Cillian Barry: SportCaller – Making ‘free-to-play’ a viable option for bookmakers

Cillian Barry – SportCaller

As an industry discipline, free-to-play (FTP) mechanisms have had a difficult relationship with bookmakers and their day-to-day operations. Nevertheless, Dublin-based games developer SportCaller believes that its tailored FTP portfolio has cracked the conundrum of offering free incentives for building audiences and effective engagement. 

SBC speaks to Cillian Barry, Founder & MD of SportCaller, on why FTP is still a relevant and dynamic tool for industry stakeholders….

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SBC: Hi Cillian, SportCaller has completed a busy opening to 2018, securing new bookmaker partnerships and releasing new game titles. What do these developments mean for your business current and future operations?

 Cillian Barry:  We’ve gone from three games with three clients at the start of 2017 to now having 27 Games with 15 clients in the UK, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the US. Now PASPA has been repealed stateside, this trend shows no sign of slowing down. SportCaller’s new clients include GVC, Betsson, Coral, Livescore and Bet Victor.

In 2017, we had grown the team to 40 experienced heads across Dublin and Kiev and completed our SCore platform in anticipation of this accelerated growth stage. After the World Cup, we’ll take a few days to catch our breath and then the task is clear: more sports and more countries.  

SBC: Why have free-to-play (FTP) functions/mechanisms had such a turbulent relationship with bookmakers. What industry dynamic is SportCaller trying to ultimately fix?

CB: I don’t know much about turbulence but many bookmakers have tried free-to-play and very few, apart from Sky Bet, have had the experience or internal resource to deliver on its potential. While the games are simple on the customer side, there is a level of complexity in the backend to ensure that the games are delivering repeat players, funded accounts and churn reduction in a secure and scalable way. Many of those that faced these challenges have now decided that it makes more sense to work with SportCaller and benefit from our clearly defined value proposition on FTP.

SBC: As a developer, you have placed a high emphasis on SportCaller games boosting a bookmaker’s retention. Why do you feel that FTP can enhance bookmaker retention capabilities?

CB: We have built and operated enough games with a geographically diverse set of operators to get a proper grip on how our games resonate with players worldwide. In addition, we have hired a new Performance Director, who’s been involved at the highest level of sportsbook planning from Paddy Power Betfair, to help us understand the value in our games and how that can shape future builds.

Approximately 70% of game players return to play on a weekly basis, with those playing across each of the previous four weeks running to about 40% of the base on each game. Clients have reported that up to 50% of their active base regularly play our games. This analysis is on-going but already shows that the value of a customer playing our FTP Games is higher than someone who is not.

SBC: Furthermore, SportCaller develops customized games for operators on a number of individual sports. How does your team approach game development for operators, and what factors contribute to delivering an effective FTP title?

CB: Like others in the industry, we’ve always had the benefit of being able to recruit sports-crazy fans to come and work with us. Then we just need to make sure they’re also bringing the necessary smarts and ambition. Thankfully we’ve done well on that front. So the first place at which we start with any new client or game is a sit-down to chat through the sport and the relevant markets to come up with a game identity and format that will appeal to the fan, educate others on the cross-sell, and drive betting activity.

SBC: In 2018, all betting stakeholders are placing a higher emphasis on margin-control and market cost savings. Can/will effective FTP dynamics end bookmaker bonuses?

 CB: That’s a very good question, and it is not just a case of cost savings – it is also in the face of regulatory control on the mechanics of sign-up bonuses and free bets. Whilst this is great for the customer, it makes it much tougher for bookmakers to control the costs to the business from bonus abusers – and the operational costs of such monitoring. In this sense, FTP games allow bookmakers to acquire genuine customers at a low cost, but to also stay fully compliant with tightening regulation. Bonuses and enhanced odds have become such a race to the bottom that the industry needed a new dynamic. FTP games are the first real game-changer in years.

SBC: Finally, looking ahead how do you see your software developing in the coming months? What future developments can SBC expect from SportCaller?

CB: We keep about 15-50% of our development team focussed on new product at any one time – i.e. new features and optimisations that our game review and analysis point us towards. In the lead-up to the World Cup this deployment of staff has been towards the 15% capacity, so we’re looking forward to kick-off on 14 June when we can move some of the team back to our wish list.

This agenda includes Facebook Instant Games, updated client reporting and dashboard, alongside improvements to our email and push notifications – in particular around the handling of customer data following the introduction of GDPR. Then there is the small matter of the US and life after PASPA!

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Cillian Barry – Founder & MD –  SportCaller