OpenMarket UK Talks SMS with iGaming Review

iGaming Business Magazine

Mobile Gaming and Customers Relations: Why SMS delivers a winning hand

Mobile gaming: it’s one of the fastest growing areas of mobile content and one of the hottest topics in the gaming sector. But what are the essentials that you need in order to build a winning and profitable mobile gaming business? Siamac Rezaiezedah of mobile payments and solutions company OpenMarket provides an insight into how gaming companies can use SMS to generate more revenue through smarter customer engagement.

Playing for high stakes
Gaming via mobile devices certainly seems to have a bright future ahead of it. In its latest report on mobile gaming (May 2012), analyst firm Juniper Research predicted that the total amount of money wagered worldwide on mobile devices will rise more than USD$100 billion in 2017 – an increase of 29 percent from the $19 billion gambles globally in 2011 on mobile casino, lottery and betting services.

A gaming company who wants to expand its services and customer base needs to appreciate the important role that mobile plays firstly in creating, and then managing a successful customer relationship. In particular, it needs to focus on SMS as the most direct way to tap into the very personal relationship that consumers share with their mobile phone. Put simply, SMS is an essential way to add value and get consumers coming back for more.

The new ‘Pocket Rocket’: your mobile phone
Mobile phones have become a ubiquitous device. According to the World Bank, the number of mobile subscriptions in use worldwide has grown from fewer than one billion in 2000 to over six billion in 2012. In the UK alone, 92 percent of adults own a mobile phone (Q1 2012): as of the end of 2011, the total number of mobile subscriptions nationwide stood at 81.6 million (source: Ofcom).

But in today’s era of feature-packed Smartphones, competing operating systems, and a variety of alternative mobile messaging apps and services, SMS is the only tried-and-tested, fully interoperable and truly universal messaging resource able to reach the broadest range of consumers – irrespective of their type of device, and whether they are a pre-paid or post-paid subscriber. This is why gaming companies should look to SMS to support every aspect of their mobile strategy.

Are you in or out?
SMS has an important part to play both in acquiring new customers and also retaining existing ones through focused and intelligent customer relations. For example, any gaming company is able to capture their customers’ mobile number as part of the initial sign-up process, creating an immediate opportunity to start building a relationship with them. But this needs to be done sensitively: sending unwanted promotional messages is one of the quickest ways to lose new users. Companies should always include an ‘opt in/opt out’ to ensure that new customers aren’t alienated or annoyed enough to delete the game before they’re properly engaged.

An added bonus of capturing phone details on sign-up process. Mobile opt-in provides a useful safety net, as a well-timed SMS reminder is often all that’s needed for them to finish their registration and get playing.
By Siamac Rezaiezedah, Strategic Account Manager, OpenMarket for iGaming Business

Deal me in
We all love a warm welcome, and mobile is no different. An introductory SMS establishes from the outset a positive tone for the relationship that’s being forged between gaming provider and player. It’s also an opportunity to share extra information and service features – for example, a daily bonus sign-up for the customer to try out.

Companies can also use SMS to deliver time-sensitive offers, such as free bets or credit chips that must be redeemed before a certain date. This sort of timely ‘click to play’ offer is also an effective way to encourage pre-existing customers to resume playing if their usage has tailed off or fallen below an expected level of activity.

SMS-based offers also reach further than email. Unlike emails, which can be easily ignored, an SMS received on a mobile device is much more likely to prompt an immediate response from the recipient. So the smart use of SMS generates a variety of ways to re-engage lapsed players and encourage them to ‘get back in the game’ quickly and easily.

Up the ante
With customers registered and engaged, a gaming company can then think about using SMS to encourage further activity. If it’s a betting-based app, then these could be reminders about upcoming marquee events like the FA Cup Final or the Grand National. Or it could just as easily be targeted news and real-time updates that are relevant to their interests.

For example, if a customer frequently bets on football matches, they might welcome a message a few hours before kick-off that tells them the latest odds on the game, along with the latest team news, player injury reports and recent results between the teams. What’s important is that the message must be relevant, as the SMS inbox is sacrosanct to the mobile user.

Bet on in-game
SMS also has an important part to play with real-time in-game betting, as it is the best (and in many scenarios, the only) way to deliver instant updates to thousands of users simultaneously. As before, a key feature is relevance to the customer: it’s possible to create sophisticated user flows that not only respond to known user preferences, but also increase the understanding of the user the more they interact.

The speed and spontaneity of SMS means the gaming company can even choose to engage customers on sporting events that they have already bet on unsuccessfully. SMS is quick enough to send updated or alternative odds as the game, match or race unfolds, which gives the customer a chance to recoup their initial loss and creates more opportunities to play beyond the initial bet.

Go all in: SMS and cross-platform marketing
Rather than regard SMS as a standalone activity limited only to specific gaming applications, companies should also be looking to incorporate SMS (if they haven’t already) into all of their marketing activities across different platforms.

Use it effectively, and SMS is the glue that holds together a gaming company’s engagement with customers across different media. TV commercials print and online ads can all use an SMS shortcode calls-to-action. They can even use shortcodes for MMS and voice interaction as well, creating a multimedia way to engage with customer. In addition, SMS can be used as part of an online experience; there’s a huge growth in people using their phones and tables at the same time as watching TV or surfing on the web. For this kind of dual-screen experience, SMS is a short and simple way to add interactivity and feedback.

The other beauty of SMS is that it’s open for anybody with a mobile phone to use. There’s no need to download an application, take a picture of a barcode, or even have a data connection. SMS is straightforward, tried-and-tested, and accessible to the broadest range of mobile customers.

From a marketing perspective, it enables a gaming company to truly measure the success of its above-the-line campaign. Adding in an SMS shortcode is a direct and effective way to measure precisely how many people see an advert or billboard poster and response to it. Companies can use this response data to create a list of genuine active customer leads with an interest in the product or service that is being promoted, and engage this list of ‘hot’ leads by using SMS to send follow-up information, or by sending a link to its mobile Internet site to try out the new service directly.

Cash in and cash out
Importantly, SMS provides a ready-made, secure payment mechanism that uses the mobile operator’s existing billing system. A customer can use their prepaid or post-paid mobile account to place bets or top up a betting account which can be easily charged back to their mobile bill.

The convenience of using the operator’s pre-existing billing system is especially important in the customer acquisition and engagement campaign to secure new players. Whether it’s making a voice call, sending an SMS, or opening a mobile app, subscribers expect a user experience from their mobile phone that is quick, easy-to-use and intuitive.

In keeping with this level of expectation, end-users need the payment process for any low-cost transaction (such as a bet) to be similarly straightforward, with a minimum number of ‘clicks’ and input screens to complete the process. Using direct billing via SMS for low-value payments is not only a frictionless and familiar experience for the customer, but is also handset and OS-agnostic and independent of any third-party application or appstore rules on gaming.

Big spender or positional player?
Debate rages in the iGaming industry on what makes the ideal customer. Is it the player who spends big (£50 or more) three to four times a month? Or is it the player who spends less, but who places a higher number of bets each month? Either way, mobile billing has a part to play.

Mobile’s convenience appeals to new players, who can quickly and easily use it to make micro-payments or place bets. Once a new player decides to register as a regular customer, they may decide to make larger subsequent payments to the gaming company with a credit card, via a desktop PC or a secure, mobile-optimized website. Of course, with increased operator pay-outs and daily approved limits of up to £30, mobile payments are a viable option. What’s important is that the gaming company gives the end-user the choice of payment methods. Alternatively, a gaming company may prefer to use SMS to regularly engage with and cultivate a broader user base of players who spend less but who also play more often – and we can already see this happening in the UK. In its 2012 results, Betfair revealed that its 275,000 active UK mobile customers placed 44 million mobile bets during the year. This equates to each customer placing just over 13 bets via mobile a month – which was enough to generate £22.7 million in mobile revenue for Betfair during the year.

From this, it’s evident that a gaming company shouldn’t feel it has to rely on a limited number of irregular but big spending players. Players who spend less per micro-transaction but who play (and spend) more often, provide a healthier, stronger and more regular revenue stream for a gaming company over the long-term.

Dealer wins with SMS
Any gaming company that wants to expand into mobile should regard SMS as an integral enabler of its services and an effective platform for engaging with customers. SMS is a flexible, secure and familiar communications medium that is compatible with the broadest range of handsets – from the latest, high-end Smartphone to mid-market feature phones and low-end legacy devices.

Working with third-party technology integrators, the gaming industry can use SMS to reach and engage with end-users in new and versatile ways. With SMS gaming companies get to harness the unique properties of the mobile phone – portability, immediacy, always-on connectivity – to capitalize on the marketing and service delivery opportunities that mobile presents.

As a reliable and scalable technology, SMS really is the engine for engaging and retaining customers with dynamic, intuitive services that add value, deliver a seamless user experience, and generate revenue.