Don’t be late to the next ‘year of mobile’

Karolina Pelc examines the changing habits of gamblers, as the lines between gaming and gambling continue to blur, and how to attract the attention of younger generations

As I sit down to write this article, we are nearing the time of the year where all kinds of trend reports attempt to predict what technologies will have the most potential for true disruption and moving into broader use within the next few years. I often look at some of the trends highlighted with a smirk, reminiscing about the times when, for almost half a decade, every year was ‘the year of mobile’. And yet when it arrived, many were caught unprepared.

The landscape changed so rapidly, they found themselves under immense pressure to transform their products as a means of survival, rather than recognising early that the change created new competitive advantages and a wealth of new opportunities. Over the past few years, the headline that keeps making the rounds asks whether our products are future-proof and ready for the next generation of players. And the answers given differ: we are, we are not… Well, are we?

Why it gains even more relevance now is because a large part of the millennial population is fast approaching their prime gambling age of over 35, where they become most solvent. Or to put it bluntly: when they land smack in the middle of the target addressable market.

Furthermore, considering that those at the top of the group, born between 1997 and 2012, are teetering towards, or already past, the significant milestone of turning 18, that so-far hypothetical question becomes very real when we start to welcome Generation Z as the new kid on the block.

Talkin’ ‘bout my generation

As a millennial myself, about to turn 36 on the leap year next year, I used to be sceptical. If gambling has survived in its current form for so many years, why would it need to change now? Isn’t it about the risk and reward? The pleasure-seeking and the thrill? Why does your birthday matter?

But it does. Age is key to media consumption habits, and the above-mentioned generations are the first to grow up in a completely connected society that has never known a world in which consumption options are not fragmented. And this new reality is directly impacting our core product: games.

Once judged on an immersive experience that translates to time-on-device, games will now be challenged to captivate players with a much shorter attention span, operating in a multi-screen mode, constantly in and out of engagement loops.

While I still stand behind the traditional view of the MDA elements that make a great game, being the right combination of maths, volatility and stunning graphics, I think it’s equally important to recognise that people’s interaction with media has evolved profoundly.

A couple of years into the mobile revolution, many still claimed portrait mode gameplay will not catch on as it does not allow to enjoy the product to the full. Yet it did and by now 84% of slots sessions are being played in portrait mode as it’s simply the way users were interacting with all their other media: Facebook, Amazon and, more importantly, other type of games.

While the evolution from land-based gaming into online and then onto a mobile was an obvious and recognisable media consumption change, the next step doesn’t seem that straight forward to be sure of. Personally, I believe this is where video games fit in.

Video killed the…

The worldwide population of video gamers is now reaching over 2.2 billion people, Forbes calls them “the new social media” and even Netflix has recently stated that it competes more with Fortnite than it does HBO. With Fortnite and sleep! And when you add casual games into the equation, GlobalWebIndex suggests that 86% of all internet users frequently play games on at least one device.

Leading game streaming platform Twitch, with two million broadcasters, 15 million daily views and a record concurrent viewership of two million, outstrips the results of ESPN, Fox News or CNBC. Its success is driven by fitting in perfectly with the new age and identifying the snacking nature of enjoying entertainment requiring a less committed yet engaged user.

What creates engagement, despite the modern day, multi-screen distractions, is the community connection – an element largely missing proper application within gambling products. Video gaming streaming continues to grow in strength as it appeals to its roots where people played together at arcades full of spectators. And aren’t the roots of casino gaming somewhat similar?

We’ve convinced ourselves that we should offer a sole and anonymous player experience. However, while ‘getting in the zone’ was the thing to do in times of desktop screens, it certainly isn’t the same nowadays and it is unlikely to resonate with the rising gamer/gambler profile whose primary usage of media created behavioural traits and a level of expectation. It’s also hard to imagine a desire to enjoy anything privately in the times where 200 million people post Instagram stories daily, broadcasting every little detail of their life to the public.

A recently published market trends report by Facebook states: “Communities are having an increasingly significant impact on the time that people spend in a single play session, as well as the likelihood that they’ll come back to a game time and time again.” With all of this market insight at hand, are we prepared to push the boundaries?

Let’s (not) party like it’s 1990

To proactively counter the naysayers, I’d like to reiterate what I said in a presentation on a similar subject a few weeks back: I am not referring to the need for better cross-selling. My point is that video gamers are no longer a consumer group you MIGHT want to attract – quite frankly, they are your consumer BASE for attracting anyone.

Furthermore, all the talk about the lack of similarities between players of different genres is no longer applicable either. Product lines are blurring, diversification of mobile gaming is actually one of the main trends described by Facebook in their report, creating new player segments and new opportunities for business growth. “What does the modern gamer look like?”, they ask. And the simple answer they give is: “They look like EVERYONE.”

A couple of weeks ago, Rockstar Games parent company Take-Two Interactive released results highlighting that player spending in their Grand Theft Auto Online game jumped 23% following the casino update where players can gamble in game currency at the casino tables. Isn’t that enough of an indication of the product lines blurring, players looking for variety and all this hard categorising being a thing of a past?

The launch of Google Stadia, which attempts to kick-start streaming of video games on mobile, is a great example of looking at the long-term vision when it comes to being ready for the next generations and reaping benefits from technology advancements like 5G. While analysts are still divided as to whether there is yet a clear demand for cloud-based gaming, Google clearly believes that physical hardware can’t be the future of video gaming in the era where gaming, gambling or any type of entertainment if almost fully platform agnostic.

I increasingly feel that we as an industry need to embrace another period of change and should perhaps take more inspiration from the world of video games and ensure we are meeting the evolving needs of our consumers to be head on.

If for video games the next big thing is going mobile, what will it be for us going into 2020 and further?

“Gaming has grown from a niche hobby into a massive, culture defining phenomenon. Come for the games, stay for the party,” states a blog post from Andreessen Horowitz.

I’d say, let’s make sure the party doesn’t start without us.

Karolina Pelc

Karolina Pelc runs her own consultancy firm and acts as a group CPO for Games Marketing and Felt. Previously, a LeoVegas casino director, she has also held various leadership roles within product and operations at key industry players such as Betsson Group and Bodog. She provides advisory services to established operators, start-ups and suppliers looking to enter the space. | Generation Z | Millennials | Mobile | Strategy | Video gaming