The Rise and Rise of Mobile and Tablet Gambling

In a report last November, H2 Gambling Capital forecast mobile gambling will make up 44 percent of global interactive gambling by 2018, delivering 19 billion euros a year. That’s up from 2.4 billion euros in 2010, when mobile accounted for just 11 percent of interactive. In all, mobile could be responsible for 5 percent of all gambling revenue, it said. Armed with modern smartphones and high quality connections, audiences are showing a preference the accessibility of mobile & tablet, even if it doesn’t quite offer all the richness and functionality of the PC or laptop experience. Most promisingly for operators, mobile offers the opportunity to reach brand new customers, not just to move customers from other channels.

“As betting and gaming has become a culturally more accepted leisure activity, the mobile channel has provided the industry with opportunities to widen their customer base,” says a recent Deloitte Consulting report on the British betting industry. “Consumers who traditionally might not have gone to a betting shop or bingo hall can now bet and play in a way that fits their lifestyle and preferences.” So the question for operators now is how to take advantage of this growing market. Clearly, it isn’t easy. Customers have lots of options online, particularly in the betting space. Competition is feverish. Only the best products can survive the constant shakedown and keep bringing back repeat business.

Ahead of Bullet Business’s Mobile & Tablet Gambling Summit in London on November 10-11, four of the speakers met to discuss pressing issues facing the industry. Should companies choose native or HTML5, or both, or some variation in between? What is best practice in analytics? What about the future when everyone’s got a smart-watch and interactive glasses? What might betting look like then?

Andrew Walton is head of core products at BSkyB. He’s worked in online gaming for 14 years, first for William Hill and now at Sky Betting & Gaming. In that time, he’s had a variety of roles across gaming verticals and spanning both technical and business sides. Currently, he heads up a team providing shared services to the other verticals. That includes a native app wrapper, a new “big data” platform, and an automated CRM system

Lally Turlough is head of mobile at BetVictor, the trading name for the Victor Chandler group. He joined the company in 2003, and initially worked in marketing before setting up an Irish operation in Dublin. In 2008, he moved back to Gibraltar to become head of acquisition marketing, before taking on his current role.

Tom Ustunel has worked in the online industry since 2001. He’s currently head of bingo and gaming at News UK, owning the strategy for both Sun and Fabulous Bingo. Previously, he was at Rank Interactive, one of the UK’s top gaming operators.

Jacob Lopez Curciel is CIO for Stan James, leading its technology teams across IT strategy, architecture and development. He has extensive experience with mobile web apps, native apps and app store management, hybrid apps, web sites, desktop applications, cloud systems, social media, real time analytics and big data systems for the gambling, online and retail industry.

Platforms: What are the benefits of native versus HTML5? And how can you get right the trade-off between app quality and distribution to maximise ROI?

Walton: We’re a hybrid. All four products – poker, bingo, bet and vegas – have HTML5 components, so they all work in a browser. That means we can reach both Android and iOS. For app stores, we build native wrappers with a lot of core functions, such as push messaging, which you can only do via native. Then, we skin that up and use that for each of the products. The bulk of the technology is HTML5 with a thin wrapper around it.
Fully native apps obviously offer a good user experience. But phones are very powerful now and browsers are exceptionally fast. So, what you can do in HTML5 is now up there with native. The advantage is you can build it once and it works across platforms. With native, you have to build separate apps for each mobile OS. And you have to have a far bigger dedicated team, which is a lot more expensive because of duplicated effort.
I think the difference between HTML5-hybrid and native has massively closed over the last few years. There are probably a lot of customers who don’t even realise they’re playing the hybrid version.
We have a very strong in-house PHP team here. It’s much easier to recruit developers and testers for HTML5 than for native, as it’s a more common skill-set and more mature technology.
Also with native, and in particular iOS, you’re relying on Apple to make updates through their store. It can take at least a week to get a new version approved. Whereas on our HTML5 platform, we release many times each day. It’s a similar story for multi-variant testing; we have far more flexibility via HTML than with native.

Turlough: We were one of the early adopters of a fully native application. We had an HTML5 product before that, but we found it really wasn’t up to it in terms of performance. It just wasn’t good enough.
Our strategy was to continue building iOS but to carry on building HTML5 for other platforms. The benefits of going native are in better performance and better experience for users. I think people are becoming wiser to the fact that something is a wrapper. They’ll notice that you can’t swipe around the application as you can with native, for instance.
HTML5 has got a lot better, but equally Apple has updated its offer as well. When you compare the two – and we can do that, because we have both – it’s quite clear what is better. I do agree that HTML5 is easier to maintain, because you don’t have to worry about submission to the store. But I do think going native is worth it.

Ustunel: I think you should always go back to your customer and supply a good product mix for them. Being in bingo, we probably have a slightly lower customer demographic. They’re more likely to be Android users over Apple. So, we are trying to develop products that are relevant to that audience.

Curciel: We started with web apps, because there was a much more dynamic model for releasing changes and covering different platforms that were restricted for the gambling industry.
In the past, mobiles didn’t have great performance, and hybrid HTML5 solutions were really not achieving the required results. And having a presence in the App Store was required. Apple didn’t allow a just-a-wrapper native app in their store, so we developed a native application with multi-functionality and also embedded a web application wrapped into a native application. That gave us the hybridity we needed.

Customer experience: How do you best offer a seamless iGaming experience across channels? What are the most important things to consider?

Walton: We have a mobile first strategy, which means we introduce features to our biggest channel first. So, we currently make a choice between platforms. In the future, we’ll build more responsive sites, where we’ll just have one code base and one product. That means more upfront testing and design, but ultimately you don’t have to make that choice between platforms and overall time to market is quicker. Our Super 6 product is already fully responsive, for instance. That’s the plan for all the products.

Turlough: The biggest challenge for us is that we built our web platforms a number of years before mobile came on the scene. It’s difficult for us now to align our mobile and web products. If you were starting again, you might try and build a responsive site that would work across mobile, tablet and desktop. I do think it’s important that the platforms are the same. For users, it’s really attractive to be able to pick up any device and get the same thing. If you look at Netflix, it’s like that – it’s the same on Xbox, interactive TV, or whatever it is. You’re getting the same experience, history, where I left off. That’s important.

Ustunel: I don’t think it needs to be seamless across the platforms. I think it’s important to work with what customers are doing on each of the devices. How I would break it down is to ask which apps they are using on the move, when they’re dual-screening while watching TV, and which ones they’re using for me-time. I think about whether we’re appealing to the customer at that particular time.
With mobile, you typically have shorter playtimes: five to ten minutes. It’s about getting in, having a go, then leaving. Tablet is slightly longer, and web is longest. I don’t think it makes sense, therefore, to have the same product on every platform. That’s not the right strategy. It’s more important to cater to what the customer wants at a particular time on a particular device.
At the moment, we’re focused mostly on desktop because that is where our customers are. But in the next two years, we’ll shift more into mobile. That doesn’t mean that customers will be on the three platforms equally, but we do know that customers who use all three are highest value to us.
The best user experience is being entertaining. The Sun is about entertainment. Our tag is “Sun Bingo Is Fun Bingo”. So we need to make fun a part of the mix. We recently did an online bingo show to engage our customers and that was an example of that.

Curciel: Our development is currently more focused on mobile. There is a big focus now on mobility. That’s what is leading strategies now, and will continue to lead strategies in the next four to five years. There are still some advantages to the desktop. It gives some functionality that can’t be achieved on mobiles, which are less powerful and suffer from bandwidth problems in some places. But in the future, applications will be able to morph in structure and appearance, depending on the device, location and how the customer is using the service.

Analytics: How is player analytics changing the face of mobile gaming? What do you see real time analytics telling us in a year’s time that it doesn’t tell us now?

Walton: We’re doing a lot of work on our data warehouse. The idea is that we can pull all our disparate data sources into something that’s very efficient at crunching big data-sets. It means we’ll be able to do very complex analysis.
We’re building out the technical processing power to compliment the knowledge and ambition we have in the business. That means we’re moving from analysis that asks ’how well did x work?’ to predicting what’s going to happen tomorrow.
One example would be to use a range of past data to forecast the likelihood of a customer coming back tomorrow or next week. Once we’ve built the model up, we can then compare that to the actual data across the base to assess its accuracy.
An obvious use case for that algorithm is in CRM. Knowing a customer’s likelihood of returning means we can improve ROI by moving investment over to those customers we can realistically influence. Basically, analytics opens up a lot of possibilities.

Turlough: We are using analytics in a much more detailed way. We are looking at customers at a micro level as they float through the sites and complete certain tasks, or drop off. Now when we plan a change to a certain bit of navigation, or introduce a new games site, it all goes through that channel. Right from the start, we’ll get a lot of users on there and see how if they have any problems. In the past, we would have looked to other industry sites or other industries. Now, it really is all specifically about what our customers are doing.
We group our customers in all kinds of different ways, for all kinds of different reasons, and then we try and communicate with them. Everyone is micro-managed. It’s now getting down to an infinite number of groups. The group is now almost one person.

Ustunel: We’re trying to understand customer behaviour a lot more. As an industry, we are quite lucky because we get a lot of data. We can see how much people are playing at certain hours, per month, per device. Historically, we might use that to maximise ROI through different channels. Now, our focus is actually modeling in-depth player behaviour.
In the future, I think we’ll see analytics tied to location data. If you understand where the customer is at any time, you can make offers based on that. So, if you know they’re coming home and making a cup of tea, perhaps 10 minutes later, you can tell them ’the big game starts in five minutes’. We’re not doing that yet, but it’s out there as a possibility.

Curciel: You have to track what your customers are doing so you can link it to other information like financials. We gather information from web logs, Google Analytics and other places and put that together in big data systems and process them.
We also have systems like Oracle Real User Experience Insight, which tracks information in real-time, so we can know our customers’ journeys, real product usage experience and the points of contact and engagement. Having a real time user experience analytics tool really transforms your customer service and marketing teams.
For example, we have a defined baseline for how long people stay on the site. When users go below that, we can program an alert. The same for if the session-time drops, or if there are funnels or error pages. There are user defined alerts and KPIs. The Oracle interface is very rich and we’ve been using it for three or four years. I think we’re pioneers in the gambling industry to have it.
We’re now launching a new web site in beta, so we monitor if there are problems or not, and we can contact our customers proactively in case they are having trouble, and at the same time correct and rollout a patch. Also, we can drill down to specific user sessions in real-time, if we need to verify any specific user experience suggestion, or even to confirm events reported by customers.

Customer engagement and future trends: How do you see wearables and the internet of things impacting consumer gaming activity going forward?

Walton: It’s very hard to predict what products and features will come to market. But we can predict with near certainty that behaviours will definitely change. We need to understand that. When mobile came along, the phone was always-on and people were dipping in and out. It was no longer about people walking to the desktop and booting it up. The ubiquity of mobile broadband and always-on devices changed behaviour.
One example: we realised with our Super 6 product that we were getting a huge spike in traffic every time the game was mentioned on Sky Sports. That wouldn’t have happened with desktop because people would need to have reacted to that message by going away and firing up a machine in the corner of the room. The challenge is to build a platform around that changing behaviour and offer a good experience.
With wearable tech, the question is how that changes behaviour again and how we tap into that. And it’s not just about the user experience. It’s about how you communicate with people as well. The advantage, again, of going with HTML5 is that it’s not so much of leap to go where customers are going. It’s hard to repurpose a native iOS app to work on Google Glass. But it’s a lot easier to rework a HTML5 app, because the core product is essentially the same thing.

Turlough: It’s early days for those products, whether it’s watches or glasses, or whatever. I think they’ll have a use as a side product. But I still think the main thing is going to be your mobile or tablet. You could see people wearing [interactive] glasses while they’re watching TV and seeing the odds come up. But I still think they’ll be going back to their device for majority of betting needs.
Watches could be useful for sending text messages to somebody. We have a product called Instabet, where you can bet with one click. It might be useful for something like that, where you can accept odds immediately. But I don’t think we’re going to be doing everything on wearables.

Ustunel: Personally, I don’t think watches and wearables are going to be devices for gaming. But I do think they’re going to be used as a really good marketing tool. For example, we could use them for a message about the big game at a certain time.

Curciel: At the moment, technology in the gambling industry is not mature enough, especially the betting industry. I think we will see more use of analytics and more of a shift into hybrid technology for developing applications.
Also, I think there must be more focus on the user experience and what technologies are available to do that. It’s going to be about how you manage the engagement and the journey of your customer and how you respond to their requests and needs in real time, in a personalised way. People are talking a lot about social betting now. It’s like Google Plus or Facebook providing gambling services. But I don’t think betting is really social in itself, at least not in the way we see it today.
I also think we’ll see what Gartner calls the “Nexus of Forces”. It’s mobile, cloud, information and social coming together. All of these forces are complementing each other. You need to think about processing big data to serve your customers better, learning and knowing them as much and as quick as you can. You need to think about cloud to lower your costs. And you need to think about how to engage mobility, as we have explained earlier. Everyone needs to consider these things together.