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IN-DEPTH 13 February 2017
The importance of User Experience
Mobile app development company Degree 53 CEO Andrew Daniels tells Gambling Insider why UX is so important as a differentiator in operator products
By Gambling Insider

Tell us about your career in the gaming industry.

I’ve been working in the gaming industry for over a decade. I started out developing websites for football clubs and working with Sony PlayStation on digital solutions. In 2003, I became a founder member of Million-2-1. We were one of the first companies in the world to offer gambling services on mobile. Back then, mobile gambling worked through SMS and WAP sites. We later moved on to building Java Games and this led us to being acquired by IGT. I stayed at IGT for a few years, leading their first HTML5 games development. After that, I joined Betfred to head the mobile development division, working there for three years and building its mobile platform. I learnt that there was a need for digital delivery in the gambling industry and what we did for Betfred could be tailored to many other businesses. I decided to set up Degree 53 to be able to do that.

Degree 53 was founded in 2013, how has the company grown from that point?

We started as a small team in a small office, building the business up and moving away from working for only one company. We needed to take care of the admin and legal operations ourselves, so it was a big learning curve for us. Once the essential details were covered, we then needed to focus on winning new business.

Three years later, we’re now 45-strong, in a much larger office, working with some of the leading gambling operators globally and growing. During this time, we’ve received the Remote Gambling Software licence from the UK Gambling Commission to be able to provide comprehensive services to our clients and fully support them. We’ve also expanded our client base outside of the gambling industry and have created solutions for businesses in finance, education, sports and retail to name a few sectors. Last year, we doubled our profit from the previous year, this has allowed us to invest in some products of our own which is very exciting for us.

What have been your personal highlights of the past 12 months?

My personal highlight has been winning international clients. We’re now working with businesses in continental Europe and the US, and it’s as natural to us as working with someone in Leeds or London.

UX is a term that’s used extensively in the gaming industry and has numerous definitions. How do you define it?

UX is about putting users first and making the experience easier and smoother regardless of the industry. It’s about finding the most efficient and effective ways of directing users to the objective, whether it’s registering, playing a game, placing a bet or making a deposit. UX should tie-in with what customers want or how they want to engage and the brand’s business objectives to maintain profit and customer retention. As an agency that offers UX and design services, we feel that both need to go hand in hand with the solution/technology a company provides to ensure the entire product works well technically, visually and offers the best user experience.

Why is UX currently a popular buzzword in the gaming industry? Is it an operator’s primary way of distinguishing an essentially homogenous product from its competitors?

Visually, design can be an effective tool to stand out from the competition, particularly when the layout or the way certain betting applications function in a similar way. However, many operators use games from the same suppliers and are often unable to change their graphics, so their options can be limited. UX goes beyond the visuals and can determine and enhance the entire user journey. Great UX can make a real difference to how users engage with the app or website.

With the rise of mobile technology, it has become even more prominent to focus on providing a great user experience to help users bet or play a game as easily as possible. For example, some of the most popular apps, such as Uber, offer their services with a few clicks/taps – they’ve made this very easy for their customers and this works. This is what the gambling industry should be aiming for – removing any UX obstacles and allowing users to get to the desired destination.

Many established operators that have been offering online gambling services for many years have legacy systems that are hard to change or modernise without affecting other parts of the system. We’ve noticed that where they can make a change is in the front-end part – UX and UI design, which can often enhance the experience.

How can UX impact customer engagement and retention?

The journey within a gambling app or website needs to be as effortless as possible, from registration to playing a game or placing a bet. Operators spend a lot of money on marketing and acquisition, but they also need to retain those customers. If the UX is confusing or involves too many steps, users are more likely to abandon the product and never return. They are also more likely to seek alternatives from competitors and go elsewhere.

Therefore, operators looking to improve their customer engagement and retention can do so by refining their UX. This can include tweaking the registration form and making it easier to fill out, such as displaying its length and breaking it down into sections. Another option is to clearly display the most popular or frequently used functions, such as Play, Account, Deposit and Help to allow users to navigate more efficiently. It is important to build gambling solutions suitable to the various devices users access them from. Everything needs to fit on the screen, be adaptable and follow the same design and technical principles as the platforms that customers use, e.g. iOS, Android or Windows.

How can a UX overhaul have an effect on a gaming operator’s bottom line?

The gambling industry has very little brand loyalty from its customers who often chase offers and opt for an operator with the best value. In order to retain customers, businesses need to remove any other barriers that would cause users to abandon them. They need to look after their customers to minimise the risk of losing business to a competitor.

The simpler the product and its usability, the more customers will appreciate it and come back. Think about all the other apps out there that are used daily, such as Facebook, Uber, Deliveroo. They’ve made it easy for people to use their services which makes them beat their competitors. The same thing needs to happen in the gambling industry. Operators need to focus on their customers and how UX of their products could facilitate engagement and increase retention.

Which gaming industry verticals do you believe are most neglected from a UX standpoint?

Sportsbook can be one of the verticals where UX can be improved. There is a big amount of data and navigating through it can be a challenge on some websites. Also, bet slips can be complicated. Although, there is often a lot of information, grouping different markets into categories instead of displaying them in long lists could improve the UX.

How is Degree 53 looking to expand its offering and presence in the gaming industry?

We’ve been doing a lot more work on UX, working out problems around the usability in different gaming apps and websites. We’re planning to push these services more to include workshops around addressing UX challenges, focusing on details and making everything more seamless. However, having the Remote Gambling Software licence from the UK Gambling Commission allows us to offer comprehensive design and build services. We can create a gaming app or website from scratch and make sure every step is thought through from a user perspective. We’re also working on games and will be showcasing this service more in the future.

What do you think the future holds for mobile gaming? Will mobile gaming apps of the future be recognisable compared to the apps we see today?

I’ve heard people argue that there’s a lack of real innovation in the gambling industry.

I think people who say this are waiting for some new, game-changing vertical to be launched, such as Exchange Betting and Daily Fantasy, but these don’t come along too often. However, I see innovation in simple things, like cash out and in-play. I think the nature of the industry is that products will improve, new channels will be created such as AR and VR, but backing Thistlecrack to win the Gold Cup or Manchester United to win the league will always remain the same.

What are your long term ambitions for Degree 53?

Our mission is to improve the digital experience for all and we stand by this notion with every project. We’d like to be integral to this with our clients and we want to be the go-to company for UX, design and development in the gambling industry. We’ll be expanding further, working with more global businesses and building our portfolio.
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