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Sportech’s Digital President: What can Rubik’s cube teach the gaming industry?

Digital gaming Digital gaming
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William Warby

Frustration is just as important to engagement as the story behind the game itself.

Digital gaming began its rise to prominence around 15 years ago.

I was one of the early adopters during my time at Hasbro Interactive and Atari where I was tasked with taking the boxed versions of games like Monopoly, Scrabble and Boggle, and delivering them for digital distribution.

At this point in time there were very few people using broadband, in fact most people still had dial up, which made the task significantly harder due to the download times it took to install the products.

Couple that with resistance from the boxed product retailers that dominated the industry, and it was difficult to really gain traction.

Prior to this, the music industry faced similar difficulties too, doing everything in its power to avoid embracing digital distribution altogether.

They aggressively fought the new upstarts – fearful of a reprisal of control, subservient to old business models.

They may have been right for a while, but what these business leaders failed to realize; was rather than dictating what customers should be doing – which the music industry hoped would be the continued purchasing of chart music, was instead squandered by the emergence of something significantly more powerful.

P2P streaming sites like Napster coincided with the emergence of MP3 players and allowed individuals to indulge themselves in a multiplicity of different genres, expressing their differences through what Chris Anderson calls the Long Tail.

What’s more is that this could be done anywhere, any time, releasing a generation from the shackles of the 20 or so song limit afforded by CD’s at the time.

What can be taken from this saga is that whether you’re building your business or extending it, unequivocally, success requires you to go where the customers are.

Unlike in the movie Field of Dreams, where the belief of building something without a plan will lead to success, the digital gaming industry just doesn’t play out that way.

Because those who will engage with your game are not always where you want them to be, and unless you tap into the wants and needs of the client, they will not come, no matter how much money you put behind your acquisition models.

When we look at digital gaming and gambling products, it follows the same pattern with past digital transitions, and content needs to be developed with the customer in mind to meet that want.

“What MP3 players and Napster did for the music industry, mobile is doing for the digital gaming industry.”

The task that has arisen now for the digital gaming industry is really to ensure that products are able to stand out.

When you look at slot content for example, there are thousands of different individual slot games that people can play, and so delivering a differentiated experience fit for the specific platform has become the biggest focus for anybody making games.

The engagement trap

To ensure you remain on top, research is key.

Which means working with your consumers and core players of that genre’s content to ensure you are headed in the right direction.

In today’s competitive gaming market, when the core customer looks at a game there is the expectation of immediate gratification. They want to jump right into the game and not waste time reading rules.

This is a particular trend that has risen to prominence in recent years but still goes back to the old Atari model of easy to learn, hard to master. Very few products on mobile app stores have instructions of any kind. It is what consumers have come to expect and what the developer needs to deliver.

What’s more is that all of this has to occur before the game has even been released. Once the customer gets into the game there’s a whole new set of dynamics to contend with, in particular, engagement.

Although, despite appearances, the word engagement doesn’t necessarily have to mean enjoyment as it can also mean frustration. If the customer can’t put the game down, they are engaged.

Like the Rubik’s cube; people don’t necessarily have fun playing with the Rubik’s cube, I certainly don’t, but like others I am engaged enough to complete the puzzle.

The same thing can be applied to casino game content.

If you watch people putting money into slots over and over again until they win, they’re probably not having fun but they are engaged. This has a direct correlation to social casino games; the desire to win is the engagement.

Therefore the focus is building a digital gaming product that players want to continue to play.

You can have that same 3 in a row game mechanic like Bejewelled or Candy Crush, but if you don’t have the added game features needed to keep the consumer engaged, you will not separate yourself from the competition.

This is where the relationship you have with your customers will provide the feedback that will give you a better understanding of your own development.

Sustained iteration is key

All industries can learn from this, because the digital gaming industry is a very difficult market to have success in.

Continued success is even more challenging, because consumers are very quick to move onto the next game if they are not having a quality experience.

And with over a million game apps on the mobile app stores vying for our attention, second chances are a rarity so you must make the first one count.

It is not easy, which is why there are so few successful games on the market compared to the overall offerings.

It is important to understand that you get out of it what you put into it.

If you’re not going to have the desire to roll out pioneering technology and the patience to painstakingly build great game content, then you’re not going to have the success you are striving for.

What’s more is that this needs to be done again, and again, because consumer expectations continue to change and you cannot rely on what you did the last time.

Consumers are always looking for more, for less. They want bigger experiences for less investment of time and money than their last experience.

As expectations grow, understanding the consumer’s behavior and what they are looking for is the start to bring success to your product.