Trailblazer alumnus revolutionizes video game and virtual lottery industries

Brian Ward takes unconventional path from law to entertainment

Sarah Kent - 21 July 2020

When University of Alberta Faculty of Law alumnus Brian Ward, ‘83 LLB, ‘80 BComm, decided he wanted a career in the entertainment industry, he went all in, a gamble that eventually led to him founding a company that is changing the game for lotteries.

“You can’t take two small steps across a chasm,” said Ward, who is CEO of LottoInteractive, which creates online games for lotteries and iGaming operators in North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Before crossing that chasm, Ward worked as a litigator at the Vancouver-based firm Alexander Holburn. Despite stable employment and a steady income, Ward wasn’t satisfied. He had aspirations for a career that combined his legal background with technology and entertainment.

“All my friends would say, ‘Well that’s all you can do. You’re a litigator. The only people who can go into corporate work are solicitors,’” said Ward. “That basically seemed like the option set, and I wasn’t eligible.”

For Ward, it wasn’t the first time he had heard others express doubts about his goals. When he decided he wanted to pursue law school, he told his then-girlfriend while on a roadtrip in the U.S.

“I think she laughed all the way across the state of Nevada,” said Ward. “That made me more determined.”

Ready to prove his friends wrong about his career path, Ward muscled up the courage to leave Alexander Holburn and take on independent legal work in 1994.

“I realized I wasn’t going to ever get around to making the move ... if I didn’t make the leap.”

That risk paid off when Ward was recruited to the video game company Electronic Arts in 1996, a time when the video game industry was only just beginning to blossom.

“It was viewed as a niche industry that was still a bit of a flash in the pan,” said Ward, who served as a director of business affairs at Electronic Arts, a position in which he negotiated licensing agreements with big names in sports and music. His team pioneered the template for music licensing agreements that continues to be the model used by the industry today.

Ward later made the move to Microsoft Game Studios and then to Activision Blizzard, the world’s largest pure-play video game company, where he led worldwide studios on titles such as the Call of Duty franchise.

Ahead of The Game

Ward took another leap into the unknown in 2012 when he founded LottoInteractive.

The spark for the company came when he was speaking to the CEO of the Georgia state lottery, who was seeing the industry decline because it was struggling to attract a younger audience. Recognizing a gap in the market, LottoInteractive developed skill-based mobile instant win games for audiences accustomed to online entertainment.

While Ward’s award-winning company is revolutionizing the lottery industry, it does not come without its challenges. Compared to other tech startups, growth is slower due to tight government regulations, he said.

Ward faced a potential roadblock in 2014 during the relative infancy of LottoInteractive: lobbyists in the U.S. were working hard on federal legislation to ban online gambling. Ward moved swiftly, hiring a lobbyist in Washington and meeting with members of Congress on Capitol Hill.

“As a Canadian, I never imagined I’d be walking around those halls, talking to these people,” he said. The bills ultimately failed in Congress, marking a big success for LottoInteractive, which is now seeing more opportunities for online lotteries in the U.S.

For Ward, his early years practising as a litigator were formative for developing the transferable skills that he now relies on as a CEO. “Agile thinking, rapid issue identification, and problem solving are essential in business.”

His advice for UAlberta Law students: “Take some chances early in your career; you’ll gain unique experience.”

“And don’t believe everything others tell you!”