The race is “on” to extend the gaming experience from the casino floor to the patron via the Internet. Driving this is the explosive growth of both Web 2.0 and gaming on the Internet. This expansion appears unbounded, both in the increased number of players and the amount of time they are spending online. According to WMS’ Active Gambler Profile™, casino patrons spend an average of 4.4 hours on the Internet, and nearly half that time is spent on casual games. The Active Gambler Profile also discloses that one-third of gamblers play casual games, which represents a 50 percent increase in activity. Casual games are big business. All you have to do is examine the valuation and hype around Zynga and look at the level of acquisition activity by companies like Disney and Electronic Arts. Zynga, founded in 2007, took in $850 million in revenue in 2010 and is in the process of going public at a valuation in excess of that of IGT.
Given the explosive growth of casual games and Internet usage—and the belief that Internet gaming will soon be legalized—technology suppliers are working to bring Web 2.0 to the casino. Casinos are also interested in extending their brand image to the web and engaging players in new ways that will enhance their loyalty.
Adding fuel to this trend is the seemingly endless variation of innovative gaming experiences that are now hitting the market. Web 2.0 makes it possible to leverage a large array of game mechanics to make their sites even more immersive to consumers. Zynga’s success, for example, has resulted from its ability to create games that are experienced socially. In addition, they have made innovative use of analytics to arrive at valuable insights into player behavior.
A Web 2.0 example in gaming is WMS’ Player’s Life Web Services, a software platform that enables patrons to interact with their favorite WMS game themes online. After enjoying casino or online versions of WMS games, patrons are incentivized to extend their experience at your casino. They are drawn by game mechanics such as unlocking game levels to complete challenges. WMS claims that these features drive nine additional minutes of time-on-device.
However, this offering is not without controversy. One concern is that WMS will use its relationship with the player to promote game loyalty at the expense of loyalty to the casino. In other words, players may churn from one casino to another as they pursue involvement with the game theme. The challenge for the industry is to resolve these and other dilemmas in order to fully realize the potential presented by Web 2.0.
Also in the competitive mix are IGT and Bally with their iPhone® apps, which are not tied to wagering activity. These apps lay the groundwork for creating familiarity for interactive versions of traditional casino games. In addition, IGT tested a promotional concept called www.tixtowin.com. This promotional concept allowed players to earn tickets that were redeemable on the Web for an opportunity to win cash prizes. This initiative by IGT represented yet another approach to bringing Web 2.0 interactivity to the casino patron.
Leveraging Web 2.0
Web 2.0 is the framework that makes websites interactive and social. Prior to Web 2.0, user interactions were limited to clicking on hyperlinks; communication was largely one-way, from the website author to the user. With Web 2.0, communication channels have been opened in every conceivable direction. People can now engage each other in real time, using a diversity of media such as blogs, podcasts, RSS feeds and social networking. They can communicate to large bases of listeners or niche audiences with specific contexts in common. In Figure 1, we identify basic building blocks of a Web 2.0 site. Mixing and matching Web 2.0 features and combining them with player insights can guide you in creating your roadmap.
Current Website Infrastructure
Most casinos already use Web 2.0 design elements on their home websites. For example, patrons can access their loyalty account information, which is updated in real-time. These sites employ a flexible framework known as a content management system (CMS). The CMS (not to be confused with casino management system) may use open-source platforms such as Drupal or Joomla! This framework enables a non-programmer to administer the website using a graphical dashboard composed of a collection of widgets.
Widgets play an important role in the delivery and presentation of sophisticated third-party services, such as analytics-based recommendation engines. A familiar example of third-party content delivered via a widget is YouTube. Using widgets and a CMS, your casino website could act as central point of attraction that drives online engagement to your casino.
Greater Player Engagement
The most compelling argument for Web 2.0 integration is the economics of player engagement. Web 2.0 enables casinos to drive player engagement at very low incremental costs. The drivers of Web 2.0 player engagement are social and behavioral, and these are powerful in the way they drive revenue. The added benefit is they are not as expensive as other forms of player reinvestment. Below is a partial list of behaviors that may be reinforced via Web 2.0:
• Provide players with status recognitions based on individual and group competitions.
• Allow players to identify and record achievements associated with activity inside the casino.
• Let players compare their performance in such a manner to create a competitive situation.
• Provide players a platform thought which they can express themselves as unique personalities to those around them.
• Provide opportunities for gift giving, a strong motivator in a community of people who have a social bond.
A Practical Example
Consider, for example, the histories of three players, Andy, Barbara and Charlie. Each responded to a new member promotion at the Reward View Casino. Andy was an experienced player who dove in deep … until he hit an unlucky streak and quickly lost interest. Barbara was new to gaming. She tried a couple of games and never engaged with the gaming experience. Charlie, on the other hand, had a long history of gaming and took satisfaction in working every casino’s loyalty programs. He always knew which casinos were offering goodies and timed his visits in order to take advantage of the most valuable comps. Over time, Charlie enjoyed the fruits of every inducement that each casino could offer and become bored with lobster buffets.
Despite taking different paths, each of these players ended up “cold.” They each took differing engagement paths that led to the same place. Warming them back up to gaming would take far more than a generic win-back offer. The recipe for bringing them back needs to account for their independent paths through the engagement life cycle.
The following application concepts might not only alert a casino of the deteriorating relationships with these players, but they might also provide players and operators with information that could be used to create a more mutually beneficial relationship:
• A community that helps gamblers find the best loyalty program, games and casinos that matches their playing style.
• Applications that allow the player to brag to their social network about their gaming accomplishments.
• Data aggregation sites that provide insight into a casino’s share of the player’s wallet at an individual player basis.
• Rating and tagging of slot machines by players to identify hot and cold slot machines.
• Content aggregation, whereby players describe their favorite slot machine and post pictures and descriptions of their favorite bonus round.
I believe that it is an exciting time for casinos to think about Web 2.0 implementations. In future articles, I will discuss creating online experiences that are a natural extension of your game floor. I will discuss leveraging gaming data to make your game floor magnetic to those who drop by your casino or are a part of your Web 2.0 following. These articles will help you set the context for your organization to think about the marketing, technology and strategy implications of Web 2.0 on your business. I look forward to participating in these discussions with you.