Q&A: Rob Fell and Andy Whitworth, GVC Holdings
This edition, we spoke to GVC Holdings’ head of casino product, Rob Fell, and head of content and commercial management, Andy Whitworth to find out more about which games, suppliers, formats and mechanics are performing well for the Bwin, Sportingbet and Party owner, how gaming growth across the group has been maintained and the challenges of operating multiple casino brands across dot.com and regulated environments
Which recent slots are performing particularly well for GVC, and what variances are you seeing across the GVC sportsbook and gaming brands?
Andy Whitworth (AW): Despite the fact we have a lot of labels, there are not many major differences when it comes to slots. Market by market we see differences – for instance omni-channel games are key in New Jersey, whilst variations such as keno in Greece or bingo slots in LatAm are the most popular. In our biggest market [Germany], which historically has been has been quite traditional in its tastes, with simple freespin mechanic games being most popular. However we are now seeing innovative suppliers such as Play’n Go, Yggdrasil, Big Time Gaming and others really taking the market by storm and players are much more open to new reel formats and high feature games.
Overall, our top suppliers are NetEnt, Blueprint, Play’n Go, Yggdrasil as well as our in-house studios. We now have over 60 suppliers globally, so arguably have the strongest content offering across all markets.
The one area that really helps games take-off when we are launching a lot of games each month is the level of marketing support. Where the game is exclusive to us, we will give it a stronger menu position. Ultimately it’s in the supplier’s hands if they want to give us an edge and also contribute to a launch. Case studies we have run on the impact of a timed exclusive have shown that new games can see a 10-fold increase in staking and an extension of their launch-life from five weeks to three months.
What would you say are the major challenges for a head of casino for a big multi-brand operator in 2018?
AW: The sheer volume of admin resulting from our having so many labels, markets, B2B and legal entities. As an example I’m reviewing over 120 supplier roadmaps a month for all markets and B2Bs. I aim to lock down three-months at a time, so that our games factory can test all games and enable us to launch on market release dates. If any suppliers roadmaps are late or don’t have dates it makes my job very difficult to plan large quantities of work and to adjust at a later point. When we sign new suppliers we like to go global with them, but this mean at least six contracts per supplier plus multiple white label agreements. At any one stage, myself and the legal team are working on 30-40 contracts simultaneously.
Once the contracts have been completed, games selected and tested, we them need to ensure games are launched on time and check operational gaps to make sure all 200+ sites have launched as instructed.
Rob Fell (RF): On the promotional and tool side, everyone has been in 'me too' mode, whether that be casino operators or game providers. With a few exceptions, there has been little innovation and a lot of direct copies of functionality and mechanics. This inherently makes it more challenging to differentiate.
You take content from a huge variety of suppliers. What would you like to see them do better or more of, from the operator side?
AW: An easy one! Deliver roadmaps at least three months in advance and don’t change them. Moving forward I would like to see more suppliers being innovative. So many suppliers are copying and launching the same themes that we won’t launch them. Companies such as Yggsdrasil have led the way on marketing innovation and on games. I love what Big Time do with their new content. They focus on quality and innovative game mechanics, launching a few good games a year rather than four average games each month. We are always looking for value-add and new products. Gamevy have a great World Cup pachinko-style game which is totally new, for which I have high cross-sell hopes. Some of our biggest wins this year have come from Red Tiger’s Timed Jackpot range and Blueprint’s Jackpot King, so it’s not just the base content that is important.
RF: From an operator who owns their platform and provides services to many internal B2C customers and users, but also to B2B customers, I'd like to see much more robust APIs from casino suppliers with regards to the whole suite of their functionality. For me it’s not good enough that I can login to the supplier x or y’s own back office and set up campaigns, promotions and advanced functionality. We need the ability to fully integrate the supplier’s toolkit into our own tools. This really helps suppliers maximise their potential as they will see the full benefits of a fully hooked up platform and how this creates the best customer experience.
In contrast to some of your listed peers, gaming growth at GVC has kept pace with that of sportsbook. How has this been achieved?
RF: Unlike many of our peers who receive either B2B platform services or end-to-end managed solutions, GVC has its own technology platform and is therefore not solely reliant on the speed of others. We have been able to quickly integrate content from a broad range of the best casino game suppliers and have the benefit of being able to simultaneously roll out a single integration across numerous sites in the dot.com environment. Our strategy of getting content from vendors in as many regulated markets as possible really helps our marketing team create single promotions that just need to be localised for each. We've also worked hard to ensure that all new game release deadlines are hit, so that our customers across all of our brands see new games on day one of release.
On top of games integrations, we've achieved growth by ensuring that the best tools from casino game suppliers are integrated directly into the GVC platform. This enables us to optimise the customer experience and make it as consistent as possible, while ensuring our operations, marketing and CS teams only need to go to one place to set up campaigns and monitor engagement and respond to player queries.
What are the primary KPIs for deciding game position on your casino home pages, and how are these evolving with the availability of more data?
AW: It’s not a straightforward answer but fundamentally, players drive games into the best positions by staking. Before launch we take into consideration what we know from existing performance in each specific market and review each game individually, reviewing key metrics such as whether the game is omni-channel, theme, brand and game mechanics; and ask questions such as ‘does the game offer our players something new and exciting’ etc.? We then look to ensure we cover all player bases on the homepage, so we cater for all our key customer groups. For example, we launch a lot of content weekly but also strategically launch into all key categories such as slots, table, instant, jackpots etc. to make sure they are constantly refreshed with best content in the market.
RF: We have also been working on a number of solutions to make use of AI and machine learning to optimise and personalise the content each customer sees. 2018 is being heralded by many as 'the year of AI' and the industry is fast catching up with wider e-commerce on this. Over the next few months we will see 'recommendation engines' and personalisation models becoming the norm. There is a lot of testing and validation to be done on this area, GVC are at the forefront of this and we are trialling solutions with customers to ensure the right content displays for each individual.
Andy and Rob are fundraising alongside a number of GVC’s partners and suppliers for the Williams Fund and Duchenne muscular dystrophy by taking on the Three Peaks 24 Hour Challenge. This follows a friend’s three year old son sadly being diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. To find out more and to donate please visit Andy’s Virgin Money Giving page