Over the past year or so, the online casino sector has seen a number of factors converge in a way which is forcing both operators and suppliers to rethink how we retain customers. This process is already well under way, and a more holistic approach to retention will become more important than ever as a result of regulatory and competitive pressures.
A brief look back at the recent history of online casino shows that operators – particularly those from the Nordic countries – have been extremely successful when it comes to player acquisition.
A new generation of players has been introduced to online and mobile casino, and we’ve enjoyed something of a marketing golden age, at least in terms of the freedom with which operators have been allowed to advertise across much of Europe.
Unfortunately, there are signs this will not last as countries across Europe take further strides towards a more comprehensive dot country model. The recent news from the UK that from August 2017 free spins will no longer enjoy tax-free status could prove a major hit to operators’ bottom lines.
And there could be a knock-on effect across Europe, with the distinct possibility that other regulators across the continent will follow the British example.
What this all means is that operators will no longer be able to rely on acquisitions to drive growth. Instead, they will need to find innovative new ways to extract greater value and better retain existing customers.
This will require a shift in attitude for many in our sector, and a willingness to implement new ideas, some of which have taken time to gain acceptance.
Take gamification, for example. While the term has been an industry buzzword for a couple of years now, there were still plenty who doubted its actual utility as a retention tool. But we are now seeing operators, like Casumo, drawing material benefits and growing extremely quickly as a result of their gamification layers.
From the supplier perspective, we are dedicating more resources to adding these elements, are they are present in a number of the most popular slots.
In this field, it’s also surely worth looking at what we can learn from other industries, such as airline loyalty schemes.
It is clear that aside from the power of the brand, customers want to be rewarded with something tangible if they return for more. In the age of consumer power and unprecedented choice, taking your customer for granted is the biggest mistake you can make.
Back to basics
This is not to say tried-and-tested methods do not have a place when it comes to retention, although they may need to be adapted.
One approach is to design promotional tools which allow operators to trigger free spins on a granular level, so every customer receives a tailored CRM experience.
The tools can allow operators choose which customers are eligible for free spins, as well as the game and the stake at which they are offered, and have so far proved an extremely powerful retention tool. It will soon no longer be viable to offer blanket free spin offers across large segments of a user database, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t important to reward players to boost retention.
What we will see instead is operators tying their rewards to loyalty programs and achievements, improving retention as a result.
Alongside these new innovations, there must be an absolute focus on game quality. Against an uncertain regulatory backdrop, producing high-quality content is the only real guarantee of success for any supplier.
This quality-first approach must also include everything which surrounds the game – particularly the way a game is integrated. Games will have to be seamlessly integrated in a manner which means the user is in no way inconvenienced by the operator/supplier divide.
This isn’t just a technical challenge; it is also a design problem. Games should be skinned and designed so they complement the user experience of a specific operator. One size no longer fits all.
While some operators might struggle to adapt to these new demands, for those willing to learn there is a huge opportunity. If industry pressures can force us to reexamine how we create a user experience which keeps players coming back for more, we will also discover new ways to drive growth well into the future.