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Exclusive Q&A with Michael Hudson, CEO and Co-Founder of GameBake

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Reading Time: 12 minutes

 

We have here with us an entrepreneur who started out quite early in gaming.

Michael Hudson, CEO and Co-Founder of GameBake, talks here about a host of topics:

  • His beginnings as a game developer, his quest to develop a ‘fair, transparent, platform agnostic solution” that allows seamless publishing of games across platforms;
  • His instinct of “running away from the light” and looking for “fringe areas”;
  • What game developers can expect from GameBake;
  • And about the gaming industry across the globe.

This is a bit longer than our usual interviews. But it contains nuanced perspectives expressed in straightforward language that the whole industry should look up and take note.

Over to the interview now!

Q. To start off, tell us about your career. Our readers love to hear top entrepreneurs talk about themselves, especially someone who became one at the age of 13!

A. 13 definitely feels like a lifetime ago now! But yes, I started my career in the games industry at 13 although my life as an entrepreneur goes back a little further than that. Since day one, I’ve always tried to make money – some way, somehow, from car washing to selling sweets at school (the demand was there, with only “healthy” options available at lunch times!)

Like they are for many of us, games have always been of keen interest to me, but unlike most, I always wanted to find out what makes a game and how I could make my own. I think it’s those kinds of questions that I’ve always asked that lead me towards teaching myself how to first build websites to host flash games, and then how to actually build the games themselves.

I first started exploring game development with a tool called GameMaker which is still around today, albeit much more developed than when I started with it all those years ago. Eventually I transitioned to working with Flash and building games for websites such as Newgrounds, which eventually led me to the sponsorship/licensing model and how I made my first $200 licensing my first flash game. My next flash game made over $15,000 in fees and that is when I started to take things a little more seriously because big numbers were involved. Considering I had turned down King (yes, the same King that went on to develop the hit we all know and love) I was clearly starting to move towards developing my hobby into a legit business, in a very natural way.

Since then it has been a rollercoaster with ups, downs and many loops, but it has led me to where I am today, with an amazing team (and now, friends), where we can be part of and help build the future of the gaming industry.

Q. How and why did you co-found GameBake? And what does the name signify?

A. GameBake was born out of a genuine business need. As developers, we’ve learned that it’s best to knuckle down and focus on a single product, a single goal that we can all work hard on to achieve great things.

As developers under our previous studio name, we worked on many projects, from hyper-casual games (before that became an industry term) right down to free-to-play titles. This experience was amazing but always positioned us in a similar place. Our publishers wanted the games to be playable everywhere but we only had so much manpower and hours in the day to actually achieve the lofty goals being asked of us. Integrated 3, 4 or 5 SDKs is annoying enough, but having to do that plus integrate the tech of every single platform plus find new services that work on and with these platforms plus making a new specific version for each platform (and all of that with no centralised system to easily and efficiently track everything), well, it wasn’t great, let’s leave it at that.

GameBake was a product of all of this. Our internal struggles and frustrations that led us to seeing a need in the market that, not only we wanted to solve, but many others wanted a solution for, and that is why we pivoted away from a development studio to go all-in with our KILN technology that allows us to open up the whole gaming market to developers globally, no matter how big or small you are.

What does the name signify? Well, we were named Yello at the very start so GameBake was part of our development as we pushed forwards into new markets and started using better technology. GameBake itself doesn’t have a specific meaning behind it, but for us, it describes what we do in one word, which is: baking games with the technology needed for everybody to access new amazing platforms and markets globally.

Q. How exactly does GameBake work? What kind of support can a gaming developer and publisher expect from your company?

A. How the tech works behind the scenes is probably a question more for our amazing CTO, so maybe you’ll find out in the next interview! But the concept is pretty simple really:-

• Upload your APK to GameBake, the very same APK used for uploading to Google Play;
• Check the boxes for the services your game uses; E.g. GameAnalytics, Tenjin, or Firebase, Adjust and so on;
• Check which stores you want to deploy to, e.g. Huawei AppGallery;
• Job done! Our tech (called KILN) takes care of the rest and spits out a compiled version of your game with all the required tech needed to run on the chosen platforms you are looking to distribute to.

Of course, store pages need to be built for each platform and IDs from other services need to be swapped for new IDs from those services, but for the new platforms you go live on. We are working closely with most of the big industry players to try and automate as much of this as possible and we are well on our way to achieving this.

As for what to expect from GameBake, well I would say a fair, transparent, platform agnostic solution that works! If you want to use our tech to make getting to new platforms easier, but want to make partnerships with the platforms yourself (i.e. setup features yourself and so on), that is fine, we are able to facilitate this and will do all we can to provide what you need with who you need. If what you are looking for is a more hands-on approach from us, one where we setup all your games features, run the UA and more then we can also work with you like that as well.

For GameBake, flexibility is key as we see the technology and ecosystem we are building becoming a vital piece of the development puzzle that will enable easy and commercially viable ways to distribute and scale globally.

Q. Changing the status quo of game distribution is not just unglamorous but kind of swimming against the tide too. What motivated you to choose that path?

A. That is a great way of putting it, although I may go a step further and say it’s more like climbing up a waterfall. I have always been interested in the more fringe areas of any industry, especially within gaming. That may be because I can’t help but look at the potential of anything, but it could also be somewhat from necessity – as when launching our own games we never had huge marketing budgets to compete with so I and the team have had to look into areas that were cost effective.

Over the years, what I have found is that everybody always runs towards the light and it’s the ones running away from the light that are called crazy, but if everybody is standing around that light then it very quickly gets blocked. In short – the people running towards the light will find it very hard to find their way towards it. While those running away, and normally that’s in a different direction to everyone else, will normally find themselves in a niche but lucrative area that they can dominate. It’s only once that light starts burning brighter that others pay attention.

This is how I see distribution right now. The bright light is iOS and Google Play on mobile, with many other options, but all faded into the darkness. And now, the bright lights are glowing and the industry is starting to take notice of what is possible outside of the norm. Now it won’t be instantaneous, but we are seeing growth everyday and the more we all work together to open up these platforms and these markets, the greater the industry as a whole – and the more opportunity there will be for everybody globally to enter and become successful.

Q. What are the options available for games developers outside the duopoly of Google Play store and Apple Appstore as publishing platforms? Importantly, what are the attractions for the developers to opt for such off the beaten path destinations?

A. For those developing native games for mobile (Apps, basically) I would suggest looking into the alternative android market. I personally don’t like the word “alternative” as it gives off a vibe of these platforms being “lesser” than Google Play and this frankly isn’t the case, but we need to describe these stores somehow. These stores are low hanging fruit for most people, as if you can compile an APK, which you can, then you can deploy on these stores and the 100s of millions of users that they have.

Now, I’m not saying that this is an easy feat, or an approach that will guarantee success, far from it, but why you wouldn’t secure your brand and IP, and take advantage of these amazing platforms, makes no sense. To me, It’s a no brainer! Often, what we hear from the market is not that developers don’t want to distribute to these stores, but that they’re faced by complexities in being able to achieve this and in making it commercially viable. GameBake is fixing the headache faced by developers by providing an easy route to deploy to these stores, whilst providing the means to be able to leverage the services required in today’s industry to monetise and scale games effectively.

Outside of the App Stores, there are still a wealth of opportunities. In this space, you need to think carefully about the technology you are building your game in, because web distribution generally means HTML5 games, and for many this just isn’t an option. The opportunities on the web are amazing if approached in the right way, but it takes some time to port and for many it just isn’t worth the time and effort commercially.

The same goes for social/instant gaming platforms, such as Facebook, WeChat, Snap and many more. Your games need to be in HTML5 but more importantly, you need to think about how you approach each of these platforms. You can’t just launch a game and expect it to scale, you need to launch it under the platforms features and leverage them to really take advantage of what makes each of these platforms special.

For me, the opportunities are huge but the barrier to entry is also just as big with tons of awkward tech to integrate, porting games being required and the biggest barrier is the lack of services to allow you to properly scale your game but again, that is what we are here for and we are building. If you want to deploy to stores, port to HTML5, explore new markets and leverage your current service partners to do all of this, you can do – with GameBake.

Q. How can games profit from social media platforms like Facebook Gaming?

A. This is something I am asked a lot and the answer is simple because it is no different than a game on the App Store. If your game monetises via Facebook Ads, you can leverage Facebook Audience Network to monetise it, if done via purchases, then you can use the platforms payments system. Nothing drastic needs to change in how you monetise, I mean you don’t need to start asking for donations, because there is no other way.

I guess the real question here is ‘what are the best ways to monetise on social platforms such as Facebook?’. This is a difficult one to provide a rounded answer to that will please everybody but hopefully the below will help:-

• If you are leveraging IAPs then keep in mind that Apple “currently” stops payments being processed on these platforms if playing from an iOS device. We have all seen the recent news stories though so I expect this to change over the next 12 months opening iAPs up across platforms. Until then though, just keep this in mind.
• Hyper-Casual games have an advantage on social platforms as they have such a broad target audience which makes it “simpler” to make these games go viral. That being said, not all gameplay mechanics work and this must be considered when launching on a platform such as Facebook or Snap. Just because a game was a hit in the App Store, it doesn’t mean you can just throw the game as is on social platforms and expect it to work.
• When launching any game on social platforms, just think about how to leverage that platform’s features. For example, Facebook has a tournament mode that allows players to start tournaments that are playable directly from their timeline. With the right setup and design this can be used to get players sharing with friends which can create a viral UA channel to your game. Most social platforms have specific features like this and you need to leverage them to bring users to your game, keep them engaged and coming back and of course, then monetise them.

Q. What can be done to minimize the hurdles of finance and resource that game developers face while optimizing the games for different platforms? How near are we to a software alchemy that makes games publishing-ready for different platforms?

A. Of course I’m going to say that the time is right now – with GameBake! There are no integrations required, meaning access to all supported Android channels via a single upload. We are still working hard to make this even more simple so developers globally can focus on what’s important and that is creating amazing games. Also, HTML5 platforms still have a big barrier to entry for most but again, GameBake is working hard to solve this to provide a way for developers to easily access these platforms and deploy easily to them all.

There is never going to be a way for developers to not put in any work at all. Success comes from hard work and this still rings true when targeting new platforms, be that new app stores opr social platforms, you need to research and find out who the end users are downloading and playing your games on any given platform and then adapt what you do to engage (and of course monetise said users). There isn’t a solution to stop resources being required for game design, monetisation or user acquisition but, how we see it, these are the pieces of the puzzle that studios want to keep control of. It is the deployment that is a pain in the arse mixed with a lack of a real ecosystem, it makes it near impossible to even consider distribution outside of the core stores. This is what we want to and are solving, simplifying and improving the pieces of the puzzle that are needed for studios globally to take advantage of and focus their resources and efforts on creating, managing and scaling amazing games.

Q. How are the games you work with received and played outside the marquee markets of Europe and North America? Any significant development in Asia, Africa, Australia or South America?

A. It’s a hard question to answer as it is so different for every game and you need to tackle each game on a somewhat market by market basis. In general, a game that is enjoyed in the US is likely to be enjoyed in India as well, I mean we are all humans at the end of the day, the difference comes in when trying to find success at scale in specific markets and on specific platforms.

China is probably the best example to use here because the market is huge, but it is notoriously difficult to enter without properly understanding the intricacies of the market itself. By this I mean it isn’t just localising your games text that you need to think about, but how your game looks and plays, how it is distributed to players in the market and how you can monetise it. Markets, like China’s, have restrictions on games and you need to plan how you will tackle all of this to be able to enter.

China is an extreme case, but other markets do need similar considerations when it comes to localisation. But you also need to bear in mind that your distribution strategy for Apple and Google aren’t the number one everywhere. In India, for example, Google Play is big but there are many other platforms that open up 100s of millions of users. Iran is another market with restrictions in place, therefore Google Play does not work there, so working with local stores is your entry into a market of over 70 million. Russia is another market where you need to understand the local platforms and how players play games to really localise a game properly and effectively.

So going back to what I’d said at the start, a great game is a great game no matter where you launch in the world, but making a commercial success of that game in various markets requires some thought, planning and good execution.

Q. Asia perhaps deserves more focus as a gaming market. Which Asian countries do you reckon have the most potential market as games industry markets?

A. I completely agree, Asia is mostly forgotten by western developers and it’s a shame as the potential across the region is massive. China is the world’s biggest gaming market but that is the market everyone talks about so let’s put that to one side as it isn’t an easy nut to crack.

If I were to suggest markets that have the potential for most developers of casual games to grow in the coming months and years, I would look to a market such as Indonesia where the scale you can achieve in that market alone is huge. However, a lot of the time, it just isn’t commercially viable and therefore not thought about, but with the right knowledge and partners you can access more platforms that really open up a market like this and can turn what is a good market for Google Play games into a very strong one for those thinking outside of the box.

South Korea and Japan are both strong markets for specific genres but again, you need to really think about how you approach these markets. In general, Asia as a whole has amazing potential, as well as many other regions globally.

Q. Are tight regulations or lack of clear-cut regulations a bottleneck for growth of gaming outside Europe and North America? We’d love your insight into the role regulations play in the gaming industry’s growth.

A. Regulations always hinder growth, it is the nature of regulations but of course, sometimes they are necessary. China takes it to another level! I can’t even imagine how big that market would be right now if they didn’t have these tight regulations holding it back. I understand the reasons behind why the government has set them in place (although for “Children’s health” isn’t the real reason, in my opinion) but it is holding back the market’s growth which is a big shame.

I do see the need for regulation sometimes though, for example, to stop Apple and Google tightening their grip on the market and forcing us all into paying a huge tax on the games that have been worked on so hard to get them where they are. Therefore regulations can probably help the market grow in certain cases but overall, the less governments get involved in the industry the better for the industry’s growth in the coming years.

Q. And finally, how do you get your hair so beautiful?
A. It’s all natural 😀

Interviews

A centenary celebration like no other

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

Mark McGuiness, Head of Marketing and Casino at The Football Pools, talks to European Gaming about the brand’s 100-year history and how it remains just as popular today as it did in its heyday.

 

The Football Pools is approaching its centenary season. Can you tell us more about the incredible history behind the brand?

The Football Pools was born in 1923 in a small office in Liverpool, England. Originally called Littlewoods Football Pools, three friends invested £50 of their own money each to print the first 4,000 coupons and then distributed them outside Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground. But it was the entrepreneurial spirit of one of the trio, John Moores, that pushed the business into becoming the biggest football pools operator the world has ever seen. At its height, more than 14 million people played The Pools each week, staking more than £50m. For the past 99 years, playing the Football Pools has become a tradition for generations of families and over that time we have paid out billions of pounds to players. As the brand approaches its centenary season, we continue to provide fun, entertainment and plenty of big wins to millions of players every week.

How have the Football Pools and The Pools evolved to ensure it remains relevant in what is a fast-moving industry?

Popularity always ebbs and flows and this is just part and parcel of operating any brand in any industry. But the Football Pools and The Pools remain hugely popular, especially among those looking for big wins from small stakes. The Football Pools offers our portfolio of traditional jackpot games, such as the football-based score draw game of Classic Pools where players are in with the chance of scooping the £3m top prize each week. Customers have the option to play as they go, or they can subscribe so that they never miss an opportunity to play their favourite numbers. The Pools is home to our Football Pools Games, sportsbook and casino. Of course, all games can be played online and via both desktop and mobile. We have been pursuing a digital transformation strategy for several years now and have one of the best mobile gambling propositions in the UK market.

Do your Classic Pools Games appeal to younger audiences? If so, how have you ensured they tap into their psyche and deliver the experiences they are seeking?

Classic Pools has a growing audience of online players, which can skew younger than traditional Pools players. But regardless of audience age, we see two general player types – those that analyse Head 2 Head statistics from previous matches to identify those that may result in a score draw and other players that prefer to use their favourite numbers as the means to select possible matches that might end in the score draw result.

To help Classic Pools games appeal to a broad audience, including new players, we have ensured the game interface is fast, intuitive and of course mobile friendly. That’s why we have two versions of the game presentation, one being just selecting numbers and the other the detailed H-2-H game fixture view. We are always improving our game UI and have plans to introduce improvements and gamification in the coming months.

Social interaction is becoming an increasingly important factor to players when deciding where and what to play. How have you maintained a sense of community online?

Interaction is absolutely key to fostering a genuine connection between consumer and brand and a sense of community is what has kept people playing The Pools for decades. We have maintained this online with a large social media following on Facebook and Twitter. This is a bit different to the early days when collectors would visit customers in their homes to collect their entries for that particular game round, but it works just as well. In addition to social media, we have game leaderboards which were actually introduced long before “social” was born. This is because we have always understood that customers wish to compete, learn and improve. Leaderboards provide a way to visualise these emotional requirements and participation in the game.

For a gambling brand to hit 100 years is an incredible achievement. How will you mark the occasion?

We have some really exciting activities planned to mark our centenary year, one of which was the appointment of the new Pools Panel – this includes football legend Michael Owen and its first-ever female expert, former England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis. Michael is also the face of a major promotional campaign that we are running with our brilliant affiliate partners. We will be giving away 10,000 free entries into our Classic Pools game, which has a £3m jackpot up for grabs every week as well as an enhanced £350,000 prize pot. Delivering a successful product for 100 years is no mean feat, so we plan to celebrate in style and in a way that makes our players feel part of our success and valued for their loyalty.

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Interviews

Roundtable – Continent 8’s Leaders and Legends

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Roundtable - Continent 8’s Leaders and Legends
Reading Time: 8 minutes

 

The Continent 8 Leaders and Legends series has been running for several years now, bringing together some of the industry’s biggest names to share their thoughts, insights and experiences on the hottest trends of the moment. The latest Leaders and Legends took place at the KPMG Gibraltar eSummit and saw heavyweights Shay Segev (Chief Executive Officer at DAZN), Joanne Whittaker (Chief Executive Officer at Betfred), Edo Haitin (Chief Executive Officer at Playtech Live) and Vaughan Lewis (Chief Strategy Officer at 888 Holdings) take to the stage to discuss a wide range of topics from the review of the UK Gambling Act to the future of retail in an increasingly digital world.

 

Moderator:

Micky Swindale – Partner, Global Gaming Team – KPMG

 

Panellists:

  • Edo Haitin – Chief Executive Officer – Playtech Live
  • Vaughan Lewis – Chief Strategy Officer – 888 Holdings
  • Shay Segev – Chief Executive Officer – DAZN
  • Joanne Whittaker – Chief Executive Officer – Betfred

 

MS: What changes do you expect to see as a result of the UK government’s review of the Gambling Act? What impact might tighter restrictions have on the market and how are you preparing for them?

JW: We just need to know what is coming. The review is hanging over us and we just need to be able to move on as an industry. We are agile, we evolve. We have heard some of the expected changes around slot stake limits, enhanced affordability checks, the levy and so on but until we know exactly what changes are coming, it is hard to properly prepare. Of course, as a business, we are trying to get ready for what is to come. I think initially there was a bit of panic, but we have got passed that now. We had a significant hit on retail when the FOBT legislation came in a few years ago, but we survived that and when I talk to Fred, he always says these legislative changes come in cycles. So, we are watching, we will respond, and I hope that we are given time to implement the technology changes that will be required. But right now, it’s just a case of wait and see.

VL: I think getting the line right as to where gambling tips over from personalisation, enjoyment and the promotion of great products and offers into something that becomes exploitative is the really challenging area that the review of the Gambling Act is trying to address. For us, we just want clarity about what are the standards that we need to meet. Once operators have that clarity, we then back ourselves to be able to provide a great player experience but with high levels of safety and within the standards set. At the moment, we are not clear on what standards we are trying to meet so our hope is that through the review process we get that clarity. Once any changes from the review have been implemented, we can then refocus on delivering the best player experience.

EH: Coming from the provider side, my perspective is perhaps a bit different. I believe that it is in the product to solve issues around responsible gambling and affordability and to deliver the right player experience. This also needs to be done in a way that the regulator can see that the player is doing so within their affordability. So, it is our responsibility as a provider to give our operators the products to do this. On the flip side, and especially as a big provider, I do feel for smaller businesses as the bar for entry into the market is being set even higher. So, regulators should bear in mind that there are companies making their first move that do need clarity and guidance as to what is expected of them.

 

ML: All jurisdictions, including Gibraltar, are having to quickly adapt to market changes. But what makes Gibraltar such an appealing jurisdiction to companies such as DAZN?

SS: We recently announced that DAZN would be going into betting with the launch of DAZN Bet and that we would be using Gibraltar as the hub for that. Having personally been based in Gibraltar for the last ten years I have found the jurisdiction to be amazing both in terms of the government’s support for the industry and the infrastructure it has provided, as well as the ability to establish a business here. It is also highly respected in terms of its regulatory framework and standards, and the talent that can be accessed here is second to none. This made it a very easy decision for us to set up DAZN Bet in Gibraltar.

 

MS: As the industry continues to grow, we have seen a real wave of M&A activity crash over the sector. With no sign of these mega deals slowing down, is now the right time for smaller businesses to position themselves for a takeover? And what makes for an attractive acquisition target?

VL: We are not seeing any slowdown in the trend of mega transactions. We have been through multiple waves of M&A and deals just keep getting bigger and bigger. We just closed a £2bn transaction but that now seems relatively small. Just before Christmas, Flutter undertook a £2bn acquisition and didn’t even have an investor call to explain it, it’s kind of like a bolt-on for them now. And then a few weeks ago you have the MGM takeover of LeoVegas, which it called “bite-size”. We are definitely in a new phase of the industry where these huge businesses have been created and significant value has been generated, and that is starting to really drive the M&A cycle.

At the medium and smaller end, we are still seeing a lot of activity. These transactions often have one or more characteristics that they share including unique products and content that you just can’t get elsewhere or that you can’t create quickly enough, market access, media convergence and other attributes that drive outsized value. This is where the future focus of M&A will be.

 

MS: The big four operators now account for more than 50% of the UK market share, so these companies can leverage the advantages of scale. But what impact does this have on consumer choice?

EH: We are an entertainment business, and the future of entertainment cannot be controlled by big companies. We see today that the biggest entertainers in the world are individuals that pick up their smartphones and cameras and stream videos on YouTube to tens of millions of followers. That makes them the big force in entertainment. I understand why companies undertake M&A and want to drive scale, but will this stop other businesses from entering the industry, I don’t think so. The nature of entertainment is so fluid that what is popular now will be different in five years’ time and we will most likely consume it differently. Once you work with video and content, you really pay attention to this and when we look at the market and what is in front of us, we see our immediate rivals but also those on the sidelines of the industry. Consolidation might block the immediate entry for some companies, but I do not believe that it will block the variety and versatility of the products that are offered to players.

SS: I think we might also see consolidation between industries with new experiences coming in. Where betting and gaming were perhaps seen as unethical just a few years ago, big businesses from outside of the sector are undoubtedly now looking at it. I think the US opening up has changed perceptions, too. For example, ESPN and Disney have indicated they are considering betting as a potential market for them to explore.

 

MS: The industry is expanding internationally with new jurisdictions embracing licensing and regulation all of the time. But with most taking a state-by-state or province-by-province approach, just how tough is it for operators to be truly global?

VL: If you were to ask all operators and suppliers if you could wave a magic wand and have harmonised rules across the world, I think the vast majority would say that is the dream scenario. It would enable us to really focus on product innovation and development, player protection and ultimately creating a much better consumer experience rather than having to spend time tailoring the platform for each market. We are one of the few operators that have a global, scalable platform that can run in multiple jurisdictions, but we have to tailor that to each market. If you look at the US, the investment we have to put into each state to meet the local tax and disclosure regulations sucks up a lot of time and diverts resources away from other areas that could be much more productive in terms of making great products and really looking after players. The more we can move towards standardised approaches, especially in the area of player protection, the better it will be for all stakeholders.

EH: Any company that wants to enter regulated markets such as the UK really needs to have a strong compliance team in place. This team is not there to scare you but to give you direction when it comes to developing products within the guidelines set. For us, one of the biggest challenges in the US is that we have to create a dedicated studio in each of the states that we enter based on the Wire Act of 1961. At the time I couldn’t understand why we could not just build one studio, but now we are up and running I see it as a good barrier to the competition. Really, you need to embrace regulation and understand the meaning behind it, even if you do not agree with it. For us as a live casino provider business, having to create a studio in each of the states we target is not optimal. But if you can understand the playground you are in and cater to that culture, it is possible to succeed.

 

MS: In all of our talk about online, are we losing sight of the land-based punter? Is it true that once they have gone online, they will never come back to retail betting?

JW: During Covid, it was a real fear for our business. Our retail shops were forced to close which saw our online business grow significantly but now restrictions have been lifted we have seen retail fully bounce back. We are really pleased with how the high street is performing and we can see that our customers are enjoying the betting shop experience and especially the social element. Long may that continue.

SS: You can’t ignore that betting shops are more part of the past than the future of the industry. I do think there is an opportunity to reinvent the betting shop experience, which some operators are doing with things like self-service betting terminals. There is something there but, clearly, it is not on the rise and consumers are transitioning to digital. That said, there is room to create something synergistic between retail and online.

JW: I agree there will not be new betting shops coming but at the turnover level customers are returning and they want to come to the shop. Our digital business has normalised, but we are in a much stronger position than we were pre-Covid. There is a place for the high street; I believe in SSBT and omnichannel but customers still want to come into the retail environment. We are also seeing this in other territories. In our US business, the retail performance is strong in the casinos where we have partnerships and in South Africa, we have a significant retail presence, too, although it is a very different retail offering with a much bigger footprint with 30-40 tills. I understand the importance of digital, but retail will survive.

VL: As an industry, we do not do a great job of standing up and talking about the value of the products we are selling. Retail is back to where it was post-pandemic because people love it, and they go to the shops because it is a fun thing to do. It is similar to the convergence of media and online, so long as we are providing something of value to consumers then that’s great. I think we should be proud of the service and entertainment we provide and for me, retail betting still provides a huge amount of enjoyment for customers. Betting shops never really went away, they just had to close due to the pandemic and they remain a core part of the industry.

EH: I’m going to take the middle ground here. Retail is back and I think part of the reason why players are enjoying going to betting shops is that it was taken away from them for a long time. But I do agree with Shay that reinventing betting shops is an important thing. This includes self-service and other experiences that will drive people to retail as well as online. As a live provider, we are often asked if we are cannibalising land-based by my answer is always no. We are an extension of the business, and I don’t believe we can really replace the experience of going to a casino.

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Interviews

Personalisation in sportsbook roundtable

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Personalisation in sportsbook roundtable
Reading Time: 7 minutes

 

Leonid Pertsovskiy, Chief Executive Officer at Betby

If the pandemic has taught us anything about the current landscape of sportsbetting, it is that immersive experiences that facilitate modern requirements and short attention spans are becoming essential to survival. With the space becoming increasingly saturated with similar offerings and products, creating a more engaging user journey is key to standing out and ultimately retaining business.

 

How have you pivoted your offering to facilitate modern customer preferences? Or is it a case of it if aint broke, dont fix it?

At Betby, we have done a lot over the past couple of years to adjust our sportsbook to the unique preferences of modern users, even though the general needs and requirements have remained consistent over the past five, or even ten years. The end user still wants to see their favourite events on a platform, as well as less distractions, higher limits, and instant bet settlement, and our sportsbook offering has evolved over the years to facilitate these preferences and attract a broader demographic of user.

Nowadays, our platform features high-quality content, including markets on more than 90 traditional sports, major tournament that stretch across the globe, an impressive selection of esports and virtual sports events, and the cherry on the cake: our proprietary Betby.Games range.

The remarkable variety of our offering is what helps us to stand out from the crowd and engage new users. A year ago, nobody could have predicted that we would be able to offer Kabaddi, Golf and Formula 1 live to our audiences, but our sportsbook has really opened up avenues to the rest of the world in a drive to provide followers of all sports with suitable markets, and live odds. It is important to be flexible to satisfy client needs, while offering same level of adaptation when talking about risk-management, localisation strategies, and promotional campaigns. Investing in flexibility means investing in long-term stability and adjusting to the post-pandemic sportsbook landscape.

 

Were seeing plenty of changes in user behaviour and betting patterns, led by a surge in in-playbetting, Prop Bets, and Bet-Builder tools. What are you doing to capitalise on this phenomenon?

We’ve certainly played with the idea of dividing up old-school audiences from the newcomers, due to the differences in their behaviours. We understand experienced punters don’t particularly enjoy new features or innovation within sportsbook, and therefore require a simplified layout and interface that they can relate to, while on the other side of the spectrum, new users enjoy being met with an abundance of new technologies and products thanks to their pursuit of instant gratification.

Our recent focus has been on boosting gamification and the social aspects of our sportsbook, which aligns neatly with modern user requirements, such as needing consistent entertainment and various aspects of interaction in their experiences.

 

Have any innovations in the sportsbetting space have caught your attention?

We see a lot of innovations in the field of data analysis and recommendation systems where reporting and business intelligence (BI) tools have become more integral, and the times of buying market share with traffic investments are over. Our clients see just how easily and effectively they can optimise their marketing budgets using our BI analytics system, and this is exciting for both us and them.

Another innovation that we have started to see more of this past year is contests being created occurring between passionate sport followers. While casino tournaments have existed for the best art of a decade now, sportsbook was always seen as less capable of supporting engaging competitions, especially between punters, which is why we recently introduced a sportsbook tournaments engine, which has shown fantastic results.

 

With the worlds of esports and sports betting blending at an unprecedented rate, is it time that esports merits its own tab in a sportsbook?

Yes, absolutely. Esports has an entirely different audience to regular sports, as well as a distinct streaming-centric user interface, and even a different approach to risk-management in sportsbook and marketing strategy.

Esports as a vertical is very much here to stay, and competitions are extremely popular when it comes to the betting experience that surrounds their unique events, with passionate fans that enjoy placing a wide selection of bets on them. It is a very rare for a user to follow both traditional sports as well as esports, let alone combine the two in one betslip, and for this reason it should have its own tab that is managed differently to the classic sportsbook. Esports is an entirely different space to that of traditional sports, and with interaction between players and esports followers occurring in so many ways, it needs to be respected as a phenomenon.

 

Bobby Longhurst, Managing Director at Sportingtech

If the pandemic has taught us anything about the current landscape of sports betting, it is that immersive experiences that facilitate modern requirements and short attention spans are becoming essential to survival. With the space becoming increasingly saturated with similar offerings and products, creating a more engaging user journey is key to standing out and ultimately retaining business.

 

How have you pivoted your offering to facilitate modern customer preferences? Or is it a case of ‘it if ain’t broke, don’t fix it’?

We’re constantly evolving and catering our offering not only to new customer types but to specific markets. Rather than resting on our laurels, we’re consistently dedicated to incorporating new ideas and solutions into the Sportingtech Quantum platform. Attention to detail is imperative; if the customer believes there has been a lack of effort in the offering put before them, the overall success of the operation will be jeopardised. Localisation, and by extension player profiling, is what sets an offering apart from the competition, and this is something that Sportingtech prioritises – most prominently displayed in our proprietary Popular Bets and Popular Events widgets. In today’s industry, the idea that a one-size-fits-all solution can be offered is one that just doesn’t stand up. Our Quantum platform also has modularity at its core, and this is something that can’t be overlooked – if operators are handed the reins, they can personalise their own offering and subsequently make the experience better for the end user.

 

We’re seeing plenty of changes in user behaviour and betting patterns, led by a surge in ‘in-play’ betting, Prop Bets, and Bet Builder tools. What are you doing to capitalise on this phenomenon?

The rising prominence of these new kinds of betting is clear to see, but this relatively new environment can be a confusing place to navigate for newcomers. Sportingtech’s Bet Assist offering is ideally placed, making traversing platforms more straightforward for players – it generates automated betting tips based on historical data, live-score and AI analysis, covering both pre-match and in-play markets across seven sports and with complete bet slip integration, and has been proven to increase user engagement, retention and turnover rates. In addition, our FastBet solution, which enables users to wager multiple single bets across all sports at the touch of a button without creating a betslip, is the only feature of its kind on the market. Players are likely to place more bets than they usually would with a standard betslip.

 

Have any innovations in the sports betting space caught your attention?

Sports betting is a hub of innovation, and our Popular Bets and Popular Events widgets are testament to this. They allow operators to display a particular market’s current top-10 bets and top-10 events, automatically refreshing every five minutes. Offering our operator customers a localised, intuitive way to immediately boost engagement is extremely gratifying. With minimum effort on the operators’ part, they can be confident that their players are constantly being shown the most popular bets and events at any one time. Our priority is to provide flexibility of use, allowing operators to display the bets and events on different areas of their sites while also being optimised for mobile and desktop. It is important that they auto-populate according to the operators’ markets, which has gone a long way to making this the hassle-free and personalised engagement tool we set out to make.

 

With the worlds of esports and sports betting blending at an unprecedented rate, is it time that esports merited its own tab in a sportsbook?

Sportingtech’s authority in Latin America is well documented, and we are seeing that esports’ popularity in these markets is on a steep upward trajectory. New opportunities frequently arise in emerging markets for the introduction of new verticals, and our platform offers a quick and easy way to market, offering the very best of what esports has to deliver. Bettors in LatAm markets have fallen in love with esports and its popularity looks set to continue to grow – esports will certainly merit its own place in a sportsbook if this trend continues.

 

Suren Khachatryan, founder and CEO of Technamin 

If the pandemic has taught us anything about the current landscape of sports betting, it is that immersive experiences that facilitate modern requirements and short attention spans are becoming essential to survival. With the space becoming increasingly saturated with similar offerings and products, creating a more engaging user journey is key to standing out and ultimately retaining business.

 

How have you pivoted your offering to facilitate modern customer preferences? Or is it a case of ‘it if ain’t broke, don’t fix it’?

Innovation is one of the cornerstones of Technamin. We could have easily stuck with the traditional approach to a sportsbook, but we decided to take things a step further and develop a sportsbook that is ideally suited to the needs of both operators and bettors. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy may apply to all sportsbooks, as their functionalities are by and large the same. However, it’s the approach that differs. Our approach is to create a product that is easily customisable to each partner’s preference and offers each end user a personalised sports betting experience.

 

We’re seeing plenty of changes in user behaviour and betting patterns, led by a surge in ‘in-play’ betting, Prop Bets, and Bet Builder tools. What are you doing to capitalise on this phenomenon?

With the development of technology and innovation, users are displaying a decreased attention span. Therefore, the majority of players prefer matches with rapid changes and easy solutions. Technamin works hard to provide the maximum amount of live matches and in-play betting throughout the year with the most reliable odds. Our professional team of traders and risk managers make sure we provide the most accurate data to our partners. Bet Builder and Prop Bets are the other tools that make the players’ journey more enjoyable and multifunctional. These are the features that our team continually develops.

 

Have any innovations in the sports betting space caught your attention?

I think we are living in the best of times when it comes to innovation in sports betting. We are very keen on how crypto payments are going to evolve in the sector. These currencies are already taking the industry by storm, and things are only going to progress from there. Another feature we are very excited about is the addition of VR and augmented reality technology that is going to create a more immersive experience for the end user. Overall, every technological innovation is exciting because it can be a gateway to something breathtaking.

 

With the worlds of esports and sports betting blending at an unprecedented rate, is it time that esports merited its own tab in a sportsbook?

Certainly so. Regardless of where each of us stands in the “are esports real sports?” debate, the facts clearly show that esports are here to stay and are popular when it comes to the betting experience. The fans are passionate about them and love to bet on the events. It’s just another fresh and innovative side of sports betting that we must embrace and build on. And the growing demand is something that operators must meet if they wish to maintain their popularity in the industry. Of course, we at Technamin are here to help with that!

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