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Rob Egan, The Unit: How free-to-play games continue to change

Rob Egan, Business Development Director at The Unit, looks at how free-to-play games have transitioned from their earliest implementations and how player segmentation could be key to their future success

Since operators first began to launch free-to-play (F2P) games, the entire landscape for the game type has changed. At that time, the focus was on using the games to acquire new customers, and while this worked well to a degree, they were largely viewed as a niche product which operators did not necessarily need to utilise. 

The key difference now is the games are also seen as a retention tool which can be used more interactively with players. Daily spin games in casino have been particularly successful in this regard. 

Time to segment players

It is not just the way the games are deployed which has evolved, but also the player demographics that operators are targeting. In the mid to late 2000s, the focus was very much on the young adult male who was unlikely to bet on much more than football matches played at the weekend. Due to the popularity of these games however, operators have since discovered they can appeal to a more active user base. 

This is why we expect F2P games to move towards customer segmentation. Games and jackpots could be tailored to suit the taste, and importantly, the bankrolls, of the player. Players have been segmented in casino based on their value, and this is something that could also work in sports betting.

I know from experience that F2P games appeal to players of varying bankroll levels. When I worked in a similar capacity for leading F2P games provider SportCaller, VIPs made up about 20% of the player base with some games, and rewards could be ringfenced for them, which ultimately leads to better engagement and retention.

The importance of F2P teams

In recent times, we have seen a greater desire for operators to develop their own F2P content. Things have moved on from the times when operators would ask for a specific game to be made just weeks before a well-known sporting event like the World Cup in football.

Now, it is more common for operators to employ a core team which can roll out games in a short space of time. What is important though is for those internal teams to be assisted by an experienced supplier, because integrations between an operator and a supplier are crucial when it comes to segmentation. 

Execution is vital

We expect to see further development to the backend of games. An important thing to remember is the success of a game does not just depend on whether you have the most interesting game idea, but it also comes down to how well the games are executed.

That can be determined by a range of factors, including tightknit integrations with the sportsbook and casino, strong CRM campaigns, a well-managed player lifecycle journey and effective customer segmentation. These elements within the game can make the difference between a game which is achieving 40-50% week-on week player retention to 80%+ every week. Similarly, the conversion to real-money betting might be as low as 2%, but with some of these key changes, this can improve to 15%+.

Increased regulation is of course an issue operators have to be aware of, and going forward, they will have to clearly define what teams need to do and they will have to show value. The days of simply making a game because your competitors are doing the same thing are now behind us. 

It is very clear F2P games will be a must-have vertical within an operator’s offering for years to come, and should have their own tab in an app or website alongside sports and casino. With far more thought going into the process of developing games than there was at the beginning, a preference for simplicity is always more likely to be successful. 

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