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Is the egalitarian approach the way forward for igaming?
If gaming is a form of entertainment, then it’s the entertainment giants such as Netflix that point to the road ahead for the igaming industry, argues SG Digital’s senior vice president of gaming Dylan Slaney.
The analysis of the acquisition of NYX Gaming Group was somewhat fixated on OpenBet, one of the assets owned by the supplier, when Scientific Games snapped up the business in September 2017.
This is perhaps understandable. After all, Scientific Games was at the time purely focused on casino and lotteries. The statement of intent in acquiring a sportsbook platform in the months before the Supreme Court delivered its verdict on the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was significant.
Having taken on a mature and established casino product, however, the task of blending its range of casino assets into a coherent unit that could grow in a saturated market was also significant.
With OpenBet, the challenge was to revamp the product, and scale it in preparation for the launch of legal wagering in the US.
With the casino offering, on the other hand, a robust and scalable product already existed. Furthermore, it brought together two businesses that had previously competed on the same fronts.
NYX was focused on the UK and Europe. Scientific Games’ digital arm was in exactly the same territories, with a presence in the US via New Jersey. And as senior vice president of gaming Dylan Slaney points out, aside from Pennsylvania opening up, not much has changed.
“The actual market construction is almost exactly the same, while sports is completely different,” he says. “The OpenBet business had to speed up and scale up to go from launching one customer a year to six or seven. We [in casino] already had a very mature business, so it was a similar challenge, but manifesting itself in a very different way.”
When the NYX business was brought on board, the combined entity was operating across four platforms. This meant the first job was to consolidate all of these assets onto a single platform, which then progressed to consolidating the group’s range of games studios.
The challenge was to then ensure that all the ancillary features and engagement tools that have become as much a part of a casino offering as the games themselves were built in.
To offer these products on proprietary products is a big enough challenge. But today, gated platforms are a thing of the past – operators, and players want access to as much content from as many suppliers as possible.
Providing feature-rich, in-house titles alongside third party content without the same functionality isn’t enough; after all, if independent studios are at a disadvantage to the proprietary games, what value is there for them? SG Digital therefore takes an egalitarian approach, treating all content equally.
“The studios produce against a roadmap, those games all get fed through one platform, then on top of that there is a consolidated set of features. So as long as these partners integrate properly they have access to all these features,” he explains.
“This is the whole philosophy of Open Gaming; we treat all content equally, whether it’s proprietary content or third party, whether that’s content built on our game engines or not. We’re making no distinction between our content and that of our partners.”
Ultimately Slaney and his team have looked across the entertainment industry, and decided a certain streaming platform shows the way forward.
“Look at Netflix,” he says. “It spends billions creating its own content, but it has lots of other content provided by lots of other people.
“We put it down to players – they will choose. We want to make sure that the playing field is level, so if operators connect into us they get the benefit of our scale.”
Like the streaming giant, the focus is on offering a unified experience, whether the content the end user selects is proprietary or third party.
This approach is being presented to the industry as SG Digital’s new OpenGaming concept, which combines enlarged and enhanced product and services range in one solution. Quite simply, Slaney says, the open platform is a two-sided network.
“There’s a box in the middle; on one side is our, and our partners’, content, and on the other is the operators and their players. That’s always been there.
“But we wanted to take it one step further, and think about the views of players, and the experience that they want to have,” he adds.
“We’re using the same values that we’ve had for a long time, but are now focused around the player, and to think about the business in a very different way.”
It’s no surprise that Slaney is such a believer in this data-driven approach considering his background. Before joining NYX in 2017, he worked for customer data science specialist Dunnhumby, which played a key role in the development of UK supermarket chain Tesco’s Clubcard loyalty scheme before eventually being acquired by the retail giant.
“[Dunnhumby is] probably one of the world’s leading customer science businesses where one-to-one targeting and personalisation, and the use of data-driven insights to inform decisions, was part of its DNA,” he says.
Room to grow
But Slaney adds that while other sectors have been quick to embrace this trend, the igaming sector lags behind. “If you look at gaming, the level of personalisation is limited to ‘recently played’,” he says.
While he says some operators are doing better than others in segmenting players as they sign up, the majority are only breaking their player base down into a limited number of segments. One (unnamed) operator says they divide customers into four groups, he notes.
Dunnhumby, albeit in a different vertical, breaks down customers into more than 16 million different segments to personalise the experience as much as possible.
“Other verticals are doing it, so we know the technology is already there, but gaming in general is only just catching up,” he says.
The scope for improvement is what excites him, he says. In the early days of the industry, the focus was on getting the content to the consumer, and maintaining a steady flow of new games.
“[But] now it’s about looking at what players need, using data to enhance and protect players. Data just gives you a better way of doing this,” he explains. “Technology is moving on, with people moving from desktop to mobile. I think all those things come to an inception point.”
He points out that the industry is already using technology far more robust than many other sectors. OpenBet, for example, is able to process around 25 million bets on a single day.
“You’d find it hard to find another vertical that is doing that level of transactions each day. The back end technology is frighteningly good and sophisticated, but then you need to look at how to translate that into better player experiences, and whether that’s on the sports side or casino, it’s the journey [SG’s sports and casino] businesses have been on.
While he admits the industry might lag other sectors in its use of data and understanding of mobile, he totally refutes the notion that the igaming industry fails to innovate.
“We’re innovating every day, whether that’s a tweak or change to a process, or something shiny and new that players see and feel,” he says. “I think we always attach innovation to the shiny, new things that people see, but every day there is innovation going on in this business and the industry.
This, he says, can come through a change in internal processes, or how an operator or supplier adapts to regulatory changes.
“Outside of financial services we’re one of the most heavily regulated industries, and to manage that requires innovation,” Slaney explains. “We never talk about regulatory changes as innovation, but there have been three or four major changes to the industry that have required immense innovation.
Ultimately, he argues, there’s an issue of how innovation is perceived in the industry. Developing a new, amazing game or concept is exciting, but he argues the real challenge is how that’s scaled across a large number of clients and markets.
“It’s not about doing it for one operator on one piece of content, it’s about doing it across 21 regulated jurisdictions at the same time,” he says.
“It’s easy to do missions or tournaments on one game, for one operator. If you speak to operators today, there are lots of examples of that in the industry. Not many can offer missions, tournaments, leaderboards and free spins across all their jurisdictions.”
This idea can also be applied to responsible gaming measures, he continues. By offering a common interface across all games, messaging and alerts can be pushed out for all titles on the SG Digital platform.
“What we’re trying to do is to relieve the burden on operators having to do that multiple times with multiple integrations,” he explains.
Again, data comes to the fore. “[All] those things are enabled through data, and through the platform features we have built to make them easily readable for operators, and easily enabled for players,” Slaney says. “One thing we do know is that the regulations we have today will be changed at some point in the future, and they will be geared towards enhancing protection of players.”
Talk of emulating Netflix and the industry’s data-driven future is nothing new. However, there are numerous examples of new features, mechanics, processes and channels quietly becoming commonplace while the wider industry discusses them at length.
Whether or not OpenGaming proves to be this sort of watershed moment for the future of online casino remains to be seen. But Scientific Games has a good chance of making the lesser-discussed element of the NYX Gaming Group acquisition into a major driver of the sector’s evolution.