Sue Yoxall, mkodo: The unique combination of native app and real-money gaming expertise

Sue Yoxall, co-founder and executive director of mkodo, discusses meeting the increased demand for digital entertainment, and why changes to submissions on both Google Play and Apple provides an opportunity for operators to take advantage of a new player demographic, especially as new markets such as the US and Germany begin to open in 2021.

Yoxall also addresses a tilting of the balance between website and app engagement with betting products on mobile and why customers expect brands to offer a native app experience, as well as how mkodo – which “holds the unique combination of native app development and real-money gaming expertise” – is in the perfect position to help operators build a strong digital strategy from the outset.

SBC: Can you give us a quick overview of what mkodo does?

SY: So mkodo is a mobile-first player engagement company which was set up in 2001. We make world-class apps and digital products for the lottery, sportsbook, casino and other gaming markets. 

SBC: So going back a year, mkodo was acquired by Pollard Banknote. Instinctively that would consolidate your offering towards the lottery space. But I understand you’re wanting to place more of a focus on the betting and gaming industry? 

SY: We started our journey in real-money gaming back in 2007 with Rank Group and have remained a mobile partner with them since that time. So we have always been in the casino, bingo and sportsbook markets. That is definitely an area that remains of interest to us. 

Yes, we do have a strong focus on the regulated lottery market, with some of our key clients in that space. And clearly, for Pollard Banknote, our parent company, that is their key market so they have a strong focus there. But the other verticals are also of interest to the regulated lottery sector. It’s not as though the two worlds don’t meet. 

SBC: Before we talk about where mkodo is going, can you give us a rundown of some of the key projects you’ve worked on for clients over the last few years?

SY: We work on the lottery apps for British Columbia and Western Canada. For a long time, we’ve worked on the Mecca Bingo and Grosvenor Casino native apps for Rank Group. 

We also do some consultancy, particularly around our expertise in app store submissions. Over the last few years, there has been a lot of noise in the industry around when Apple decided to enforce regulations relating to their 4.2 and 4.7 guidelines. As experts within that area of app store submission, we’ve been able to help people with either consultancy as well as our own clients in creating fully compliant apps.

SBC: And why would you say the landscape now is so conducive to you doing well? 

SY: Obviously the situation in the world has been challenging for everyone. But one of the things that has come out of that is an increased usage of digital entertainment across the different generations. 

I believe that there has been an all-time high in people using mobile apps in their daily lives as a form of entertainment. It’s become an important part of our lives. Sports betting, lottery and casino operators that don’t have a digital presence have seen that this is something they need to address. That’s where we as a company come in because this is exactly what we do at mkodo – design and make world class digital products. So there has been an increase from that point of view.

There are also markets opening up around the world for this type of entertainment. We saw the excitement around the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) being repealed in the United States. Increasingly, more states are coming on board by passing regulations which will enable the legalised use of online gaming products. Closer to home for us, we have markets such as The Netherlands, Germany and Ukraine opening up.  

On the other side, you have things such as Google Play Store. From 1 March, 15 more countries will be able to advertise real-money gaming products in their store. Previously in those countries, if you wanted an Android app, it had to be downloaded from a website, whereas now it can be submitted into the store – a better situation for people wanting to play with that brand.

SBC: You mentioned a number of different markets; what countries are the key focus for mkodo as we progress further through 2021?

SY: It’s always exciting to be at the forefront of creating the digital presence for a brand and indeed for the government. It’s exciting to be with them when they put out their first products to citizens in that marketplace and help them have a competitive edge against all of the other companies in that market. 

So for us, it’s exciting for us to work with people from the beginning – with the design of what they’re looking to do for their digital app and to then work through the build and then to put those products out into the market. It’s great to be a part of that journey. 

This year, we will be looking at the US market. That’s a slower process compared to other places because there’s a lot of regulation as well as a lot of players in the ecosystem that we have to interact with to put a full solution together. This includes the platform providers and the games providers. All of those people need to come together and it is a slow process but we would look at that as it is a very exciting market. 

We would also like to look at the Netherlands and Germany, we’re currently talking with people there. They will definitely be very interesting markets. 

SBC: So if you contrast the US with those closer to home, what are the comparisons in terms of what the players expect from products that you are involved in? 

SY: I think that it’s the same everywhere. There are nuances in terms of the type of entertainment and the markets that you might find on the products themselves. But in both cases, you are trying to provide the best possible digital experience.

Generally, people would start with a website. But then for us it’s native apps where you would get the best possible experience in both markets. The key thing is you have the discoverability where players want to go onto a known source such as the Google Play Store or an Apple App Store where they can find the brand. That’s the same in both markets. It’s then critical that you have the onboarding process, the registration and the deposit processes as really slick customer journeys in both markets. 

Safety is key and it’s an important message from why these markets would want to be licensed in the first place. Having the responsible gaming tools which are up-front and obvious to people in these products is the same across both markets. People playing via trusted brands would also be the same. Those that have a land-based presence will likely do well when it comes to having a digital presence. 

A few other factors that are important would be clearly performance and the convenience of using native apps. Native apps would give better performance and that’s what customers want when they first use something. The convenience of using things like Face ID, biometric logins, mobile wallets etc are all important. That’s the same across the different countries.

SBC: How do you view rule changes and updates from the likes of Apple and Google Play; does it present new commercial opportunities given that more companies require your expertise? Or is this a disruption to you too?

SY: It’s certainly an opportunity for companies with our level of expertise. There aren’t many companies in the world who can combine an understanding of the real-money gaming and lottery domains with a real understanding of how you build an excellent native app. That’s quite a specialist skill, and the combination of two is something quite unique to us. 

From our point of view, we certainly work on the web side as well – there is a broader range of people who do that. But again, we’re combining that knowledge of technology and the continuous changes that occur with that technology along with our expertise in the real-money and lottery domain. 

SBC: Where is the balance at the moment in terms of websites versus apps? 

SY: When people are trying to get up and running really quickly, quite often the quickest route to doing something is – especially when platforms come with a level of frontend – to put a website out in the marketplace. It may be a very ‘vanilla’ version of that, it could be something that is quite standard. But for some people, it’s about the speed of taking their product to market which led to websites coming first. 

You want to have a website though. Even though most people are now playing via mobile, you still want to have access via desktop. 

I think people may have also been put off the idea of apps when there was a lot of noise about the difficulties following the changes to the 4.2 and 4.7 guidelines. There was a lot of noise in the market where people were being put off. It felt too difficult to create apps. But if you come to a company like us, that just simply isn’t the case.

We’ve all been through this process where games developers are understanding the bundling into Apple’s resources. We need to remember that this is just on the App Store, as opposed to on Google Play. 

I do think that it did put people off for a time but apps are now coming back because people are understanding the importance of differentiation for their products and to be able to provide the convenience, performance and better experience of an app. Once you’ve got something out there, you begin to realise that players want that elevated experience. 

SBC: And finally, what would you say is your top goal for 2021?

SY: To get out of lockdown! Seriously though, the top goals for mkodo in 2021 would be to continue to establish ourselves and to continue to service the clients that we have in the best possible way. We also want to bring the best innovation to them within the apps and the products that they have with us and to continue to provide excellent customer service. 

We would like to then grow from that business and share our skills, to gain new clients within the regulated markets both within the regulated lottery space as well as the commercial gaming and sports betting sectors.

You can watch the interview embedded in this article above or by clicking HERE.

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