High Roller

In late September Paddy Power announced Roller, a product/brand aimed specifically at real-money casino gamers on Apple’s premium touchscreen devices. In the release, Nick Abrahams, MD for Roller said: “There’s an estimated nine million iPad and iPhone users in the UK, and this market is set to grow. Yet until now there has been no actual real money casino app available that makes use of the potential of these devices. Customers like apps – they offer a more seamless experience – which is why they’ve become a part of everyday life. The apps customers told us they enjoy the most are the ones that make best use of the device’s unique capabilities to give a better experience. That’s what Roller is all about – delivering a better, real-money mobile casino experience.”
Roller itself was developed in conjunction with Viaden Gaming, experts in app design for Apple’s devices. It features 19 casino games including roulette, blackjack and slots, with the games making use of the interactive nature of the device, such as touchscreen ‘spin the wheel’ functionality for roulette and an interactive slot bonus round that uses the accelerometer in the device to provide ‘tilt’ functionality.
Being specifically designed for iPhone and iPad means the app also features high quality graphics and full integration of the player’s music library to promise a better user experience on mobile or tablet than has previously been possible.

Casino International Online caught up with Nick to talk about this exciting new brand:

Casino International Online (CIO): Please tell us a bit about your own background.
Nick Abrahams (NA): I’m a relative internet gambling veteran, having spent six years at Betfair from 2004 before moving to Paddy Power in 2011. At Betfair I worked across a few different areas, helping launch a variety of different gaming verticals, devising some of their Exchange Games and Zero Lounge Casino products ending up as Head of Commercial Strategy and Analysis for the business. Prior to that I’d spent some time in strategy consulting and ran my own casino affiliate business.

CIO: How did Roller come into being?
NA: The idea essentially came from the disappointing experiences I’d had trying to use real-money casino products on my iPhone and iPad and then hearing the same experience being reflected back by customers. We had customers telling us “I prefer using my iPad to my PC when I’m at home” but the industry wasn’t catering for these customers in any successful format. In terms of coming up with the brand, we spent a good number of weeks batting around names and identities until we hit upon Roller as you see it today. I was looking back on some of the others from the early stages – Roller as a brand shines out compared to our early efforts.

CIO: What advantages/opportunities does the Paddy Power connection bring to Roller?
NA: Clearly having the backing, know-how and scale of an organisation like Paddy Power makes a massive difference to getting something like this off the ground. Equally, we know that trust is consistently one of the key barriers for online gambling customers and having the well-known and hugely well respected Paddy Power brand puts us in a great position verses some of our competitors.

CIO: Why do you think the sector has been so slow to bring iPad/iPhone-specific real money products to market?
NA: Really interesting question, which broadly comes down to a couple of reasons. Firstly I think people are, legitimately, concerned about the App Store rules and approval process. It takes a big investment to get a quality product to market – this isn’t something that you can get two guys in a garage to knock up over 6 months – and business are rightly worried that Apple might just say “no”. Secondly, I think people have struggled with the idea of having a product that can only operate in fully-regulated markets. A lot of other casino business operate across a variety of different regions and it’s a difficult decision for them to launch a product that they know won’t be available for a significant portion of their customer base.

CIO: What makes this specific project interesting to you?
NA: The interesting aspect has been delivering a product and brand from concept to launch in a new channel. When we started there weren’t any real-money casino products in the App Store. Therefore it was a case of designing a product that sets the benchmark in terms of usability and design, rather than just looking at competitor’s offerings and tweaking it. We have tried to put a big emphasis on innovation and implementing features that wouldn’t necessarily work on a desktop product – some will work, some won’t, but the not knowing’s part of what makes it interesting.

CIO: Please give us some examples of how the product makes use of…
NA: This is solely a mobile/tablet product, so everything is done via the touchscreen. However, we’ve made it a bit more interesting than that; for example, you swipe down on the slots to spin the reels and swipe the screen to thrown the ball in Roller Roulette.
NA: Hotel of Horror – one of our flagship slots games – utilises the accelerometer in the bonus round where the user has to tilt the cart to escape the haunted graveyard.
Music libraries
NA: Whilst I’ve become particularly attached to ‘Burnt Toast’ as we tested Roller [one of the built in background music tracks] we know people want to listen to their own music whilst playing at the tables, so we put one click access to your iTunes library in each of our games. It’s another one of those features that’s theoretically possible on a PC, but is made so much easier and cleaner on a mobile device

CIO: How different are customers’ expectations for iPad/iPhone apps over traditional online offerings?
NA: The easiest but worst thing you can do is say “this is what works on a PC, I’m going to do the same but port it to a mobile platform”. That might be what customers would have accepted (and expected) three years ago, but the bar has been raised hugely over the past 18 months and users simply will not invest in your app. There is a whole article to be written on this very subject, but I think there a couple of key points to dwell on. Firstly, think about how a customer is going to use the product; a typical session on an iPhone is going to be very different to a typical session on a PC and the user experience has to reflect that. Secondly, how users expect to interact with Apps is very different to how they expect to interact with a website; if you’re trying to put everything on a single page you’re going to struggle.  

CIO: What are your favourite elements of the product personally?
NA: I’m still a sucker for the Roller Roulette game after all these months of testing it! There’s something incredibly satisfying about the way the wheel moves under your finger like you’re spinning a record and then getting the speed of the ball exactly the level you want it. It feels intuitive from the word go and really does immerse the user in a casino environment.

CIO: Other than the fact it’s on ipad/phone, what makes this product stand out from competing products?
NA: Outside of the specific features mentioned earlier, it’s essentially that it looks, feels and plays like it’s a really well designed and crafted app – that’s all possible because it is an App. This is in contrast to our competitors’ Apps which are websites displaying in a ‘wrapper’. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but it’s a noticeably different experience when you’re playing the games. In addition, I think we have taken a really interesting route with the brand by spending time working up the identity for the product, looking across virtually all of the 100+ brands in the market. It turns out that 90% of them are pretty much interchangeable – bright reds and greens, men in tuxedos and flashing lights. We wanted to take a more subtle and a more stylish approach, which we thought would fit better with the kind of consumer who typically owns this kind of device

CIO: How does Roller approach social media and its integration into products?
NA: We’ve been building up our social media presence over the past few months as we prepared for launch and we’ve put social media right at the heart of our big PR piece launching shortly. Watch this space…

CIO: What are the immediate plans for other platform support?
NA: We’ve currently got a really strong selection of HTML5 games that you’ll be directed to if you access the website from an Android device. We’d love to be able to make the App available across other stores and I’m sure we’ll be looking into this further over the coming months, but current policy on gambling from the Google Play store makes things quite difficult

CIO: Will this product reach out to other territories?
NA: This is going to be a brand that focuses on the UK at first, but we’ll be actively exploring taking the offering into other regulated markets as and when the time’s right.

CIO: What else do you think is achievable on these tablet formats that people are missing?
NA: Up until now the real-money casino industry hasn’t really embraced the technology available, choosing to just transplant the desktop experience (or in some cases the mobile phone experience) on to the tablet. Whilst this has worked reasonably well from a revenue perspective, customers are used to playing these slick, beautiful, innovative games from the App Stores that feel like they were completely built around the iPad. There’s huge potential to utilise the mobile device in interesting ways, be it the camera, accelerometer, GPS, multi-touch controls, microphone, etc. that you just don’t have on a PC. We think we’ve made a great start with v1 of Roller Casino, but there’s a huge amount more that we can still do.

CIO: Where do you see mobile gambling going in the next few years?
NA: We’re already seeing percentages of bets being placed on mobile across the UK bookmakers in the 30-40% range. This trend for migration from PC to mobile devices is inevitably going to continue as ownership gets even higher and customers become more and more comfortable with mCommerce. Sports has been the first battleground, but it’s going to be the gaming products that we’re going to see exploding over the next 2-3 years.