Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Gareth's thoughts for 2013, final arrival of convergence of Games, casino gaming, gambling and social networks!?? BBC News - Facebook and Zynga to end close relationship, Gambling Industry Bets Virtual Money Turns Real -

For years, there has been much talk of new dawn of gaming/gambling: how mobile, bingo and social gaming might change the face of it all, and for everyone...

I would agree with this statement but not given the present portfolio of products/services, business models and (lack of!) customised formats .. We are getting there but success is still very far away... Let me explain why, the likely catalysts for this top happen, and what the future holds before we arrive at nirvana (not the band) or shangri-la (not the hotel).

Casino Gaming, gambling/betting [GG] is the considered mostly as glamorous, maybe at times shady, but I think it is mostly mis-understood.  There has been much this is a “goldmine” mentality for business people or startup that look at the sector, especially those that are new to this world.

I hope to debunk a few myths and highlight what the real opportunities truly are..

In short, out side of the fa├žade of the glamour (especially the offline world), gaming gambling sector is in fact rather boring, my best analogy is like running a somewhat considered to be shady Tesco (not cornershop as its big business!) except this time it is regulated.  Worst, the business is even regulated down to what margin a product line can take (quite often also limited in how such products/services are promoted & communicated to the customers, and certain jurisdictions some media channels are even banned)!! 

Some of you who have met me also have heard my other analogy: GG operator is like a bank except don’t need to justify their fees … (to read my other infrequent blog posts re finance/banking sector pls see ).  In fact, the legendary Jack Bogle (who founded first Index fund) wrote an op-ed in new York times back in 1999 named “The Wall Street Casino”!  But to be fair, there are NO CDOs/CDSs nor Derivatives in the GG world. Choice is very important, we should be glad that most casino players only play with the money they can afford to loose, they can choose whom they play with.  Sadly, same cannot be said for the Limited partners and pension funds, who are supposedly long investors but sadly due to market structural and systemic faults, they have no choice but invest in the same pool... it will take years if ever all governments decide to work on a viable solution!  But I digress, lets focus back in the GG market.

The "gold mine" perception is too attractive (vs lack of growth in most economies) for most to ignore and it is driving a lot of companies to take the plunge (like moths to the light); as a lot of non GG industries are keep looking at the sector for incremental growth by leveraging their assets. They come from everywhere, from finance (Cantor Fitzgerald) to worldwide brand royalty (Virgin group) and even media conglomerates like Fremantle (Britain got talents, XFactors), Endlemol (Deal or no Deal, Big Brother), ITV and even Marvel Comics… have join in the fray (see free Gambit event report on licensing in 2009) …They try various ways of monetising their assets (brand value to loyal viewers/readers) from creating new formats, monetizing profitable brands/formats, to stupid simple licensing deals… Just to compare, global gambling industry is US$390.5bn in 2012 (H2 Capital) vs capital market (Just North America, traded market US$33trillion+) vs media AdSpend US$538bn (eMarketeer)  vs media & entertainment US$1.69tri in 2012 (PwC)

However, if you take a straw poll and look back to your personal lives (especially if you are not in GG industries), have you noticed that more of your friends are going “gambling” in the last year or so (excluding one off tourist visit to Vegas/Macau/Singapore )???  More likely than not, the answer is no (unless I am wrong & have only been meeting very boring but successful people worldwide)…!  Truth is, most brand owners (from media to brand royalities like Virgin) are reluctant to really "push" gaming gambling products/services due to the perceived shadiness & likely backlash and affect their core business.  Hence most would just "dabble" or "partner" and rely on their "best in class" partners, and even after that would not promote it as a career preservation move. This is in fact a sensible and safe strategy but sadly part of the reason why we do not and will not see much innovation nor measured risk taking nor investment for the new category of product/services to bridge the supply & demand gap.

This is somewhat understandable: as you can see it in the numbers (PwC global gaming projections to 2015, year on year growth is only between 8 to 10%!), the market size of the GG world does not grow exponentially.  Some might argue that is part of the reason why in 2007 Macau surpassed Las Vegas as the biggest gaming city in the world (as the money just shifted to Macau then Singapore). But GG is very profitable if you are the successful operators (with exception like the well known Trump casino bankrupted four times but of course worked for Trump, on Forbes), e.g. most hear of the phenomenal story of the Las Vegas Sands Corp.that recouped its entire $265 million investment in just 12 months after opening the Macau Sands.

Seeing great news as such might in fact the main reason why so many industries consider gaming gambling as a “gold mining” opportunity.  However,  do not forget that competition for clients in GG is a lot harder as there is only limited supply of good GG players… there is also the complexity of regulations:

For a licensed gaming/gambling operator, players should:
1)     Give consideration/money, 
2)     Game of chance (or chance and skill like poker) (the action, enjoyment, passing the time with game or with friends)
3)     Get money prizes (well in Japan’s Pachinko you need to change the prize into money in the short distance away)
4)     Generally must be 18+years for most casino games in most jurisdictions (most lottery games are 16+)
5)     Keep playing as everytime they pay to play, the house win some more (not unlike brokers encouraging people to trade..!?)

If such gaming operations run within well regulated jurisdictions on or offshore (not a scam or illegal operation) this increase further costs of management time, cross jurisdictional compliance, thus operational cost would be high!  Do not forget CRM (from promotion/acquisition to cross selling, re-activate/loyalty etc.)… and it is a Cash and a “managing risk” business..

Therefore there is mostly a mis-match for listed firms when they are treated as "Technology stock" like Betfair... 

Still fun and game; easy peesy!?? we need to delve a little deeper before we can look at the likely catalyst of growth or what might bring about real success.

For those wanting to move into GG market, it is paramount for the brands, media or entertainment owners (potential investors) to understand the key issues of running a “pay to play” operation beforehand … as not only would one need to ensure they are “of age”, but also one would need to “convince them” to play with YOUR brand… Lets face it, can you tell the difference between Joy Luck Club casino vs OffYourHeadBingo? Answer is resounding no. (there was some innovation like 3D poker of PKR, 3D casino vanished sadly) 

Logic dictates that most consumers would probably trust the brand they are most familiar with; for UK audiences they would trust the bookies brands like Ladbrokes, WilliamHill or PaddyPower etc..  However, have you visited any of these sites!??  All invariably are one stop shops and can provide everything.  So how do players choose!??  Well, they generally choose by the offers available, hence the life time of players are very short, and cost to acquire them very high… but CPA (Cost per acquisition) in GG market is around half the cost for acquiring each depositor for High Net Worth wealth management industry… one is ultra short term, another much longer term and it is supposedly wealth preservation..  Both however are faced with similar challenge of how to bridge the “Trust & Confidence” gap..  These are for firms already "taking people's money"... how about social gaming!?

The talks of companies like Zynga moving into hard core gambling from free to play to compete with "gambing tricks" Jedi like partybwin/888 might be a good battle for us to watch..  Despite Zynga being already great at using social (mostly Facebook) to attract & (use gambling mechanics maintain and) keep the users keep coming back (as reported by Forbes), it just does not have the wider appeal for the joe blogg on the street to start “paying to play” yet, especially given the fact that facebook is keeping them at arm’s length now…

Sadly Mark Pincus did not see the email I sent him a couple of years back.  His opportunity is now almost lost, I would say his success rate in being a full fledged gaming gambling conglomerate would be 30% (but to increase his chance, he need to delist the company yesterday!)  (they are charting new ground here and his challenges is sadly not easily solved by buying best in class platform or sacking/re-tooling/hiring more developers, outsourcing would not work either, key is to know what needs to be done to be more than gaming gambling!!)  

Despite all of these comments however, I am very bullish! IMHO, gaming gambling could be the engine for growth for other industries that have a trusted brand with great followings, audience that would willingly want to engage by opening their wallets … be it social gaming, as from newspaper like guardian to TV channels (ITV tried with ITV Play channel to “Red or Black” with Simon Cowell)…

One of the biggest challenge for media/TV/social companies is that so far they do not do KYC and getting them to age-qualify their client is a mountainous step as their KPI so far is very different! 

Social gaming is one of the key opportunity and pose the biggest hidden danger, as not much study has been done regarding likely effects on young people's mind if they are exposed to gambling type games!?? See the key slide from Prof.Jon Grant below at the last annual GamCare conference:

Regulation of social gaming is therefore a very important subject, see this panel discussion on venture beat by Dean

So, what might work? What are the key trends? Does your company have what it takes? If answer to all the followings are YES, then you have the good fundamentals for a seat at the likely success table:

A.   Do you have a trusted brand? or trusted staffs? or trusted sales network?
B.    Qualified and quantifiable trusts? Do consumers buy your products, product extensions as blind followers? Or do they deposit and keep on depositing more?
C.    Distribution of your brand’s products and services to new clients? (do you also own the channels? on and offline!?)
D.   Do you already collect and analyse life time value of your users and understand and maximize your business processes’ efficiency? or do you outsource this!?
E.  Do you devise products and services in house by understanding your customers   preferences and usage patterns!?
F.   Do you have any experience in house money management skills (payment processes, fraud monitoring, anti-money laundering processes etc.)     
G.    Do you have minimum tens of millions of marketing budget!?? (per month, or year?) Can you have sustained promotion of new for ideally at least a year if not two!??

Once you have a seat on the table, you would need to be able to do something different, but not just by buying firms as its rather meaningless, its a numbers game, as after M&A, most likely the clients have tried or are trying someone else already, the real opportunity lies in the intersection of new customers demand, and particularly those that have NOT YET gambled or played any of your games yet... 

a good example is the likes of Gamesys (JackpotJoy, SunBingo, Caesars Casino etc.), who after CashCade’s success (with their TV spot promotion and creation of Foxy Bingo brand) are now pushing their own brand Jotpotjoy… and even just managed to buy Virgin games for an undisclosed sum! Must read article written by Dean on VentureBeat.  One thing he missed was the key question I asked during the Q and A (reconfirmed my comments above) i.e. limited addressable market for gaming gambling consumers and very fierce competition for the players.

My key question to him was: "whether the expansion to TV and trying out new TV audience engagement and online interactive format is the future for gaming gambling world?"
He answered after working as a partner of the “Red or Black” game on ITV with Simon Cowell (but did not comment specifically on this project as under NDA).  They have learnt a lot and trying new formats on TV would be a great opportunity to try again in the future…

IMHO, if you have answered YES to the questions A-G above and still want to get involved in the gaming gambling market, then you need to make sure your board supports you and ideally you are not publicly listed (if you are, then delist it first). 

Key Catalyst for growth:

In order to be successful, ontop of getting in touch with me, you will at least need one to (ideally) all of the following:
I.)                Truly innovative product/services
II.)             New games that are customized for the pervasive devices (not the boring product extensions now! not another mobile roulette or mobile poker please!)
III.)          New type of contents which players can engage with via multi-touch points (something different!)
IV.)         New business model(s) multiplayer is a given but doing what!?
V.)            Invest in research on/about likely effects on young minds and preventing likely gaming gambling addictions

You may have noticed technology or channel/platform is not mentioned, (as that is a prerequisite)

Following my suggestions above, with some hard work, elbow grease and some inventiveness, we might be able to create a real catalyst for growth and in turn bring some great enjoyment to all and make some decent but equitable money meanwhile. 


BBC News - Facebook and Zynga to end close relationship:

Gambling Industry Bets Virtual Money Turns Real -

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