The global gaming industry’s flagship annual expo, ICE, is in full flow at London’s ExCel Arena in Canary Wharf.
At this time each year the great and good of the industry gather for three jam-packed days in South East London. This year more than 500 exhibitors from over 60 countries are bringing together the latest in online and offline gaming ideas and innovations all under one, buzzing roof. As the gaming industry continues to grow globally and more operators and suppliers emerge to compete for attention, the stands and exhibits are now bigger, bolder and more exciting than ever before.
Aside from the serious stuff (well, as serious as ICE gets, anyway) of the stands, exhibits and seminars, ICE definitely captures the sense of fun, humour and enjoyment at the heart of the gaming industry. This year delegates can queue up to try and save a penalty kick (from an unfairly close distance, it must be said) from former England striker Michael Owen at the Colossus Bets stand, play a game of table tennis against Olympian Darius Knight at the Vermantia stand or try and win a signed pair of Mike Tyson’s boxing gloves, under the watchful gaze of the former heavyweight champion himself, at Inspired’s exhibit.
At last year’s event the fallout from the new Point of Consumption tax and licensing regime in the UK was no doubt the hottest topic on everyone’s lips. A year on and this new regime has had a significant impact on the industry with consolidation a major feature of 2015 across the market. The potential implications of and fallout from these deals have, unsurprisingly, been a major talking point at the many Vegas themed coffee stations and bars.
As ever, in an industry where punters have low switching costs from one operator to another, product innovation is one of the key areas of focus. Whereas in previous years innovation on mobile devices dominated discussions, this year there seems to have been a transition. No longer are mobile and touch devices being viewed as a distinct product category, with many in the industry now seeing these devices as their core route to success. The industry’s core millennial customers now see a seamless mobile gaming experience as a mere hygiene factor when it comes to choosing their online gaming brand.
Whilst mobile devices continue to be a major driver of growth in gambling globally, and no doubt there is significant further penetration for these devices, people are already looking for the ‘next mobile’. Many industry insiders at ICE this year are making big noises about VR (virtual reality) gaming, which some are pinning their hopes on to unlock the next generation of gaming enjoyment for customers.
For those with a retail presence, omni-channel is a key topic with much focus devoted to the reinvention of the betting shop experience for customers. In a world where customers can place the same bets as in shops from the comfort of their own armchair, shops are needing to better compete and offer something complementary to the online experience. Whilst virtual games have been around for a while, and are big in some markets such as Italy, they are no doubt a hot topic this year as operators look at ways to maximise the appeal of the betting shop and bring together the offline and digital experience.
The future of marketing in the industry is also being hotly debated with the rise of ‘on-demand’ television seeing the demise in some areas of traditional TV advertising. However, in an industry known for innovation and pioneering in marketing, this will surely provide more of an opportunity than a challenge and it will be interesting to see what new marketing developments we’ll see in 2016 and where the spend will be focused.
All in all, it’s been a thrilling three days at ICE, even if the constant ringing of slot machines has grown to be a little tiresome.