The iGaming industry is like nothing on earth. Encased within the bubble that is our chosen career habitat is the most diverse, eclectic mix of cultures and personalities you could ever (not) wish to find in a relatively small, international business. More often than not, when I ask friends and associates, veteran and novice, how they ended up working in iGaming, the common answer is that they fell in to it, but now feel they would/could never leave. Operating in the marketing and business development side of it is a highly addictive line of work, I will testify – and I use that adjective quite deliberately. For me, the addition is quite simply down to the people within it.
In an industry that is still highly marginalised by society, we tend to club together and that is one self-assuring upside to attending conferences, particularly if you work remotely as I do. Conferences are my forum for reflection, positivity, personal growth and quite often provide the very justification for continuing to do what I do.
Community is even more critical to our industry’s consumers, the players and punters. In what is, on the whole, a highly personal and private pastime, many opt to take to forums, cloaked in the mystery and security of an intangible username, to vent their bad beat frustrations, join in communal success at big wins and, quite often, lambast the necessary evil that is the operator, either with justification or purely as a backlash for a bad move at the poker table or an ill-advised loss chase on the slots.
Player forums play a critical role in mediating player grievances, vetting and monitoring operator behaviour and above all communal education on sensible and responsible gameplay. At the forefront of this is the timeless Casinomeister.com, staying as true to its modus operandum of advocating fair casino play for over 16 years as its founder, Bryan Bailey, has been to aloha shirts.
Bailey firmly believes that player forums play a leading, pivotal role in player education.
“There are casino review sites, but many of these are ill-informed, and players can get tripped up into some scam (intentional or not). It is paramount to be able to ask another player, ‘How do you know what you are saying is true?’ Valid ideas and experiences are a player’s best friend.”
Debbee Silverman, manager of the unique GoneGambling.com community, concurs that collective, shared experiences are the key.
“Player experience gives the ultimate insight. It’s players who are going to be upfront, good or bad (and VERY vocal when it’s bad!)”.
In the time since Bailey and Silverman first started running player forums, internet technology has evolved enormously. We’ve seen attempts at establishing iGaming player communities on MySpace, then Bebo, and more recently on Facebook and Twitter. Operators have joined the party too, both on social media and in-client chatrooms, but even the most inventive – sites such as BingoCams, have failed to come close to the loyal and active following achieved at sites like GoneGambling or Casinomeister.
In searching for a reason as to why the trusty vBulletin powered sites still have such an important role to play in customer referral in the eyes of the operators, who continue to queue up to tap into their loyal customer base, one need look no further than the code of conduct that Bailey’s loyal database signs up to on registration.
“We have strict rules of engagement when it comes to posting complaints in the forum. We require the players to contact the casino representative when a problem is posted. The purpose of our complaints section of the forum is to solve complaints – not to trash casinos willy-nilly.”
It is this facility to openly and honestly resolve issues and build trust that has operators so engaged – and it has seen affiliates previously focused on driving volume take what could be determined as a hark back to the 20th Century and open up a forum.
Jelena Isakov, Forum Manager at Askgamblers.com, says to her site, since its inception originally designed, using SEO, as a first touch point for new gamblers to online gambling: “The forum has allowed us to create a truer sense of community. It’s succeeded in personalising AskGamblers, which is an amazing thing. Creating and justifying membership has brought increased trust from new players, because they can learn everything from the experience of real players, who they deem to be “one of us.”
In a nutshell, and unsurprisingly, our triumvirate of leading forum managers are united in their assertion that their communities harvest a loyal, knowledgeable and valuable database for their heavily vetted casino partners to tap into and profit from. Even the commercial arrangements they set tend to evoke a sense of impartial viability that has lapsed from the minds of many other traffic source owners.
Too good to be true? Well, working with forums certainly has its pitfalls. Placing yourself at the mercy of a potentially vengeful, invisible keyboard warrior carries plenty of risk – I can personally testify to personally receiving a character assassination on one occasion, totally unjustified may I add.
Dedicating resources – both man-hours and brainpower to forum involvement is critical. Silverman describes the risks to mismanagement as a potential landmine.
“Truth be told, forum posters can be a rough mob, particularly when casino problems arise. How a casino deals with these issues publicly can either turn that casino into a hero or do irreparable damage.”
Silverman also offers up some wise words to any operators keen on the idea of embarking on Casinomeister’s Baptism By Fire accreditation process, or such like.
“My advice to operators BEFORE diving into forum discussions? First, be sure you understand exactly what it is that you are addressing. If it is a situation that is reflecting negatively on your brand, be prepared to fix the situation, even if this may cost you in the short run—in the long run, it will save you money. Whatever it is you are addressing, it’s important that whoever you have posting is articulate in the language native to the forum, and any sort of sarcasm and attitude needs to be checked at the door. Don’t compound problems by misunderstandings of the written word. Lastly, follow through. Don’t get involved in a thread one day and disappear for days on end thereafter — this only fuels the fire that the brand you’re working with has something to hide.”
Brands like 32Red have invested significant time and energy in to developing and managing their reputation on forums. It has rewarded 32Red with a loyal clientele and has driven the casino’s promotional strategy to a large extent and to great success. Others quite simply do not, and for them, the style of rogue is all too easy earn and not so easy to shake.
Managed correctly, it seems the trusty, seemingly ageless player forum will continue to act as, in Bailey’s own words, the pulse of the industry for years to come. But woe betide any participating operator, who opts to skip a beat or two.