Is it okay to download software?
As a rule, you need to be careful about downloading software from internet sites. However, many casino sites will insist that you download an entire suite of software titles in order to play their games. Once you’ve downloaded the suite, firing it up and playing the games should be relatively fast and convenient. In contrast, downloading individual games every time will often require a bit of a wait, and the software itself may be more prone to failure. You may also get inferior versions of the games, with the best graphics, sound and features reserved for the full ‘download-only’ suite.
Having said that, the quality of ‘non-download’ casino games has improved very significantly in recent years. Most casinos have at least some ‘Flash-based’ titles that don’t need to be ‘downloaded’. Of course, code always needs to be downloaded at some point, so calling these ‘non-downloads’ is something of a misnomer. However, it should only take a few seconds to download and start up Flash-based casino games, rather than the several minutes required for a full suite. And because, with Flash-based titles, you’re having to load the game each time, you can be sure you’re getting the very latest version every time.
If the casino is reputable, you should have no qualms about downloading a suite of software – anti-malware security suites should keep your computer safe, in any case. If you regularly play for example roulette online at a specific site, it’ll probably save you time if you download the full suite. However, most casinos do have a strong range of Flash-based titles, so you’re no longer likely to be landed with vastly inferior games if you don’t download the suite. Our advice would be to use Flash-based games unless you have no choice.
What if I have a mobile device?
Many (although by no means all) casinos have support for the most common mobile devices (Android, Apple iPads/iPhones). The type of support will vary. Android devices can usually play Flash-based casino games. Most sites, though, have dedicated mobile suites which offer versions specially optimised for the smaller screen. Large buttons and clear interfaces are vital when using mobile devices – even those tablets with large 9in or 10in screens – so it’s sensible to look for dedicated mobile support where available.
Does the casino itself produce the games?
Almost invariably, no. Embittered players are often only too keen to blame corrupt casinos for a poor run, but the casinos themselves rarely have anything to do with the software itself. Instead, casinos choose a software provider (Microgaming, Playtech, RTG etc.), and agree to offer some or all of that provider’s games. This means different casinos may offer similar or identical versions of the games. Some casinos will be upfront about who their provider is, while others will try and put their own names on the software. Once you get a bit of experience, though, it shouldn’t take you long to work out who’s who. Here are some of the big names.
Microgaming – Microgaming was a pioneer of online casino gaming, and it’s built that early success into a position of considerable strength today. No software provider offers a wider range of titles (whether in casinos or in slots), or has more deals with gambling sites and providers of content, such as film companies.
In 1994, Microgaming launched the first online casino. Cryptologic was quick to improve on the design, bringing in a superior payment processing system. However, Microgaming swiftly embraced the ideas of its rival, and these two companies shared most of the spoils of those early casino sites. Since then, Microgaming has fired across all cylinders. It led the way in slots, unleashing the first game with a progressive jackpot in 1998, and crafting a vast catalogue that has over 300 titles in common circulation today – even the prolific NetEnt struggles to get to 200.
However, Microgaming’s achievements in casino gaming are just as impressive. As with the slots, it’s the sheer depth and range of the titles that allows the company to cruise ahead. Over 25 different versions of blackjack are available, for instance, from fast and furious implementations, to a ‘Gold’ edition adorned by silky smooth graphics and vast options. Alternatively, you can play up to five hands in one go using the multi hand version, or you can strip everything back to a single deck version, or seek out cunning winning combinations and bonuses with variations like Super Fun 21, Perfect Pairs, and Triple Sevens Progressive.
Add to this the briliance of the Viper coding that underpins Microgaming’s smart implementations, and you have a superb range of immaculately conceived games that look great and play brilliantly. If your casino offers Microgaming software, you’re in for a treat.
Playtech – Like Microgaming, Playtech believes that choice is everything, showering its clients and customers with a vast array of twists and renditions on traditional casino games. It’s been this desire to create an extensive library of titles that has allowed it to take up a position near the head of the market, despite only starting operations in 1999 – five years after Microgaming had launched its first software. Microgaming remains the #1, but Playtech arguably leads the pack.
Part of Playtech’s brilliance comes from the way it blends elements of different genres. So some of its blackjack games, for instance, have the progressive jackpots familiar to players of its slots, allowing pots of money to accumulate until one player hits four suited aces and scoops the entire jackpot. Other prizes lead to smaller bonuses, making some of Playtech’s blackjack games a fabulous experience for those who want to combine cards with regular action and substantial wins. Its general blackjack games are brilliant, with fluid graphics and a battery of options.
Playtech has also been quick to embrace new technologies, and is breaking new ground with its ambitious mobile and live dealer options. In the online casino world, Playtech continues to get closer to the top.
Cryptologic – While this company may have been Microgaming’s biggest rival in those early days, it hasn’t been able to turn that initial lead into a dominant position. However, Amaya bought the company in 2012, and it’s possible that Cryptologic can still fight its way back to the top.
The company’s main trump card remains the trust and confidence inspired by its secure financial software. Indeed, the founders of the company, the Rivkin brothers, started out coding an online transactions program. They quickly realised this could underpin other applications, and constructed the first online casino with full payment capabilities. Cryptologic (particularly through its popular front-end, Intercasino) quickly rose to a very prominent position. in later years, though, leaner and meaner newcomers have stolen some of the company’s thunder.
For all that, the Cryptologic library remains capable. It’s in poker that the company has seen its biggest success. Its overall casino games perhaps lack variation. Take blackjack, for instance. You can get a couple of American-style tables, as well as European flavours. Each of the games have numerous options, allowing you to tweak game speed, or turn on autoplay features. However, there are very few variations of rules. While Microgaming can offer you countless multi-hand or bonus-strewn twists on the original game, Cryptologic’s choice is comparatively bland. The graphics are crisp, but lack the extra finesse of some of the company’s rivals. We can’t imagine many players being really disappointed by the Cryptologic games. But if they look at the choice offered elsewhere, they may find their attention drifting.
RTG – Like Playtech, RTG came to the online market relatively late, but has become a firm favourite with casinos, due to the high customisation possible with its games. Casinos can define their payout percentages, the number of decks, and various other parameters. The company also has a highly experienced legal team that has allowed it to master the infamous UIGEA legislation in the US – it’s this surefooted approach to the law that has given the company the confidence to remain in the US market, sucking up large numbers of customers as many of its rivals have departed.
Unlike Microgaming and Playtech, RTG goes less for sheer range of titles. But where titles do exist, the quality tends to be high. In particular, the company has worked hard on the in-game physics, producing simulations again and again to produce the best results. The games are extremely fast to play, and no other software provider lets you get through more spins or hands in a session.
However, RTG hasn’t embraced new technologies, like mobile devices, as much as it might. Microgaming and Playtech certainly continue to lead the way, although RTG’s loyal customerbase continue to give this company considerable clout.
Vuetec – New innovations throw up new companies, and Vuetec has ridden into the casino market on the back of the ‘Live Dealer’ wave. Effectively the first company to produce a proper authentic live dealer game, Vutect continues to broadcast from a real casino – Fitzwilliam’s Casino and Carc Club in Dublin.
The software isn’t flawless, though. The video stream also needs to be of a higher quality. You won’t necessarily get the intimate camera angles, or the personal attention of the croupiers – they do have to cater for ‘real’ punters as well. There are some nice features – the Basic Strategy mode in blackjack will have the computer making many of the trickier decisions on your behalf – but the games overall aren’t as slick or as polished as the live options offered by other providers.