The gambling industry’s trouble with tech

The gambling industry’s trouble with tech

Tuesday, December 6, 2016 Posted by Scott Longley
Tackling legacy tech issues is a challenge

If there is a word that perhaps crops up the most when it comes to discussing the issue of technology and its deployment in online gambling it is roadmap.

The very structure of the industry mitigates against the speed of adoption that might be seen in other sectors and industries. From the regulatory backdrop to the nature of the third-party relationship matrix, the path to getting a new product or game in front of the end user is strewn with obstacles and bottlenecks.

As Andy Rogers, founder and managing partner at consultancy Rokker puts it, “it’s the perfect storm for lethargy.” “Innovation simply isn’t valued in gaming,” he adds. “There are a huge amount of reasons for this and one of them is legacy technologies.”

For an industry that is meant to be at the cutting edge of online commerce, it might seem surprising that it is lumbered with legacy technology. Yet such is the case. It’s an industry which is over 15 years old, but unlike other online sectors the technology that lays behind most, if not all, the major providers hasn’t advanced in the way that it has elsewhere.

“Everything has become very monolithic and very legacy,” says Max Francis, the founder and chief executive of gaming technology company Black Cow Technology who previously spent over a decade working on both the sports and games provision at OpenBet.

“At the larger suppliers there is a huge code base that is very hard to change,” he tells TotallyGaming.com. “This is why innovation has become so stifled over the past 10 years – because it is so expensive to change this monolithic old software.”

To an extent it is an issue of being too successful, certainly when we are speaking about the names at the top of the tree. “The established players with early traction just printed cash and they didn’t see the need to innovate,” says Rick Brownlow, founder and chief executive at Geektastic, an on-demand platform for software engineers, and previously the chief executive at Bonza Gaming.

Talking to TotallyGaming.com he says: “It was a very difficult thing to do – they are sitting on legacy tech and it is so entrenched. Dominant players sitting on legacy code bases.”

The stasis poses challenging questions for operators. Without full control, most operators will to a greater or lesser degree be working within limited parameters. The infrastructure determines that many sites will have similar features, and this is particularly the case with casino games where the sameness of the offerings is notable.

A willingness to experiment means some companies stand out, suggests Francis from Black Cow. “It’s hard to build new features, no one will take the financial risk of doing so, so the next best thing is to recycle what has worked before,” he says. “I’ve had so many conversations between suppliers and operators where they don’t go for something that is too risky.”

Given the all-pervading consolidation within the sector – and the forces driving it – it’s no surprise this situation exists. Some operators are effectively thriving despite playing it safe when it comes to technology. “Most of the operators’ business aren’t tech businesses,” says Brownlow from Geektastic. “They are marketing businesses.”

Here lies the danger – and the opportunity. The rate of customer churn within the business means that customers are less loyal and they are likely to be attracted by apps that offer a more satisfying experience. Industry veteran John O’Reilly, now a non-executive director at William Hill, points out that gambling is like the newspaper business and that the “opportunity presents itself every day in real-time” to attract new customers.

A similar point is made by Will Mace, head of strategic development at Unibet. “Customers are less and less loyal to a particular brand and are quick to switch,” he says. “Companies that can deliver a better experience can be the winners. The past is no guarantee of future success. Companies like Blockbuster are examples of companies that didn’t or couldn’t adapt. The opportunity is there for companies that can deliver an awesome customer experience.”

The operators might not be tech companies, but according to Francis at Black Cow, the answer does lie with the technology that can now be deployed, particularly when it comes to the open source options. Black Cow itself has built an entire gaming engine utilising open source and modern techniques – “re-designing the game server from the ground up,” as he says – and Francis believes there is now more pressure than ever before on operators to embrace the future.

“The industry has managed to ignore trends before, but there is more pressure now,” he says. “The fact is that we have a genuine GDK (games development kit) that exists and you can give it to game developers so they can start building immediately. It’s the hardest message – deploy this kit and people can build custom games for you. We are describing the modern world to flat-earthers.”

Totally Gaming says: The supposed settled landscape of today might not be competitive edifice it appears. Moreover, if the customers demand more – and there is plenty of evidence that they do – then the industry would do well to listen.

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