Much has been made of the multitude of the far-reaching consequences that will continue to be felt across the industry for quite some time, as the increasingly dominant status of online benefits from the on-off nature of retail establishments.
According to UK bingo affiliate site WhichBingo over 30 per cent of online bingo sites shut last year in the UK, a situation which has led to affiliates and operators searching for ways to increase their user base and brand loyalty.
Amid the ongoing effects of COVID-19 bingo has also followed the online trend, a situation that could have been exacerbated by a four-week long national lockdown in England that currently sees halls set to reopen On December 2.
With this in mind Gadi Shoshani, VP of casino Europe of WhichBingo, which is owned and operated by XLMedia, spoke to CasinoBeats to discuss the UK’s bingo scene, land-based and online challenges and living up to consumer demands.
CB: How would you assess the UK’s bingo ecosystem at this current time?
GS: The current ecosystem is undergoing significant change with a consolidation of providers and interesting shifts between online brands and physical bingo halls. The reopening of bingo halls in the second half of this summer have not made the comeback that many were hoping for or what might have been expected.
“Players have been slow to migrate back to bingo halls as their primary place of play”
Players seemed to feel more secure to continue playing online bingo due to the ongoing pandemic and health situation rather than returning to halls. This creates ongoing challenges and pressures on bingo halls, and will require them to embrace creative solutions that make players feel safe in order to navigate through these turbulent times.
For online bingo, the market availability of brands has shrunk considerably in the last 18 months, and the market is now more competitive than ever before. Securing players has always been the goal – and brands have had to step up and find new ways to differentiate themselves and engage with new players across a host of demographics and age-groups.
Brands have undertaken massive makeovers and overhauls to start featuring unique games, embrace interactive components, provide compelling content, while also streaming shows so they can maintain a semblance of the social enjoyment of bingo and attract players to their sites. Today, brands recognise the need to refresh, in order to be resilient in the crowded online bingo marketplace, and are investing in ways to do so effectively.
CB: Is an online drop-off inevitable as land-based options become a possibility in the future once more?
GS: No, not necessarily. Players have been slow to migrate back to bingo halls as their primary place of play. Interestingly, the type of player who typically went to bingo halls was probably already a member of a bingo site. Now, it appears players are choosing to remain at home instead of traveling to their local halls.
As online bingo brands invest in their product and make the game more interactive and start integrating social components, we may in fact see the online bingo market continue to expand in terms of number of players, at the expense of physical bingo halls.
“…bingo operators were already considering whether to reduce the number of High Street outlets”
CB: Alternatively, could land-based be a long-term casualty amid closures across the UK once again?
GS: We could see even more permanent land-based closures as the UK undergoes a second round of lockdown measures. Buzz Bingo’s closure of 26 halls marked a trend in the switch to online bingo – we think players feel safer playing in their homes and enjoy the online game more and more due to brands continuing to incorporate additional interactivity and engaging features. With online bingo brands improving their capabilities and their potential outreach, physical bingo halls could well become a long-term casualty.
Even before coronavirus took its toll on industries of all shapes and sizes, bingo operators were already considering whether to reduce the number of High Street outlets. The lockdown has only sped up the process while also highlighting less viable online sites.
CB: How will affiliates and operators continue to attract customers in order to maintain the boost felt throughout the year?
GS: Players do miss the social aspects of the game that physical bingo locations bring to the table. People want to be able to chat with their friends they attend hall games. Online brands must bring the social aspects players love about land-based options to the online game, such as allowing friend groups to join online games collectively.
Online brands are searching for ways to encourage more people to play and engage with their sites, as engagement increases player numbers and loyalty over time. Interactive features are an important tool for any site: bonuses, quizzes, livestreams, and chat functions are all elements that sites should aim to have.
“Ultimately, responsible gaming has to be at the heart of everything”
For affiliates, a site with the most fresh, personalised, and unique content and relevant offers is needed to live up to consumer expectations. The ability to leave reviews of any bingo brand visited is incredibly useful to the online bingo community for building trust and loyalty. Moreover, affiliates and operators must deliver valuable content to their user base; otherwise, players won’t feel engaged with the various bingo brands and reviews.
CB: What must online bingo brands do in order to live up to consumer demands?
GS: Moving forward, sites still need to work on player interaction with one another, rather than just player interaction with the site. Building a site community is a key component to moving towards a more social gaming experience. A social online community involves sites producing more innovative content, live streaming games, producing an awards ceremony, and putting on shows to keep people entertained and coming back for more.
Ultimately, responsible gaming has to be at the heart of everything by both bingo brands and affiliates. Following regulations, issuing clear terms and conditions, and highlighting what help is available alongside the fun and games will guarantee consumers loyalty to brands.
The technology is now available to bingo brands to identify customer habits and trends in real time. While this was developed to help them attract more users and encourage the type of play customers were enjoying, they have no excuse for not showing a real duty of care and acting upon it quickly should they see problems developing.