Pierrick Leveque, Head of Acquisition at Virgin Games, runs the rule over the much heralded and now thriving mobile channel in the iGaming industry.

IT WAKES ME up. It connects me. It informs me. It entertains me. It fulfils a somehow inexplicable urge to catapult birds onto pigs.
If you’re like me, your life is increasingly ruled by mobile phone consumption.

It’s our media snack: we use it for tasks, urgency and to help us through countless and fleeting instants of boredom. It’s always there, always on, ever ready to serve our exponential hunger for information and entertainment for little more reward than a daily charge and a weekly polish.

To celebrate Virgin Games launching its mobile casino, let’s have a look at our pocket friend in the context of online gaming.

Why mobile? Why now?

In the early ‘noughties’, in the serene setting of a Canadian golf resort, I attended Microgaming’s unveiling of the Spin3 mobile casino product. Every year since then, I’ve heard rallying shouts about mobile being the next big thing in gaming - “Next year I tell you... this time next year, we’ll be millionaires!”

In retrospect, it couldn’t have become an industry changer until some important boxes were ticked: handset market consolidation, network speed, m-commerce maturity, to name but a few.

It’s now 20ii, and the boom is well underway. According to comScore, a leading recorder of data on mobile device usage worldwide, 42 percent of UK mobile consumers used a Smartphone in May 2011 compared to 27 percent a year ago. As recent reports show, Smartphone use has accelerated even through the recession, prompting comScore to refer to Smartphone use as an “addiction” for the first time.

On the device/OS front, new data is showing the tipping point where half of UK users will have Smartphones is only a year away, June 2012 to be precise. Google’s Android has grown its user base adding nearly 4.7 million new users over the past year - a staggering 634 percent rise year- on-year. Since April 2010, 2.5 percent of UK feature phone owners have upgraded to Smartphones every month.

Noticeably, Android’s growth is being driven by non-Smartphone owners upgrading, rather than people switching from other platforms. 74.3 percent of new Android sales come from feature phone owners and only 1.4 percent from former iPhone owners.

Native apps/web apps

Nowadays, mobile gambling predominantly comes in two flavours: native apps or web apps. Native apps are available on app stores while web apps are served via the device’s browser. While there are distinct advantages to each approach, the gap between native and web apps is starting to blur: they can now offer more or less the same functionalities and each can provide a rewarding user experience in their own way.

Native apps can use built-in device functionalities, run faster (but this gap is closing too) and generally provide a more uniform user experience. Since gyroscope/accelerometer functionalities are of very little relevance when playing mobile slots, I’ll argue that the main benefit for an operator lies in the app store channels, the Tesco/Wall-Mart version of digital distribution. From a commercial perspective, this is no more than a digital content affiliate deal, where Apple - in the case of iPhone apps - gets 30 percent on every app sold, in-app purchase or in-app subscription. This is avoided by operators ensuring any deposits take place in a mobile web environment, where Apple does not take a share of revenue.

In the other corner, web apps are web- based services created using a common set of standard technologies; HTML (and increasingly HTML 5), CSS and JavaScript. They’re multi-platform (developed once for every mobile browser) and can be updated instantly - no app store review and approval needed. Most importantly to you, being web-based makes them affiliate tracking friendly. Tracked sales may be made from anywhere on the web, which is not the case for native apps.

At Virgin, we’ve decided to kick-start our mobile strategy with a casino web app for most of the reasons above, and also because this route allows us to attach our single wallet system to our new mobile product more easily. Our players use the same account to play at Virgin Casino, Virgin Bingo, Virgin Poker and now our new mobile casino. They can register, manage their account, play, deposit and withdraw seamlessly, whether they’re on the web or on the move.

Built by mobile agency Somo and currently home to five Microgaming slot games - including Thunderstruck and Tomb Raider - our mobile casino was specifically engineered to accommodate multiple game providers - just like our web casino does with games from IGT, Microgaming, Cryptologic, Ash Gaming, NextGen, Virtue Fusion, Electracade, etc...

Our affiliate partners benefit from our web app approach by earning automatic commissions on mobile game play, just as they do with our other products, regardless of how and where their players originally signed up from.

Mobile advertising

While the channels remain similar, advertising on mobile is altogether a different ball game than web marketing. Historically a side product, mobile gaming cannot be treated as such anymore and, rather, must be considered a primary access point for customer acquisition.

If you’re thinking about entering and marketing your services in the mobile market as an affiliate, a few key facts are worth noting:

Mobile site

• Create a mobile site. Your conversion rates will drop dramatically if your site doesn’t cater for the mobile visitors it attracts. On the SEO front, Google has a very light touch approach at this stage, but it will change. You can expect mobile SEO to take off in its own right with future algorithm updates.
• Use device/browser sniffing scripts to serve relevant content on your site.
• Clearly signpost that mobile and web versions of your site are available.
• If your mobile traffic increases, consider a subscription system and plan SMS campaigns.

Mobile PPC

Driven by betting, mobile gaming PPC currently accounts for ten percent of total clicks, more than for any other sector. Google is king, processing more than 90 percent of mobile searches.
• Unlike web PPC where more prime estate is available, only the top two PPC positions for any specific keywords are likely to have an impact.
• Depending on keywords, CPC can be more costly on mobile, driven by the need to appear in the top two spots to gain visibility on mobile devices.
• Unlike web search, mobile search tends to increase slowly during the day and peak in the evening. Plan your campaigns accordingly.
• Create a new Google AdWords account for your mobile activities. This will enable you to separate web from mobile and serve the right content to the right user/ device. Furthermore, it will allow you to experiment with larger budgets, ad copy, landing pages, and bidding strategies catered specifically to mobile visitors.
• Target your PPC campaigns by device. Serve Android focused ads to Android users, for example. To that effect, Google provides device type dynamic
keyword insertion functionalities.

On the display side, mobile site banner ads and in-app banner ads show much better CTR (click-through rates) than web banners. Whichever way you decide to enter the mobile marketing world, remember one thing: the territory remains reasonably wild, and there is a lot of room for creativity.

Go mobile!

The first mobile telephone call ever made happened in Missouri, USA (from a car), in 1946, using a 36kg device and a $3o/month ($337.33 today) AT&T line. This product - clearly aimed at wealthy bodybuilders - was never going to catch on. Today’s Smartphones are cheaper, thankfully lighter, immeasurably entertaining and, most importantly, everyone either owns or wants one.

If ever there was a time to catch a wave, the time is now.
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