A Brave New World for Connected Pub Entertainment
“The player experience in pubs is sub-optimal,” says Russell Wood bluntly. “When a player goes into a bingo hall, a casino or a betting shop, they know what to expect. They can access best of breed content from a number of game design houses. What they get in pubs is patchy, it depends on the operator and the pub group or the individual pub. Even if they find a digital compendium it will not contain the all of the best games on the market.”
Russell will be well known to many of our readers as he has many years of industry experience at Mecca and Nobles, was Joint Managing Director at Kunick Leisure from 1992-2000 and Head of Retail Services at Enterprise Inns for just over a decade until 2012. Russell is now the Director of Waypoint Leisure Ltd which helps gaming and retail companies to develop new products and services to give their clients a great customer experience.
Russell and Tony Ford, Operations Director at Marston’s Telecoms, have joined me to outline their vision for an optimal player experience in pubs powered by affordable access to high speed, secure broadband. Marston’s Telecoms was formed 10 years ago to provide services to its parent company, Marston’s PLC, which needed to improve communications between its 2,000 individual pubs and its head office, as well as providing services such as Wi-Fi and internet-connected gaming to its customers.
Marston’s Telecoms then become a private telecoms company creating its own carrier-grade network. “We created a monster of a private network and Marston’ only uses around 10 per cent of its capability,” says Tony. “So, we decided to leverage our strong ownership position to provide competitively priced, leading-edge solutions to other customers and we could see that the pub gaming sector was in great need of the service that we offer.”
Certainly, there are many horror stories regarding the unreliable broadband and mobile service to pubs and the disruption it can cause to online connected machine operation – meaning that many ‘online enabled’ machines are often updated manually or operated offline – thus not achieving their full potential on site. Marston’s Telecoms proposes an incredible deal for pub groups of whatever size – failsafe, secure, high-speed (up to 80Mbps) networked broadband for £5 per pub per week – fully managed machine monitoring with optional traffic filtering for safe web browsing for customers.
But once you have that environment of super-fast, super-reliable broadband in a pub – what could you do with it? This was the question asked at a recent event hosted by Marston’s Telecoms and Waypoint and attended by a Who’s Who of retailers, operators and manufacturers last month. At this, and subsequent meetings, Russell and Tony have challenged each user group in the supply chain to consider the opportunity to create a unified pub gaming market that puts the pub gaming customer experience front and centre.
How will this look? At its core will be terminals where the player can access best of breed games from all suppliers – not just those politically aligned to a particular supply chain. Russell calls this a “vertical supply chain” from manufacturers to retailer but stresses that the operator’s role remains vital to install terminals, instruct pub managers and tenants on what’s on offer, understand the player demographic and assess the data from the networked machines in order to provide the best-performing mix of games on each individual piece of carpet.
“If you went into a pub over the last few weeks, did you see a single digital machine displaying World Cup promotions?” he asks. “A networked pub environment with regular machine updates would allow the pub gaming sector to be more proactive with promotions and marketing. It would allow the terminals to change their offer during quiet times of the day to maximise VTP. We have got to stop thinking about cashbox and start thinking more about VTP – that’s the key.” It also facilitates direct contact with the player as in other gaming markets.
Russell also sees the return of SWP style games to pubs – but not necessarily in terms of single silo machines offering small prizes. “We could have tournaments across the country with significant linked prizes. A single terminal offering the best content from all manufacturers would invigorate the game design industry and ensure that content developers receive a more realistic slice of the pie than they have before. This would lead to greater innovation and a better player experience for more customers,” he adds.
The same goes for payment options. “I would like to see terminals offer a cashless option such as the Playgo App from G Squared, a TiTo option and cash as well,” he says. “Tickets are important – as a player redeeming a ticket has contact with a member of staff and it becomes an opportunity to congratulate and upsell. All of this is of value to the player has an added bonus of increasing the dwell time and the spend in pubs.”
A secure network creates an opportunity for managers and tenants to securely self-collect and with TiTo and cashless as well, it will remove the reliance on refilling and reduce supply chain costs.
Ever the cynic, I wonder at the reaction of our notoriously divisive and dare I say it – self-serving industry to the idea of working together for the common good. But Russell and Tony claim that the delegates they spoke to were overwhelmingly positive. “We are in discussions with several retailers, operators and developers who absolutely see this as the way forward,” says Tony.
“Many of the most successful operators are already diversifying into new areas and they know ultimately that this is the future direction for pub gaming and offers most opportunities,” adds Russell. “Only in this way can we all benefit from the Big Data that will be generated by so many networked machines, which we will make readily and confidentially available for the industry to use for R&D and future content development.”
‘One Market’ for pub gaming – a new breed of terminals – with games there on customer need rather than name alone. Is this a vision of the future or a pipe dream? One thing is for sure, without a high-speed, secure, internet connection for pubs which is reliable and designed specifically for the demands of the machine market – then the pub gaming industry cannot create an identity and progress. Once that is in place, and it seems likely that a deal of £5 per pub per week will capture the imagination, then; well the sky’s the limit (or Sky’s future as an internet provider in pubs is limited..).
Then – it really comes down to the retailers’ wishes. No matter how mighty the manufacturing/operating group – if the pub sector decides it wants a new breed of terminals for all, I personally can’t see how individual suppliers can avoid it. What could this mean for the independent game designers and operators? It would have to mean greater opportunity in the marketplace for the supply of games and management expertise.
What would it mean for the players? Russell predicts higher payout percentages and probably more slot-style games and also more peer to peer interaction. “Players are increasingly playing online and following their favourite game brands from one platform to another. They want to see their favourite games in the pub and they want to know what they will find when they go to the pub to play. Let’s get away from all this talk about stakes and prizes and work with what we have, in a socially responsible way. There is a demand for pub games from players but to give them a better experience we need to work together to deliver an optimal performance and create the pub gaming market.”
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