While many companies and business are struggling to survive the Covid19 pandemic, some businesses and industries have been fortunate to see a boost. Mobile gaming, social casino and iGaming as well as many other online businesses (from Zoom to HouseParty to Netflix) have experienced extraordinary results due to more people being stuck at home and many land-based businesses closed. In particular, social casino companies have experienced about a 20 percent uplift in revenue (even higher in the social poker space), while many online real money casinos and poker companies have seen record revenue (including Stars Group, Evolution Gaming
If you have been fortunate enough to benefit financially (I think all of us would trade it for a return to normal and an end to the suffering people are experiencing) from the pandemic, now is the time to think about your next steps, in particular, what you need to do to lock in the gains. There are three routes lucky companies can go
- Consolidate the gains. Many gaming companies are seeing an unprecedented number of new players and players spending at higher levels. You can take steps that when the world returns to normal you retain these incremental players and help them sustain their new monetization level.
- Enjoy it while it lasts. The increase in users and revenue for gaming companies has largely come at little or negative (due to lower marketing expense) incremental expense, thus directly impacting net profit. Companies can use this profit to pay down debt or increase dividends to shareholders (investors, founders, etc.) and other stakeholders (i.e. employees).
- Assume it will continue. Some companies might treat the improvement as less of a windfall but more of a new normal internally driven rather than created by the pandemic.
You probably guessed from the title of this post my recommendation is that now is the time to lock in as much of the gains as possible. This pandemic is (hopefully) a once in a lifetime event, companies that can but do not leverage their good fortune will look back in 12-18 months and deeply regret missing the opportunity to move to the next level.
While it could be tempting to pull as much of the incremental profit out of the company, especially in businesses that have struggled, it creates a short-term rush that will leave you in no better position than you were six months ago. Three years from now, five years from now, ten years from now, the utility gained by pulling out the revenue will be forgotten rather than having created a business worth multiple multiples of what it is currently worth.
In the past, I have seen people use extraordinary experiences (the financial crisis, 9/11, etc.,) as an excuse for poor performance while attributing any benefits to the underlying business. Executives may want to take credit for a 20-50 percent uplift, but just as executives at EasyJet and Virgin Australia did not suddenly become stupid overnight, it’s important to realize your product did not suddenly become great and will maintain its momentum post-pandemic.
Locking in the gains
While you can argue the gains are temporary, it is a choice rather than an eventuality. As a believer in online gaming, I am confident that with the appropriate actions you can maintain much of your current success. Brett Nowak, founder and CEO of Liquid & Grit and arguably the pre-eminent expert on the social casino space, recently pointed out that mobile and social gaming is probably the best entertainment value in the world. For $5 or $10 a month (or even zero) you can enjoy a game for tens or hundreds of hours. Compare that to the cost of going to a movie or a concert or sporting event or even buying a book and the utility of your spend is tremendous. What the pandemic has done is exposed millions of people to this incredible entertainment value.
The companies that will benefit long-term are the ones that can turn this short-term boost into a long-term behavior change for the new customers. There are two elements you need to focus on. The first is retaining your new customers, keeping them from abandoning your game when casinos open or they are no longer spending 24 hours at home. The second element is keeping your players’ monetization at the higher levels. By focusing on these two areas, you can set a new, higher, floor for your product and continue growing.
Retaining your new customers
The best way to retain the influx of players is by reinforcing to them the great entertainment they are getting so they have less desire to return to the cinema or casino. There are multiple actions you can take to retain these players:
- Expose them to all that is great. Most entertainment alternatives cannot offer the breadth and depth that a game provides. If the player, however, only sees a small part of your offering, they have no idea what they are missing. Run promotions where you open for a limited time elder-play levels, slot machines that they would not normally have access to or powers and weapons normally available for senior players.
- Treat them like they expect to be treated. While online gaming provides a great value, often our customer facing teams are less mature than other industries. I have written many times about the importance of creating a WOW experience for your players but with new customers who are used to WOW experiences at their casino or favorite restaurant, it is even more important. Now is the time to double down on giving a great experience, especially to the players likely to become VIPs, who may be used to red carpet VIP treatment at casinos or in other parts of their lives. Match the experience they would get if they go back to their normal haunts.
- Focus on the meta-game. Social games are great at creating an environment that encourages players to come back regularly. Features like progression, daily bonuses, locking mechanics, piggy banks, etc., create incentives and habits for players to return regularly. These features often promote loss aversion in players or make it a matter of prestige to return, so focusing on building a compelling set of retention features will help prevent churn of your new players.
- In-game loyalty. Now is the time to improve or add a loyalty system to your game (think airline frequent flyer program). By definition, a good loyalty program increases the loyalty of the customer. Loyalty programs increase the cost the player feels when leaving, making them less likely to churn. Loyalty programs also help form habits that make your game part of their daily activity.
- Invest in marketing. Now is the best time to invest in marketing to acquire new players, even though many have cut their marketing budgets. Given the damage some industries have faced, overall advertising has decreased, thus cutting the costs most gaming companies face for new users (supply and demand). Instead of acquiring the same number of players you had planned to but at a lower cost, you can use these savings to invest in additional marketing to grow faster than you had projected.
- Hire the best. While your company may come through the pandemic unscathed or better, unfortunately many others are not. This situation provides a unique opportunity to bring in talent that can take you to the next level that normally would never be available. Even if you do not have an immediate need, consider accelerating your people growth now.
Maintain customers’ monetization
While retaining players is always a challenge, maintaining monetization is much more straightforward. In addition to keeping the new users who have discovered your offering due to being locked in their homes, you want to give them a reason to keep their spend at current levels. The “secret” is giving people value. If you give your customers great entertainment for every dollar they spend, they will learn that your game is a better investment than alternatives. There are several steps you can take to reinforce this understanding
- Don’t price gouge. Some companies, especially those that consider the pandemic a short-term opportunity, are tempted to use the current situation to extract as much as possible from players. While it could boost short-term profits, it is likely to leave players less satisfied and thus more likely to revert to other options as the lockdowns ease.
- Provide more value. Rather than squeezing players, now is the time to be more generous (you can afford it with the increased revenue). Ensure that they get more hours of gameplay, more exciting virtual goods, etc., from the purchases they make now. This action will reinforce in their mind the great entertainment value your game is compared with other entertainment products.
- Conduct great promotions and giveaways. As the pandemic recedes, launch an aggressive calendar of sales promotions as well as giveaways to keep customers engaged at previous levels. Again, be generous as the goal is not to get a short-term boost but to reinforce what a great product you have and then keep these players engaged at current levels for months and years.
- Predict VIPs. Most iGaming and social game companies have learned the value of VIPs, as it drives profitability in the space. Many of your new customers who eventually would become VIPs, however, have not had time to achieve the criteria that would qualify them for VIP treatment. Loosen your criteria so that you can capture future VIPs and give them exceptional treatment that they will not want to lose. This treatment is particularly critical in the iGaming and social casino space where they will probably have a host waiting for them at their land based casino when it reopens.
It’s up to you
The current Covid19 crisis means it is not business as usual. If your business is one of the few companies actually benefitting, do not make the mistake of missing a once in a lifetime opportunity to go to the next level. Now is the time to do everything you can to retain your new customers and give them a reason to keep monetization at new levels.
- While most of the economy is suffering right now, some online companies, particularly in the iGaming and social gaming space, are benefiting. These lucky games need to lock in these gains rather than miss a once in a lifetime opportunity.
- To consolidate gains, companies need to minimize churn from this new cohort of players and provide customers a reason to maintain their new monetization levels.
- Some of the most effective ways to retain these new customers include exposing them to the full product, introducing a loyalty program, enhancing meta-features and providing great customer service.