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What do you think of Twitch’s decision to ban casino sites from being streamed on its platform?
Twitch’s decision to ban remote licensed online casino sites from being streamed from its platform has made waves right across the industry. But at Livespins, we have long expected this moment to come, and what is now certain is that gambling on mainstream media platforms is, and likely always will be, volatile. That is why it is important for the industry to control the space and provide a healthy, highly engaging and, most importantly, sustainable solution. The opportunity that sits at the intersection of gambling and streaming is far too big for us not to.
How has this situation come about? Has the writing been on the wall for a while?
The ban comes in the wake of a campaign to oust gambling from the platform after top-tier streamer ItsSlicker admitted to having a gambling problem. It’s fair to say some sort of ban was already in the works with recent events likely to have forced Twitch to act sooner rather than later. For us, the writing has been on the wall for some time now.
You just have to look at the surging popularity of slot streaming, the increased competition among streamers and the lengthens they have been going to grow and retain their following to see things would have to change. Many streamers were opting to play with increasingly large and unsustainable bet amounts as well as partaking in sometimes offensive studio behaviour to generate clips and moments that would gather attention online – behaviour that was also starting to gather the attention of industry insiders, watchdogs, and regulators.
More worryingly, to afford these large bet sizes and increased hours spent gambling, many streamers were becoming sponsored in one way or another and not disclosing this arrangement to their audiences. This meant they were essentially misleading their viewers to think that their gambling was being done with their own funds when the reality was very different. Add into the mix the recent ban on the use of gambling links and ads within Twitch streams and it was clear to us that the house of cards was about to come tumbling down.
What impact will the ban have on online casino brands, slot studios and of course slot streamers?
It is going to take a little time for the true impact of the ban to be understood. Twitch has been a touch ambiguous when it comes to exactly who the ban applies to – online casino brands that hold a licence in the US, or from another reputable jurisdiction, can continue to use the platform while the ban appears to only apply to online casinos and not sportsbook, etc. Streamers that have built their brands on slot streaming will also be heavily impacted for obvious reasons. I think it’s fair to say Twitch will be off limits for most operators, slot studios and streamers for quite some time, if indefinitely.
Does this spell the end of the relationship between streaming and online gambling?
Not at all. Livespins was founded on the insight that a significant player segment clearly loves the slots streaming concept and the opportunity to engage with a community of like-minded individuals, the authenticity of streamers over more rigid live dealers and the overall organic nature of the streaming entertainment experience. We wanted to retain all of those features but leave behind the unsustainable behaviour that we have seen on Twitch. Our platform does just that – it integrates directly into the online casino game lobby with our team of superstar streamers playing slots from our roster of approved studio partners.
How does Livespins allow casinos, studios, and streamers to leverage the tremendous popularity of slot streaming?
We bring all three parties together in one powerful, responsible, compliant solution. For licenced operators, the Livespins stream takes place directly within their casino and allows them to generate revenues from the bet behinds that players can make via our unique system. For studios, they gain high levels of exposure among players but in an environment where said players can wager directly on the action happening in the game. We also pay studios to be on the platform, opening up an additional line of revenue. For streamers, we provide a platform for them to be able to do what they love while earning a living and the security that comes with being an employee and part of a big team.
But let’s not also forget viewers and players. Livespins allows them to not only watch the explosive action taking place across the reels, but also get involved in a direct way by betting behind each spin. This creates a group bet and a shared experience, but with each player able to select their own bet amount and number of spins. They can also interact with the streamer and each other throughout, as well as add reactions and emojis. This takes the foundation of what they could experience on Twitch and supercharges it.
How does it do this in a responsible way?
Livespins brings the streaming entertainment we know to be so popular and puts it in the hands of the operator – those that are working diligently to create safe and sustainable play for their customers and who have the tools to do so. From the very beginning, we at Livespins have also worked relentlessly to deliver pure sustainable entertainment to players all over the globe. Our streamers are recruited by us, vetted and trained for months on content and responsible gambling. And, we ensure moderators 24/7 making sure we are building a healthy community.
What does the future have in store for slot streaming?
Some might consider Twitch banning online casino from its platform as the end of slot streaming, but we see it as just the beginning. Livespins is the platform and product to allow operators, studios and streamers to unlock the massively untapped potential on the table here and to do it responsibly and compliantly. The appetite for slot streaming content is only going to increase, and we are here to help all stakeholders leverage this and provide socially-charged, highly entertaining experiences to their players.
Exclusive Q&A with Eric Stoop , Co-founder of Infinileads
Let’s begin with something about yourself. Our readers love to learn more about top technocrats and their vision. How do you come into the gaming industry? What’s the backdrop?
E.S.: I got into the gaming industry through poker like many other people. I was there when it boomed back in 2004, when a poker set back in 2005 was voted the Christmas gift of the year in Sweden and “everyone” was making money and thought it would last forever. That was the good old days and I can really miss it sometimes. During that time I meet my future wife who was one of the first employees at the gaming operator called Maria Bingo which was acquired by Unibet(Kindred) in 2008. I got a bit involved with her work and it was a very different time back then. I particularly remember in the beginning of Maria Bingo, management had forgotten that players can win money and want to withdraw but they only had support for deposits in the system. It took some time to add withdrawal support and players were finally happy, but it pretty much speaks for how businesses were operated back in 2005.
After Maria was acquired, I started to work with my wife at a new bingo operator called Mamamia Bingo. The plan was to also launch a poker skin targeting the Latam market and I would be responsible for managing that one. It was also quite interesting back then because I usually refer to myself as a “street kid” no education after high school. The threshold for receiving a job in the gaming industry back in 2008 was very low. So, I had a discussion with the owner, and he said, “I heard you play poker”. “Yes, that is correct”. “Great you will be the manager of our poker skin”.
We quickly noticed that the Latam market was not ready. Mainly from a payment service provider perspective because the internet penetration was there. We had very big volumes playing our freeroll poker tournaments, but it was extremely hard to convert the players to depositing customers.
Through poker I met Jan, my future partner in SEO affiliation, who was doing rakeback affiliation back then.
During this period, I noticed how lucrative the poker affiliation was in terms of margins and no need for upfront investments if working with pure rakeback affiliation and “under the table” deals. So, the poker skin was closed, and I started to be more involved with the bingo which was the core focus of the company. On the side I started to build up a base of poker players which I was in contact with on MSN messenger. I managed to build a huge base in France and business was going quite well. I teamed up with Jan and we started to leverage on our existing network of deals. This was a very hectic time. Combination of day to day work with the bingo operator as well as chatting with 500+ players and being personal on MSN and working on retention and follow up. My wife also gave birth to our first child during this period and I working like a maniac. Starting at 08.00, coming home at 19.00, my wife had prepared dinner, eating it while reading a Donald Duck comic just to clear my mind. Then back to work to 01.00-02.00.
Looking back at it, I worked too much during the following 2-3 years and I’m surprised to this day that my wife did not divorce me. So back in 2010, France regulated online gaming and that pretty much killed 80% of the revenues for the rakeback affiliation business. We decided that we wanted to try organic traffic through SEO as we saw the opportunity in beating existing competition with a high-quality product. We were also a bit tired of the constant communication requirement that followed with rakeback affiliation. We analysed Italy which was already regulated and from experience we knew that this market was huge, one of the biggest in Europa before the regulation but the channelization was low into the regulated environment but we expected it to improve significantly over time.
We started in 2012 with our first site, we had no experience with SEO and Jan was the one responsible for the SEO part while I was the product and commercial guy. We made all the mistakes you could make, the project became a mess and was not successful. We learned a lot in practical though. At this point we didn’t know if we should continue our focus at our current day to day jobs. Eventually we decided to give it another try. , We restarted with more experience and took in a 3rd partner, John, who had a broad skill set we lacked which was design/frontend/backend, targeting Italy again, targeting specific games which was popular with exact domain match URLs. Which quite quickly became successful and we launched so many sites, too many with regards to what you should be able to carry. We also entered other regulated markets like Belgium. I quit my day to day job when we started to see traction in revenues and traffic and at LAC 2016, I meet with Erik Bergman who was currently active in Catena Media and presented our business.
They were interested and the deal was closed as quick as 1 month later. After that we worked with Catena Media in an earnout for 2 years and later in 2019 we restarted with a new affiliation business. I am still married to my wife. I tried to keep that history as short as possible and I left out a lot of details, but online gaming is pretty much the only thing I have focused on all my career.
You have been there and done that – in terms of developing a successful affiliate company, which was acquired by Catena Media a few years back. When coming back and doing it again, what are the changes that you notice, especially in customer behaviour and marketing strategy?
E.S.: SEO strategies have changed a lot the last few years. SEO used to be a lot about self-owned private blog networks and link exchanges which isn’t being used in the same extent today.
Today’s SEO is involving towards a more general marketing strategy and focusses around high quality content, keeping that content up to date, converting the content into different media and gaining authority by having authoritative writers posting on your site.
Could you describe more about your present business and its focus areas?
E.S.:Our core product is free play slot machines which was something we focused on before. Working with strictly regulated operators where applicable and trying to offer players a huge library of slot machines with an ultra-fast and user-friendly experience.
Currently we target:
The regulated Spanish and Latam market through https://www.slotjava.es
The regulated Italian market through https://www.nuovicasino.it/ and https://www.slotjava.it
The regulated Portuguese market through https://www.onlinecasinosportugal.pt
You operate both in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian markets in Europe and Latin America. How does the business strategy vary across countries and across continents?
E.S.: Latin America is still a very immature marked. You would think that a lot has happened since we operated a poker skin back in 2008 but everything is still very dependent on payments and the possibility for users to deposit money. First, you need to select operators that has focused on a specific country in Latin America with regards to payment methods. You can’t select an operator who says: “Our site is in Spanish and we target the entire Latin America” you need to establish which payment methods they have for each specific country otherwise you will see 0 conversion. The second thing is brick and mortar presence. The consensus by players/people in Latin America is to not trust online. It does not matter if it is casinos, ecommerce or another online based business. So, finding an online casino which also has brick and mortar presence will make the threshold for conversion lower. They usually have the option to fund your online account with cash within their physical venue. This obviously differs per country, but we see that the development has been going quicker in geos like Chile and Peru. Higher internet and smartphone penetration and payment options available is likely the reason for this. It is a quite funny fact the Betsson brands biggest market in terms of traffic generated is Peru. Which is not so strange as they have been live there since the year 2000.
For Italy we focus a lot on building a brand. Most of the Italian population consumes from the aspect of brand strength, perception and awareness. So, for an affiliate portal it is important to build a brand that has strong values and can be associated with the culture of the Italian gaming industry. The average Italian player also loves to read high-quality content. We were very surprised when we used to track user behaviour on how our users consumed content in Italy and the detailed level they read about it on our sites.
Portugal was quite recently regulated and have a very low channelization. Mainly due to high taxation with tax on handle for sport. So, in Portugal it is important for us to educate the players of the benefits of playing in a regulated environment and informing about the not so obvious risks of choosing an unregulated operator.
Gambling and betting regulations change across countries – even across states, for instance, in the USA. How do you see such varied and sometimes complication laws – as a hindrance for the growth of a budding gambling affiliate or as a real filter that separates a serious affiliate from the rest?
E.S.: The days when three friends could start a gambling affiliation project as a side-business is over. The compliance requirements are very time demanding and the initial financial investment needed to reach results has increased a lot. The affiliates making a living out of regulated markets is now almost only populated by the “real” and established businesses who can afford to deal with compliance. Regulation and compliance that follows will only increase going forward and you need to adapt your sites on market level, and we will see more mandatory affiliate licenses.
Could you name three major factors that play a big part in the success of an affiliate company? It would be great if you can elaborate on them too.
E.S.:I would mention three things.
1. Unique product which makes users engage. Simple comparison sites still work but I believe that you will need to contribute more user value going forward.
2. Established contact network in the gambling industry. This will help a lot in terms of getting links from relevant unique sources which becomes more and more important.
3. Commitment from founders and organisation. The main work tasks are very repetitive and boring. But it needs to get done in a good pace and small errors could have a huge ripple effect.
Finally, what do you foresee for the future of affiliate marketing? Technology disruption? Ultra-targeted, automated marketing? Or the same old wine in a new bottle? What’s your prediction?
E.S.: I expect the future to be all about a unique product, brand and delivering more value to the end user. I don’t believe that the standard comparison sites will exist in the same sense we see them today in 3-5 years. It also becomes harder and harder to sustain the same margins as Google floods the Google search results with more AdWords positions and make them look more like the organic results. That is applicable for the SEO marketing vertical. In terms of other verticals within lead generation I expect the targeting to become more of a creative game to be able to find good sources and ROI.
Exclusive Q&A with Erling Magnus Solheim CEO at Playpulse
Let’s begin with something about yourself. Our readers love to learn more about top entrepreneurs. Tell us about yourself.
Playpulse is the third company I’ve co-founded. The first was Douchebags (douchebags.com), a very successful branded consumer goods company. After 5 years I left for New York to start a new company with a former classmate there, Cesura. After 6 months I had an accident, breaking my back on a jump while downhill cycling, so I had to leave the company and go back to scratch. Then 6 months later I met Kristoffer, who was doing a PhD on what became Playpulse.
You founded Playpulse in 2017 with the aim of facilitating high intensity exercising through computer gaming. How did you hit this idea? We would love to hear the story of Playpulse’s origins.
Kristoffer and Stian, co-founders of the company, wrote a master’s thesis 5 years ago in computer science at NTNU (Norways leading tech university), which was the very early beginnings. Then Kristoffer did a PhD because the results were that good. Early 2017 I came onboard, and we started the company summer 2017.
How was people’s initial reaction towards Playpulse? In which age group that you have the most number of users? Share with us some details of your customer base.
We see an incredibly large potential for Playpulse, from kids to adults, depending on the setting. Until now we have tested with customers ranging from fitness studios, schools, hospitals, youth clubs, co-working spaces, to activity parks for kids in China.
The most engaged users are unsurprisingly the younger audience from 8 years and up.
Generally we see a lot of enthusiasm, then some testing to understand how it works, and then people typically pick it up and become better and better. The sense of mastery is incredibly important, and we’ve seen a lot of younger players that beam up after playing, who typically hasn’t had any positive experience with physical activities before.
How do you go about developing the games? Do you go for third party games or do you build games from scratch by your own? What are the primary focus areas of choosing/developing the games that catalyse exercising?
We have built three games ourselves from scratch and will continue with this for a while. When we have built out the platform, we will open for third party developers. There are several critical components of how to design a game to create both an awesome gaming experience and a cool exercise experience, and some of this is the core of Kristoffer’s PhD. In short, making sure the game is more fun when played on the bike than on a computer.
Which are the most sought-after games in your portfolio? Tell us about those crowd favourites.
PedalTanks is the deepest and most played game. It’s a capture the flag, third person multiplayer shooter. It is extremely skill-based and competitive. You unlock new tanks and abilities with XP that you accumulate while playing.
How is Playpulse doing as a business model? What revenue streams that your forecast and what are the outcomes of the last 2-3 years?
We are preparing for the first mass production batch to ship by Q4. We have pre-orders from very different customer segments like schools and municipalities to companies and fitness studios. We see strong interest from the fitness studio industry, so we’re focusing there at the moment. Typically we ship 4 bikes for a local multi-player experience, although it is also possible to play across locations.
Looking back over the last 2-3 years, what you have unlearnt and re-learnt, if any?
We’ve learned tremendously about the end-user in the different use cases, how to design the product both physically and digitally, and a lot about the different customer segments.
Finally, what is the experience of launching a gaming product from Norway? How different is it from launching computers games from, for example, the USA, the UK or Japan? Would love to hear your candid views on this.
Frankly, I haven’t launched a game from anywhere else so it’s hard to say. We’ve launched in China as well and experienced some differences when it comes to the tech roll-out and language of course, but the core game experience is the same. Gaming is a global phenomenon in 2020 so I don’t think the game itself needs be very different, it’s mostly about distribution and strategic aspects.
Q&A WITH ELLEVENS ESPORTS OWNER GARETH BALE
What is Ellevens Esports about?
Gareth Bale said: “On the pitch, my goal is always to win. With Ellevens Esports, that winning attitude is just as important. There are similarities between football and esports in that it takes real dedication and sacrifice to reach the top of your game. I am really excited to now have my own team and I am looking forward to Ellevens competing in major esports events all over the world.”
What inspired you to launch your own esports team?
Gareth Bale said: “My interest in esports started about two years ago watching Ninja stream Fortnite and as a result I naturally progressed to watching FIFA and the FIFA Global Series. The competitive side was fascinating, so I decided I wanted to provide an opportunity for gamers that take esports seriously and to play for a professional organisation at the highest level.
“I am fortunate enough to have been a professional footballer from a young age playing at some of the world’s best clubs and I feel there were lots of similarities between real life sport and esports. Therefore, I want to provide the best professional environment for gamers around the world and build an esports legacy.”
Do you play esports?
Gareth Bale said: “When I’m not training or playing football, I love to play in online FIFA tournaments, but I’m definitely not an elite competitor.
Ellevens will hold a tournament to find gamers to join the team. What’s your advice to players?
Gareth Bale said: “Enjoy it! Whatever you do in life you have to enjoy it so do your best, practice as much as you can and the rest will follow. One of the aspects that I love about esports is that it brings people together – it allows anyone in the world to try out for Ellevens Esports., it’s a fantastic chance to become a professional gamer and I wish everyone good luck! I will be watching!”
ELLEVENS ESPORTS GAMERS
Home country: Wales (Newport)
“Representing Ellevens is the proudest moment of my life. Gareth Bale is known all over the world, he is an idol for me, being from Wales. Playing for his team is a life-changing opportunity and is giving me that extra push to take my career to the next level!”
Home country: England (Birmingham)
“Fans can expect to see Ellevens be one of the best teams in the world. Having Gareth Bale as co-owner is amazing as it’s a completely new experience for all of us players.”
Pedro “Resende” Henrique Soares
Home country: Brazil
“It is an honour to be part of Ellevens. Even though we are new in the scene, we already have a very strong team. Having Gareth Bale involved brings a lot of attention which is really exciting. Hopefully we will deliver our fans a number of championship titles!”
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