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Dylan Slaney - SVP Gaming.
As an iGaming industry newcomer, I’ve seen the impact and pace of change first-hand over the last six months. iGaming moves quickly: players seek new experiences, regulations change, new markets open, pressures increase in more established iGaming markets, and the operator landscape shifts through M&A activity. We all need to keep ahead of these trends and changing dynamics to be relevant in an industry where pace is defined by speed.
To better understand our future, we must stay close to the factors that shape it. Below, I explore six key iGaming trends that may impact the digital gaming space, drive innovation and shape the next 12 months & beyond.
1. Content Commoditization
There’s no doubt within this industry that content is king. The iGaming market is built on a plethora of content covering a variety of different player experiences but standing out from the crowd is becoming increasingly difficult. More than 50 games launch every month on top of the 3,000 titles that already exist in the market today, but how many of these games are truly different? Those that outperform the rest share some common traits: captivating themes and unique math or reel arrays (Megaways from Big Time Gaming being a great example of this). Additional content strategies that have proven success are to bring known content/math models from land-based casinos to digital (SG Digital leads this charge with our WMS®, Bally® and Barcrest® brands) and to develop exclusive content purely based on what players like (a concept that Netflix and other streaming services have done to great success). Bottom line, there are many shining examples of how suppliers create new & exciting player experiences in a crowded content marketplace.
New games present distinct challenges. How can this game stand out? Gone are the days when just promoting it as Game of the Week guaranteed success. A game can launch with fantastic mechanics, a riveting theme, and any number of bells and whistles, but it has to be presented in a neat, understandable package. Game suppliers and operators alike must conquer the question: How can we present this to players in the simplest, most enticing way? With so much content available, presenting it as is just won’t cut it. Promoting the game in new, refreshing ways will bring its performance to the next level.
2. Regulatory headwinds across Europe as markets mature
Regulation should always be top-of-mind for anyone involved in the digital gaming industry. Today, though, it should be more prevalent than ever. Markets are established, and players have come to expect a certain level of service and quality from game manufacturers and operators. As the markets grow, regulators will continue to evaluate their policies and implement new ones to keep the industry accountable.
Changing and adapting to regulations is a fact of life within our industry, and operators and suppliers must lead this change in a more proactive manner. The recent Competition and
Markets Authority changes in the U.K. have provided insight into how there is a difference of interpretation across the industry, and we aren’t leading the change with a consolidated voice and view. Regulators play a huge role in the industry and staying ahead of the regulatory curve to lead this change is paramount for operators and suppliers -- collectively, we need to do more.
3. Player acquisition and retention
Many operators are facing the challenge of how to attain new players and retain existing players. The costs associated with this are increasing across the board, and with advertising restrictions and responsible gaming now key parts of the industry, when, where and how to contact these players is more challenging than ever before. Retaining a player requires that we fully understand their demographics, psychographics and playing habits, which enables companies to create enhanced, personalised experiences based on their behaviour. Many industries have been through this same shift, and iGaming is no different, personalization significantly enhances relevance. Data, science, technology, and a true understanding of player behaviour that permeates all the way through the organisation will create the backbone for smarter, more effective player acquisition and retention strategies. Players want to be engaged, and within the construct of responsible gaming there is a tremendous opportunity to reward and encourage the right play while highlighting when players are displaying the wrong type of behaviour and suggesting or automatically implementing ways to stop or amend this behaviour.
4. True Mobile Understanding
Nearly 70 percent of our iGaming turnover today is generated via a mobile device. This number will only increase as mobile adoption increases and the migration from desktop continues. As an industry, we need to truly understand mobile to create better experiences that fit within the palm of your hand. The debate over portrait or landscape mode continues, and mobile UX is in its infancy across the industry, but those operators that have curated exciting and engaging mobile experiences for their players (Mr Green, Leo Vegas, Pokerstars to name but a few) are leading the way. Mobile offers the ability to create a truly immersive and personalised experience and will drive the future growth of the industry.
5. Data & AI
I spent eight years of my career at a leading data science company. At the heart of their philosophy was customer centricity and data-driven decision making. Never is that philosophy more true and apt than today for our industry. From responsible gaming to providing players with personalised experiences, data will play a huge part, and now, with new machine learning techniques and AI, we can process this data quicker to make faster and more informed decisions than ever before in real time. From building recommendation engines for games to spotting abnormal player behaviour, the combination of data & AI offers our industry the chance to create better player experiences and to enable them to maintain greater control and adhere to responsible gaming regulations and standards.
At an enterprise software level, machine learning and AI have a huge role to play. Traditional dashboards will soon become a thing of the past and be replaced by intuitive, well-designed interfaces that don’t just tell you what the problem is, but also suggest how and where to improve. Machine Learning will be at the forefront of helping employees spend more time on the insight and decisions that matter, rather than data collation and reporting.
6. Industry M&A
Mergers and Acquisitions are a part of life within the iGaming industry. Having only been in the industry six months, I’ve been part of one (Scientific Games’ acquisition of NYX/OpenBet) and seen another six major acquisitions change and shape our industry. Operators and suppliers are looking to consolidate, find complementary/new assets, attain and leverage scale, or gain footholds in new markets - the U.S. being key for this post PASPA ruling. It’s exciting to see the industry change, and every piece of activity brings a new challenge and opportunity. One thing is for sure...there’s more to come in this space!
The future looks bright.
There’s a powerful lesson here: the industry constantly changes, becoming a newer, better version of the gaming industry that would be unrecognizable to us even ten years back. With so many factors at play and so many influencers shaping this space, gaming is an ever-more-thrilling climb to new heights. Technology and innovation drive us upward as we constantly work to improve our products, our customers, and our industry.