As the industry welcomes the new cashless payments app, YALP, Game Payment Technology’s Greg Wood unpicks the data behind digital, the key trends of tomorrow and how new technology is providing enhanced social responsibility scope…
Digital is the undoubted growth area for game-play in the UK. How has it revolutionised the business and is the revolution only just beginning?
Greg Wood: In our view, the revolution is related to the audience that the products appeal to. We have seen, as you suggest, some very impressive growth and this has been down to the winding play base but also to the increased value that players are getting from the digital products with RTP being much higher than on reel-based products. It is hard to see exactly where we are, but I think there is still some time to run in getting the market to digital as uptake is still below 50 percent overall.
CS: As a pioneer in the digital project, where do you see the next wave of innovation coming from? What technological initiatives are you exploring in both content and delivery to move digital on to the next level?
GW: There are two key areas that we are focusing on outside of content. Firstly, the ability to pay. With younger people not carrying cash and the amount of cash used for payments in society decreasing, this is a key topic and one that has been on my agenda for a long time. The Yalp product by Game Payment Technology now coming to market will help to move this forward. Secondly, the area of focus is the player experience, which comes back to an extent to the RTP but also the machine itself and how immersed the player is with the machines and the games. The better overall experience that the user gets, the more they will want to play.
CS: In simple terms, what’s working and what’s not when it comes to digital? What games are gaining traction for your company and where are seeing push back in terms of digital from the marketplace?
GW: We are still seeing significant market share for the Irish-themed games on all manufacturers’ machines. However, there is a noticeable difference between some of them in terms of the overall percentage of play that is related to the Irish games. There has been a significant move to other games though, which we also believe is driving growth in the cashbox. Providing the players with richer content is key to the continued growth. There is resistance in digital uptake and there is still a significant place in the market for reel products. There is a definite north/south divide on digital performance and uptake.
CS: Investment in innovation is crucial. Over the next year or so, where will you be targeting growth in the digital?
GW: There has been significant investment into all areas of the market, those being the tenanted, managed, and free trade business in single-site operations. For us, though, this will be looking at where we can drive income up in locations that have yet to be exposed to digital or where it has failed before. Adoption rates are going up. When digital gaming first made a big impact into the single-site market, there was a lot of box-moving beforehand to get the machines into positions where they would perform. In contrast to where we are now, we see almost all digital installs improve the income when replacing a reel-based machine. Although there is still a significant number of digital machines in the market and the income on these also seems to be going up.
CS: Digital is more than just gameplay. The systems and software that make digital possible are also delivering other key resources – notably data. How has that information changed your working practices?
GW: The game data is key and always has been. But the different offerings are showing us how different concepts seem to work in different geographic areas. This then allows us to start positioning machines where they will perform the best. For us, this is only the start of this journey. There are a lot of benefits that will come from connectivity and systems that are only just starting to be properly integrated into working practices.
CS: Social responsibility has emerged as one of the side benefits of the digital revolution in gaming. How are you applying this to your overall offering?
GW: Obviously, this is a very hot topic. Digital does gives us more scope to interact with the user and there are a number of bacta initiatives that are ongoing to help this, such as boot-up messages and players confirming that they are over 18 before playing. This is not possible on reel products. Moving forward to payment apps, this will enable us to ensure that all players that play through the app are over 18 – something that is very hard to achieve with cash play. There is also work ongoing with some manufacturers on camera-based AV built into the machines. ITL, for example, have a product that is available.
CS: Digital is still in evolution, so what are currently the missing links – for example, cashless payment systems, more comfortable seating, sexier, sleeker cabinets?
GW: For us the key factor is payment systems. We need to be able to offer players the options of cash but also cashless play. It is about revenue protection in the first instance. There will be opportunities for growth, but these will be down the road I believe, with offers such as bonusing, and free spins, etc. As for the seating, in the AGC I think that this would have an impact, but space in the pubs is an issue with this. We have seen how cabinets have an impact on income, driven by user experience. Also, with new technology, it allows the developers to deliver richer content and increase the amusement aspect of the AWP.
CS: Final issue, and it s probably a significant one: regulation. What do you need from the regulatory framework to make digital really meaningful for the business? And what should the industry be insisting on for digital when it comes to the Triennial Review?
GW: This is a very hard question, there is a lot to consider. Given where we are right now with growth and the requirements on SR, I think there will be little advantage in asking. There is a lot of change currently and there will be more to come. Until this has played out some more, it’s going to be hard to know. Bacta are working on their innovation roadmap, which outlines some of the ambitions that the industry has on regulation, but timescales are not yet clear. SR is going to continue to be the key challenge.