldwide and all deals must align with that goal.

Wilson says, “We moved from a complex world with many different companies trying to become a Swiss Army knife for these various markets.” In that situation, it is very difficult to become a global leader in anything let alone all.

s first quarter performance validates big decisions

The first-quarter performance of Light & Wonder was the one that Wilson felt really validated his strategic choices for 2021. All divisions saw revenue increases, with digital and social games contributing record amounts.

Wilson: “It validates many things within.” We have almost 7,000 staff members who have been with us on this transformation journey. We’ve been asking a lot from them but the results are showing in numbers, and this is so encouraging.

The quality of results is what he finds most impressive. EBITDA increased faster than revenue, and cash flow grew more quickly than EBITDA.

It’s just what you wanted. The strategy for the three companies in one portfolio is vindicated.

creating great content is now light & wonder’s sole focus

It shows that these three companies working together is more than the sum of their parts. There’s an amplification.

There is something very beautiful about the simplicity .

Scientific Games’ decision to divest OpenBet, and its lottery division, may have been the beginning of the end. New leadership, new branding and renewed focus are all part of the new wave.

This could also be the beginning of a new trend in the entire industry. Recent announcements indicate that other suppliers also see the benefits of a single-vertical approach.

Wilson affirms that simplicity is a beautiful thing in business. Light & Wonder’s Q1 results show that focusing on great games can generate good returns.

He adds: “All our jobs serve that.” We can’t make any sales, and we cannot pay our salaries without good games.

We make it clear to everyone in the industry that the games we offer are our raison d’être.

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