Playtech executives James Frendo (Director of Casino) and Simo Dragicevic (CEO of BetBuddy) talk to SBC about how a ‘sustainability-first approach’ to product development has changed the FTSE tech group’s thinking and culture with regards to tackling the industry’s current demands and complexities.
SBC: Hi Team, can you detail to SBC audiences Playtech’s commitment towards sustainable development. When was this programme initially launched and what are the exact product development goals it is trying to achieve?
James Frendo (Playtech Director of Casino): Playtech has always placed sustainability at the heart of its product and service offering, this has ramped-up in more recent years as Playtech looks to stay ahead of the curve as regulatory requirements increase
Simo Dragicevic (CEO of BetBuddy): The strategy is informed by months of engagement with internal and external stakeholders and focuses in three areas:
- Powering safer gambling solutions
- Promoting integrity and inclusive culture; and
- Partnering with stakeholders on shared challenges
SD: Sustainable product and service innovation is at the heart of this strategy. Our aspirations include:
- Advancing and increasing access to the next generation of safer gambling solutions and features – including game design
- Increasing uptake by industry for these solutions and
- Continuously strengthening safer gambling standards and technology across our operations.
JF: An example of sustainable product innovation is that in 2018 Playtech launched an internal sustainable game design group, compromised of all of its content studios, research and product teams, BetBuddy and its compliance team
The goals of the programme are to demonstrate industry leadership in safer product development, enhance the player experience with new products, and apply a more scientific approach to developing new features and assessing their impacts on players.
And, ultimately create a safer customer experience and journey, raising industry standards and reducing gambling-related harm.
SBC: Industry sustainability is a broad concept that can undertake many different interpretations. How has Playtech, therefore, aligned sustainability for technology development for its largest operational department?
SD: Whilst safer gambling technology has always been part of our core technology offering through IMS platform, we have expanded the scope, scale, pace and level of investment in safer gambling technology solutions that cover research, data analytics, game/feature/platform development as well as strategic partnerships
- Areas include:
- Acquisition and integration of betbuddy into the IMS platform to enhance data analytics capability to identify at-risk behaviours and patterns of play
- We are combining safer gambling data analytics capability with a real-time player engagement & messaging platform, Player Journey, to help operators more effectively identify and assess player risk and use these insights to deliver highly personalised messaging that empowers consumers to make safer choices.
- Game Design and smart labelling – In 2018, Playtech established a sustainable game design expert group, consisting of internal experts from technology, game studios, head of business units, compliance and responsible business. The Group serves as the internal coordination body to define and implement a framework for responsible game design. The resulting framework and programme have been independently evaluated by a leading academic in safer gambling and game design. In 2019, Playtech began working with several of its licensees to trial and evaluate product labelling for online slots. The results will inform an industry game design framework and labelling scheme in the future. Playtech is also undertaking data-driven research to build an empirical evidence base examining the relationships between game features, player behaviours and at-risk play.
SBC: So how has a sustainability-first approach changed product development from ‘conception through to launch’ – what new factors is Playtech considering in its product journey?
JF: Playtech are now considering specific product features that we think will help meet future regulatory compliance, not just reacting to what is required today
For example, an idea that came out of the sustainable game design group in 2019 was to develop better game icons that can educate players about slots volatility
Whilst there is currently no regulatory requirement to do this, Playtech felt that this could be useful to the customer as it helps educate them about a key math aspect of the slot that can significantly change the customer experience. In fact, we spoke to real-world slots players to get their views on a range of ideas, including volatility, on how the gambling industry could promote informed player choice
The messaging around volatility also has a strong safer gambling component, for example warning players who play higher volatility games that they may experience longer losing streaks in the short-term as these games pay-out less often, but in higher amounts, so using limits was suggested to keep players within their entertainment budgets
This innovation has recently been trialled with William Hill and other smaller brands and we are analysing the data to assess what players thought about the icons and how the icons may have influenced their gaming behaviour.
SBC: Playtech is a large technology enterprise with a diverse workforce operating within multiple departments and jurisdictions. What has been the toughest hurdle facing Playtech’s sustainability commitment as a corporate initiative?
SD: There remain cultural barriers within Playtech and the wider gambling industry. Investing in sustainable product efforts do not always contribute to the bottom line in the short-term, we need to educate the industry about the long-term benefits for regulated markets
For example, by investing in safer gambling initiatives today, the industry is less likely to suffer more draconian one-size-fits-all regulation in the future which would have greater implications commercially and arguably may not benefit players e.g., players could migrate to the black-market if restrictions are too severe were player protections are not as strong.
SBC: Gambling Critics would say that ‘sustainable gambling’ is somewhat of an industry oxymoron… How do we change this perception?
SD: The industry needs to more proactively address the concerns of stakeholders to change the thinking that long-term sustainable growth will not be achievable.
One way we do this is through proactive self-regulation. Playtech and Scientific Games have led efforts to develop a product and game design code of conduct for the UK industry, for example.
The code will include a number of proactive initiatives aimed at making gambling safer, and will include specific proposals to reduce the speed of online slots. These are just a starting point, the industry needs to keep on the front foot and do more.
SBC: Finally, for gambling incumbents, what do you believe will follow the sector’s ‘era of responsibility? What is next on the horizon?
JF: Playtech believes that investing in research using data is the industry’s biggest asset to securing its long-term sustainable future. Whilst some stakeholder fixate on maximum stake size, this is just one game and product feature amongst many that likely all work together in a complex interplay of the people, product and placement factors that all contribute towards potential harms in gambling
SD: In future, the industry will need to adopt a more focused and scientific, focused on educating the players and wider stakeholders on gambling, making products and services more transparent and accessible, being more number and robust on evaluating products and features and their effects on player experience and harms
JF: Closer and more open collaborations across the industry will be key to making this happen, not just more co-operation within and across B2C with B2B, but also with support organisations and academia. Extra resources will also be required.
James Frendo – Director of Casino – Playtech Plc
Simo Dragicevic CEO of BetBuddy