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With technology innovations continuing at pace to meet consumer demand for flexibility and choice, virtual sports has grown dramatically. EGR asks Steven Spartinos why the market has changed so rapidly and where virtuals will go from here

EGR Intel (EGR): No longer seen as filler content, how have virtuals developed into an integral component in the portfolio of today’s operators?

Steven Spartinos (SS): Due to the demanding nature of today’s consumers and the fast-paced innovation-driven industry, virtuals has grown at a rapid rate. I can’t speak for our industry peers, but Kiron is all too aware of the standards that the marketplace demands and we’ve devoted ourselves to developing the products and services that are expected across the board.

Operators require a diverse product offering, one that is inclusive of multiple options to offer something to all players. Virtuals represents games that are designed to be more player-centric with more efficient results. Similar to the real thing, they capture the thrill of sport and the betting experience that goes with it.

For today’s players, there is a greater-than-ever demand for instant gratification which virtual sports provide – they generally prefer higher-frequency betting opportunities and results – and this reflects today’s trends where players are more impatient and have greater options for their time and spend. Virtuals satisfies that ‘snacking’ culture.

Traditional sports bettors can now enjoy wagering on fast-paced events that mimic their real-life counterparts – games that run every couple of minutes, filling the gaps when live events are not running. This evolution of the vertical, driven by consumer demand highlighted by the pandemic-induced lockdown, has seen us arrive at a place where virtuals is no longer simply considered as a complementary product – it adds a further string to the bow of operators in their quest for an ever-diversifying portfolio.

Live events versus virtuals

Virtual sports will never be able to completely replace live sporting events, it would be naive to believe that, but it most certainly has its place. In many markets, that place has been retail which has held sway traditionally but, of course, was hit hard during the lockdowns and enforced closures.

The lockdowns and complete shutdown of retail that we all endured boosted online growth incrementally, and with that, much development was placed into new and improved games.

In the most recent suite of games, brand new, real-to-life features, like focusing on the last 90 seconds of a basketball game, have enhanced the playing experience by bringing these games more in line with what players expect during a real sports event.

Games can be tailored to suit local markets, bringing more of what they like and expect to see in their games and, equally as important, complying with regional compliance requirements.

The immersive realism that is vital for virtual sports is now possible by making the most of the latest CGI technology and motion capture, creating real to life plays. This allows games to be presented, that align with the increasing quality expectations of today’s players. Add to that extensive betting markets replicating those in live sports and you have a contemporary betting experience that’s a perfect fit for 2021.

Omni-channel delivery and scalable platform architecture make it straightforward for operators to offer thousands of daily events and leverage the opportunities to boost their revenue.

EGR: What role has the Covid-19 pandemic played in highlighting the strength and opportunities virtuals offers?

SS: The shutting of real sporting events in 2020 and the migration of retail players online presented virtuals with a golden opportunity to prove its worth. Many of these additional players acquired during this period enjoyed the high frequency experience offered by virtual sports and remained after the return of real sports.

The pandemic emphasised that by marketing new gaming formats to traditional sports betting players, operators benefited from the increased spend and greater stickiness of their offering, thereby boosting online growth.

EGR: What innovations have been seen in virtuals recently?

SS: Motion capture has been a huge step forward for the realism we can now bring to games – virtuals offers today a much more real-to-life sports betting experience.

Introducing additional football leagues simulating the most popular international football leagues has added further depth to operators’ virtual offerings and have proved to be very popular.

Finally, the introduction of more robust mobile network infrastructures and the arrival of 5G has created the most ideal online environment that we’ve ever been able to deliver our graphically rich games in.

EGR: How big a part does data analysis play in the development and ongoing management of successful virtual offerings? What benefit does a keen understanding of player behaviour bring?

SS: It’s massively important. Knowing what players prefer and how that influences their playing choices is key to overall engagement and growth. It provides us with an understanding of where trends are flourishing and allows us to cater to that. This is particularly important when you supply products globally as we do.

We can react to changes in play activity and improve the availability of bet markets, and sports selections around regional events, providing promotions and tailored games to suit. All around, it allows us to apply resources to focus growth efforts in key markets, whenever it is required.

A wider, firmer grasp on understanding markets and players ensures that products remain at the pinnacle of providing the entertainment and engagement that they’re designed for.

EGR: Today’s players prefer a quick, easily consumable style of entertainment – how has this shaped what we currently see in operators’ lobbies? Have current trends in other forms of media/entertainment/leisure impacted virtuals?

SS: They have. In line with how other media is consumed, the nature of our products now is that they offer bite-sized, easily consumable experiences, with many events available in quick succession. Players are confident in the knowledge that there will always be an event that suits them.

This goes hand in glove with the shift we’ve seen toward a more online existence. Across wider society, engaging in things ‘virtually’ has become the norm – from contacting a utility supplier to working from home – and sports betting experiences are no different.

The growth in mobile as a platform for play has seen products designed for this medium from the ground up. User interfaces are now mobile-friendly like never before, with gameplay and bet markets designed to satisfy the demand for a complete betting experience no matter the device availability, place or time.

This has led to a greater leveraging of the latest technologies to cater for the wide range of handset availability across different continents and the expansion of localised content and greater overall diversity – all elements which are continuing to shape the industry as we know it.

EGR: Are there any particular regions that hold the most promise for virtuals? Where is hot right now?

SS: A number of European countries have recently introduced online regulations, which create new opportunities to expand the virtual sports footprint, such as Sweden, the Netherlands and Spain. A number of other European countries appear to be following suit, creating exciting prospects for additional growth.

Africa is a huge continent with equally huge potential for the igaming industry. Each country is in a different stage in terms of effective legislation and regulatory frameworks.

Currently, Africa is predominately retail-focused. There is a massive ongoing shift to online and we are seeing African players become more accustomed to the modern style of betting, again, the pandemic being the main recent driver of this as players were forced to use alternative channels for betting.

Virtual sports, like the overall gambling industry in Latin America, is still relatively emerging but is gaining increased momentum.

What we’re seeing there is that virtual sports is now becoming a part of the core content portfolio demanded. Operators have been introduced to the benefits virtuals brings to their offerings and they’re keen to see that popularity continue in their locations.

EGR: What is the future for virtuals? Is there anywhere left for the vertical to go?

SS: Despite virtual sports’ roots being back at the beginning of the millennium, we’re only at the beginning of a fast-innovating and changing market. If you’re always pushing the boundaries of what can be offered and doing so in a manner that suits existing and potential partners and players, then you’ll always be at the head of your game – an ethos we’re passionate about at Kiron. As technology improves and more development and resources are put into virtual sports, the opportunities are almost endless. If the last year is anything to go by, the sky’s the limit.

Steven Spartinos is co-founder and co-CEO of virtual games provider Kiron Interactive, an award-winning, leading supplier of virtual games and gaming systems to the global industry. Established in 2001, the specialist supplier services web, mobile and land-based sportsbook and casino operators on five continents. Prior to joining the betting and gaming industry, Spartinos worked in banking and finance.

Covid-19 | Innovation | Kiron Interactive | Mobile | Product | Technology | Virtual sports

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