How will the online gaming industry change over the next 5 years?
Steven Grech discusses the online gaming sphere
Words by Steven Grech.
“The online gaming space will see more of a focus on differentiated customer experiences and the addition of new betting products and unique gaming content by taking advantage of sustaining innovations.”
What have the last five years in gaming looked like?
In a nutshell, we have seen more of a focus and concerted effort on data-driven decision making, digital product design and digital product optimisation, and personalisation. Both the larger operators and innovative startups are moving beyond driving a ton of traffic from various traffic sources to a standard casino & sportsbook experience with standard features, the same casino game providers, same betting odds and markets, and hoping customers will convert mainly due to the big bonuses on offer. We’ve started to see a shift and a focus on creating differentiated online casinos and sportsbooks with unique content, quick and easy payments supported by a unique and fast customer experience which allows customers to feel at ease and safe whilst having fun. Regulation across Europe has also continued to keep operators on their toes, ensuring their products and marketing strategies abide by new rules and regulations -especially in the UK.
So, what about the next five years?
In the next five years, we will see operators focus more on providing their customers with a unique product experience through the use of clean data (both big and small) and utilising the latest in emerging sustaining technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Voice, VR & AR – more on these below.
In the short term (next year to two years), we’ll see more operators diversifying their product portfolios, adopting new betting products such as esports and also investing in their own unique betting content either in-house or through strategic partnerships. We’ve recently seen Mr Green partner up with Colossus Bets to diversify their sports betting product through jackpot bets.
Customers have grown accustomed to certain experiences when shopping at Amazon, watching movies on Netflix and listening to music on Spotify. They don’t think about the device they are using, they just expect the same seamless experience across devices– an experience that saves them time and allows them to achieve their goals with ease and minimal thought. The online gaming operators who want to be ahead of the rest in the next five years, will need to match these world-class digital products in order to really stand out from the overcrowded marketplace by offering their customers the experience they deserve and want.
More of a focus on data
Understanding player behaviour and what makes them tick will be critical for success in the next five years. The importance of collecting and utilising one set of data from UX click data, and user research to deeper business intelligence data to make informed product and content decisions.
We will see more operators using real-time data to connect to their products, serving relevant and personalised content in real-time. Using insights from this data in a more prescriptive and predictive way will help shape customer experiences in the industry.
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
With AI and ML we’ll see more of a focus on customer satisfaction, customer protection, and business automation.
The financial services industry is seeing the use of ML track their customers’ happiness. By analysing their user activity, smart machines can spot potential account closure before it occurs. They can also track spending patterns and customer behavior to offer tailored financial advice. This could translate to better responsible gaming in the gaming industry, spotting problem gamblers before problems arise and offering helpful advice in real time.
The use of AI and ML will be applied to product experiences, with more operators personalising their products and content as well as designing fluid User Interfaces that react and change based on previous user behaviour and predicted user behavioural models. More than 80% of TV shows on Netflix are found through its recommendation engine. Machine learning is integral to this process at Netflix, as the platform caters to more than 100 million subscribers. Due to its impact on customer retention, Netflix has valued the ROI of these algorithms at £1 billion a year.
One area I’d also expect to see AI and ML applied to is in the automation of casino management and sportsbook management. What if casino managers and executives could focus more on the strategy and leave the extraction of player data, cleaning of the data, setting up and applying custom bonuses to each player e.g. cash back bonuses, and then notifying the player if they want to be notified to smart machines? Same applies for automating customer support beyond first line support – connecting player questions to smart machines that can query and bring back more complex answers on bonus questions and issues with deposits and withdrawals.
The machines won’t take over (just yet), however, they will definitely help us humans focus more on the strategic elements of business whilst these smart machines work through the day-to-day tasks.
Thanks to speech recognition reaching 95% accuracy in some cases, the mainstream is now rapidly adopting smart speakers and assistants. Amazon’s Echo install base went from more than 10 million to more than 30 million units in 2017, while developers are seizing on incentives to build voice skills. New ways to shop, listen to music, get the news and bet will emerge from this natural interface.
Paddy Power has built voice skills in Amazon Echo late last year and Unibet (Kindred) launched their own voice-controlled sports betting app. Voice-activated experiences will continue to emerge in online gaming in the next five years allowing customers to log in to websites, deposit and play games without the need to physically interact with their devices, whether they’re playing a slot, live casino or placing a bet on their favourite sports team! Will NetEnt, Microgaming, PlayN’Go, Scientific Games and other casino content and sportsbook content providers like Kambi, SBTech and others build voice support into their products? We’ll wait and see, however, this won’t stop operators from building their own custom voice interfaces that integrate with their betting products.
Will Voice kill traditional online casinos and sportsbooks? Not for now, however, the traditional way of interacting with casino and sportsbook products is definitely going to change with the arrival of better voice technology.
This emerging technology is definitely one that could disrupt the online gaming market and shift the focus away from website engagement and mobile apps.
Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality
Augmented reality has been around for some time now; however, we will see more of it in the online gaming space in the next five years. From a casino point of view, we could see casino bonus hunts taken “offline”, taking advantage of the mobile generation giving them clues as to where these surprise ‘bonuses’ are hidden on a map and once discovered and opened they are rewarded with a bonus which they can use in the casino, bridging the offline and online worlds and creating a Pokemon-esk experience for players.
Virtual Reality has also made some progress in the past couple of years, however content and product design are still at its infancy stage in online gaming, and it will take a couple more years to truly take off once more game providers besides NetEnt and Microgaming create more content for this medium, and once the hardware is adopted by more players.
Blockchain & Cryptocurrencies
Blockchain and Crypto have been all the rage in the last few years and one outstanding example is Coinbase’s userbase quadrupling since the start of 2017. We’ll only see more blockchain driven products entering the market, be it from a payments and fraud and anti-money laundering point of view and also from a casino and sportsbook platform perspective. The use of Cryptocurrencies in gaming has been around for some time with bitcoin and we’ll see more operators accepting Cryptocurrencies as a payment method. Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) could also act as an alternative investment vehicle for innovative start-ups in the industry to pursue their vision as long as the necessary blockchain infrastructure to legally derisk this space is put into place.
Given the infancy of blockchain and crypto and its application in online gaming, we’ll see who, how, where, and when the early adopters take advantage of this emerging technology.
What are your thoughts on the next five years in online gaming?
I’m at the World Gaming Executive Summit (WGES) next month in Barcelona discussing a similar topic on emerging technologies outside of the online gaming industry. If you’re going to WGES let’s connect.
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