Mobile casinos: player behaviours, technical logistics and the keys to operating a successful mobile casino

Date: 
29 October 2013

Casino and games, which, to date, have been a distant second to sports betting, are only now being seriously considered by the bigger brands with launches in the forst half of 2013.

That said, companies such as Probability Games, mFortune and All Slots have been generating decent revenues from their products for quite some time, but their market stronghold is likely to be challenged when others start deploying (and putting marketing weight and budget behind) their own products.

There are significant differences between offering a betting product and incorporating casino – much more so than the relationship that exists between the two on desktop.

Devices

First and foremost, devices must be considered. Companies that were “new” to mobile gambling – that started with sports betting two to three years ago – are, for the most part, iOS-centric. This made sense for the market then, given the target audience, but it simply doesn’t make sense for an operator that wants to make a killing in the casino and games sector. 

This is where the mobile pure-plays that have focused on casino and games to date have a distinct advantage; at least in the short-term, as their spectrum of supported devices tends to be much wider and cater to the full audience for casino games, which is much more varied than that of the mobile sports bettor.

Casino players

In the same manner as desktop, casino and games players are subject to a substantial crossover from the sports betting audience, but also exist in a group of their own. And although it’s early days in mobile, there is much evidence of a “mobile only” casino/games player. 

The impact of this for operators is that the registration and payments process must be simplified and made absolutely seamless in order to acquire as many of these players as possible, rather than lose them to natural attrition at the early stages of their potential lifetime.

The “mobile only” player is less valuable than the desktop or desktop/mobile player; however, they represent a largely an untapped market and will serve as incremental revenue to the operators who manage to attract them.

Along with the registration and payment processes, there will need to be two additional focuses:

  1. Customer support – This player group is new to gambling and targeted support will be necessary to get them over the registration hurdle:
    a. Partially registered, but abandoned,
    b. Registered but not deposited,
    c. Deposited and played only once.
    There is also likely to be an increased volume of queries regarding bonuses and payments as the group becomes familiar with the entire concept.

      2.  Games – This player group will be of an “entertainment” rather than a “gambling” mindset; therefore the product suite presented to them will have to be simple and relevant. Scratchcards and instant wins, slots,              soft games, etc, should be the emphasis on the home screens presented so as to encourage, not overwhelm.

Technical logistics

Casino suites are much more complex to deploy than sports betting sites. In fact, currently there are no operators who have a combined betting and casino app, so intermediate technologies – such as push notifications and linking apps to websites – have to be used to cross-promote the gaming product suites which are web-based.

This is far from ideal, and must change going forward – however, it is not an easy solution and not only raises the native-versus-app debate but also challenges the “best of breed” approach that operators have been taking on desktop for many years now.

Integrating multiple suppliers is infinitely more difficult on apps – not only must they incorporate the supplier itself, but also accommodate the rate of game updates that are desirable and necessary to keep a casino fresh and busy. 

The App Store update process will become increasingly frequent and arduous, so new strategies will be necessary, and may in fact need collaborations between competitor suppliers that don’t exist today, in order to minimise the impact on the operators’ submission and deployment workloads.

All this is made more difficult by the fact that, unlike desktop suppliers – which have a range of products (typically including sports betting, casino, poker and bingo) the early mobile developers have tended to stick to one vertical – the sports book – so unless products have been developed in-house for the mobile platform (such as Betfred’s new offering), integrating multiple third parties will need military precision.

Mobenga is the only mobile sportsbook supplier that can possibly make this work in the short-term because it is part of the Playtech group which has a full casino and gaming suite, but we will likely see JVs and partnerships emerge as other mobile developers and platforms see that future success is beyond a single-product approach.  

User interface and homepage

It took some time for gambling operators to optimise their sites and apps for ideal sports betting usability. The learning process will have to start all over again for gaming products, as visual presentation and images are far more effective in this context than texts and menus, which work adequately for lists of sports.

The question is, however, which games to place front and centre given the limited real estate. Other issues include the need to cross-sell and up-sell different games and determining the different games/suites that each target group will prefer.

People play fewer games on mobile than they do on desktop. This is for several reasons, including the fact that consumers navigate less on mobile devices so they neither search for nor find the variety of games that they would on desktop where they are more amenable to clicking and surfing around a site.

There is also the fact that, as mobiles are used for more frequent but shorter bursts of time, the players will opt automatically for their familiar and preferred games.

This makes cross-selling new and varied games very difficult on the site itself (and puts more pressure on marketing teams to get the product message across to the audience), but also it leads to product design implications: 

  • Just because individuals or small segment groups play only a handful of games each doesn’t mean the overall game range can be limited because each group will play different games, so the full complement of slots, table games, card games, instants, etc, will all have to be present.
  • The download process must be considered carefully because, unlike sportsbooks, games are bandwidth hungry and operators may run the risk of using or exceeding (unnecessarily) a customer’s data plan and there are implications for battery life. Some operators, such as mFortune, offer individual game downloads that are initiated by the user. This is good practice from the user’s perspective; however, it places severe limitations on cross-selling (as the user must actively commit to downloading each new game from the site) and may reduce the lifetime value if a customer gets tired of one game but doesn’t initiate a subsequent download of a new one. With others, such as All Slots, users download a full “framework” with the initial chosen game, and the framework has images of many other games whose downloads can then be initiated by the user from within the framework. This offers more potential to keep customers interested and offers variety, but the framework is a larger initial download. There is no right or wrong but operators must consider their marketing and retention strategies as part of the actual development process because the latter will impact the former, much more so than any effect they have on each other on desktop deployments.
  • Data analysis becomes more important than ever when it comes to mobile casino deployments. There are known correlations between games played by segments on desktop – the player preferences don’t change on the mobile platform, so in-depth analysis should be undertaken prior to developing the mobile casino site with all possible information and data used to ensure the mobile site has the best possible combination and prioritisation of games. It is possible on mobile to dynamically serve games, so where possible targeted marketing should be linked to appropriate landing pages and homepages. The mobile platform is complex but advance efforts will be rewarded by enhanced player value over a simple, generic approach.
  • Due to the fact that most games are played in the home on the sofa while watching television, the best an operator can hope for is partial attention from the player at any given time, which means that the site and games must be intuitive, quick, easy to grasp and compelling fun for a few minutes at a time. This is why, according to Charles Cohen, CEO of Probability, “slots and scratch cards are the true killer app” of mobile gambling – instant win games which are undemanding of the player’s full attention and are exciting in small doses. If a customer doesn’t understand the site or game he will leave within moments.  Simplicity and clarity cannot be underestimated or underemployed.

Snacking

The word ‘snacking’ is used widely when referring to mobile gambling. Unlike the Internet, where people ‘settle down’ or ‘make appointments’ to spend time playing games, mobile gaming has found its niche as a pastime that fits into people’s lives, not the other way around. For casino games, this means that, as development moves forward, the mobile should be the first part of the thought process. 

Games of the future should be developed with the mobile in mind – this might mean bonus rounds that play out faster, more slots with RNGs that offer high frequency, lower value bonus rounds or more on-screen “big money” wins, as well as game functionality, such as autospin for slots and “Repeat Bet and Deal” buttons (rather than separate “Repeat” and “Bet” buttons) for card games – in fact, anything that makes the gameplay faster and more efficient will become best practice.

Poker, which is addressed in this section, is a good example – almost all of the operators are now offering “fast fold” type games which are ideally suited to the brevity and speed of mobile play – and Probability Games repurposed a bingo game for similar reasons so that the numbers are called quicker and the entire game plays out much faster (despite being an identical RNG and product under the hood).

When ‘mobilising’ current games, some of these options are simply not possible, but the mind-set of the developers must change as new games are developed.