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IN-DEPTH 21 January 2019
Vermantia: Higher quality streams and data will increase player engagement
Filippos Antonopoulos is CEO and founder of bespoke data and picture content provider Vermantia. He started the company in 2007 after honing his knowledge of betting and gaming working in Latin America’s lottery industry. He began his career as a Wall Street analyst and was included in Fortune Magazine’s 2013 40-under-40 list.
By Tim Poole

What are the benefits of being based in Greece, considering so many gambling companies have HQs in Malta, Gibraltar or Isle of Man?

Residence in a particular jurisdiction like Malta or the Isle of Man is more of a regulatory thing that applies far more to B2C operators, in truth. Vermantia, as a Greek multi-national company and leading B2B supplier, was founded in Greece and has no need to be anywhere other than here. Some of our biggest customers, like OPAP and Intralot, are based in Athens, so it makes sense for us to be close to them. Greece is an excellent tech hub that has more than its fair share of high-calibre computer scientists, programmers, engineers, and technicians – so it is very good for recruitment too. It also happens to be a great place to live! We have a vast international focus as a company; but we are very happy to be based here.

How big is virtual sports within the gaming industry and how much scope is there for the vertical to grow?

The figure that is always quoted for virtuals is they are 10 per cent of most revenues in retail sports betting. Yet with so many more players discovering them across an increasing number of jurisdictions, I think that figure will grow. It is a mixed picture, however, and the key is understanding the nuances of each market. Some mature markets, like the UK for instance, may well be reaching saturation. Others, like Italy, are mature yet continue to grow at a fast pace. You then have the likes of Africa and Latin America which have huge potential, along with the newly enabled US, which could be a fantastic opportunity for suppliers and operators alike in the coming months.

What we are seeing at Vermantia, and looking to provide for our operator partners, is variety and flexibility with which to deal with those different market challenges. Virtual Games has a lot to do with the graphics and the experience of the user, and obviously the technologies are very important too. But at the end of the day, mathematics and data sit at the core of gaming. Players are becoming better educated and looking for new games in different sports, along with more sophisticated mathematics and data-driven game engines. The maths always makes sense for the players’ wallet.

Then come the actual virtual sports. Prime sports like football and racing dominate the existing markets, yet lots of money is bet on innovative hybrid products, like our Virtual Horse Racing Roulette that thrives with our customers in the Caribbean. New markets like the US naturally demand virtual versions of their own prime sports. That’s why we have developed our award-winning virtual baseball game.

So, for Vermantia, a key strategy in our virtual games offering is variety and flexibility. Operators’ requirements change from country to country, as do the betting markets customers want to bet on, so it is important to offer our operators choice. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to virtual sports. For that reason, we have also integrated many game providers into our CONNECT platform so that operators can select among 25 different titles, effectively covering all their virtual needs, picking from whatever game types they want.

How do you aim to deliver tailor-made products with clients so diversely spread across different verticals and different countries?

A differentiated product offering catering for the variety of needs our partners have has always been a core value at Vermantia. We apply it to every product and service we offer. It is probably at it’s most apparent in the provision and presentation of live racing and sports. We offer the most comprehensive variety of live horse and greyhound racing of any supplier on the market and one of the reasons we do so is to give operators choice. What excites a customer in a shop in Lagos may not be what excites another in Bulgaria. As a result, we make sure operators can access a specific content mix that suits their needs, with bet markets, programming, scheduling and the whole layout adapted to their own customers.

We think the localising graphics, data feed and odds with which to have a bet are vitally important to put customers at ease. Any operator will tell you quality live racing and sports, presented well with readily available markets, is the sweet spot for all sportsbook customers. Of those three things, the presentation is arguably most important, as customers must be comfortable and familiar with what they’re watching. Virtuals is the same, with the game engine adapted to and compatible with the local custom and regulatory environment. This isn’t something we’ve arrived at recently at Vermantia – it’s what we have strived to achieve since day one. This is the reason our products, powered in a fully flexible manner by our CONNECT platform, give greater scope for choice than other options in the market.

How big is your lottery offering compared to other areas of your business?

A significant number of our partners, such as OPAP, Intralot and Lottomatica, are also lottery operators. But that doesn’t necessarily mean what we help them with is lottery number games. We do have a comprehensive set of numbers products, including instant win games, to complement their existing lottery draws. But, for many of these companies, it is our virtual games and live racing and sports that is of real benefit.

In recent years, operators have diversified their product portfolios, seeing the opportunity to cross-sell other offerings to existing customers and to attract new ones. Lottery operators then become bookmakers themselves, while bookmakers adopt number games. Consequently, we now offer a full spectrum of products across multiple channels to meet the demands of modern audiences. The definitions that once marked operators and those who supplied them have blurred significantly in recent times. Even the US market, which was one of the last vestiges of the clearly defined verticals, is changing; operators are discovering there are great opportunities for them to diversify and grow.

How does the Vermantia Live Betting Channel aim to increase player engagement?

Customers thrive on live sport and the better the quality of pictures and data you can provide them with, the more engaged they will be. When you put a television on the wall of a bookmaker or sports betting zone, you cross over into the world of entertainment – and those watching it need to be entertained. They need good-quality production values and high-definition graphics, alongside fast, accurate and easy-to-understand data.

A great example is our new European Racing Channel, which is a stunning vision of top-quality live racing with a betting focus. We’ve taken a great deal of time and effort to create the channel and are very proud of some of the new graphical elements, many of which will be familiar to Formula 1 fans. What data we then impart and how we present it is key, too, with enough information to entice customers but not too much so they are overloaded. It is then a question of streaming the right content mix to suit individual markets and customers within them, so the entertainment on offer is what they desire.

How important is ICE for Vermantia and the rest of the industry?

Very important. There are now more shows than ever, particularly with new jurisdictions opening up. But ICE is the big one, with more operators and suppliers under one roof than almost anywhere else. It is very important for us to showcase our products and services, of course, but it is also a great opportunity to catch up with clients and discuss their needs and how we can help them with a changing business environment. It is a great way of discovering what else is happening around the industry, which helps us plan our strategies for the coming year and beyond.

What products will Vermantia be showcasing at ICE this year?

We are very excited to be talking to operators about our market-leading live racing channels this year and explain how a bespoke, round-the-clock service will give them a competitive edge and help both attract and retain customers. They are packed with top-quality horse and greyhound racing from the UK, US, South Africa and Australia and are supported by Vermantia’s complete odds and data services. All visitors will have the chance to dive into a digitised, cashless, self-serviced betting experience, anchored by our award winning FLAVOR and V-POS self-service betting terminal solution, as well as our top-quality Virtual Sports powered by our proprietary CONNECT platform. Visitors and partners will be able to take a closer look at the company’s content driving technologies, enjoying the thrill of live action with less than one second latency, powered by Vermantia’s streaming solution.

What are the major challenges you face in 2019?

The key focus for us is to expand our live racing offering on the international stage, as well as the growth of our data and streaming services. We have seen from the progress of virtual sports in the last few years that there is a real opportunity to provide good-quality content as a customer immersion tool. What is less well-known, and where we need to help operators and their customers in some areas, is just how exciting live horse and greyhound racing can be when complemented with the right data and odds.

It’s all about offering tailor-made solutions for the operators, both in terms of innovative premium content and multiple distribution media delivery, as well as the development of cutting-edge solutions. Vermantia is uniquely positioned globally, bringing to players a real immersive betting experience through a multitude of channels, both in terms of content and data. We have been deploying live racing and virtual sports channels to new international markets for many years and we are confident 2019 will be a great year for further roll-outs, utilising core, revolutionary technologies.

Where does Vermantia aim to be this time next year?

Vermantia is a technology company at heart, with market-leading solutions proven to enhance customer engagement. We know whether it’s the excitement of live racing and sport or the graphical sophistication of virtuals, we have an offering that will entertain and increase revenues in any market. Evidently, as part of Arena’s group, racing will remain a point of excellence in both content and delivery.

In 2019, we want to further expand our data and streaming services, offering new options in both retail and online. We have invested a lot in our new retail self-service solutions, FLAVOR and V-POS, bundled with our premium content and the latest in cashless and mobile payment options. This completes an end-to-end solution which allows customers to act upon the pictures and data on show before them. Our obvious goal over the course of the next 12 months will be to have deployed these solutions to as many operators as possible, wherever they are in the world.
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IN-DEPTH 4 September 2019
Virtual reality: Creating next-gen experiences for players

Singular CEO George Shamugia discusses a new revenue stream for casino operators

The competition in online gaming is intensifying, with players becoming more and more demanding. In some markets, single-customer acquisition costs can reach up to €400 ($440) alongside growing churn rates. Furthermore, the online gaming sector struggles to attract one of the most lucrative groups of players – millennials. The experience provided by casinos no longer appeals to the younger generation.

On  the other hand, the video gaming industry perfectly understands the needs of millennials and by introducing elements of luck in their games offers the best of both worlds. With the launch of loot box systems and Grand Theft Auto’s in-game casino, we have seen their first successful steps in targeting the online gaming sector. GTA V online, with 33 million active players, recently opened an in-game casino, where players gamble real money on games such as poker, roulette, slots, etc. As a result, churn users returned and GTA Online reached the highest number of active players since its launch in 2013.

The online gaming industry has almost fully utilised the potential of the mobile medium. The time has come to look for new, innovative ways of delivering a next-gen experience to customers.

The potential of VR

Could the next big thing for online gaming be a fully fledged virtual reality (VR) casino delivering an immersive experience and limitless new opportunities?

Although not widely adopted yet, VR has a sizable number of customers. Analysts predict it’s poised for explosive growth to become mainstream in about five years. According to market intelligence firms, the VR market will be worth $117bn by 2022, and according to Juniper Research bets made through VR will reach $520 billion by 2021. Upcoming 5G mobile network technology will propel VR’s mass adoption by allowing the development of fully portable untethered and affordable VR headsets.

Different level of social interaction

The captivating nature of gambling comes from its social aspect. Unfortunately, personal interaction is widely missing from online gambling sites. VR technology creates multiple opportunities to bring back and even enhance that social moment. The ability to connect with other players is one of the main reasons behind Fortnite’s popularity. This form of co-experience is the next generation of entertainment. Research conducted by Facebook has found participants spend more time on VR compared to any other medium. This directly translates into increased profits for casinos.

Pokerstars has made efforts in this direction by implementing Voice UI. Instead of using hand controllers to make a call, pass, or raise, players give voice commands.

Another opportunity for bringing in the social element are the players’ avatars. They enable players to build their identity reflected in the avatars’ appearance, but also the avatar's social, competitive and community status. For instance, players are willing to pay real money for virtual drinks at the bar. Operators can offer these social touchpoints for free to VIP customers as an act of appreciation.

VR also brings a new dimension to customer support. Customer support can also be represented with avatars to assist the player in person. The social moment increases the LTV of players and contributes towards lower churn rates.

Rethinking game design

VR is a way more capable medium than a 2D mobile or desktop screen. Instead of copying the existing online experience, games must be redesigned from the ground up for a competitive advantage with VR. For example, a VR slot game can become fully immersive by teleporting the user into the slots’ world of Ancient Egypt. Next, enrich the experience with high-fidelity graphics, realistic spatial sounds and animations. When betting on virtual race cars, the user can be teleported inside the car he/she made a bet on and experience the race firsthand.

New revenue streams

VR casino lobbies create new revenue stream opportunities: ad placement of brands on the venue walls, company logos decorating the bar etc. This kind of branding is not intrusive in the VR space and feels natural from the user's perspective. VR also gives users the ability to change venues from a Las Vegas casino today, to Macau or even Mars casino, the very next day. The dynamic and diverse experience increases retention rates.

The majority of profits for online gaming operators come from their high-roller players. Although they represent a small subset of active players, an operator can launch a separate VR casino brand for them. Providing exclusive VR gaming experiences to high rollers/VIPs, the operator can minimise churn and maximise VR efforts for these player demographics.

The catch with VR is to focus on quality, rather than scale. The target audience might be limited yet, once these players experience it, they will become ambassadors for your offering.

Surely, the opportunities and possibilities offered by the VR medium truly exceed anything offered by mobile and desktop. VR is a new frontier not just for gaming but for every industry, and it’s exciting to see where it takes the industry and what kind of innovation it brings upon us.

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