Highlights From ICE Totally Gaming 2015

A View From ICE 2015: Convergence Becomes More Than A Gaming Buzzword

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I’ve been going to ICE for about 10 years – it was a lot different back then.

I often hear people in the industry compare ICE in London to G2E in Las Vegas, and I don’t think that’s an accurate comparison to make any longer.

ICE used to be like G2E. Ten years ago, most of the content on display at ICE had to with the land-based industry, like it still does at G2E. Slot machines, shufflers, stools, that sort of thing.

And iGaming was tiny. Online and digital gaming was a minute section tucked away on an upper floor like a dirty secret. Once you got up there, there was very little see anyway.

How times have changed

Today, digital gaming is everywhere at ICE. It has almost become an iGaming show. I saw digital game developers everywhere (and they’re all pushing mobile really aggressively).

There are still some slots and land-based products on display, but I would say that digital is the dominant sector on the show floor now.

Curiously, when I first started going to ICE, I was one of a select group of iGaming guys due to my work in digital gaming at the time. That has changed too – or evolved, I should say, to keep up with where I think the industry is headed.

In 2011, I founded Traffic Generation and shifted my focus on digital-property convergence in the gaming space.

When I say convergence, I mean a shared customer experience across multiple platforms: land-based, digital, mobile. These are all channels through which today’s customers consume almost every product – and gaming is starting to catch up to that.

It wasn’t always so.

If you were a land-based operator, that’s pretty much all you were. Likewise, if you were into iGaming, you would not know where to look for an in-property experience. In the U.S., this divide has been ever more pronounced. But the demand from consumers for a converged product eventually forced the industry to start adapting.

I remember some early visionaries in the gaming space beginning to talk about convergence a few years ago – but that’s mainly all it was: talk.

At ICE, convergence talk turning to action

After experiencing ICE 2015, I couldn’t be more positively convinced that digital convergence in the gaming space is finally starting to happen.

As I walked along the show floor, I noticed convergence products everywhere. We’re absolutely seeing multiple product verticals pushing shared customer experiences. Novomatic and Microgaming stood out, and interesting new start-ups like Gamblit are pushing convergence in new directions.

Microgaming went so far as to make wearables a key part of their messaging – a clever, attention-grabbing move which I could not resist snapping a picture of, despite the early-stage nature of the products:

Convergence was thus very much one of the primary themes at ICE this year. Everybody seemed to have a product for it, but that was actually a limitation as much as a novelty.

Platform developers are undoubtedly offering a range of products across vertical boundaries. This typically includes an iGaming platform, a mobile platform, an in-property kiosk-based solution, etc.

What isn’t yet widely available is anything tangible in the way of how to use these products, how to maximize value from them, and best ways to implement them.

Basically, we have all the products we need, and then some, to offer a shared customer experience across the verticals. What we don’t have in as much supply are strong insights on how to use them properly to achieve the desired result. I suppose that is where Traffic Generation comes in, to provide the how.

Land-based buy-in critical to convergence success

Furthermore, most of the convergence right now is being pushed by the iGaming guys. They’re the ones reaching out to the casinos, not so much the other way around. That needs to change – especially in the U.S. Real, meaningful convergence won’t begin to happen until it’s the land-based industry that’s pushing it.

This is why I’m excited for 2015, which I think will be a keystone year for convergence in the U.S. and abroad, particularly in the run-up to G2E, ICE’s supposed U.S. counterpart – which, I repeat, it no longer is.

G2E and ICE – compare and contrast

That being said, I believe that ICE and G2E are approaching the same point from completely different directions – ICE from the online perspective and G2E from the land-based one. But I think G2E has a much better chance at delivering success in the convergence space.

That’s not meant to take anything away from ICE. On the contrary, I had an amazing, hugely productive week there. For all of its changes over the years, ICE remains a place for phenomenal networking opportunities.

The layout itself practically forces this. It’s a lot more compact than G2E, where it’s so much easier to get lost in the maze of intersecting lanes.

Conversely, at ICE, there’s really only one way you can go. The stands are closely aligned into two long halls with a central walkway. As you walk through it, it’s almost impossible not to bump into people. You just keep running into them. And all the key people you need to meet are there.

I would have loved to make more time for the conference tracks at ICE this year, if I hadn’t been in meetings from 7am to 11pm every single day. But still I was fortunate to see plenty:

  • All the big U.S.-facing brands were fairly, albeit modestly, well-represented.
  • There was also tribal representation this time thanks to Pechanga.net, which I enjoyed seeing.
  • The subject of U.S. Internet gaming occasionally came up during some discussions I had with various people. Much like in the U.S., enthusiasm over that country’s state-regulated iGaming is cooling a bit from previous years – but that shouldn’t be viewed as a sign the industry is losing interest in digital.
  • On the contrary, interest in digital gaming is higher than it has ever been – the stakeholders are simply shifting their focus to things like social and freemium, which present more immediate opportunities for gain, and putting real money wagering on hold for the time being.

I walked away from ICE this year armed with plenty of information, a robust list of new contacts and renewed optimism in the reality of digital convergence.

It is no longer a thing of the future – it is real and it is happening now. People are starting to demonstrate products, and I think 2015 will be the year when it really takes off.

- Andy is the CEO at Traffic Generation Ltd, a technology and services company that brings social, land-based, online and mobile gaming together. Follow Andy on Twitter or contact via LinkedIn.
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