The big red button

Farmer/Panda Google update

WRITING FOR AN online gaming magazine comes with a fair share of risk. The relative latency of bi-monthly print media within a fast paced industry means any topical analysis could end up incomplete, irrelevant or plain obsolete by the time the copy makes it to the print rolls.

Toying with potential topics for this column on a scorching Easter weekend in West London, I considered addressing the Farmer/Panda Google update and its effect on the affiliate industry, or alternatively something about the now infamous US indictments.

But by the time you read this, Panda will be history. Most affected affiliates will be working their way back up the rankings, and the next update - 'Engineer' or ' Squirrel' according to my sources at Google - could be on everyone's lips. Equally, dust will have settled over the US mdictments and, for all we know, could already be live. Topic of the day could be a US land-based Casino Group quietly buying stakes in one of the weakened giants. Or Playtech buying Luxembourg. Who knows?

In the end I decided to avoid shallow waters and settled on something long-term and closer to home: the Virgin Games website re-design project.

As those of you who visited us at the LAC Affiliate Conference in London will testify, this has been keeping us busy for a few months now. It's one of the few curses of the online world: while a downtown Vegas casino can trade happily for decades without any need to replace their old, nicotine-scented carpets, their oriline counterparts need more than a fresh coat of paint every few years. Regular site overhauls are dictated by the ever-changing design, ergonomic and social trends, as well as technological advances. The thing with an operator's new website project is that almost all business units must get a piece of the action. Everyone has to contribute one way or another to their new home's architecture and features.

The customer acquisition and affiliate teams are amongst the most demanding of them all. After all, a new site is a new opportunity to address issues pertaining to conversion rates, one of our industry-crucial levers. Acting on this lever involves ensuring that almost every logged-out page features an inviting call-to-registration module whose aim is twofold: to charm new visitors and convince them to join.

Tools of charm inevitably include sign-up bonuses, and any other marketing asset that distinguishes your operation from the crowd: a unique reward system maybe, unique prices and events, unique games portfolio, etc. Tools of conviction are call-to-action assets, graphics and buttons. Their design and labelling are more often than not a reflection of a company's approach to customer acquisition: aggressive, 'Sign-up now or else!' or needy, 'Register with us... Please'.

With our eyes firmly set on presenting ourselves as an entertainment destination rather than a hardcore gambling den, Virgin's approach sits pretty much in the middle: fun, non-intrusive and inviting. Our secret weapon? The Big Red Button.

Ultimately, what the acquisition team expects from this exercise is a large number of prominently placed charm features, combined with healthy looking, big red call-to-action buttons. A big ask, considering our affiliate system provides full deep-linking functionality, allowing our affiliate partners to link to any page on our casino, bingo and poker sites. Quite demanding as I said, but we have to fight our affiliate's corner.

The product and retention teams also have their own justified requirements: dynamic and customised content serving, full CMS control, social functionalities, to name just a few. The production, development and IT teams want stability, scalability, site performance and good plumbing. The design squad seeks creative flexibility within the boundaries of brand guidelines.

All things considered, such a large scale project sounds like a cacophonous affair, and, often, it is. The key to success here is never to lose sight of the end goal: increased accessibility, efficiency and harmony.

Now, will we achieve this harmony? Will our design team get the last word on a surprising colour scheme for the new Virgin Bingo site? Will our acquisition team get the Big Red Buttons they so much crave?
The answers will be online in a few weeks.
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