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Ash Gaming began life in 2002, working as a specialist provider of gambling software for the online sector and kept a low but highly-regarded profile until it was purchased for £23 million by Playtech in late 2011. Playtech have said that the company will remain largely autonomous, leaving the London-based staff – mostly developers – to continue producing games, most notably the top-grade video slots that they’re primarily known for.
They also make fixed-odds games, offer over 100 versions of videopoker and are particularly strong in virtual racing as well, though the slot market has become the most lucrative since online casinos first appeared and has consequently been Ash’s main area of expertise. The games they make are particularly known for being finely-detailed and artistically-commendable, with bonus rounds that offer far more than the usual tombola-style pick-a-prize scenario, and all-round complex gameplay that challenges the player whilst entertaining them at the same time.
The company only employs around 40 staff, though most of them are developers – and it shows. The games are delivered mainly to platforms, although they can supply them direct to other operators if required. They operate to a strict quality assurance standard and work to a stated aim of maximising game quality and operator profit simultaneously, and hold a Gambling Software licence from the UK Gambling Commission.
In 2011 Ash Gaming had 30 licencees, operating over 40 games with big name online casino sites like Sky Vegas, Virgin Games and Paddy Power all using their products. To get an idea of what this outfit is capable of, a couple of standout games give an idea:
Alice’s Wonderland, whilst clearly not permitted to use direct references to its source material, recreates Lewis Carroll’s tale by taking players on arguably the most complex slot game storyline ever conceived. An eerie, trippy feel is produced using musical pitch-bending techniques, contrasting well with the classic English country garden setting that frames the five reels and their animated symbols, and the bonus round instructions read like a small novel in their own right. The phrase ‘no expense spared’ comes to mind at every stage of the journey, yet the game isn’t even officially branded with movie or book tie-ins.
War of the Worlds, conversely, uses imagery and sound from Jeff Wayne’s musical version of the classic sci-fi tale to great effect. In fact, this is the only slot on the web that comes in two versions: a fully-detailed one and a stripped-down game for quicker access. The Victorian styling used on the album cover is recreated within the game, and there’s an intro movie with the original Richard Burton voiceover. The bonus round features a multi-level skill-based game, requiring players to take on the mighty Tripods in three different locations around the UK adding a layer of interactivity that other games rarely offer, making this slot every bit as impressive as the story itself.
Even when using recycled themes like the exotic jungle scenario in Amazon Wild, the attention to detail and level of artwork used in the backgrounds, symbols and animations make even generic choices of theme irrelevant, and Ash’s developers are continuing in a similar direction which will blend well with Playtech’s range of games as their slots tend to focus on brassier, bolder, less intricate graphics such as the chunky science lab themes found on the Marvel games.
The acquisition by Playtech will do wonders for Ash’s level of consumer awareness. Although loved by players and platforms alike, until now they haven’t appeared as widely as they could have - though with Playtech using their games on their sites, Ash’s masterpieces will appear on more casinos than any other platform bar Microgaming, though with Playtech’s current level of market penetration that’s unlikely to bother them.
Ash’s games are all programmed using Flash technology, meaning that the games don’t need to be downloaded and can be played through users’ browsers instead. This was another major attraction for Playtech who are firmly committed to offering no-download casinos, and offer the fastest and most reliable browser play in the industry.
The company’s staff retention rate is well-known through the industry, with two of the existing senior managers having started out as placement students, so it’s no surprise that Ash won Best SME in the 2011 National Placement and Internship Awards. Advertisements for new staff are currently in abundance, presumably due to an influx of capital from their new owners, so devotees can expect plenty of new titles from this unique, top-end and decidedly British games manufacturer very soon.