Online Casino Software
How the Online Casino Software Platform Influences Casino Management In the last chapter we learned that the critical elements which distinguish one online casino from another are customer service and the type of software platform used by the casino.
In this chapter we’ll look more closely at what kinds of functions and features affect both the gambler’s experience and also the casino’s management and marketing.
As we will see the casino’s ability to attract customers (and retain them) is largely a function of the “tools” and tactics it has at its disposal – and these are almost exclusively the result of the software platform the casino runs on.
CUSTOMIZATION IN CASINO SOFTWARE
When a casino runs on proprietary (in-house) software, it follows that every single thing is customizable: the software functionality (i.e. how it downloads and gets installed), entrance screen, game menu layout, login messages, emails, etc.
With much effort on their part though even distributed software platforms allow a degree of customization too – but where this is not possible, casinos run by the same marketing agency and even casinos run across many operators of the same software will look similar in many ways.
Obviously direct communication with players (i.e. emails) is totally customizable and most of the bonus incentives may be different.
However the foundations of the gaming property are not entirely customizable. Even though there may be a choice of graphic and layout style presentations or even game suite selections, there are limits also to this customization:
- If the platform only enables certain types of bonuses to be offered, regardless of the sums and promotional names given, these will all be about the same across all the sites powered by the same platform;
- The nature of the Zodiac Casino software download and installation, or flash casino start-up will be about the same across the board;
- In the software itself, while there usually is a selection of different presentation styles, there are limits to the degree of uniqueness afforded: the overall screen templates will look similar across all the operators; the end-user (i.e. player) interface like menu layouts, buttons, game screens may vary between 2-3 possible styles but across all the brands will begin to look about the same;
- The selections of games may vary but only within a narrow band of distinction – the core games (probably 90% of those offered by the supplier) will be the same from one brand to another;
- Casino logos and images in support of the brand will obviously be different, but their placement and size may be identical across all of the operations.
The list of distinctions and similarities is long. And you may again wonder why players who join a casino which physically looks similar to another – and again the direct reply would be, quality of service or incentives offered, though as we learned earlier, the website presentation and image of the brand name may be the alluring factor which draws a visitor to, say, the Indiana-Jones sounding “Aztec Riches Casino” instead of the sci-fi looking “Virtual City Casino”. We can’t discount the influence of image and design on the gambling public.
EFFECTS OF DIFFERENT SOFTWARE FEATURES
Now, to examine more closely the role of the software in differentiating between online casinos, we need to appreciate separately its influence on the customer-end (the customer’s experience) and on the casino-management side, and then to evaluate the influence of one on the other.
SO after all we’ve learned just now, what can a software platform really do to make a casino so different or to so greatly influence its operations? From the customer’s end, here are some of the possible distinguishing traits: Download Time: some platforms are faster than others.
Microgaming casinos for instance tend to take longer to download than other platforms; Playtech sites by contrast download faster. Compatibility: some platforms may not work on certain types of computers.
Playtech download software is not compatible with Macintosh computers (but it’s flash software is). Ease of Use: the layout, menus, buttons and functions can vary from one platform type to another. For example, certain platforms integrate all the functions – cashier screen, game screens, customer service options, game help – into one main window, whereas others generate separate pop-ups and windows for every function a gambler uses. Game Selection: certain platforms offer more games than others (for better or worse).
Microgaming casinos offer around 600+ games in their packages (there is even a variation in the offering between their download and flash suites); Playtech offers around 200+ games.
Quantity may matter but on the other hand, Casino on Net (888.com), the biggest online casino in the world, offered only 9 games during its first and very successful seven years on the internet when other casinos were already offering over 100 in their packages.
The notion of “game selection” is expressed as both a quantity of games offered as well as the number of innovations of standard casino games. Quantity speaks for itself, and is best represented by numerous versions of slot games: functionally these vary by the number of reels and paylines – 3 reel, 5 reel games and 1 playline, multiple payline, 8 paylines; graphically these vary by icon images and appropriate name-branding – icons range from fruits to images of luxury items, and any package of all these above variables presented under a unique game name, like “Luxury Slots” or “Inca Gold Slots”, qualifies as a new, additional slot machine to the offering. A basic but successful form of creating unique slot game “experiences” for players.
TYPES OF GAME INNOVATIONS
But innovation, on the other hand, can be represented in a number of ways:
I. DERIVATIONS Within their selection of games some platforms offer unique innovations of standard games which other platforms don’t offer. These developments express themselves as variations of standard land-based casino games, like “multi-hand blackjack“, “Blackjack Switch” and “Blackjack Surrender”. Software platforms may also create innovations of standard online casino games, like video pokers – multi-line video pokers, reaching up to 50 lines.
II. GAME EXPERIENCE Another kind of innovation is experiential. One way of creating a unique online gaming experience is to replicate the original “live” experience – taking basic casino games and broadcasting them through a webcam to players, with a “live” dealer before the camera. The Microgaming and Playtech platforms offer this kind of gaming experience; Dublin Bet Casino, a stand-alone brand on the Vuetec platform, even promotes itself as a uniquely “live” casino because the core of its game suite is based on live games. The experience of live dealer casino and other games can be developed even further: some platforms enable chat between players and dealers in the live dealer games; some platforms, like Cryptologic and Microgaming also offer multi-player and private group games wherein players gamble together at the same ‘table’ in real-time’; the Playtech platform even enables them to chat amongst themselves through built-in live-chat software.
III. BRANDED INNOVATIONS The issue of game innovations unfolds in even more directions. Some “innovations” are a matter of simple marketing: taking variations of slot games as described above and adding to them branding with known icons and images, to give the perception of a unique slots experience to gamblers. For example, casinos which run on the Wager Logic platform, like Intercasino, offer a suite of slot games with images from the popular Marvel Comics group – “Hulk Slots”, “X-Men” slots and so on; Microgaming offers its casinos slots branded with popular Hollywood names – “Tomb Raider Slots” and “Hitman Slots”. Casinos which run on the Wager Works platform, like Virgin Casino and Blue Square Casino offer slot games branded after popular board games and TV shows – “Monopoly Slots”, “Cluedo Slots”, “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune Slots”.
IV. CONCEPTUAL INNOVATIONS Other game innovations exist in the nature of the game’s operation. For example, Wager Works also created “instant win” games (some even with branded names, like Monopoly); Playtech produced a slew of similar “arcade games”, including simple favorites like “coin toss”, “rock-paper-scissors” and “penalty shootout”. Coming at this issue from a different angle, Microgaming even took a series of its slot games and re-arranged them into poker-style “Slots Tournaments” – real-time “sit-and-go” live multiplayer person-to-person tournaments.
With perhaps greater emphasis on the “professional” gambler’s experience, Cantor Gaming, which powers casinos like Red Lounge, even enables the casino operator to develop customized games at the player’s request. Cantor also features single-deck blackjack and low-commission (4%) baccarat, professional-type game innovations furthered by Chartwell Technologies. Chartwell, which powers Victor Chandler Casino and BetFair, also developed “zero house-edge” games – simple adjustments to classic casino games whereby the standard house edge applied to certain games was removed completely.
The zero option in roulette was removed to yield “true odds” to gamblers; the commission in baccarat was reduced to an industry low of 2.75%; and the payout for a suited natural blackjack and five-card 21 increased to 2-1.
This concept unfolds further: some platforms offer what are called “progressive jackpot” games, wherein all operating companies (marketing agencies) using that platform and subscribing to this game ‘circuit’ contribute a certain percentage of all bets placed on these progressive games to a common jackpot whose level rises real-time all the time until won by a player who may be playing at any one of the participating casinos in this progressive jackpot ‘circuit’.
The jackpots can reach as high as $5-6 million, so there is a market for these games (the benefit to the casino with the winner, by the way, is two-fold: one, the advertising benefits of declaring the casino as the place where players can win big; two, much of the jackpot comes from that casino’s rivals – if the winner can be convinced to remain an active gambler at that online casino he’ll eventually pour back in a lot of pure disposable income whose source is really the pockets of the casino’s competitors).
Live Chat: certain platforms include live chat functionality in their software – a player can contact the casino by a form of instant messaging functionality. This is a useful and popular way to bridge the gap between the electronic fa?ade of the casino with the humans playing before and working behind it; an attempt to replicate a land-based gambling experience. More than that, some platforms offer an ‘integrated’ form of live chat – this is infinitely more powerful, and we’ll learn about it just below. Built-in Email: Microgaming, for example, also includes player-to-casino built-in email to send requests or receive offers without receiving a flood of spam to his own personal email. Background Music: some platforms include background sounds and music which players can also toggle or adjust to their taste.
CASINO MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE FUNCTIONS
The list of possible distinguishing features from the customer side can be long, but the differentiating features from the casino-management side is almost endless because every little tweak and adjustment in control can be a significant advantage over a competing casino:
- the ability to give various types of bonuses (percent bonuses, flat-amount bonuses, after-wager bonuses; withdrawable and non-withdrawable casino bonuses)
- the ability to connect the issuing of a bonus to a confirmation email which lets a player know that he’s been issued a bonus.
- the ability to use various filters and triggers to offer bonuses to only very specific segments of players (i.e. only if they enter a ‘coupon’ code, only if they were sent a certain email, only if they are of a certain ‘VIP’ level, etc.).
- the ability to give bonuses instantly, real-time to individual players (or mass groups).
- the integration of the player database to individual account management screens.
- the integration of the player database to a database of emails, which can be sent individually or in mass to groups of players.
- the creation of login messages and scrolling message banners for players logged in to the software (even linkable and targeted messages, based on criteria like that mentioned above).
IMPLICATIONS OF KEY CASINO MANAGEMENT FUNCTIONS
The potential list of distinctions is simply endless. As you may have gathered by now the presence or absence of these features affects both the customer and casino-management side of the business.
Let’s consider a few examples: Take the overall issue of “bonuses” (a vital matter which we will learn about in more detail in a separate chapter): software platforms don’t all see these incentives in the same way.
The end result of these two perceptions of this one specific issue means that the first kind of platform will probably enable its users (i.e. the marketing agencies) to create and promote large and frequent bonus offers; the platform with the more conservative view of bonuses will probably offer more limited bonus management functionality and even real-time bonus crediting.
Obviously to an outsider, like the average online gambler, this can seriously influence his decision to join a certain casino or even to continue playing with one. (Unfortunately unbeknownst to the player, the conservatism of a certain casino’s bonus policy need not mean a less-rewarding experience overall, and by the same token the largess of a more generous operation need not mean a better or more rewarding experience either.
These potential limitations on the management-side affect the potential customer’s perception of the gaming entities service and this is one of the important challenges an online gaming operation faces in representing its services to its market.) As another example, platforms which cannot give certain types of bonuses are limited in their ability to attract or retain their customers.
For example, some platforms allow marketing agencies to offer multi-tier bonuses (sequential bonuses on sequential deposits, like on a customer’s first 3 deposits at a casino); others offer “cash-back” bonuses – if a player loses his deposit, he gets “comped” (compensated) with a certain cash bonus which can be withdrawn; some even allow new players to play for free with a certain amount of the casino’s money without having to deposit first, and to keep their winnings.
In a related example, some platforms issue bonuses instantly when a deposit is made; others require that an email be sent to the customer support department in order that the bonus be credited; others depend on the customer entering a “coupon code” into a field on a special page either in the software or on the website in order to receive the bonus.
However good the casino may be, it’s obviously better for both the casino and the customer when bonuses are instant and automatic, with as little bureaucracy as possible.
Some casinos have login messages when players enter the software: without login message functionality the casino potentially misses out informing players about a certain daily promotion offer which would otherwise cause them to deposit; and casinos which are limited in their ability to show targeted messages based on multiple variables in a player profile (such as if the player is new/old, if he has deposited once or more times, received a certain email, etc) are also limited in communicating effectively with their customers.
ZEROING IN ON LIVE CHAT NOW to take a specific function and make a learning case about it, if a casino lacks live chat capability a strategic edge is lost for the business. Why is live chat important at all? Because it is a cheap (and for the gambler, free) way of communicating real-time, either by having the player initiate contact or by the casino beginning the contact.
The issue of live chat can be evaluated in a number of ways. 1. There is often a “live chat” function on a website as opposed to there being one inside the software itself.
Live chat on a website is a good way of encouraging visitors to the site to download the software and join the casino – either by answering questions and giving assistance, or by offering special incentives to get visitors to join – like a storekeeper standing outside his shop and hauling in street traffic.
Nevertheless, once a person has joined a casino and has the [download] software, he will almost never have to return to the site again as he simply has to double-click the software icon in order to enter the casino. And if there is no live chat inside the casino software, the casino has no way of communicating instantly with its existing customers to assist them or offer incentives to retain them. This is a significant drawback.
2. And even if there is live-chat in the software, there is another issue in this subject that we have to appreciate – and this too is vital: the live chat (whether in the software or just on the website) may not be managed by the staff which runs the casino (the marketing agency) – the chat may actually be run by some outside customer service entity not closely coordinated with the marketing agency. This is a problem for a number of reasons:
for matters of secrecy, an external service company may have limited access to customer account details (and so request that the customer send his question/request by email so that someone with access can assist him – in other words, this is not real-time assistance);
for a similar reason as well as a natural lack of real-time coordination with the marketing agency, these outside firms also receive less managerial discretion to deal with customers. This often expresses itself in stock answers to complex customer questions or a frequent refusal/decline to indulge the customer in his request;
there is also a matter of knowledge and professionalism: by virtue of being an external body, however good it may be in the general field of “customer service”, no such awareness is a match for proficiency in gambler customer service and gambling information awareness, such as understanding of casino games or of the terms and conditions of promotions held at the casino.
3. Together with this situation there is also the issue of whether or not the live chat is “integrated”. Some platforms, like Playtech, offer “integrated” live chat, and this is a powerful asset: unknown to the player, when he chats with the casino its agents managing the chats can see all the player’s details – his account number, account details, whether he’s a new or existing customer, his current balance, and even his location within the software – but likewise can also make instant managerial decisions, like sending an email to that specific player or giving him specifically a bonus of a uniquely determined amount.
This kind of chat function is frequently integrated with the cashier, enabling the casino to see unsuccessful deposit attempts and to initiate a chat with the customer in order to assist (or incentivize) him to deposit. In this environment, some casinos even contact their customers online as a general rule and make special offers unique to those contacted players – and credit the accounts instantly.
Now when the live chat is not integrated it may mean that a totally external chat program is being used or that the platform’s own chat function is not integrated into its customer-management database. Either way the chat representatives normally are unaware of who the customer is or what his circumstances are (i.e. his deposit has just been declined), and have to first ask the player for details like his account number and even some personal details in order to pull up his account.
Overall the experience is reactive for both sides: the casino has to locate player details, inquire about the player’s issue and reply with an answer; frequently chat programs like these don’t enable real-time proactive account management or bonus crediting to the player on the chats.
And regardless of whether the chat is externally provided or just managed by an outside service company, in either of these cases the casino is usually not proactive and does not initiate a chat to welcome players or make bonus offers.
While potentially annoying to players (and this could be a deciding factor whether to join casino A on platform A or casino B on platform B), these limitations do have a negative impact on the casino’s ability to retain its customers through real-time, live account management.
All the issues raised in this chapter have implications for both the gambler and the casino, and ironically, what is good for the casino software-function-wise is frequently also good (i.e. rewarding bonus-wise) to the customer as well. The more functionality, the more flexibility – the better.
SIDE POINT: Distinguishing Between Rivals & Direct Competitors
And with what we’ve learned in this chapter, I can now go back and tie up a certain loose end: in Chapter 3 I mentioned in passing that two specific casinos – River Belle and Spin Palace, in my example – were not just “rival” casinos but actually “direct competitors”.
Why such a distinction? Because they both use the same software platform (Microgaming). In our industry, all gaming sites not managed by the same entity are seen as rival sites, but when certain rival sites also use the same platform they’re actually considered to be direct competitors of one another.
The reason for this distinction is, as we’ve now learned in its outlined form, that these sites offer both the players the same exact gaming experience (selection of games – more or less, manner of offering bonuses by virtue of the bonus types offered, type and style of communication with the player – whether its an emphasis on email contact or live chat) as well as affording the marketing agencies identical tools with which to manage customers and also the casino itself (i.e. functionality of the live chats and login messages, types of bonuses which can be offered, etc.).
Directly competing gaming entities clash with each other using the same exact weapons – managerial tools and customer incentives; and as it’s been implied above, players who understand the distinctions between the experience afforded by the various platforms will be tempted to join any of the casinos running on the platform type which those players prefer.
Directly competing casinos clash therefore over the same exact segment of the gambling market. In these specific instances, what distinguishes between one direct competitor and another is again quality of customer service, as well as more clever and creative use of the managerial tools afforded by the platform’s back-end software.
On this subject I should also mention then the following: many of the well known and reputable platforms have a fixed “payout percentage” (the proportion of total money wagered by gamblers which gets paid out by the casino as winnings), the inverse of which is the casino’s profit margin (or “house edge” or “house advantage” as it is also called); casino operators (i.e. marketing agencies) which use these platforms will not be able to change these “settings” and will all then run on the same average profit margin and so too the same payout percentage.
By contrast, less reputable platforms which allow their operators to set and change the payouts mean that between competing operators using the same platform there will be a variation in payouts and profit – but by extension, the software will be manipulatable and therefore non-random and so, “rigged”.
In a normal case, if a player at one casino using a certain platform were to feel he was losing too much and decided to go play at that casino’s direct competitor (i.e. some other casino using the same platform), that player would actually still be playing on a suite of games programmed to pay out the same exact percentage over time.
When the issue of losing or game fairness arises in the gambler’s mind – even if the casino is really running totally fairly – the solution is not to just go to a different casino, but rather to one on a different platform completely. Otherwise, except for receiving different quality customer service and maybe better (or worse) bonus offers, the actual gambling experience is exactly the same.