Mark McGuinness – iGaming tech: Will wearable technology or virtual reality be the next big thing?

Mark McGuinness bw
Mark McGuinness

Having recently attending the ICE Show we were offered a glimpse into the future which is now to the likes of Microgaming’s Glass Betting products and various Oculus Rift Inspired Virtual Reality Slots and Casinos.  So what is all the fuss about?  

According to leading technology research group Gartner, in two years’ time 50% of all mobile applications will be for ‘wearable’ devices such as smart watches. For the iGaming sector this will provide some fantastic opportunities for gathering valuable data to see what potential customers have done historically, what they are doing right at this moment in time, and in what location. It could also allow iGaming firms to  anticipate the customers’ next move and deliver personalized marketing offers – a strategy described by industry experts as ‘addressable’ or ‘programmatic’ advertising.

Of all the anticipation about wearable technology, it is the Apple Watch which has been the focus of most discussion. The debate has a range of views on whether it will become as popular as the company’s iconic iPhone, when it is finally launched. I’m still of the opinion it could be huge. Why? Well, Apple have a huge and very loyal customer base of tens of millions, and among this number are a significant proportion of ‘early adopters’ when it comes to new technology. This means there could be an opportunity for iGaming firms to reach millions of new customers through the Apple Watch alone.

So, how could the Apple Watch be used in a gaming context as it stands right now? Firstly, it would require research of the gaming operator’s client’s customer database to see how many of those customers currently use Apple products. Secondly, it would require forecasting or researching in order to size the opportunity. Thirdly, and more importantly, we need to consider the likely content that would sit on the Apple Watch, given the limitations in screen size, before we consider developing an app for the device. Perhaps the Apple Watch, given some of these limitations, should be merely used as a pre-notification or awareness channel. In other words – as gambling is still regarded in some quarters as not socially acceptable and with the current backlash in the UK post Point of Consumption Tax (POC) and is often frowned upon by the employer in the office work environment – the Apple Watch could be used to covertly send notifications by vibrations of the watch to the user to alert of potential gaming offers, slots or lotto results or the latest changes in sports betting odds and Cash-Out offer.

For me the overarching question is the return on investment (ROI). iGaming marketers are kings when it comes to ROI calculations. As it stands with the Apple Watch, there aren’t enough business usage cases or ROI analysis to allow us to go further down the track of hiring wearable developers or marketers. That said, there is huge potential to use the Apple Watch to enrich the brand experience and increase the potential revenue for iGaming sites.

What of virtual reality? Well, it’s already big in video gaming, and Samsung’s new Gear VR headset could be the next big thing in social and gaming. It works by connecting Samsung’s Galaxy Note smartphone to the VR headset in front of the users’ eyes, allowing them to use the device for gaming and watching movies.  Sure the headset is still a bit clunky in both appearance and set-up, but it’s already streamlined compared to the Oculus VR headset. According to Samsung, the Gear VR device will focus on ‘entertainment’ with Marvel and Legendary pictures already announced as initial partners.

So, how could it work? As gaming is very much an ephemeral experience, especially on mobile, the Samsung Gear VR headset could open the way for the introduction of a virtual reality casino. Gaming is about the emotional and physiological experience of playing at the casino tables, and all the sensory stimuli that this delivers. VR could replicate that experience of walking into the casino lobby, being greeted by the hostess, and being led to the gaming floor. It really could replicate the physical gaming experience to a whole new level, while breaking down consumer barriers in order to potentially drive patrons into a land-based casino that have perhaps never ever set foot in one.

For me, opening up this new dimension to gaming makes virtual reality devices the most exciting of all the developments in wearable technology for 2015 and beyond.