SBC News From start-up to world domination: John Gordon on Incentive Games’ story so far

From start-up to world domination: John Gordon on Incentive Games’ story so far

The shift from chemical engineering to gambling isn’t a career change that you hear about every day. But for John Gordon, this marked the beginning of Incentive Games’ story. Now, Incentive Games is operational in more than 125 countries and looking to expand even further. 

With grand plans for world domination, Gordon takes us back to the inception of Incentive Games before outlining the reasons why Incentive Games is limiting the number of partners to just five. 

SBC: John, can you start off by giving us a bit of background on yourself? As we understand, you started out as a Chemical Engineer? 

JG: Well, I actually started out as a kid with dreams and ambitions… but once I realised I probably wouldn’t play for Scotland, and that I refused to conform to the norms of the pop industry despite my incredible falsetto voice, I decided to turn my passion to something else: making money. 

So I AskJeeves-d the best-paid jobs, and, by the time my university hangover wore off, I was Lead Chemical & Process Engineer for BP, living in Trinidad & Tobago in the Caribbean.  

Being there taught me a lot – not least the value of good SPF – and I took the barrage of ads for DraftKings and FanDuel as a cue for a business back home, with three university friends. 

SBC: How did the idea for Incentive Games come about? 

JG: I retired my flip-flops and headed back to Scotland to start my own fantasy football betting site, Premier Punt. 

We found that by acquiring customers using our fantasy product, then upselling to sports betting and cross-selling to casinos, we could drastically reduce the CAC for both sports betting and casino. 

After some modest success, we sold the brand in 2019 and pivoted from B2C fantasy sports betting to B2B customer acquisition games. And that was the birth of Incentive Games. 

SBC: We’ve previously discussed how Incentive Games isn’t simply a free-to-play provider. Over the last 10 years, how has the company effectively made that transition from F2P start-up to a behemoth that focuses more on ‘big data’ and AI? 

JG: I see ourselves as part of the CRM process now, an integral part. Lots of companies are talking about AI, but we are executing on it. We are providing AI generated rewards in our games, based on the user’s activity on the site. I wish I could say more on this but I will leave it there for now. 

Now, we have a data division that is unrivalled in the industry, working with the biggest operators in the world, and are being interviewed by SBC. Dreams really do come true. 

SBC: How does this new focus enable your partners to go beyond the traditional methods of player retention to create a more engaging offering?  

JG: The truth is that it’s not ‘new’ – it’s just new that we’re talking about it. 

But the short answer, without revealing all of our secrets, is that it gives clients a complete picture of what’s going on, data captured and analysed at both ends of the user experience, while we also present an ability to customise and experiment in-game to drive results live. 

We’ve used AI to test games on the front end, and then to analyse data on the back, long before your current provider started using ChatGPT to write their weird LinkedIn posts. 

Our tech division, with hundreds of years of combined experience, captures more than 100 billion data points every month. We turn acquisition into retention, data into insights, opportunity into action. 

SBC: Can you walk us through the decision process to limit your game mechanics to a maximum of five operators?  

JG: I’m just not very good with names, so this saves me having to remember too many… But, seriously, we aren’t a little start-up any more; it’s about quality over quantity for us now. So we will never oversupply any market – we only want to work with a select few providers, so that we can maximise the impact of our products. 

You cannot just hose out games like ours and change the colours. It does not work like that — believe me, we have tried. We used to have 40+ clients, now we have a handful.  

To do it properly you need: 

  • A good understanding of the local market (leagues/teams etc) 
  • A good understanding of the demographic 
  • The client’s upstream and downstream user journey has to be on point (going from a media site to their betting site for example) 
  • They have to have a phenomenal overall product 

The last point is critical: we can have the “best” free-to-play retention game, but if the client’s casino is not one of the leaders, the users will not stick around.  

Companies often hope Incentive Games’s products will help them go from 17th in the market to the top three – but that’s not how it works; we are not a silver bullet. We can increase the number one’s market share, or help you go from third to first, but if you are very low in the market, there will be more significant things to focus on before adding our games. 

SBC: How do you ensure further growth if you’re limiting the number of partners? 

JG: By developing relationships with providers that drive consistent and regular results for our clients – and, therefore, consistent, and regular business for us. The growth potential for Incentive Games is off the scale, and we are running full-speed at it. 

When you work with top clients, they are always looking to grow, and when we can demonstrate an increase in market share for them in less than three months, they will continue to work with us on other projects. 

SBC: Over the last 10 years, the company has grown considerably. What do the next 10 years hold? 

JG: I was going to say ‘global domination’, but we are already in more than 125 countries. I expect the next decade will bring unprecedented growth for Incentive Games – sadly, I expect almost the exact opposite for my hairline. 

Ten years is a long time, especially in this industry, so let’s just look at the next year. 

In 2024 I see us: 

  • Being even more integrated with the client’s CRM  
  • Having the best mar-tech tools, being able to acquire customers the most cost effectively in the industry 
  • Hitting five years in a row with over 300% revenue growth 
  • Launching completely new free-to-play products (not daily free to play, some cool new stuff…) 

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