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Lessons in real-time

| By iGB Editorial Team
Peter Gough is the non-technical founder of Fenway Games. He faced a steep learning curve developing and bringing the firm's first in-play game to market. He shares some insights and lessons from the process.

As a non-technical founder of an igaming start up, Fenway Games' Peter Gough faced a steep learning curve as part of a team developing and bringing their first in-play game to market. He shares some insights and lessons from the process.

For consumers in 2015, just watching ‘the match’ doesn't seem enough anymore. They demand instant gratification when it comes to news and updates. I'm just the same!

Whenever I watch live sport on TV, I do so with my iPhone in hand, and expect to be able to engage with the game on my own terms. This is what drove the development of our in-play game SnapBet.

As a non-technical founder embarking on this process, I was nervous, but with a lean methodology how hard could it be?

The product we set out to build was based around predicting what happens in the next 60 seconds of the live football match you are watching on TV, allowing you to place bets in real-time.

While the product utilises real-time technology and was therefore highly technical to build, our aim was to make it super simple to use.

While we recently made it to the other side (our app will be out soon) getting there involved our finding solutions to a series of challenges, some anticipated, other less so, along the way. Here I share some insights and learnings from this process.

First off, the term you will hear most frequently when you introduce your idea to the industry is latency, or how the time delay will affect the user experience.

Of course, the faster the delivery of data, the better, but our experience taught me that it is more important to accept up front that there will always be an element of latency, and to factor this into the build of that game so the end-user experience is not impaired.

Prior research is also vital. Your game or app will be built using many blocks of software, and you will need to understand exactly how each package reacts to being subjected to the strains of real-time tech.

Your infrastructure will be required to stand up to intense demands, calls and requests, so you will need to ensure it can do so.

To provide an example from our experience, we originally built our match clock in Flash, only to realise that other options would prove smarter, such as HTML5 or native mobile technologies

Researching your data provider is just as important, and you have an abundant and impressive range of suppliers to choose from. Ideally, your technical team should test receiving and integrating feeds from a shortlist of data partners during a trial period.

With the integration to your selected real-time data feed comes the realisation that this forms the hub and drives the entire game experience.

Rigorous beta testing and contingency planning is therefore thoroughly recommended, to ensure you can achieve a seamless experience with features such as fixture-list updating, posting of social media alerts and games being initiated automatically.

To my mind, this is the very essence of “the lean startup”.

However, I was completely thrown the first time we encountered a human, rather than technical, error in the data feed. 

We had built an extremely advanced bet-processing engine, and yet had not considered the potential for the referee to make a mistake, or for the officials to reverse a decision, or even to allow for a human data input error. 

While it almost goes without saying these days that a fast-paced, real-time product should be built mobile first, not as an afterthought, issues such as connectivity during a match also need to form part of your mobile strategy and build.

Finally, how does your product look and feel? There is a real urge to use all of the data you are provided with and offer this to your customer. You will also be in a position to build a vast number of features into the game.

This may be ideal if you want your customer to engage with your game many times over a long period of time.

However, trying to cram too many features and too much information brings with it a real danger of swamping the user experience, so you would be well advised to keep this front of mind during the build process.

Now that we are at the finish line, we are confident we have found effective solutions to these difficulties to deliver a real-time second-screen game with a seamless user experience and innovative interface, and we remain highly hopeful for its launch.

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