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Meet Hennie Blaauw

Disa Stigh

Estimated Time 12 min

August 26, 2020

Even though this man ‘’only ‘’ has 25 years’ in the industry, he’s been an artist his entire life since he was a kid. He’s now the Senior Game producer at Gamesys and he’s been working for Yggdrasil (Game provider), he’s been putting his trademark and design on the Jungle Book game and he’s a game and animation producer.

I was really astonished when I spoke to Hennie because; I really believe what he is doing is the right path and how he treats his team, is the right way to operate.

He’s a true artist as mentioned and I didn’t know anything about game production, really. From how they come up with an idea – until they actually have a finished product. So, if you’re interested in knowing more about game production, casino games – I would love for you to listen to what Hennie Blaauw has to say.

Disa: I’m super-thrilled to speak to you today because, as mentioned during our first call, I have no expertise or really no clue how you produce the Casino games… or what the process looks like. But I think we should start with presenting yourself, how on earth you ended up in iGaming, where you come from? Before we start to dig into all the juicy stuff.

: I was born in South Africa, I’m South African. When I was a kid in Namibia, I was always drawing since I was little. But where we lived, we didn’t have access to art schools and stuff like that, so I’m kind of self-taught. I made my way learning 3D- animation and taught myself 2D- animation, with the hand on stuff and frame by frame. Pages and all of that. So yeah, I’m self-taught and got into the animation industry that way.

Visual effects, animations for commercials and music videos and things like that, was something I was working on while I was in Cape town.

A couple of years in, I got kind of recognized a bit in addition to when I was working in the animation studios. I somehow took a little bit of time off and got some freelance work, such as illustrations.

Disa: Then after you worked on these projects, how did you end up in iGaming?

I started to get more and more of these small projects which still involved animations and illustrations, but for these small scratch cards, you know. Animated scratch cards.  Through this process I got contacted by a company in Cape town, they’re not around anymore, but they kind of introduced me to the whole iGaming industry.

So, I kind of got in there and realized how much work there was in this industry. I just applied for a job that were in line with my experience in this industry. I was doing these animated scratch cards, slots and all of that stuff.

Then I got so much work from this industry, so I decided to start my own company, along with my wife actually. She’s also an Art director… and artist. I met her in Canada. In a studio in Canada.

Me just started to get more and more work… art and animations for slots, actually. So yeah, we went for our first experience of ICE 2014 – just on our own. Representing the company that we started. We were already working with/for so many studios all around the world and then we met most of them for the very first time at ICE, London. It was pretty eye opening. I think that was the moment when we felt; Although living down in Cape town, which is such an amazing place and we were busy and all…working with art and animations for these games… but, this industry is in Europe.

I was approached by Yggdrasil gaming in their beginning years, before they… or before us even being in Malta – we decided to move. We moved right away.

Disa: As an artist and a power couple like you too, I mean wow! Both artists working together and travelling the world. So, you came to Malta, went to ICE for the first time, realizing what great opportunities iGaming offer artist all around the world. We spoke about this a little bit about during our first call, but you mentioned that 99% of the people you hire do not come from the iGaming industry from the beginning?

You know, tell this person ; You’re a great background artist. Come and only do backgrounds. You don’t need to do logos, characters and all that stuff. Come and only do backgrounds. Just come and do the things you’re really great at, that you love.

I didn’t go look for someone withing iGaming because, back then, I wanted our games to look a bit different to great companies such as NetEnt and Quickspin…they’re amazing. So, I kind of wanted our stuff to look a bit different, therefore I reached out to great artists. I didn’t reach out to people who were already in the industry. If you look at the art, I didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl, where they’re from, what their backgrounds or experience was. I could simply only look at the art. I could look at the pure art and say; this person is amazing, let’s add them to our team.

We had a pretty amazing art team and I just handpicked them. All of them one by one. We were able to create some really cool games with a very small team since everyone was specialists in what they were doing.

Disa: I think it’s a very valid and great point that you hire people and let everyone in your team, just do their own thing, what they’re really good at. I think a lot of different departments within our industry should take this under consideration, doing the same.

Me for example, I worked with a big affiliate team, with such a diversity of people being great at different things – yet, everybody had to follow the same steps. Instead of letting people who are more analytic, do the data, work on the big excel reports, look into numbers more. People who are more outspoken should maybe work more on dealing with the clients, run around at the conferences.

Instead of mixing it up so people do not feel comfortable with what they’re doing. That’s not a way of progressing and being successful as a team.

Hennie: You know I hired and recruited most of them myself. Our recruiters thought I was very hard to please, because they would show me like 50 portfolios, and I would maybe pick one. So, it became like a running joke at Yggdrasil as we grew bigger. It still thinks it’s important and it does make a difference. Picking that one person that were right. Right from the gate close. It made us quite efficient that way, picking out and creating games that everyone loved.

I was quite picky, but you have to be. 

Disa: I can just imagine how the people that have worked for you or alongside you, must feel like and when they’re hearing this; Yes, I was the chosen one! I assume they can take great pride in that.

It’s kind of cool to see how their careers have evolved as well. Coming from so far away to join this industry. Most of them are still in the industry and I feel like that I still work with a bunch of them. We were a very tight group, so, it feels amazing.

Disa: Exactly. They knew how picky you were so…

Yes…ha ha…

Disa: So, tell me. What are you doing now? I know you moved from Malta.

Yeah, so the opportunity came along to join a new company. So, I joined Gamesys and we are based in Tallinn, Estonia. I’ve also had a bit of a role change. At Yggdrasil I was the Creative Director. I was seeing over the games and the artists. Now I’m the Senior producer at Gamesys her in Tallin. We are creating the new games for Gamesys, which is quite exciting.

I’m now one step before or earlier in the process. Where we get to come up with the ideas for the games and the type of the games that we want to create. So, it’s pretty exciting and it’s a beautiful country. It’s a great company and we really enjoy it.

Disa: I can imagine. We did touch the topic and I spoke to you regarding the process of how you produce the games and you think about before you start to produce. You mentioned that before, you were just focusing on creating beautiful games and working alongside the artist. But now, you are one step before.

Beforehand, at Yggdrasil, would you get come kind of guidelines? Which kind of direction they wanted the games to follow? In terms of anything like color scheme, be directed towards a certain geo or did you get anything? Any kind of background information before you started?

Hennie: Yeah. We had back then, we would get handed the mechanics and the idea of a game, right. These are the mechanics; these are the ideas. Then, we would be able to take that game idea and pitch a theme. After that we would be able to say; This going to be x game or viking game or whatever. From that we would move the idea to the artists.

I do not think there is a set recipe to make a successful game. It is a little bit tricky and if it would be too easy, more companies would be able to have a number 1, game. Before, you know, I used to work for a provider. We were making games and would take them to the operators and say; Please take our game, hopefully you will be marketing it well – so it can be successful. Now, it is very exciting and interesting as we’re making games for ourselves.

I have access to a lot more data now that I didn’t have before. We can see who our player base is. So, it’s exciting. We are kind of staring our games towards that targeted audiences.

We’ll see! We are super-excited, and our games are going for certifications now and offers are on – we have a full line up. We have some nice stuff in the pipeline coming down so, we’re really excited.

Disa: Probably steer the games more after what you see work – and not. Different countries etc.

Hennie: Yes! It is quite exciting and the cool thing about it; As soon as the game launches, you’ll have that data immediately. So, we’re really looking forward to that. It’s going to be exciting to see.

Disa: Where do you get all your creativity from? all your ideas as an artist?

We all get inspiration and ideas from the industry itself. I play a lot of Xbox games and those kinds of thing as well, movies and mobile games. I think from all of that, you can see what players respond too. What they like and don’t like.

We usually come up with an initial idea or a type of game, that we would like to see. We still have a great art team and an Art Director here, Senior Art Director… It’s my wife actually. I kind of hand stuff to her and her team.

They brainstorm and pitch some ideas, themes and art styles and get back to us. So yeah, think it comes from a little bit of everywhere.

Disa: So, when you have been coming up with all of these ideas – what happens next?

So here at Gamesys, we have the department that we started, a pre-production department. It’s me myself and a great mathematician designer. We kind of consult with our team in London as well, as Gamesys has an office in London also. But we have the design /production department over here in Tallin.

Obviously, we create a prototype of this idea while the art is going on. We constantly play with it and trying to get the right feel. Is it fun to play? I think a game should be fun to play before you even add all the great art and bells and whistles. So yeah, I think we mainly go by ; is it fun to play and how does it feel.

Then we hand it over down the line and we get some amazing ideas back to us.

When it comes to games, it is a little bit the same you know. The favorite game it’s always the game I’m currently working on. Now we have like 5-6 games down the pipeline. So, I am really looking forward to presenting them. But if I have to pick 1… one of my favorite games is still one game that we made 2017 – Jungle book. Just because it was a huge undertaking and it was a cool theme. I still believe, if I look at it today, we mixed 3D and 2D and it was such a huge undertaking. That’s probably the one I still like, and I had a great time working on it. We had a great producers and art team working on it. I had some fun memories working on it.

After a couple of months working on a game, you kind of just want to move on to the next one.

Disa: I have to say that it’s such a beautiful produced game. So, I would say it’s a very great choice. I think it’s incredible how you do this… but then again, I’m not an artist!

Yeah… that is my favorite.

Disa: Do you have any advice for younger or older artist out there, who aren’t from this industry? Why they should come and work within this industry?

Yeah, so again, coming from the animation side; this industry is way more stable. There are so many avenues you can take as an artist. You can be a concept artist or just be a painter. You can do logos or design the UI. It’s the same with animation. There are so many avenues for artists. It’s funny! Because when I used to approach these artists online and the minute, I mentioned slots- they would kind of say ‘’ no, no, I want to work on games. I don’t want to do this stuff’’. Once we have shown them what we’re doing, the animations and concept arts, they usually jump onboard pretty quickly. 

What’s also very exciting is the variety in the games that we produce. If you’re working on the Simpsons, you’re drawing the Simpsons for years and years, every day. I did this for the TV show I was working on and after a while you’ll get bored of doing the same thing. So here, which is exciting is; You’re working on a Viking game today. Tomorrow you can do something completely different!

The variety is exciting, and you see your games getting published. That’s your portfolio moving forward. If you get approach by a company, you can always say ‘’ go to this site and go to that site’’. Your work is on display.

You will always have people saying they don’t want to do slots, or they just want to do games. The ‘’ casino thing’’ always kind of creeps in there. But I think nowadays, with all the regulations and everything, Gamesys has a huge role towards responsible gambling. It is still a great industry to be part of and you can grow as an artist.

There are so many projects you can be part of and work with so many amazing artists that will take the seat next to you… whom you can learn so much from. I’ve seen it happen. People have evolved from being a concept artist to becoming the art director of the company. It’s a pretty exciting industry!
Disa: possibilities are endless. The diversity and tasks are endless as well, within this industry.

Hennie: Yes… and it’s fun! By the end of the day we are making games. We are making online entertainment. When it all comes together, it’s pretty amazing.

Disa: I’ve also liked what you said about putting your stamp. Every day when you go to work, you’re going to know; Yes, I worked on that game. It’s all over. Every operator in this industry might have that game and thousands of players – have played your game. With animations and characters that you have been part of creating! So indeed, that is amazing.

Hennie: It is amazing when you see people enjoying the work that you did. In some industries when people working on a game,3-4 years maybe and the game gets canned – no one will see what you have been working on for the last couple of years. Here the turnaround is quite fast, and you can always showcase your work. Once again, exciting industry to be part of.

Disa: Totally agree.

Hennie: What you’re doing, is very exciting as well. I think you’re putting some information out there that, that I didn’t have when I joined this industry. I think that is quite important! If we want this industry to grow, more people to play our games – we should share some information.

Don’t share your game that is coming down the pipeline or some mechanics…but, share some of your experience. Especially on the art and animation side. We all use the same tools and software. We maybe just apply something different here and there. Overall, we should share our experiences so the industry can grow, attracts more players and the more people hear about responsible gaming and stuff; they kind of relax a bit more, when it comes to that topic.

Some of these games are pretty entertaining and it evolved so much over the last years. It’s online entertainment. This industry will just grow and become bigger and bigger.

So, I think this thing that you’re doing is, like you have some kind of resource and ask questions. It’s pretty cool!

Disa: Thank you so much for those kind words. I think you really picked up where I’m going with this project and why it is so important for me. Not only for me, but for people around us. I also believe it is very important for the different departments within our industry and the companies. If I only knew how much time you spend on certain games, if I only knew which markets, I should push certain games – maybe a game would be more successful.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s a full circle. We need to be able to speak more within the operations, as well.

I’m really happy I got the chance to speak to you today, about game production!

Hennie: Yeah, a lot of work goes into these things you know. You don’t even see what’s behind the scenes. It’s pretty cool to see how it has evolved when you look back when I started – from what it is now. It’s pretty amazing and exciting.

Disa: Yes! Well, then I think that’s it! Once again thank you so much for doing this with me.

Hennie: Thank you very much!

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