If you don’t have the technology you don’t have a business in the igaming sector.
As much as any other digital industry, online gaming relies upon the harnessing of technological developments. There isn’t a single part of the business that doesn’t rely on cutting edge technology, from data to marketing, content to payments.
I think back over the last few years in North America and consider some of the legislative changes that have allowed for a new, fully regulated multibillion-dollar industry.
A landscape has been created for players to enjoy games legally and for operators to vie for the attention of millions of players. In essence, that landscape is a technological battleground, and it’s those operators than can deploy technology best – or identify superior suppliers or particular disruptive technologies – that will succeed.
We’ve seen some incredible developments in the last few years with the most transformative being the smartphone – the mechanism that allows people to bet where they want, when they want.
From ease-of-use via apps to swift payments, and the revolutionary impact of in-play on betting culture, probably no other sector has been so altered as gambling by the development of smartphone technology.
Discussions on technology should primarily be forward-looking. While we can and should consider the kind of innovations that have caused the sector to take the next step forward, we should always be looking ahead to anticipate how the landscape will continue to evolve and grow.
The disruptive technologies of the coming years are not just within the purview of gambling, but also the areas that dominate the thinking of tech executives across a range of sectors, from finance to ecommerce to medicine and everything in between.
The most alluring technologies are probably as familiar to people on the street as they are to industry leaders, notably: artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, internet of things (IoT), and virtual reality (VR) or alternative reality (AR).
We’ve read about AR in magazines, heard about blockchain on news features, bought an IoT-ready smart light bulb or maybe even seen AI leading to the end of the world in a Hollywood blockbuster. But what might they mean for the online gaming industry?
Perhaps top of the list is AI (or machine learning) due to its capacity for personalisation, strategic automation and responsible gambling. AI can transform intelligence around customer journeys, creating a digital view of players so they can be better and more efficiently understood.
This is particularly appealing as it can have an instant, tangible impact on business metrics.
On the opposite end of the scale, perhaps, is blockchain. Regularly cited as the next big thing, many might still consider crypto to be the domain of tech nerds and conspiracy theorists.
Its potential for independent banking and blockchain-based sports betting certainly means we should keep it in mind, but a clear path has never become apparent as to how it can be applied to mainstream igaming businesses.
Internet of Things
This goes back to my championing of mobile phones as being online gaming’s most transformational technological development, as it’s the linking of these gadgets with their owners and other devices that makes IoT so important.
By tracking and analyzing the right data sets, online platforms can learn over time how customers interact with and respond to games. IoT also links up mobile devices with land-based entities, such as casinos, so that operators can offer the full omni-channel service.
Virtual Reality/Alternate Reality
In terms of content, VR and AR have long been touted as potentially revolutionary for immersive gaming; enter a virtual casino or play roulette on top of your kitchen table.
However, poor uptake of the technology currently available has put the real demand for such experiences into question. Is it just a gimmick that will only ever appeal to a niche of techie types, or can it cut across to the mainstream when hardware becomes cheaper and more widely available?
In the coming years we can expect all kinds of unexpected and wonderful developments that will bring new colour to gambling – a pastime that dates back thousands of years.
I’d have to say the standout tech that excites me most are the possibilities presented by AI, and particularly its potential to control and diminish problem gambling.
The opportunity to learn about our players, find out what is ‘normal’ for them and make interventions when they stray from orthodox behaviour can completely transform the relationship between customer and operator.
Figures published recently by the Kindred Group, owner of Unibet, show such interventions can have a significant effect on controlling harmful gambling.
The industry should look to this as an opportunity to ensure gambling remains a safe pastime for our users and not something that potentially ruins lives. Of course, directing resources to such developments can also help build better relations with the wider public and regulators.
Let’s continue to lead in technology, and – even better – ensure the extraordinary expertise in our industry is used for good.
Chris Kape, an iGaming industry veteran of two decades, is the owner of Jamco Capital, an early-stage venture capital and business consultancy, and is the founder and ex-CEO of Don Best Sports, which was sold to Scientific Games in 2018.