With industry minds currently preoccupied with the potential crossover of real money gambling with games on social networks, it was unsurprising that this theme, along with mobile, dominated content at the seventh annual Online Bingo Summit held at London’s Paddington Hilton last week.
Gambling content after all forms the basis of several of Facebook’s most profitable games, such as Zynga Poker and Caesars-owned Slotomania, while online bingo is arguably the real-money sector’s only truly social game, promising the greatest audience and product crossover.
Social games providers such as Slingo – whose Zynga-licensed version of its slots/bingo hybrid has 17.2 million monthly active users (MAU) on Facebook – thus rubbed shoulders with more familiar exponents of the real-money space on the panels and presentations in front of an audience that included representatives from all the major UK online bingo brands and providers. Senior figures from Tombola, Foxy, Playtech, 888/Dragonfish, Sun Bingo, Jackpot Joy, Paddy Power, Wiliam Hill, Ladbrokes and Costa Bingo were all present, alongside smaller operators and suppliers, mainland European operators, European lotteries, affiliates, even a provincial Canadian regulator.
Search engine giant Google was first to present to the 200-strong audience. Deputising for former Paddy Power and PokerStars marketing man Fintan Costello, gambling industry manager Marie Despringhere said that the 351 active bingo brands in the UK “means that every single day I could be playing bingo on a different site throughout the year”. This made differentiation of brand increasingly difficult, she argued, particularly against the backdrop of a 300% rise in TV ad spend by bingo brands in the UK since 2009 to reach £20m in 2011 (Source: Mintel). The rise of multi-screening among bingo players, referring to their use of laptops, mobiles and tablets while watching TV, made it even harder to compete for their attention, she added.
The solution? Google-owned YouTube, according to Despringhere, citing TGI data that online bingo players are 43% more likely to watch video online as the typical internet user. “YouTube is the largest video site in the world, the second largest search engine in the UK and the biggest homepage in the UK. YouTube bingo search is growing, whether it’s for bingo keywords or TV, whatever it is, bingo players watch TV, they go on YouTube and they search for bingo queries.”
The different revenue models deployed in social games and real-money gambling were the subject of investigation on the innovation panel on Day 1, featuring Slingo CEO Rich Roberts, Sumit Gupta of the company behind Facebook game Bingo Bash and Bingocams CEO Marin Muyser. Gupta told the audience that of BingoBash’s 2.2m active players on Facebook, “only 2% have ever paid anything to us”, with those users paying 10c per game. Roberts put the industry average at somewhere between 5-7%. “If you are doing 3% it will be very difficult to make money on it” he argued, who added that most games in the space were probably yielding around the 2% mark. Roberts also argued that a long view needed to be taken of the huge valuations currently being placed on social gaming companies, that moderator Leigh Nissim pointed out were “significantly higher than egaming business that are potentially generating more cash”. On IGT’s recent US$500m buy of DoubleDownCasino, Roberts said: “It was really about what they think IGT is going to do with DoubleDown…as a full wagered gambling product.”
Rob Wheeler of games developer Cozy Games also crunched metrics from various sources to conclude that social games on Facebook need to be generating at least US$30 per month per 1,000 players to be profitable. Established social networked casinos such as IGT-owned Double Down are making US$125, with Cozy’s recently launched product to date yielding a respectable US$71, according to Wheeler.
But if social and mobile were undeniably the dominant themes of this year’s online bingo get together, someone clearly hadn’t remembered to tell the players who sat on this’s year’s popular Player Panel. The three female players and one male player were completely underwhelmed by the idea of playing bingo on Facebook and on mobile, and denied that names and brands made them more or less attracted to a site, despite the big UK brands dominating among their favourite sites. Tombola and Jackpot Joy garnered the most mentions, ahead of Paddy Power, Mecca, Costa and Bet365, with players praising the homepage layout and ease of navigation at Tombola. The sole male player on the panel, Owen from Manchester, also confessed that his wife didn’t even know he played bingo: “It’s just I am in my room playing bingo, and my wife is next door”…”Playing bingo” quipped Nissim, prompting laughter from the audience.
Angus Nisbet of MeccaBingo.com made the point during his presentation that while the overriding objective for his brand remained “getting in front of your customer in as many places as possible”, co-ordinating brand messages across Mecca’s retail and online arms remained a challenge, particularly when parent Rank Group was sending out four million-plus pieces of customer communication a year. “How can we expect customers to trust a brand if the retail and the online brand don’t appear to be communicating with each other?”, said Nisbet. “We have different departments, 50 people working in the retail business, others in the dot.com, some people work for both. You have to make sure if you are sending an email from the retail business, you don’t contradict that with an SMS that comes from the dot.com proposition.”
The changing role of bingo affiliates was also considered by a panel consisting of Roo Wright of leading portal Bingoport, Ben Starr of affiliate site Oh My Bingo and Adi Frum of Moon Bingo operator NetBoost Media. Wright made the case for affiliates to be treated as an extension of the operator’s marketing arm rather than as a separate division, to avoid competing against operators on SEO, PPC, and player management and reactivation, as well as the need for dual tagging of players to reduce “unattributables”. Regulated markets represented more of a threat than an opportunity for affiliates, the panel agreed. Starr said: “We are going to wait and see how operators get on there [Spain]. It is highly taxed, and it does filter down to the affiliates and squeeze our margins. It will affect us, we will see how competitive those regulated industries are.”