The online casino industry dates back as far as 1994, which is the first time we started to see online games being presented.
While many companies launched in the year, one company from South Africa claims to have been the very first to have an online casino game available for real money. That company is Microgaming.
Whether or not they were the first game available, one thing is certain: being in business for over two decades since, the software provider has seen it all, and has been at the leading edge of the industry for most of that time.
Let’s take a look at the company and how it managed to become a powerhouse in the casino industry.
The Early Years
Microgaming was formed in 1994, but it has always been difficult to find out any information about its ownership. One person has been linked to the original founders of the company: Martin Moshal.
His name always seems to come up whenever anyone tries to tell the story of Microgaming, so it is safe to say that he was involved in some way. As the company has remained private for its entire existence, there isn’t much more in the way of details about who is behind the software giant.
What we do know is that the company launched its first game in 1994. Imagine that — an online casino game during the times where most people didn’t even have an internet connection in their house and were just about to receive AOL disks in the MAIL! Regardless, the company knew it was on to something huge and continued to develop games at a frenzied pace.
However, they were not the only company who had decided to get into the casino development arena, and the industry soon became very crowded.
In 1998, Microgaming reached another first (assuming you believe that they were the first live real money casino game online). They launched a slot game called Cash Splash, which in itself was not that big a deal, but what was incorporated into the game mechanics would change the industry forever.
Cash Splash was the first game to have a progressive jackpot – a portion of every spin would be placed into a pooled jackpot that would only be triggered when a specific combination was revealed on the wheel.
The industry was thrilled with what they saw, and this piece of innovation allowed Microgaming to secure some of the largest gaming clients on the planet.
Keeping the Industry Honest
Being one of the original software developers in a new market, Microgaming quickly saw the need for some sort of controlling body that would police the industry and keep it as legitimate as possible.
Remember, this was in the early stages of accepting online payments, well before it was as widely accepted as it is today. Coupled with the already shady connotation around gaming in general, it was evident that the industry was going to have to take steps to make players feel more comfortable.
With that in mind, Microgaming banded together with several other firms in the industry to create the Interactive Gaming Council. This organization would help to regulate the space and ensure that games were being played fairly.
Along with that, the IGC would be responsible for monitoring operators to try to weed out the bad seeds it would inevitably see entering the space.
Later on, Microgaming would also become a founding member of the e-Commerce and Online Gaming Regulation and Assurance (eCOGRA), which is generally recognized as the leading organization when it comes to ensuring fairness, best practices, and proper business transactions in the online gaming industry.
But Wait… Was There Some Controversy?
There are several former licensees of Microgaming that will tell you that, while on the outside it appeared that the company was doing its best to regulate the industry, internally they were crooked.
One of the stipulations of being a Microgaming licensee was that an operator had to agree to be hosted on the Microgaming servers. This, of course, gave the company access to all of their clients’ databases.
Remember that in the early days, Microgaming was an operator as well. In the late 1990s, a couple of their major licensees felt that the company was stealing their players, and decided to break their licensing agreements. Lawsuits followed but were all ultimately settled, and today Microgaming no longer forces its licensees to be hosted in their server cluster.
More Innovation from the Company
Since the release of their first progressive jackpot slot machine, Microgaming has continued to push the envelope of online gaming. They have developed over 1200 different casino titles over the years, and that includes many games featuring pooled jackpots.
These games allow multiple licensees to pool their jackpots together into one pot, increasing the size immensely. In fact, the Mega Moolah slot machine has seen jackpots won of over five million USD on several occasions. It continues to be the most played online slot machine on the market today.
In 2005, the company took branding a step further with the release of the first co-branded slot game. Tomb Raider contained graphics from the well-known comic book and movie and started a trend that now sees almost every major entertainment brand being co-opted for casino games.
In 2008, the company saw several milestones reached. First, they were the first company to launch an online slot with one hundred paylines. Soon after, they set another world record when one of their progressive jackpots was burst at over ten million USD.
Finally, the company released a feature in slots that had never been seen before. My Slot allowed players to upload their own graphics into the software, meaning that players could now personalize the game however they wanted.
Not content with just being a casino developer, Microgaming started building other gaming software back in the early 2000s. The result was the launch of their poker platform, the Microgaming Poker Network, and robust bingo software.
With these products, the company could take their licensees from being casino-only to a full-service gaming site. This would also help the Microgaming bottom line, as more of the player money was being played within the Microgaming network of products.
A Tough Decision to Make
The introduction of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act in 2006 had a profound impact on the online gaming industry as a whole. Microgaming was right in the middle of it, with many of the largest US-facing online casinos using their software.
Despite being a privately held company in the Isle of Man, the management of Microgaming decided they did not want to risk the future of the company by continuing to stay in the market. With that decision, they closed their US-facing business and released many of their top licensees from their contracts.
This could have ruined the company, but instead, Microgaming doubled down on their non-US business, continuing to bring on new partners year after year.
The company had invested a significant amount of money in securing major brand partnerships, meaning that the top games players wanted to play were under their umbrella. This brought even more licensees to the table, and Microgaming hasn’t looked back since.
No Rest for the Company
At this point, given everything it had accomplished, it would be easy to understand if Microgaming took some time off from an innovation standpoint. However, the company shows no signs of slowing down whatsoever.
In 2014, they were the first company to develop and release a slot game for a wearable device, and they continue to release new titles with new partnerships.
Let’s not forget about their progressive jackpot games, either. In 2015, the company set yet another world record when its Mega Moolah slot produced a jackpot of almost eighteen million EUR!
And for good measure, Mega Moolah hit again in 2016 for another eight million EUR.
If you look at the long history of this company, you can clearly see that they have been at the leading edge of the online casino industry for well over two decades.
The way we see it, given all they have provided for the casino player since they launched, the least we can do is give them credit for being the first online slot machine ever released. Seems like a good deal, right?