From ‘concept-to-launch’ Duncan Gracie on BetBlocker’s product journey

SBC spoke to the manager of BetBlocker Duncan Gracie, who detailed the product journey of BetBlocker, as well as how the app is aiming to boost the prevention of problem gambling. 

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SBC: Over the last year or two, we have seen a huge shift towards responsible gambling and the implementation of measures to prevent problem gambling – why do you think this is?

Duncan Gracie: Gambling addiction is a problem that has grown as our industry has grown. Without question mobile, capable devices have been a huge positive for the gambling industry. The increased portability and ease of access has resulted in diminished barriers to users and increased uptake.

But these same factors have increased the availability and ease of access to gambling services for those individuals who are prone to addictive or compulsive tendencies related to gambling. This greater exposure for vulnerable players requires that the industry be subject to stronger oversight and make greater effort to minimise the negative social impacts that the business can create.

SBC: Can you detail BetBlocker’s product journey from its initial concept, and its planning through to its development and initial launch?

DG: BetBlocker was a concept we started discussing in the second half of 2017. It was a response to the increased volume of Responsible Gambling related complaints that we were managing via ThePOGG.com’s complaint service. I’d spent time looking at the services that we could direct complaints to where they could get help and reviewing the available filtering software targeting the gambling market was uncomfortable that these were all commercial projects. 

People experiencing gambling issues tend to already be at a financial deficit and putting a financial barrier between these users and help will force those in the most desperate need to choose between spending their available funds on life essentials and paying debts or getting help. 

We set this up on a separate domain – betblocker.org – specifically because we didn’t want people who are struggling with gambling addiction to have to come to a site advertising gambling to get help. It was obvious from the start that this needed a home of its own away from the rest of our business.

By early 2018, we had functioning versions of the desktop applications, however the mobile versions proved significantly more challenging to develop. The mobile platforms place restrictions on the system resources that developers can access that required a lot of trial and error testing to get working. This took us over 12 months to work through and huge thanks has to go out to the many users who helped us identify and rectify the issues that came us.

We now have hundreds (and in most cases thousands) of users on each platform and are confident that the platforms are stable.

SBC: Can you explain the decision behind making the service subscription-free? Why was this decision made? 

DG: As was explained above, asking gambling addicts to pay for help is asking them for the one resource they almost certainly do not have. Even if some could afford it, those most in need of the help will not be able to. We wanted to ensure that the tool was available to those that most needed it and that required that we not charge for access.

Even for those that aren’t destitute but just feel their gambling’s getting away from them, once you consider that most people today have multiple internet-capable devices and would have to buy multiple licenses the costs start to add up and an at-risk player is then at risk of not engaging with a tool that could help them.

Alongside this, with no judgement at all, socially there is a negative stigma associated with gambling addiction and many people are very embarrassed to admit there is a problem. The idea of having a gambling support related tool turning up on bills or bank statements that their family may see can be very off-putting. By keeping it free these transactions never occur and one more barrier is removed between the person and getting help.

SBC: How do you envision BetBlocker supporting ongoing industry and wider health initiatives on problem gambling and social responsibility standards? 

DG: The social benefits of this project are self-evident – gambling addiction can ruin lives, causing the breakdown of families, the loss of homes and even in extreme circumstances self-harm. Anything we as an industry can do to offset or reduce these social costs results in a win/win for all parties. 

Players have increased support systems to assist them in engaging with gambling in a responsible manner while the industry generally improves the trust that consumers have in it and reduces the potential for negative press exposure.

SBC: What gambling user risk and engagement factors did you have to consider when developing BetBlocker?

DG: From the perspective of the primary function and purpose of BetBlocker we reviewed the differing Responsible Gambling policies and self exclusion practices required by the various major regulatory bodies as they were when we were outlining the tool. As the strongest regulator on this front the UKGC policies has the strongest influence on the end function of the tool.

As far as improving usability, this is and will continue to be an ongoing process. So much of the tweaks and changes we’ve made to improve the tool have come off of the back of user feedback. Every time we make a change it has an array of consequences, especially on the mobile devices, that we couldn’t anticipate in advance. Improving the service is all about learning from mistakes and listening to what the users are saying.

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