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ICE 2020 – Things to watch out for…

Well, its almost here – ICE 2020! I always look forward to ICE (and the sore feet afterwards) to get inspiration for the next year, and this year is looking to be even more exciting than usual with everyone’s “Vision 2020” strategies finally coming to fruition (you just know everyone has a 20/20 project – it’s just too good a name to not use).

This post will hopefully help you make the most of the event, with a couple of my predictions and some “fitness tips” for making it through all the way to the end of the conference.

Things to watch out for:

1.    Engagement – with the industry taking problem gambling more seriously than ever, creating a more immersive experience with the customer is going to be a big trend. That means everyone will have “engagement” as part of their pitch – tips for how to spot the real thing next week

2.    Beyond Bonuses – you can already see this trend emerging with achievements becoming more common – I’m looking forward to how we as an industry innovate this year. Get ready to be inspired!

3.    Photorealism vs Cartoonish – the chasm between the stunning visuals of Yggdrasil and companions and the historical cartoonish look of games will continue but we will start seeing the impact on the rest of the operator environment in terms of branding, messaging and operator level gamification

ICE 2020 Trend – Engagement

Customer engagement is something I care passionately about and this trend is something I find very exciting within the industry. When trying to evaluate whether a product would improve engagement, here are some of the things I look for:

Focus: so the magic bit of engagement is its focus – the customer. Being on the operator side of the equation we can often get very caught up with what we want from the relationship. A sign of a great engagement tool is that they put the customer front and centre of every part of their product.

Measurements and Metrics: OK, so I’m Austrian so I love precision – it is in my blood – but an engagement product that doesn’t let me measure the impact of changes is important for everyone to have. Its also important for the tool to play nicely with my other metrics like linger time, number of transactions and GGR.

Method: this is a subtle one – the more generic a product is, the more it can be bent to your every whim. If it’s a product to boost engagement, then it should have some very firm opinions about where to start, and then be flexible enough to evolve with customer requirements. So what you are after is an offering that, while it can be used for anything, has some strong opinions about how you can use it immediately.

ICE 2020 Trend – Beyond Bonuses

Let me say this now – I love bonuses. I’m not saying that bonuses are going to disappear from the industry, and as a keen player – send me more! What I am saying is that as an industry the pressure on responsible gambling will push us to find different ways of encouraging and incentivising customers in the near future.

Naturally, as an advocate of Gamification in all its forms (tournaments, leaderboards, achievements, missions, quests, capabilities) I would push their use in the move beyond bonuses (BB), but they certainly aren’t the only tool. When looking at solutions, I like to think in terms of the 3B’s:

Brand positioning: in the bonus rush of the last decade we all got lost in the sea of “free” – bets, spins, entries. When presented with the BB world, what does your selection of a particular technique or product say about your brand?

Barriers: while there are obvious barriers that we can put in place to prevent the wrong incentive being given to the wrong customer – spins, wallet size, turnover, geography – what are the “natural” barriers being offered by a BB solution? An example might be automatic increases in difficulty/complexity/scarcity of a reward are good “natural” mechanics to prevent exploitation.

Breadth: something that frustrated almost every operator in the Bonus world was that it sometimes felt the choice was between a sniper rifle and carpet bombing customers. BB solutions should (ideally) offer something closer to the soft gambling world where daily quests of varying intensity are mixed with more immersive journeys.

ICE 2020 Trend – Photorealism vs Cartoonishness

Every couple of years I catch myself looking at a slot or casino game and thinking “well, that’s it, nothing ever will be as visually spectacular as that, game over” and then being joyfully surprised when I see the next generation of visuals.

During my time in the industry, I’ve seen the battle between operators shift from product features to liquidity through to bonuses. During this time visually we’ve come from the dark ages of VGA graphics (remember the old download poker clients?) to current stunning animation and cut scenes. Betting sites have gone from being the discount corner store piled high with anything the operator could sell to carefully curated experiences.

Which brings us to today – the trend towards higher and higher fidelity graphics is now emphatic presenting operators with a choice about which games to promote. The answer is naturally not universal and is very much about your customers and potential customers. Here are a few suggestions to consider:

Attitude: introducing new gameplay is very different from introducing a new game. Slots have a common mechanic (spin, win, feature) that is decades old. Varying too far from the winning formula can have an alienating. Changing both the visual appearance of a game AND the mechanics at the same time might not work with your customers.

Sharp edges: how does the visual style sit with your brand – this applies to both photorealistic and cartoonish game branding. While this was important in the past, I believe it will be even more important as the edges of gameplay spillover (via tournaments, achievements etc) into the rest of your system. Some brands already have a jarring experience between product verticals (casino vs slots vs sports) which deters customers from straying too far from their favourite part of the product, undermining cross-promotional efforts.

Exhaustion: Ever come out of the latest blockbuster movie feeling physically exhausted? Watching the sheer number of visual elements on some games can be as overwhelming as watching an Avengers movie without a toilet break. This by itself isn’t a good reason not to have visually spectacular games, but it is a good reason to think carefully about how you will support your customers and encourage them to continue to come back to them. Incorporating elements of gamification (eg daily quests) lets a customer enjoy the richness of the experience over a longer period.

ICE 2020 Trend – Survival

The wasteland of the last day of ICE is no more – with more people than ever to see, you need to be still upright while the stands are being pulled down around you! After a decade of attendance, here are the CompetitionLabs team’s top tips for getting through to the end:

Get some fresh air: gone are the days of the thick haze of smoke outside any gaming conference, and it is easy to forget how stifling the atmosphere is inside. Popping out for 15 minutes to have a chat is our favourite way of keeping the conversation to the point – you don’t want to be standing too long outside in London during February

Don’t book breakfast meetings at ExCEL: It always takes you longer to get there than you’d anticipate and starting the day swearing at TfL under your breath waiting for the DLR isn’t going to help

Eat: might be obvious but a stash of your favourite snack food is a great way to connect – be it a pack of biltong, TimTams or Hershey’s. And it saves you from joining the 20-minute queue at Costa

Pack light: Carrying your laptop for 3 days straight can feel like you are standing in for Atlas with the world on your shoulders by the end. Not to mention the nightmare of remembering which club you left it in the day after the night before.

Pace: Anyone who has been out with someone from CompetitionLabs will know that we aren’t advocating not drinking. What we are saying (after much pain) is cancelling your first meeting for the next day after the first

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