Monday, 13 February 2012

The Product Lifecycle and Responsible Gaming

We are currently collaborating with GamCare and the University of Salford on a project to research multi-operator self-exclusion. The research is examining self-exclusion in a number of contexts, including examining the drivers behind industry adoption of new responsible gaming tools and standards. The research is jointly funded by The UK Technology Strategy Board and the Economic and Social Research Council.

The evolution of technological standards and products follows a specific path according to Wardley (2011).  Wardley, in this video, outlines a model of technology adoption, ideas diffusion and productisation, arguing that activities evolve through a common pathway, starting with innovation, custom development, through to productisation and services and eventually commoditisation. At the commoditisation stage, technology and processes are commonly predictable, repeatable and measurable. Business is ‘warfare’ and a ‘catfight’ argues Wardley, as market forces drive competition, product development, and product adoption through the lifecycle.

As we noted in an earlier blog on industry dynamics, the gambling industry is one where innovation is becoming increasingly critical to success. There is a significant emphasis on creating new and exciting games and content across multiple channels, with new features being  released in increasingly shorter timescales to gain maximum impact and advantage. However, it can be argued that the same emphasis on research and development and innovation has not been seen in the evolution of responsible gaming tools. This is arguably due to the notion that, in general, responsible gaming is viewed a compliance activity by the industry, with operators in effect focusing on delivering the mandatory requirements to ensure they able to compete in regulated markets (although there certainly are exceptions). Having assessed the evolution of responsible gaming features using Wardley's product lifecycle curve, we can see this broad trend emerging.

When examining what drives the productisation of responsible gaming tools one should consider the broader macro industry trends impacting commerce, for example the continuing switch from land-based to internet commerce across all industries. Consumers are, for example, increasingly sure about the security and safety of online payments, which has resulted in a multitude of internet payment service offerings that a gambling operator can leverage which is ultimately driving to the commoditisation of online payments. 

In addition to cross-industry mega trends, regulation has (unsurprisingly) a considerable influence on the evolution of responsible gaming products and services. Responsible gaming features which are now licensing requirements in regulated markets, such as self-exclusion, are firmly ingrained in the product architectures of all internet gaming player account management system product offerings, and are moving to the point of becoming a commoditised offering and responsible gaming 'hygiene factor'. However, some gaming operators have begun to differentiate these hygiene factors, for example by developing self-exclusion by gaming vertical which in effect allow players to self-exclude from specific game types e.g. casino, sports betting, lottery, etc. Such features are currently not widespread and are being developed by operators who see competitive advantage in these offerings. These features will progress from the custom build phase to product/service stage if more operators see this as a source of differentiation. Alternatively, future regulations could demand operators to offer additional responsible gaming tools if they are deemed to provide greater safeguards to the consumer, which would begin elevating these features to 'hygiene factor' status.

Muli-operator self-exclusion solutions, such as VeriPlay, are being developed by software firms such as Bet Buddy in collaboration with industry partners in the absence of regulatory requirements in the UK. If such services are viewed as a compliance activity by the industry, then there is a risk that they will not receive sufficient priority and investment i.e. operators will be unlikley to prioritise the development of a non-mandatory responsible gaming feature ahead of mobile game development, for example. Although we do note there are some excellent responsible gaming initiatives have been developed and led by the industry (see the WLA and ESSA, for example). Nonetheless, this places regulators in a difficult position, in that as regulations remain largely static once defined and implemented, technology innovation continues on a steep upward gradient. Regulations are therefore at risk of becoming quickly out-dated, and if all responsible gaming innovation is left solely in the hands of market forces, there is a risk that neccessary developments in player protection are not prioritised and developed as quickly as they should be given operators' finite resources.

GamCare will be presenting initial research findings in April 2012 at the Responsible Gambling Council's Discovery 2012 Conference in Toronto, Canada.