Developing online communities is a cornerstone of player engagement, helping to sustain acquisition and retention levels. Since the Pandemic, these sorts of communities have become even more significant as an engagement tool. Historically, the Bingo gaming vertical has always had a strong social element and is an innate part of the player experience.
We spoke with Gary Keaney, Director of Bingo & Community at Entain to get his thoughts on the growing importance of building fun, safe online communities and what other gaming verticals can learn from Bingo to help them improve social engagement with players going forward.
The Pandemic undoubtedly forced many communities online, especially in gaming. As we transition out of this period and into the ‘new normal’, will these newly formed online communities drop off? Or is this a new trend that is expected to continue?
“I think it’s a bit of both. It would be very naive to think that everyone will keep doing the same thing that they’ve been doing during the Pandemic. If we look at how long it lasted and the new working patterns that came as a result, we’re going to have to be flexible. Everyone has adapted to the lifestyle that we had to live under for the last two and a half years, which means we, as an industry, must change also. So, I think there’ll be some impact because we are an entertainment industry competing with all other forms of entertainment.
“People can now go to the cinema, the pub, the shops, whatever they want to do, which means of course, some people will be coming offline. But it’d be crazy to not assume that in the last two and a half years, people are not in a pattern of something that they have enjoyed, they’ve been part of a community, invested in a lot of time, developed online relationships, or simply are just enjoying the convenience of the new types of offering and will want to continue doing so. In regard to the earlier point, I think there’ll be some shift in communities and there will be some impact felt from those that were just doing it to pass time, who will now spend their time doing other things. However, I think we’ll have created a lot of stronger communities and player behaviour patterns that will undoubtedly be here for forever.”
Bingo is known for being one of the most socially driven verticals on the market. What can other gaming verticals such as sports book or casino learn from bingo to help encourage their own social elements?
“At a company like Entain, where we’ve got that full range of product offerings, there’s a lot of learnings to take. If you look at a very basic level of a community, having a chat area is an essential component to incorporate. We’re taking these sorts of components and figuring out how do we use that elsewhere so that people are more aware of the fact that they’re in a community.
“If you’re talking about sportsbook, I think it’s crazy that sports products don’t have this yet, because it is a very social activity. Customers want to be playing against their mates and being aware of what they’re doing and celebrating each other’s achievements. With Bingo, we’re much stronger in this area, because its innately more of a group experience activity, you’re all there at the same time. Whereas products such as slots or sports book, you can do at different times and is more of an individual experience. So, the things to learn would be, how do you get the users to play at the same time, so they’re all concurrent players. Then they’re able to be physically online at the same time and then it will be easier to introduce elements like ‘Chat’ or a community-based game where there’s a new jackpot slot, which is very common in bingo. This enables them to all play for the same prize money at the end of the match or the end of the slot. This is a great way to build a community spirit.”
How can we as an industry ensure that the online communities, we develop are healthy for players, avoiding malicious content and encouraging responsible gaming?
“Essentially, like with every aspect of your company, the answer lays within the people that you hire. We have a dedicated team thinking about bingo specifically, we’ve got a lot of chat moderators, people that we will train to make sure that they’re able to manage the community efficiently. Of course, we know it’s important to promote your brands and keep it fun and get people engaged, building that community element. However, they’re also aware of whether there’s a problem user or not, whether they’re being rude or malicious to others. Users like this can be banned for a week, a month or even permanently. It’s important to be proactive, putting in the right staff who are watching chat activity the whole time. I think it’s a very hard and demanding job. It’s not just our industry that we see things like that. Twitter, for example, is probably the worst place for this sort of behaviour and it’s very hard to moderate, but a lot of it is reactive and it’s just about the timing, making sure you’re on top of it as early as possible so It doesn’t cause a wider impact or ripple effect on the rest of the community.”
Do you think online communities can ever replace the experience of face-to-face socialising and what can be done to replicate this experience as best possible?
“Transferring that in-person atmosphere from retail bingo has always been a core aim. Trying to figure out how we make customers feel like they’re in a bingo hall or on a busy casino floor because that was exactly what we know players will want.”
“Even though it’s online, we still knew it was a case of we needed to make the exact same experiences. We incorporated a lot of features that were there to try and replicate that. I think what we learned is some features work and some don’t, you need to realise quickly and leverage the strengths of online. We also realised a lot of the features that we wanted to replicate just wouldn’t work, because it’s not what the user would come to expect from a mobile experience. For example, if you were to go to a casino, or a bingo hall, you most likely would plan to stay for an hour or two, maybe more. But nobody is ever going to spend this much time on their mobile in one constant session, even on the desktop they wouldn’t do that. This shows that we need to realise that we can replicate some elements such as talking with the communities and feeling like you’re part of a group but not all aspects of an in-person experience will be applicable. It’s about tailoring the product offering to keep in mind that people may be doing other things while on their mobiles and they won’t be able to devote the same amount of time and attention that would in real-life events. You may be the secondary or tertiary thing that that person is doing and you should build those products to help make sure that they can engage with what they want, when they want and make maximum impact when doing so.”
After speaking with Gary, it’s clear that building online communities is integral to player engagement. The Pandemic has definitely changed the way people interact online and as an industry, we need to be able to adapt because consumer behaviour will never revert back to how it used to be, things are changed forever.
It still seems as though there is a lot of scope for improvement in sportsbook and slots in regard to empowering communities but the single-player nature of these verticals does create some challenges. Although creating experiences similar to real life is key, it’s also important to remember that consumer behaviour and expectations online are not the same and operators will never get the same attention span as they would from face-to-face interactions, so it’s important we take that into consideration when developing social features going forward.