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NEWS 28 January 2019

Gamification and responsible gambling: Can opposites attract?

By Tim Poole

A famous cartoon character once joked the key to killing two birds with one stone is "big rock, small birds."

Unfortunately for gaming companies, engagement and responsible gambling are far from "small birds." In a sky full of wildlife, those two would be your eagles and herons; in other words, the biggest birds around.

Supplier Playtech, however, has proposed a rather pragmatic approach to tackling both issues with one tool: gamification.

It's not a new concept by any means, nor is it a concept which applies solely to gaming. Yet gamification as a responsible gambling tool is certainly a fresh take on things.

At a Playtech Breakfast Briefing last week, Tony Evans, VP Product Strategy, Kevin Kilminster, Head of Live Casino Innovation, James Frendo, Director of Casino, Angus Nisbet, Bingo Managing Director and Peter Mares, CTO of Playtech Innovation Labs, talked assembled media through a customer’s long-term value as opposed to the short-term approach of "rinsing" a player’s wallet.

Among the supplier’s key messages was the need for real-time player engagement, a quick and reliable content eco-system and, last but not least, gamification. The industry challenges highlighted were regulation, technology and customer demands.

Soon, Playtech’s emphasis on using gamification to address both engagement and responsible gambling became clear, in turn also tackling the challenges of regulation and customer demands. Two birds: one stone.

The links between gamification and engagement have been apparent for some time; players, in theory, will find more value for entertainment when competing for badges, awards and a sense of accomplishment. There is some novelty, though, in handing out prizes for, say, taking an hour away from a slots game and stopping if a player’s losses exceed a certain amount.

Is it guaranteed to work? Certainly not – what is? As Evans himself admitted, if a player isn’t interested in non-monetary rewards, gamification won’t have any effect.

But this is where the social element must be re-enforced. Gamification on its own is one thing – yet if a tree falls down in an empty forest, can anyone hear it?

With social tools such as chat and leaderboards, a competitive player – because, as well as entertainment, gaming is all about competing – will have far greater cause to pursue their goals. Kilminster and Nisbet both gave great examples of how effective social interaction can be within groups. They told the story of a bingo room filling up well in advance of the game's start time, simply through players chatting and catching up with one another.

Socialisation in itself can be a strong combatant against problem gambling. We’ve all seen the When The Fun Stops Stop adverts advising players not to ignore friends in pursuit of another deposit. So, with social aspects added, gamification can indeed become a powerful weapon in Playtech’s responsible gambling armoury across all verticals; the same applies for the rest of the industry.

The only remaining issue, however, is the rate of adoption by operators. A phrase repeated with high frequency by Evans and co. was the fact Playtech is "giving operators all the tools they need." The supplier’s emphasis on giving the customer an entertaining experience rather than seeing them as a cash-cow is admirable in every way: it is both more responsible and more profitable in the long term.

But are operators en masse ready to adopt a similar approach? Will they truly engage with players to find a sensible balance between maximising profit and maximising user experience? Will operators dare to reach beyond the age-old strategy of using bonus-only acquisition and retention methods?

To speak in gamification terms, the ball is now in their court.

RELATED TAGS: Online | Industry | Bingo | Feature
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