Inspiration / News / Process

Q&A: Plumbee Games, the £10m casino gaming start-up

CEO Raf Keustermans reveals how he’s taking on the big studios – and winning

I’ve come to Plumbee Games and been whisked straight past a penguin and into cake engineering.

Fear not dear reader, the games company doesn’t have a zoo, nor have I had a sudden change of career – as abruptly delicious as cake engineering sounds – these are part and parcel of Plumbee’s meeting rooms.

The penguin, if you’re wondering, is part of “Penguin Station”. I’m here speaking to their zen-like games company chief Raf Keustermans, who explains that it was part of a naming process thrown open to staff members in a company-wide vote. “This is why democracy doesn’t work!” he quips.

The 34-year old Belgian has a waspishly dry attitude. The games company he started up, Plumbee Games, is set on making waves with casino games – currently slots – on social networks. The big twist is to make the games more engagingly shareable rather than pure drudge-work. Or as he puts it, “more Vegas and less Ladbrokes!”

Penguin Station

No offence to Ladbrokes of course. Keustermans simply preaches a gospel of fun – responsible and good clean casino fun. The “good clean fun” bit is vital, as Plumbee mainly develops Facebook games, meaning customers need to feel comfortable with their friends knowing they are giving the slots a whirl.

How’s Plumbee doing now? After its set-up in June 2011, the casino games start-up has grown to over £10m annual revenue. Its grip on the casino sector on Facebook is clear, with its Mirrorball Slots game getting well over 1.2 million monthly users, and some 280,000 daily users. Somehow, it is holding its own against the bigger games giants.

Its chief has big plans, cooly telling me of his reluctance to sell out as he envisages Plumbee growing potentially 10 times its size in the next two years.

With such ambitions on show, I sat down to find out more about the Plumbee story and how it’s set out to disrupt the way slots games (and one day the rest of the casino game market) are played online.

Hi Raf. Tell me how you and your partners started Plumbee…

Gerald [Tan], Jodi [Moran] and I all worked together at PlayFish, which was a social gaming studio acquired by EA.

I left in October 2010 to become an independent consultant so spent quite a bit of time working with other games studios. I also worked a lot with VCs specifically to do due diligence for gaming studios, which became quite handy later. Gerald left EA six months after me and became a consultant on the product side, and I’m more on the marketing side.

Even though we obviously like each other and respect each other professionally, it’s not like we were three best buddies dreaming of making casino games since we were 11.

We were all quite rational people and I think we talked a lot quite informally about what we could do as obviously consulting from our perspective is not really a real business.

You learn a lot and financially it’s not the worst thing to do but obviously it’s not scalable, you don’t actually build something.

With our background we wanted to do something in this area and social games fitted the bill.

In games, there are two main risks. One is title risk – if you build something, will there be an audience for it? Even really good studios with the best people in the world can put out titles that fail.

The other risk is execution risk. With that, we felt more comfortable because we know about the technology, marketing and getting the product out.

How much did you raise to get started?

We raised $2.8m from Idinvest, a French fund. We got $1.4m to start and once we could prove we weren’t just partying it away, we got the rest of the amount. The full amount was raised pre product and pre revenue.

How long has it taken you to break even?

We were profitable on Facebook after about six weeks, and then we started investing in mobile and started to hire the mobile team.

If you purely look at our Facebook business and the people working for that, it has been profitable pretty much since launch and still is today.

It has followed our revenue evolution, we grew really fast up to June 2012 to just below $1m per month in revenue. After September, it increased 15% and then stabilised to above $1m. Our profits and loss on Facebook is about 25%.

Isn’t there a stereotype of people going on gambling away late at night on their computers?

I don’t think it’s as bad as people say as we’re a fairly grown-up industry. There is a darker edge but the majority play for relatively small amounts.

What are the plans for the future?

The next steps are to bring slots to more platforms like Android and iPhone.

We’re thinking about what our next product should be. Bingo might be an idea, poker would be interesting – as we feel a lot of the apps out there aren’t great – but it is a crowded market out there so may be a bit too early to take on the big boys.

We want to disrupt the casino category at large. If you look at the casino space online, there’s a fairly poor translation of the real stuff. Go to Vegas or Macau and it’s all about entertainment. Everything looks nice and shiny, with big swimming pools and obviously you gamble but the way those strengths have been translated to the online world is very boring. It’s purely focused on the gambling element and that is even poorly executed.

We’re here to make gambling more Vegas and less Ladbrokes!

Article available on