Kindred Futures head, Will Mace looks ahead 20 years to predict what technology disruptions the egaming industry might make.
2019 marks about 20 years since the height of the .com boom, which saw unprecedented levels of investment into the wild and wonderful promises of the internet revolution to come. The subsequent .com crash in March 2000 saw many of those promises dashed against the rocks of the withdrawal of investor confidence, disappointed by the lack of the expected miraculous financial results in impossibly short time frames.
Despite the crash, many of the wild and wonderful promises have since become a reality. Retail, banking, travel and entertainment are among the many industries that have been utterly reinvented – but just not at the pace the investors of the late nineties were expecting.
Looking specifically at the gambling industry in the .com boom and bust days, players such as bet365 and Paddy Power were some years from existing, my own company – Kindred – was being operated from a kitchen table in a fairly insalubrious area of London and industry stalwarts such as William Hill and Ladbrokes were (probably) still calculating their odds with a slide rule and chalking them up on blackboards outside their shops. Although the current landscape is vastly different, the ‘invention’ of online gambling – a once wild and wonderful promise – has firmly taken hold.
Given the scale of change over the last 20 years we might well ask what does the next 20 years look like? Are there similar wild and wonderful promises on offer today that might become reality over the next 20 years? Can we expect similar levels of change to the gambling industry as we have seen over the last 20 years – and if so what will it look like in 2040?
Whilst predicting the future is – and should remain – the business of fortune tellers and science fiction novelists, every industry and society needs a healthy dose of visionaries, creators and experimenters – those who are looking past the latest slot release and bet-builder functionality – at some of the major factors that could fundamentally alter the betting landscape.
The sports angle
Will we see an explosion of ‘genetically modified athletes’? Technically it is becoming perfectly possible and may well eventually eradicate many diseases from the world, but it may also give rise to a generation of super athletes – with the World Cup winners and Olympians of 2040 perhaps already being brewed in a test tube somewhere. How will ‘genetic doping’ change sports and thus sports betting? If the best team or athlete is simply the product of the best laboratory would they still elicit the same passion and excitement that drives many gamblers today?
If IBM Watson, or some future even more powerful equivalent, could instantly process and analyse all possible data relevant to any sporting outcome – and make its output readily available to all – operators and customers – how might this change betting? Would anyone ever bet against the prediction of the supercomputer? The prices would become so short as to offer no value and so would betting rapidly lose its appeal?
Personalisation is very much a buzzword in the digital industry as a whole, but the tentative, baby steps of the gambling industry, offering not much more than simple recommendations, based on fairly superficial profiling of a customer, will surely be taken to exponentially higher levels. Every player is different and so should, and will, have a totally unique gambling experience – with at the very least personalised interfaces, pricing and messaging – as a matter of course. The unique experience will be driven by many factors, not least the mood of the customer in the moment, as technology becomes better and better at capturing and interpreting ever changing emotions at play during a gambling experience. One size fits all has never been a very good approach but will quickly become a recipe for an early corporate death. What capabilities does an operator need to be able to deliver unique experiences and are any even on the road to achieving them?
Comply or die
Any consideration of the gambling industry must include the regulatory perspective. One hopes that the protections the industry will be able to and more importantly choose to build in over the coming years – encouraged by ever more powerful regulators – will mean that vulnerable customers are truly protected by design and that as a result the industry may lose some of the current stigma, giving us more freedom to operate. The industry is certainly making the right noises and many valuable initiatives and actions are underway – but a step change in approach may be needed if ‘nobody harmed’ is to become a reality. Without the step change then perhaps the regulation becomes ever more restrictive to the point where gambling could really struggle to survive at anything like the scale it is today.
Websites and apps have certainly evolved considerably over the last 20 years but it is hard to believe they will exist in anything like their current form in another 20 years? QWERTY has surely had its day? A visit to CES or to an MIT lab will start to give an indication of the possible future human/digital interactions – which may be some blended form of mixed reality recognising human thought and gesture as inputs. It would be incredibly foolish to assume that the iPhone 30 (to be launched Sep 2040?) is just an incremental improvement on the iPhone XR.
I wonder which – if any – of the current gambling companies will still be in existence in 20 years time? The current consolidations apart, are gambling companies positioning themselves well to thrive in the markedly different environment of 2040 or – more likely – will most go the way of the victims of the .com bust? There certainly is wild and wonderful promise in the next phase of digital evolution but it very much remains to be seen who will deliver it.