Of the hundreds of tribal and corporate casinos across the American gaming landscape, no more than a dozen offer B2B white-label, for-fun online casino experiences outside of those hosted within the Facebook platform. The incumbent manufacturers have made substantial financial and personal investments over the last several years, acquiring disparate technologies to bring their broad libraries of content online and, in some cases, integrate with their systems. Existing European brands entered (or attempted to enter) the market while working to grasp the urgency the American audience has in achieving online to offline convergence. Countless articles in all of the leading industry publications and journals have touted the benefits of social engagement, the number of Americans who carry smartphones and mind-blowing financials around the emergence of virtual currency sales within social casinos. And yet when, as a casino operator, you launch your browser to vet your options, you’re left with a dozen total examples of the collective efforts of the biggest providers in the space.
Having spent the last year and a half immersed in the space, I’ve seen the birth of numerous B2B and B2C for-fun gaming options, as well as their transformation at the speed of light. From an operator’s perspective, the solution proposed yesterday isn’t the solution they are seeing today. In many respects, changes to technical solutions may denote enhanced user experiences, platforms and back office developments, or even new commercial models. In other respects, the evolution of the B2B casino market created instability in the understanding of exactly what solution would be delivered, and would it even work as promised?
At the beginning of my sales career, a tenured account manager bestowed her sales wisdom upon me in the statement “sell the sizzle and not the steak.” While intended to convey a highlight-reel sales methodology, the comment brought back memories of my father buying half of a cow from a connection of his who touted the uniqueness of the beef’s flavor. What he didn’t tell my father was the steaks that he was buying were from cows fed free (likely expired) Hostess cupcakes and cherry pies from the local grocery store. Chocolate steaks, anyone? Needless to say, dad neglected to ask if the cow he was buying was grass-fed vs. Twinkie-fed.
I believe the glacial pace of market uptake around freemium B2B solutions lies in the shift from a highly defined set of questions within the sales-to-slots dialogue to a whole new and uncharted conversation in which the right questions to ask are still being written.The dialogue occurring within the walls of land-based operations with Internet gaming service providers (IGSP) is new and thus a new vetting process. At the close of a presentation with a large corporate operator, the gentleman asked, “My important question is what didn’t I ask you that I should have?”
The printed bullet points across the brochures of Internet gaming service providers tout white-labeling capabilities, availability of content, the openness of the platform, CMS to Internet gaming system integration and seamless transition from free play to wagered games. These five pillars are central to the success of your operation’s deployment,for-fun gaming and wagered gaming, thus essential for you to see through the sizzle to understand the potential solutions’ true functionality and flexibility. In my tenure in the online space, I’ve engaged in hundreds of customer meetings from single corporate entities to government lotteries and tribal commissions. Below are some of the best questions that have been asked based around the solutions I’ve represented, as well as some of the questions on which I believe operators should ask potential partners to shine more light during the buying process.
What parts of the desktop client and mobile application will I actually be able to change?
The white-label process is defined by the aesthetic “coloration” of online experiences to your brand as an operator. The creation of desktop and mobile experiences can require between several to hundreds of hours of design efforts based on how your Internet gaming service provider defines the white-label process. Many of the options available in the market are created from a pre-set template (or templates) to control costs and increase speed to market. At base, all available options allow you to take the exterior part of the page outside the game containers and add your operation’s logo and site navigation. Can I change the color scheme around the games themselves? Usually not. Can I change the font across the site? Usually not. Can I change the name of the virtual credits? Usually not. For many casinos, a semi-customized solution provides an exploratory entry to the market at low to moderate investment when compared with the cost of in-casino slot machines or casino management systems. There are a few suppliers, however, that give you the option of going with a template or a purely customized site. The mid- to large-scale operators in the U.S. spends millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars on marketing and aren’t satisfied by paying premium set-up fees for the addition of their logo onto a stock template. If you’re looking for a more customized user interface, make sure to engage your marketing team and define what will be changed for you, how the changes affect your deployment timelines and, of course, what the costs are.
Availability of Content and Openness of Platform
What games are available with for-fun solution, and how does that change in wagered? Are you willing to integrate other content and peripheral suppliers?
The most frequently asked question I receive regarding agnostic platforms/openness to integrations focuses on the availability of game themes beyond those owned in a supplier’s library. Content is king, if you can get it. The dozen or so live white-label solutions mentioned at the beginning of this article have been launched under the brands of gaming’s largest content suppliers and represent at this moment only the content of the provider. While the B2B for-fun and regulated wagered online spaces within the U.S. are still in their infancy, though quickly developing, getting the keys to the content kingdom available to your operation comes only through a very defined set of questions.
Are you a content-agnostic platform? While many platform technologies being sold in the market to-date are claiming to be technically agnostic, they may not be commercially agnostic. Having a finite understanding of the point-in-time games list available to you is imperative for your competitive advantage in the market and your relationship with your supplier. If your platform provider isn’t fully content-agnostic, has the IGSP arranged for any exclusive partnerships to provide specific sets of content? If that answer is no, the next question should be designed to help you steer through the game titles available to you within your provider’s proprietary library. For example, while the flier or website may say,“We have 100 games online,” does online mean across for-fun and wagered? Operators today contract between five and 15 content suppliers across slots and tables to provide rich gaming experiences to the players, and suppliers are looking for those experiences on their white-label sites. For operators considering social options created outside of the industry game studios, keep in mind that the content they create likely won’t have the same aesthetic quality or math models that the core suppliers offer, not to mention outside-of-industry suppliers aren’t creating content with GLI certification in mind. Other key closing questions around content include: Do I have access to a set package of games that I can pick for my own white-label site? Can I control the holds on the game themes? Do those themes come in mobile and desktop, or are those two separate lists of content?
Is yours an open platform? Does it support multiple poker clients? If that answer is yes, the natural question is what integrations have your potential i-gaming partner’s team executed. “Openness” can be defined in several technical segments: openness to connecting to casino management systems, third-party peripheral supporting content, third-party game theme content, remote game server integrations executed to the core platform. Ask your provider to cover in detail what integrations they’ve completed and where those integrations are running in live, regulated marketplaces.
Casino Management System to Internet Gaming System
Does your for-fun and/ or wagered platform solution integrate into my CMS? If it can, with what systems have you completed integrations?
I believe CMS integration should be the one of the first questions asked before a supplier visits your property and your team. If your potential Internet Gaming System (IGS) hasn’t integrated into your brand of CMS before or is technically unable to do so, the direction of your conversation may change rather quickly. From a technical standpoint, let’s again give allowance to the novelty of the space and acknowledge that not all mountains have been climbed. From a commercial standpoint, if your potential IGSP won’t integrate with any CMS other than the one they bring to market, you’re left with two choices: Take their product or purchase a new CMS.
Returning to agnostic positions within the market, the ability to integrate with any CMS from a commercial and technical perspective gives you several assurances that your IGS platform investment is one that can be made for the long haul. First, should you change your CMS at any point in time (bearing in mind your back-end system is something your patrons don’t see), you won’t have to change your IGSP as well (a system that provides experiences across desktop and mobile,which your players do see.)
Seamless Transition from Free Play to Wagered
What elements required of a wagered platform are included in your for-fun platform?
To say that you have collected names and email address to which you can blast email marketing is not a seamless transition to wagered game play. Many for-fun solutions offered today deploy from cloud-based environments designed to provide casual gaming in a highly socialized environment. As social platforms, they don’t have the tools that allow for a seamless transition to wagered gaming. For example, let’s take a tribal operator who wants to engage in mobile betting on-property while carrying the same experience with virtual currency into a player’s living room. Possible? Yes, but only on a wagered platform where players can select the style of play they want to engage in, play from a single wallet and access the experience easily by just logging on.
If wagered gaming online isn’t on the horizon in my jurisdiction, why should the platform be a deciding factor for me? Even without intrastate or federal legislation enabling your operation’s wagered online launch, there are several criteria that should be carefully weighed when choosing between a social or real-money platform to deploy fun gaming. How do I manage my player data? Socialized platforms incorporate multiple layers of third-party peripheral technologies in the deployment of for-fun gaming, inclusive of analytics and marketing components that do not always seamlessly integrate into a consolidated back office.With a wagered back office, financial reporting, marketing, account management, analytics and bonusing tools reside within one environment, enabling your operation to automate your player engagement with pre-defined business rules, set alerts and understand all aspects of your player’s time on site within one interface. If I’m not on a wagered platform, how does my data migrate to the wagered platform? That question is dependent upon the data fields on both sides of the equation: What player data and performance data did you collect in social that can be ported to a wagered back office? The migration process of what will likely be years of data, across hundreds of engagement points and thousands of players, will not be a simple task for even the most robust of systems.
In the coming months, the United States will witness the launches of the first two online gaming regulated markets in our borders.There is no doubt that challenges around the launches and post-launch implementations will only further the dialogue around best practices and providers in the American marketplace. We have reached the tipping point of when i-gaming will impact the land-based marketplace, and now we must grapple with how to best understand and execute strategies and partnerships with the plethora of IGSPs. I hope the documented layout of core questions being asked in the marketplace assists your organization in refining your selection of the right partner in the i-gaming space both for today and the long haul.