In a world where data is playing more of a part than ever, can the gaming sector do more to embrace data analytics?
Polymatica CEO Mark Hinds spoke exclusively to Gambling Insider to answer this very question...
What brought you into the world of data analytics?
I joined data analytics in 1996 at Dunnhumby, which was a very small company tasked by Tesco to make sense of its Clubcard data. The thinking was if we can understand our customers, we can win. The rest is history as Tesco went on to have great success. So it was an accident, really, that I ended up in a small company which was inventing the world of customer analytics. It was a brilliant accident; timing is everything in life.
Tell us about what Polymatica does and the company’s history.
Polymatica’s been going for about seven years. For the first five years, there were no clients and purely a team of incredibly bright people looking to build software. The issue they’d seen was there are a lot of business analytics companies, people who are quite heavy users of Excel. Then, you’ve got the problem owners who have issues to solve. But there was no real bridge in the middle of it. So they became so frustrated, they decided to go out and build software to bridge this gap. Their big breakthrough was when they hired a couple of people from the gaming industry who knew Graphics Processing Units (GPUs). GPUS are like sprinters, whereas CPUs are like decathletes.
Alongside this, I’d been trying to solve the issue of taking massive customer data and making it really easy to understand for a business owner. When Polymatica demoed their software, I saw the brilliance of it and I don’t think they even realised how good it was. In essence, Polymatica is a customer data science consulting and data technology platform. It helps organisations do three things: work on what are the really big questions they should be answering with data; two, we support them in answering those questions; three is provide the tech that helps you do this.
When the company had no clients, it ran purely on investment from those who believed in the product and the founder’s vision. The big thing for me joining was: you want to have something defendable. So here, what you could see is you had to be a genius to crack this problem and you needed many years. So, when I saw it, I thought that was a very defendable piece of technology.
What kind of services do you offer?
We have three services. Normal clients pay for all of them. Some clients, from sectors that haven’t been well served (of which gaming is one), often want support on finding the problems, then dealing with them and also the tech side. Previously, companies used to outsource analytics; now, everyone wants to insource it because people see analytics as a core competency now.
Some clients come to us and say “we do A and B really well but we want the tech.” Some will say “we want support in all of it.” Some might say” we want support with specific bits of insight.”
What do you think Polymatica can bring to the world of gaming?
If you look at any sector and understanding customers, some sectors do it well – but not many. The ones that do really well tend to be ones with a flag-bearer. If you look at Tesco doing really well in the ‘90s, all of the retailers looked at what they did and produced copycat loyalty programmes. Banking did it quite well with credit rating agencies.
A lot of others haven’t really had that flag-bearer. If you look at gaming, it’s a massive technology challenge to build the big platforms. Imagine building a platform that supports loads of different games across the globe 24/7. As they become more mature, you’ve got to look beyond solving complex problems to what the essence of the offering is. That’s the brand and the experience. That’s true for everything but, in gaming, it’s the brand you’ve got and the experience you can create for customers.
So what do we offer? If you really want to have a fantastic customer experience, the best way to do that is to truly understand the dynamics of players. If you go on a lot of gaming platforms today, you’ll see menus that lay out the games in different ways. Slot machines might be segmented into movie or sport themes because there is an assumption made that that’s how players choose games. Actually, that’s not true. If you look at slot machine players, one of the most important things is the mechanic that sits behind the games. So they tend to look for games produced by the same manufacturers rather than the themes.
It even applies to something like Netflix. For all the talk about the science they use, I as a customer can find it incredibly frustrating. It’s the same with Amazon Music. Making it easier for customers to find what they want is something that can be done, past products have shown that, but big companies are deciding not to prioritise this.
What other industries do you work with and are there similarities with the gaming sector?
Clearly, the culture is very mature among grocery retailers. What they do really well is understanding different customer needs and changing the core proposition around them. They then build a data strategy that goes right through the business. Those sectors have done a really good job of saying “you’re our core customers, what promises do you want us to fulfil and how do we build a strategy to meet these?” Gaming can definitely learn from that. It’s a different industry but there are huge benefits there in changing the customer experience.
You recently worked with a gaming provider. What did you learn from that experience?
We’re actually working with three or four. The work splits into two interesting areas. One is understanding how players engage with the platform these days and therefore understanding what innovations you should bring to market. New games come to market all the time – how can you actually help people understand what innovations to bring to market? Certain players will navigate themselves to a certain type of game they like. What we can see is the need for balance and to mix up the offerings to a player, so recommending innovating in areas which are perhaps underserved.
We can also use data to look at how to bonus more effectively. At the moment, it’s incredibly clumsy. What you see is people coming in, using a bonus bet and never playing again. What we’re doing is trying to increase the life cycle of the players.
Do you think gamification can help in this regard?
Definitely. If you take a step outside of the clients I work with, you really have to look at Vegas. The guys who spent a fortune, it wasn’t about giving them free bets. Even in the digital world, the super high rollers get managed as VIPs. It’s about their experience. In this case, digital operators can still learn from the physical world. Just because you aren’t in a casino, it doesn’t stop you offering customers a free limousine ride or gamifying things in a different way.
What challenges do data analytics firms face in 2019, especially in the gaming sector?
Firstly, it’s obvious but getting the data in a useful form. You kind of take that as a given but the truth of it is, for most companies, the data’s a bit of a mess. Often, people spend a lot of money in capturing the data. They’re frustrated, unable to get the data they need to answer their question. The data science team is also sometimes more obsessed by the techniques than the business problem. There’s this issue going on where the business owner wants a question answered but the data scientist answers it in a very complex way. Or they’ve invested in BI tools where there are a number of static dashboards and the inside is effectively locked. I think that’s quite universal.
Where we come in is: how do you get the tool in the hands of the business user? People almost put the functionality and technicality ahead of the person. The gaming companies that put the “why” first with their customers will win. Data scientists are only going to get more stretched. The reality is you’ve got this great asset being created, with the demand being massive, but companies may continue to be frustrated.
What are Polymatica’s aims for this year and do you have any specific targets relating to the gaming industry?
The reality is I want to create a story that’s as famous and compelling as Tesco. I want to be working with brilliant companies, changing the sector. Client success stories are the best stories you can have. If your clients fly and credit you, even in part, that’s brilliant. Ideally, we want one or two gaming companies to take a different approach, really think about their players and create huge traction off the back of it. It doesn’t have to be rocket science or super complicated. My big drive in gaming is to do something simple but that no one else is doing. The proof will be in the consumers. You want the players to say they really loved the experience.