Gambling is big business. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2013 the average UK household spent £166 a year on some form of gambling. With the rise of online channels, the customer base is only set to grow. But to take place and appease customer demand, the gambling industry needs to understand the importance of each channel and how to survive in today’s omni-channel world, argues Angus Panton, Director of Power and Communications at SQS.
Growing opportunities in the gambling sector
Gambling is no longer just the domain of the high street or about keeping the social and occasional gambler happy – in fact, more than half the UK population had a flutter last year alone – it’s about providing more choice and ways for people to access the games they enjoy, anywhere and at any time. Recent advances in online and mobile technology have made gambling more accessible than ever. As well as appealing to those who already like to place a bet, the ease of access to these outlets has also opened up a whole new captive audience and world of opportunities for traditional gambling companies, platform providers and game developers.
Recent figures suggest that almost half (44%) of European gambling operators intend to spend more than £3 million on online initiatives. With internet users across the globe more than doubling in the past 10 years, the decision to adopt omni-channel is not only understandable, but imperative to business revenue.
But with these opportunities and enhanced market reach also comes increased competition and consumer expectations, with thousands of games vying for attention in a crowded market. To capitalise on the receptiveness of a new gaming generation and build a loyal fan base, games now need to be released faster, updated more often (and with less bugs) and be timely and relevant to the target audience. Gamers expect a seamless experience, no matter which platform, device, or what time of day they chose to place their bets. It’s vital that game developers understand and implement practices and processes to ensure they stay ahead of the competition.
The omni-channel challenge
The omni-channel environment presents a number of challenges for traditional operators – as they look to compete with new, online players in the market – as well as the developers and platform providers. User demand is accelerating the pace of IT change, with new releases and updates now expected much more rapidly. As such, delivery needs to happen without a hitch in order for operators and game developers to steal a march on the competition.
Once implemented and perfected, omni-channel services can enable consumers to engage with brands in the gaming industry, in a variety of ways, 24/7. With this in mind it’s vital they operate effectively and efficiently. Of equal importance is the ‘first moment of truth’, when a customer encounters and interacts with a brand for the first time. This cannot be compromised by an unnecessary glitch if a brand is to benefit from omni-channel gaming.
For gambling companies it is not just omni-channel but omni-release. Gambling operators face the challenge of not just releasing their games, but ensuring that games can be released on all devices and platforms simultaneously and successfully. The value of the entire digital journey – from the customer relationship through to billing, security and gaining loyalty – should not be underestimated. One technical hitch or one bug in the system can quickly be highlighted by players, with negative comments going viral immediately and brand reputation taking a knock because of this. No wonder that for nearly a quarter (22%) of European gambling operators, improving user experience is seen as one of the biggest challenges they face in the next 12 months.
The regulatory challenge
Regulatory requirements also add to the complexity and speed of new game releases. The UK Gambling Commission has updated technical and security standards which will came into force at the end of October. A large part of this requirement is that all games must meet the new specifications and be tested by an accredited third party before being released to market. Those operators who fail to meet the deadline or to work with an accredited test partner will simply not be able to release their games, impacting on both revenue and reputation.
Unfortunately there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, with each platform requiring different coding and a tailored approach to getting the game to market. Mobile, tablet, and laptop versions of a game each need to be tested separately and be ready to cope with the onslaught of incoming traffic on release day and beyond. Any delay in a new release could leave developers and operators in danger of disrepute and lead to a loss of hype before they have even had a chance to compete. Ensuring they can not only meet but exceed customer expectations on different operating systems and platforms is vital to their success.
The key challenge, for all stakeholders involved in the race to attract and retain a growing online gaming community, is to streamline the development process. This will ensure that each new release is robust, of high quality, reliable and profitable. Yet, only a truly agile and streamlined process can effectively support the demands and needs of companies in the industry.
Making the gamble pay off
To keep up with market demand and the ever growing complexities of new releases, there are two key approaches that developers and operators can take to ensure the quality of omni-channel game releases.
Enabling a faster and robust release cycle
Not only is this a key component for success but one, which can be achieved by looking at game development in a quality-driven way. Taking an agile and test-driven approach will lead to quick and accurate releases and put a framework in place for developers and operators to react efficiently to market demand and regulatory change. The iterative nature of the process ensures that regular testing along the way leads to an end result fit for purpose. It is this assurance of effective testing in line with the changing technology and ensuring compliance, which leads to success in such a competitive market.
The DevOps approach
Taking a DevOps approach to game development will support an agile methodology throughout the process. Adopting this collaborative approach to software development allows for continuous integration. However this time-efficient method will only succeed with a strong focus on quality and expertise throughout the life of a game’s software.
This way of working can and should be the reality for developers and operators. If this is not the case, developers need to act quickly. Working with an independent, accredited testing partner will ensure that developers and platform operators can not only remain compliant but keep up with the pace of change. With quality of service and market reputation key to growing a loyal customer base in the expanding omni-channel gaming environment, getting it right first time is vital in order to stop gamers placing their bets elsewhere.