The online gaming industry, particularly in the casino and sportsbook categories, is a complex arena teeming with opportunities and challenges. The stakes are high, both in terms of revenue and customer engagement. With new technological trends and ever-shifting regulatory landscapes, the margin for error is minimal. This calls for a foolproof product strategy, but what does that entail?
Let’s unpack the common challenges companies face within the industry and ones that I have personally come across at various gaming companies, and outline key strategies for overcoming these hurdles. Let’s dive into the labyrinth…
The Challenges. The Opportunities.
The Product Management Team
Building a stellar product management team ensures that they act as the hub of product design and development, coordinating between various aspects of the business while constantly keeping their eyes on the customer.
You know what Product Managers are not? They are not project managers; What they are is the glue that connects all the dots and various roles along the product life cycle, from ideation through to release and continual product updates; they are product visionaries and strategists who understand the pulse of the market, the evolving tech landscape, and, most importantly, the nuanced needs and behaviours of the customers.
Their role requires balancing design understanding with data driven insights; commercial acumen, technical prowess, and a knack for human psychology while also being a great communicator. It is far from an easy task.
Everything begins and ends with people, and staffing your product team with knowledgeable and driven individuals is one of the major challenges whether you’re in Europe or the USA. Yet when done well, will reap major rewards in the short and especially the long run, depending on the level of product-driven transformation that’s needed in the business.
“One thing design and development teams need from the product management teams (PMs / POs), is time to design and build quality products, time-and-time again!” Me
Product Vision and Strategy
The online gaming industry is continually growing globally, with various data aggregation companies showing the global market to expand exponentially in the next five years, especially with the recent opening of the US market. But a big market doesn’t automatically mean big profits, especially in casino and sportsbook where marketing and operations spending are a substantial part of the L-side of your P&L.
Product teams must always break out of their own silos, often colloquially called ‘bubbles’, and be fully tied in to the pulse of the business, in operations, commercial, data, finance, tech, marketing and so on, to ensure that the product is not only driving a brilliant experience, but also driving commercial KPIs and optimising every Euro, Dollar, Brazilian Real (etc) spent on marketing.
Crafting a compelling and executable product vision and strategy that appeals to your target demographic is crucial. This involves a deep understanding of market trends, regulatory needs, customer preferences, and the unique value proposition your gaming products offer in each local market. Product localisation is always a critical part of any product strategy in my books as you’ll always be competing with the local champions.
“I would rather gamble on our vision than make a “me, too” product” Steve Jobs
In an industry governed by regulations that can change at the drop of a hat, adaptability is key. An effective roadmap is not set in stone; it’s more like a GPS that recalibrates based on real-time data.
Regular reviews, monthly and quarterly, allows the team to assess and reprioritise, ensuring alignment with the product strategy and facilitating quick responses to market changes. A roadmap is there to also ensure you are constantly focused on shipping product updates, whether you’re on a two week release cycle or a half yearly release cycle mixed in with ongoing product optimisation (Conversion Rate Optimisation) releases to validate what your business is delivering.
A Product Roadmap Interpretation by DALL·E 3
Research-Backed Decision Making
Data isn’t just numbers; it’s the voice of your customer. I’m a firm believer in research-backed decision making, and wherever I’ve consulted or worked at, this is one of the first aspects of the product management toolkit that I tackle…ensuring there’s data, clean data, to inform and challenge decision making.
Accumulating and analysing data through various means, be it user interviews, A/B tests, click data and / or market research, provides an evidence-based foundation for your roadmap, for new ideas entering and for those recent product updates i.e. never let your product become a graveyard for unused features. Test them and if they’re not utilised or serve any regulatory purpose, save real estate and remove them.
The aim is to add product updates and make changes that serve actual, quantifiable needs, not just speculative wants.
Optimisation as the North Star
Product optimisation is the ongoing process of making your product relevant. Given that I also have a background in Product Optimisation, my stance is that optimisation should take centre stage in the product life cycle, continually testing and learning as your product roadmap evolves.
This involves regularly revisiting your KPIs, user engagement metrics, and overall customer experience. Fast, data-driven iterations can help you stay ahead of the competition while constantly elevating the user experience. And no, you won’t be doing double the work in terms of product development, as you’ll be validating what your team builds in a fraction of the time and budget, and not only that, the team will know that what they’re building is expected to improve a certain KPI by x% on launch while also planning future feature tests to improve that particular product update, rather than letting it stagnate.
And from a failure perspective, the whole concept of failing fast is put to good use via product optimisation, which is why I always celebrated failing tests, as this means that we not only saved the company from a negative ROI, but also from a negative CX!
The gaming industry is very much about squeezing conversions responsibly, and product optimisation is one of the ways of optimising your product.
User Acquisition and Retention is Not Just a Marketing Thing
A good game attracts players, but a great product keeps them. The user life cycle in the gaming industry can be remarkably short if you don’t have strategies to not just acquire but also retain customers, and not only retention via bonus wars with the competition.
Features like loyalty programs, engagement triggers, gamified and personalised experiences, tournaments, multiplayer experiences etc… can make a huge difference to your customer retention metrics.
Going Global and Staying Local
Different markets have different tastes. Different markets have different compliance needs. While the sportsbetting product and its features might be a hit in the UK, it might utterly fail to impress the audience in America or Canada. Being culturally sensitive and aware when expanding internationally is essential for product teams. Localisation isn’t just about language; it’s about adapting your products’ user experience to meet regional expectations along with your product’s portfolio (games / markets…).
Product & Legal Synergies
In the regulated markets, compliance isn’t a hurdle; it’s a necessity. Any gaming product has to be developed with an in-depth understanding and innate flexibility to adapt to both domestic and international laws and regulations. The product team and Legal and Compliance departments should work in synergy to ensure that innovation and compliance go hand in hand and not to the detriment of the other.
Product management is a formidable undertaking, full of diverse challenges that require detailed solutions. Yet, as intricate as this labyrinth might seem, each turn offers an opportunity for innovation, growth, and remarkable customer experiences.
So the question isn’t whether challenges will arise; it’s whether you’re equipped to navigate them as a team and as a business.
It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and to adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself… so says Charles Darwin in his “Origin of Species.”