Online gambling technology has long been at the forefront of software innovation, despite uninspired visuals and similar experiences across platforms. For The Drum’s Gaming Advertising Deep Dive, James Bennett, PR director at Receptional, looks at recent attempts to deploy the technologies associated with the ‘metaverse’ to enrich the experience of online bettors.
One well-known betting brand has more than 63 million customers and employs more than 5,000 people to manage a highly complex, global operation. Customers demand instant registration and deposit; lightning-fast stats; real-time in-play visuals; the ability to amend odds faster than most stock exchanges; and payments quicker than most banks. All this while simultaneously managing millions of different transactions and settlements.
No wonder one FTSE 250-listed software company CFO once told me his business turned over more per year than the GDP of Hungary.
But while the backend has been the envy of many other e-commerce sectors, the front-end experience still lags behind and is largely made up of the same games using the same platforms but with a different logo. Here’s a typical punter’s experience: you log on, read a few pundits’ tips and study the form, and then place your bet and leave. Where’s the fun, the entertainment, the rich experience that we all crave from the four hours we spend every day on our cellphones?
The pandemic and post-pandemic years have seen a stream of disruptive technologies and buzzwords enter the conversation at gambling events, with execs rushing to learn more about and occasionally invest in the metaverse, NFTs and/or crypto/blockchain technology.
Can the metaverse cure the loneliness of online bettors?
Several businesses have already invested in or begun to experiment with building disruptive tech, including Entain (owner of Ladbrokes, Coral, Bwin and other brands) committing £100m over time. The World Poker Tour launched an NFT Poker Club; newcomer LynxBet built a first-version metaverse world.
Gambling is becoming increasingly immersive. But the metaverse is inherently social, something that online gambling, unlike its brick-and-mortar counterpart, is largely unable to fulfill.
Live casinos are the closest immersive spaces, where players watch and chat with ‘hosts’ who spin a branded roulette wheel, deal cards or present game show-style gambling games.
Translate this to a sophisticated 3D world where players socialize with hosts and other players to potentially hold and trade digital assets, and I can see this gaining popularity. But mass adoption remains an issue.
Esports are attracting more bettors – and higher bets
Esports, especially betting on games such as Dota2 and Call of Duty, has seen accelerated growth in the last two years, with millions of fans watching pros expertly navigate their way through virtual worlds. Average bets on esports are high, potentially far higher than live sports, and the number of people betting on esports shot up during the pandemic.
The scenario is ideal for betting to engage a younger, next-gen audience who are digitally-savvy and constantly connected across multiple devices. The next step is to create a world where they can meet, watch, bet and engage with the product on a deeper, meta level.
Real and virtual sports are set to converge
The world of virtual sports could hugely benefit from a metaverse that converges with gambling. When the global lockdowns of spring 2020 forced sporting events to be canceled, betting faced months of revenue losses and sought refuge in digital, namely ‘virtuals.’ These Random Number Generated (RNG) competitions, spanning virtual horse racing (think Grand National 2020), greyhounds, football, basketball and even track cycling, soared in popularity with bettors deprived of real-life events.
Online horse racing platform Zed Run embraced this digital trend, taking virtuals to a new level with a horse racing game built on the blockchain, while also operating in an open market. By replicating the real world of horse racing in a digital world, it enables users to set prices and race volume; buy and sell digital horses; build a stable of digital nags; and breed 3D thoroughbreds. The only thing missing is physically entering a metaverse and gambling.
Sports betting must evolve – or lose out to more interactive entertainment
Gambling brands, no matter how hard they try not to change, know things can’t stay the same forever. They’re desperately seeking new ways to develop more meaningful relationships with customers. The newly-regulated US is a case in point, where brands have joined a race to the bottom by spending vast sums on high-value customer acquisition marketing strategies, instead of building loyalty and focusing on retention. Equally, there’s increasing pressure on the industry to evolve with the gradual realization that it soon won’t be able to compete with more interactive entertainment.
Something has to give; someone will have to take the plunge. There are already several clear signs that online gambling will need to offer far richer and more social and sophisticated experiences.