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 😀
Exclusive Q&A with Kevin Gosschalk, CEO of Arkose Labs
Arkose Labs has carved a niche for itself in the online fraud-fighting front by launching something that nobody has done before: by offering financial guarantee against credential stuffing attacks for the users of its security system.
Kevin Gosschalk, CEO of Arkose Labs, talks here about this confident initiative. He says this move stems from his belief that “security vendors should stand behind their products and services in a real, tangible way.”
He also offers his insights about the impact of credential stuffing in general and specifically in gambling and gaming industry.
Read on for his forthright and succinct views on fighting online frauds and a host of related topics.
Q. Let’s start with a quick introduction of yourself. Could you tell us about your education, career and interests?
A. I am a native of Brisbane, Australia — born and raised –and graduated from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) with a degree in Interactive Entertainment. Prior to founding Arkose Labs, I worked in biomedical research where I used machine vision technology for the early detection of diabetes. I later developed technology that assisted adults with intellectual differences in social settings. I believe my unique background brings a bit of a unique mindset to fighting fraud.
Q. How do you look back to the days of founding Arkose Labs? What was the vision when founding Arkose Labs?
A. The original vision was an ambitious one, but one I believe we can achieve: to make the internet safe for all good users. Online fraud is the biggest issue facing businesses and consumers today. I didn’t have a background in the fraud industry prior to starting Arkose Labs, but experienced these issues as a user of the internet. We want to be aggressive in fighting fraud and eliminate it rather than mitigate it. In the 5 years since the company started, we have made great strides in achieving our goal. We grew from a two-person startup in Brisbane to a company that now employs hundreds with offices in multiple continents. We also just closed our biggest quarter ever. The company has been on a great growth trajectory.
Q. Do you think credential stuffing is going to become one of the biggest financial threats for online businesses? Do share the reasons if you think so?
A. We believe it already is one of the biggest threats to online businesses today. This is because they are simple attacks to carry out, but the potential financial motivation is very high. There is an organised, underground cybercrime ecosystem that provides cheap and easy access to freshly stolen data and the latest automated tools, allowing fraudsters to attack enterprises at scale.
The low barrier to entry means that only a small percentage of these attempts have to be successful to turn a profit. Once they have compromised an account, attackers have many different ways to monetize it. They can steal money directly from the account, resell accounts or personal information, use the account to launder money, and much more.
Q. Are gambling and gaming industry particularly vulnerable to credential stuffing? Our readers would be eager to hear your insights into this.
A. Yes, the gambling and online gaming industry is a high target for credential stuffing attacks. One reason for this is that they are usually linked with a bank account or payment mechanism, so fraudsters look to compromise these accounts to gain access to that information. A compromised account can also be used to launder stolen money. Unlike bank accounts, these accounts are generally less protected; users may not have two-factor authentication enabled as they would on a financial account, for example. Online gambling is becoming more popular by the day, which means there is an ever-increasing amount of accounts for fraudsters to target.
Q. Arkose Labs is the first and perhaps the only company that offers a financial guarantee against credential stuffing attacks? Could you tell us the thought process behind such an unprecedented offer?
A. We believe security vendors should stand behind their products and services in a real, tangible way. Companies count on us to protect their most valuable data and keep their platforms safe from account compromises. We launched this warranty to show we are a true partner with our clients and we are putting our money where our mouth is. We feel offering such a warranty gives clients peace of mind that 24/7, we are there to help them defend against evolving attacks. This warranty provides commercial assurance that Arkose Labs will deliver the most robust protection against credential stuffing attacks available on the market today. It includes up to $1 million recoverable for covered losses and a 48-hour remediation SLA (service level guarantee). We do this in a user-centric way, without impacting good consumers’ experience.
Q. From the outside, the credential stuffing guarantee appears an incredibly brave move. How confident are you in your technology and processes?
A. We are incredibly confident. We would not have launched this warranty if we did not believe we could back what we say. We have years of experience protecting some of the largest, global enterprises from credential stuffing attacks.
Q. Have the credential stuffing attacks intensified on your systems after the warranty? How was the response from the hackers and ransomware attackers towards the announcement?
A. We have not seen any noticeable increase in attack intensity due to the warranty announcement. There is always a constant stream of attacks that we protect clients from. We do see a seasonality increase in attack intensity during Q4 and we anticipate heightened attacks during the holiday season.
Q. What are the systems and technologies Arkose Labs has developed to prevent the credential stuffing attacks? Could you talk about the journey through the technology development?
A. The Arkose Labs platform performs sophisticated real-time analysis of traffic to look for even the most subtle indicators of fraud. However, this is done without collecting large sets of personal information, as they can cause a privacy and compliance headache. Instead, the platform focuses on behavior, device, and network characteristics and how they are connected
Arkose Labs classifies and segments traffic based on the risk profile. Triaging traffic, based on whether it is likely to be legitimate, a bot, or human fraudster, provides actionable intelligence that can inform the system of any secondary screening required.
So the platform combines risk assessments with challenges, by leveraging a continuous feedback loop to improve fraud detection rates, while decreasing challenge rates for good users. Embedded machine learning will provide advanced anomaly detection and evolving protection, taking the burden away from in-house teams.
Q. Let’s shift the focus to the effect of the pandemic, lockdown and work-from-home on ransomware and credential stuffing attacks? What were the trends of online frauds during the Covid-19 days?
A. Not surprisingly, online fraud spiked during the height of the pandemic and related lockdowns. Since so many more people were online, to buy everything from toilet paper to cars and everything in between, there were many more targets for fraudsters to take advantage of. Furthermore, with massively increased traffic levels, it was easier for fraudsters to “blend in” with food traffic. Even as we are slowly moving past the pandemic, consumer digital habits acquired during the time have become permanent, and as such we are seeing permanently higher levels of digital traffic as well as fraud attacks targeting digital accounts.
Q. Arkose Labs has been growing tremendously and winning laurels along the way. What are the developments and expansions in the pipeline for the near future for Arkose Labs?
A. At Arkose Labs we are always innovating. We take feedback from our clients and use that to continually improve the product. We plan to continue to grow our team, expand into new geographies, and innovate to defend against the latest evolving fraud trends.
Q. Finally, what are your advises and suggestions to businesses, especially those in the gaming and gambling sector, on how to tackle online frauds and threats like credential stuffing?
A. The key is to really understand how fraudsters attack you and how they make money. You almost have to think like a fraudster. The way a fraudster will attack a gambling platform, and how they monetize such attacks, will differ from attacks against an online banking service, social media site, or streaming service. Work backward to figure out how they get money out of your platform and how to make that more difficult. It could be by making it more costly to buy proxies by utilizing robust IP intelligence. Or device fingerprint forcing them to invest in more software. You can trigger additional step-up measures for suspicious traffic. It’s important to not just rely on passive signals, as fraudsters can not only get around those, but it also can lead to false positives.
By making the ratio unbalanced on how much time and money fraudsters have to spend on attacks versus what they get out of them, ultimately they will move on and do something else. That’s the most effective way to stop fraud.
Exclusive Q&A with Lars Kollind, Head of Business Development at iSoftBet
We present here an insightful interview with, Lars Kollind, Head of Business Development at iSoftBet.
He talks here about his career, his role in iSoftBet, the expansion plans and the impressive content that the company offers. He particularly emphasizes on the aspects that iSoftBet focuses on before entering a new market. He also describes the variety and quality of games content at the company possesses.
Here we go!
Q. Let’s start with a brief intro about yourself. Tell us about your career and interests. Our readers would love to hear that.
A. Hi! I’m Lars Kollind, Head of Business Development at iSoftBet. In my role, I work closely with our commercial and marketing teams to build and strengthen internal and external relationships, further develop sales. I leverage customer needs & insights to implement strategies that increase revenue – always on the hunt for new business opportunities, including entering new markets.
At iSoftBet, all our activities tie into our corporate values of curiosity, respect and passion as we look to bring amazing gaming experiences to players in regulated markets all over the globe.
I have spent more than a decade in senior commercial, sales and marketing roles within the gaming sector for some of the industry’s largest suppliers.
Q. You joined iSoftBet in November 2020. How has been the journey so far? Could you describe some landmarks?
A. It’s been a period of tremendous growth, both for me as an individual and for the company. I can say that I adapted easily, thanks to the very welcoming and involved team at iSoftBet. As for highlights, my most important success has been the introduction to Latin America. Another important landmark would be iSoftBet’s content going live with Jokerstar in Germany. We have a lot more in the pipeline, and I’m excited to see how we will progress in this sense.
Q. Tell us more about your partnership with Jokerstar in the German market.
A. The German market offers some very interesting opportunities and we’ve worked hard from a regulatory standpoint to be able to bring real value to operators there.
Jokerstar gives us a platform to reach German players in what is still a market that is in the process of finding its feet, and we are eager to see what we can achieve. It is a third-generation casino operator with more than 165 gambling halls in Germany, over 1000 employees and a whopping 200.000 customers each year, now testing the waters in the online environment.
The partnership allows us to reach a wide audience and we’re more than excited to see how our games will perform with Jokerstar.
Q. There have been recent news reports about iSoftBet’s expansion plans in Latin America as well. What’s the present position and what would be the next steps?
A. It is no secret Latin America is a hugely exciting continent, having an expected GGR of over $2.5bn by 2025 in regulated markets [as per Vixo GamblingCompliance], with so much expectation as more markets embrace frameworks. We’ve grown strongly in the region with a number of key commercial deals, including Dotworkers, Doradobet and Universal Soft in recent months, with plenty more to come.
We’ve recently signed with MeridianBet as well, a partnership that will see our top slots live across Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Malta, as well as Peru in Latin America. Of course, we look forward to expanding even more in these areas, as well as entering new markets in the coming year.
Q. Now, could you enlighten our readers about your expansion plans?
A. Besides continuing to deliver amazing slots to the iGaming industry, we are also focusing on our aggregation platform. It brings an incredibly diverse array of content to market with impressive velocity, which can be extremely useful to operators in emerging and newly regulated markets.
We pride ourselves on entering regulated markets swiftly and safely, with our methodical, detailed approach seeing us now live in 20 jurisdictions, most recently Greece, with two more countries in the pipeline. We will reveal more in the coming months, but there’s plenty to look forward to.
Q. Let’s shift the focus on to the games and solutions that iSoftBet offers. What makes your company stand out in the reasonably crowded gaming content space?
A. Aggregation is an important aspect of an offering for operators today and we’re dedicated to offering the most dynamic range of games for our partners to truly excel, including exclusive content in certain territories. We offer extensive benefits for both operators and providers in this sense, fostering long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships.
Our aggregation platform allows us to bring unmatched value to our partners. Bringing more than 8,000 games from more than 85 suppliers in the industry to operators via one single integration, our platform makes a huge amount of content available to them, while they can also use our collection of advanced player engagement solutions to enhance gameplay even further.
Both our proprietary games and our aggregation partner’s games can be elevated with our engagement tools – tournaments (iNgame), achievements, free spins, jackpots and cash drops, regulatory widgets, data analysis, with more to be revealed soon.
By combining all these, we’re able to bring a highly impressive collection of content to audiences.
Q. New technologies and innovations come up in a number of verticals related to gaming: Crypto currency, blockchain, machine learning, big data analysis, you name it. Is the rapid emergence of such innovations a challenge or an opportunity for a business developer?
A. Not only do we work in iGaming, but we are a tech company at heart, and keeping our finger on the pulse of developments is vital. Our CTO, Neal Garman, recently released a white paper detailing our seven-year plan, where he outlines the important steps not just iSoftBet, but the industry needs to make to ensure we remain a vibrant entertainment sector.
In such a fast-paced environment, it is no surprise to see more innovation occur and we endeavour to do our best to lead the conversation.
Q. Finally, a question on iSoftBet’s tagline: Serious Fun. That’s really a cool one! How did it come about?
It is all about aligning with our new company ethos. “Serious Fun” comes from us ensuring to deliver our partners and our people fun experiences in a professional way. The talent, creativity, and dedication of our teams make this possible, all while following our mission and vision, and respecting our values.
Our vision is to create amazing gaming experiences and our mission is to deliver high quality products that inspire, innovate and entertain, by always placing our people, partners and the player at the heart of what we do. Our values are Respect, Curiosity, and Passion, representing the core of our company culture.
Exclusive Q&A with Sujit Unni, Chief Technology Officer at Paysafe
How important are payment methods and speed of payment processing important for customer experience in online sports betting?
We talked with Sujit Unni, Chief Technology Officer at Paysafe, which had conducted a survey among US punters. He provided insightful and detailed answers on this and several other questions.
Read on for some fascinating perspectives on the past, present and future of the payment process and its role in online sports betting.
Q. Let’s start with the recent survey that Paysafe conducted among US sports bettors. What are the key takeaways from the survey?
A. Here are some of the conclusions we came to after surveying sports bettors in eight regulated US states:
Available payment methods influence players’ decision to use a brand: To fully capitalize on the growing opportunity of online sports betting, sportsbook operators should strongly focus on the player experience at the checkout. The payment methods that are available and the security of said methods are critical for players when it comes to evaluating which brand they choose to place their bets with.
Transaction security factors highly into choice of sportsbook: When asked to identify which criterion was most important when depositing funds with a sports-betting brand, bettors said the security of the transaction was more important than any other characteristic.
Easy and fast payments are critical: Just as important to players is the speed and ease with which they receive their winnings when they wish to cash out. According to four fifths (79%) of US sports bettors we surveyed, they have a negative impression of the sportsbook when their expectations related to cash out speeds aren’t met. This can result in the sportsbook taking a large reputation hit. A poor reputation spreads among players and can result in a significant brake on its growth.
The online sportsbooks themselves must be fast and efficient: It’s important to make sure the sportsbook’s payment platform is moving quickly and efficiently. The easier it is for a player to access payouts, the more likely they will be to continue using the platform. Those who adapt to these demands will position themselves well for significant growth.
Q. Everybody talks about the speed of payments. How does speed factor into the mobile process as a whole, and how does it contribute to the overall success of an online business, especially an iGaming business?
A. iGaming is changing more rapidly right now than ever before. Mobile’s role in this evolution is huge, given apps’ potential for speed and the strong relationship we’re able to build with end-users: We’re right there, in their pockets, whenever they pick up their phone.
But proximity alone is not enough. End-users will grow bored or burnt out if their experiences are slow, or if we’re not constantly offering new experiences and improving what’s already available.
Increasing the speed of our processes and the user experience is critical in that every second of load time anywhere within the app literally costs every company money, especially in iGaming, which is less of a considered purchase than traditional mobile shopping or eCommerce. iGaming customers are making fluid, real-time decisions; the more time they have to wait to get to the next step, the less patient they become and the more likely they are to drop off.
Speed is a function of many factors, and there are a number of processes that power the payments experience. We work with mobile DevOps platform Bitrise to increase the speed of all of the mobile processes that power the user experiences leading up to and including payments, as well as the behind-the-scenes operational processes that influence our ability to release updates to the app stores more frequently and faster.
The payments part of the mobile process is a particularly expensive place to be slow. Out-pacing competitors in that process is what’s creating the winners in this space.
Q. What are the ways by which Paysafe tries to accelerate its mobile processes and e-payments?
A. If you look at it from a very high level, the two primary ways we accelerate our processes and e-payments are through having the best talent and technology.
We stay competitive on the talent side by attracting and – just as importantly –
retaining the best people in the world in this space. We have been able to build on their expertise to constantly improve the speed at which we deliver value for merchants and consumers alike.
When you are investing in this level of talent, it’s important that you are not wasting their skills on things like troubleshooting, waiting around hours to test builds, or doing manual fixes to problems that could be automated. So, on the technology side, our mobile engineering teams use Bitrise to test all new code, reduce build times from hours to minutes, identify issues that might interfere with the user experience, and so on, before submitting releases to the app stores.
Our goal is to always do everything as fast as possible, without sacrificing our standards of quality and security.
Q. It looks like the ‘slow and steady’ will not win the races anymore. But could the focus on speed–especially in payment processing–be detrimental to the fraud-prevention measures?
A. Building on my last answer, it’s imperative to not sacrifice security to save time. I will say that one of the upsides of investing in technology like Bitrise is that it allows us to get the best of both worlds: Speed and security. In our mobile engineering processes, for example, Bitrise allows us to automatically run a number of security tests and checks that were previously slow, manual labour. Now they take up less time, are more consistently executed, and actually free up the team to work on innovations for our merchants and consumers. That’s not to say that there aren’t manual checks involved anymore, but those are fewer and more meaningful.
Q. Could you talk about the recent innovations that Paysafe brought to the payments ecosystem?
A. Given the nature of our business we are constantly evolving our value proposition and anchor around our philosophy of customer outcomes. We tend to think of innovation around key pillars including:
- Evolving our business to be a true cloud-based platform that supports multi-sided markets. This allows existing customers and merchants to access new features and stay engaged with our platform. The recent introduction of Openbucks, a product that allows store gift cards to be used at point of sale at other merchants in the Paysafe network, benefits customers who can now use restricted gift cards across a wider merchant base, and allows our merchants to accept a non-traditional payment method.
- Building out hybrid-business models with the wider finance eco-system through the launch of capabilities like pop-up banking with traditional banks like TSB. While serving as a revenue stream, this also allows banks like TSB to optimize their branch footprint and enables customers to access simple transactions using the Paysafe network.
We have also spearheaded a suite of embedded finance offerings with partners like Amazon and Google. Our offerings of cash to digital, digital wallets and processor agnostic payment methods makes us one of the few firms that can offer industry specific open loop and closed loop solutions.
Q. Allow me now to bring a customer perspective. What benefits do companies, especially those in the iGaming sector, gain from integrating the accelerated payment solutions of Paysafe?
A. Given our “born in gaming” origins, we believe we are one of the few payment platforms in the market that has a full suite of solutions to support both store based and online operators. This means our combination of brick and mortar, wallet, and cash solutions allow customers to seamlessly transact and play across the in-store and online offerings of our gaming merchants.
Solutions like our single integration API give our gaming merchants access to payment processing platforms that are accessible in multiple geographies through different processors, a host of local payment methods and a global network of banks. This in effect improves the customer experience and reduces revenue losses from declined transactions.
Effective risk and fraud management is a key differentiator, given the deep expertise and geographical coverage we provide the industry. Our investment in our risk and fraud infrastructure protects both merchants and customers while ensuring a seamless payments experience.
Q. The new technologies in the payment space have blurred the boundaries of national currencies to an extent. What are your thoughts on the influence of the laws and regulations of different countries on the growth of payment processes, especially for a highly regulated industry like iGaming?
A. The world is definitely a smaller place from a payments perspective today than it was five or six years back, largely enabled by the rapid adoption of disruptive technologies like blockchain, API driven ecosystems, and standardization of messaging services.
Like any financial service, payments are heavily influenced by regulation – and fortunately in a good way for the most part. Governments have been quick at recognizing how critical a scalable and democratized payments infrastructure is to drive economic growth and, as a result, we see regulation being enacted in in many markets. This is helping build out global payment ecosystems – for instance, UPI in India, Open Banking in Europe, or FedNow in the US. As this ecosystem continues to evolve, we see the emergence of trends like pay by bank and local payment methods continuing to grab market share from the card schemes, which will benefit both consumers and merchants.
iGaming is still in its infancy and, in certain markets like the US, can ride this wave of an open payments ecosystem to provide a far superior experience to its customers. Regulation in gaming is still evolving and it will look to more mature markets in Europe for insight as it starts to put in place legislation for the industry. Paysafe is leveraging its established presence in the EU to bring insight and product offerings to the US market that allow our gaming partners to not only grow their business in line with established legislation but also to build and offer products that consider future legislation that we think could be enacted.
Q. What is your take on the growth of mobile payments over the last few years?
A. Smartphones are a part of our daily lives today and are to a large degree considered indispensable. In the few years leading up to the pandemic, we were already seeing steady growth in mobile payments. The onset of the pandemic accelerated that growth by as much as 75% in some segments.
Some of the key drivers are:
The influence of digital transformation: As industry sectors, particularly financial services, have increasingly been disrupted and transformed, the mobile phone has emerged as an important customer engagement channel. As customer behavior matured to using mobile phones as a transaction medium, the need to support payments drove adoption.
The rise of emerging digital economies: The other big influence was the rise of emerging economies. India, for example, had a head start in becoming a digital economy with its population armed with mobile phones before they even had access to desktop computers. Countries like India that are supported by digital friendly government regulations, have a large unbanked population and an industry that’s very willing to provide payment and banking solutions, witnessed exponential growth in mobile payments.
Apps, wallets, and subscription services: As the number of apps hosted on Apple and Android platforms grew, people are increasingly using mobile phones to purchase a range of services, from buying tickets to ordering rides and subscription services. This adoption led to the creation of a full payment supportive ecosystem, including wallets (Apple Pay, Google Pay, and our own Skrill digital wallet, among others) and emerging payments volumes driven by a growing library of subscription services.
Payments continue to become easy and reliable: Having a credit or a debit card used to be the only way to make a payment on a mobile phone. However, payments have evolved to keep up with the emerging digital landscape. Today beyond these traditional payment methods, customers can pay with their bank accounts, cash, and by using over 200 local payment methods specific to geographies –which has democratized payments. That coupled with regulation to promote open banking systems and reliable real-time payments as well as faster payment infrastructure has helped drive the surge of mobile payments.
Increasingly secure and safe transactions: Wherever there is a financial transaction there is also the risk of fraud. Because of this, mobile phones have evolved to continually make transactions both convenient and safe. Whether it’s by using face ID, biometrics or contactless payments, the ability of the manufacturers to deliver secure payments was critical in driving the wider adoption of mobile payments.
Q. Let’s conclude with something about the future. Could you reveal some of the changes that you foresee coming in the mobile space? What about the payments sector?
A. With app store operators seeing pressure from governments around the world to loosen their grips on the mobile ecosystem – especially in terms of payments – we expect to see some massive changes soon.
Alternative app stores that allow more app choices for end-users and more payment processing choices for app store publishers are benefitting both merchants and consumers.
Additionally, we expect the consumer’s need for speed to increase even further, widening the divide between those businesses that can deliver on this expectation and those that can’t.
We’re confident that, between the talent of our team and partners like Bitrise, we’ll land on the right side of that divide.
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