Reconstructing the parts, Synthesizing into the whole: Rethinking the Gaming Experience

* Interview of George Zenzefilis, Intralot Group Chief Products & Services Officer, at Public Gaming magazine

PGRI Introduction: INTRALOT’s booth is buzzing with activity at the ICE Totally Gaming show in London. George Zenzefilis just completed a panel discussion at the ICE Conference on Accelerating the adoption of new technology. It’s hard for a panel discussion to get past the surface and deep into the real issues. So I asked George if we might have a discussion to drill down. What emerged is a comprehensive perspective that helps me to better understand how so many moving parts relate to, and interact with, each other. As a business driven technologist whose mission is to focus his team on the player experience, George has a gift for simplifying otherwise complex issues.

Paul Jason, Public Gaming: Technological advances that promise to modernize the player experience are often slow to be adopted by operators and the market-place. It was four years ago that you introduced the industry to the concept of “Universal Gaming Experience”. Are you satisfied with the speed at which the industry is adopting the new technologies that enable that kind of vision to come to fruition?

G. Zenzefilis: There is always a gap between the introduction of new technology and its implementation in the market-place. An interesting phenomenon was described by Geoffrey Moore in Crossing the Chasm, his analysis of how technological change impacts society. He points out how we tend to over-estimate the short-term impact of new technology, and we almost always under-estimate the long-term impact. That is true for all industries, and regulatory constraints make it even more true for lottery. The media spotlight is constantly on our industry, and government-gaming operators hold themselves to the highest standards of integrity and security, so it is prudent for them to be cautious as they implement new technologies, business processes, and expand the channel mix and the portfolio of the games themselves.

But hasn’t the consumer already demonstrated a readiness to embrace new ideas, new games distributed through new media channels? INTRALOT has the advanced technology to modernize the entire player experience, so you must be anxious to accelerate the speed at which it is being adopted in the market-place.

Certainly the consumer is now more than ever the driving force. His readiness is manifested in other industries, with e-commerce models becoming dominant practices, for example. Our industry is now widely adapting the term “Convergence”, which we believe to be a practical indication of accelerated introduction of these innovations.

Our technologies, products and services are designed to embrace both the new opportunities ahead but also respect the migration process to new models.Therefore you will see product designs that combine traditional practices with new technologies and ultimately new models of operations. The Universal Gaming Experience, is our umbrella framework, that proposes to bring the consumer at the center of attention and therefore shift the focus towards maximizing his entertainment value when interacting with the Lotteries. A number of components of this strategy are already in the field and we are very positive of the adoption rate of new concepts as they come along. An example of these, is the latest release of the Mobile Lottery suite, which goes beyond the transactional approach of interaction, and defines a new model of experience. We are extending the reach of the Lotteries into younger demographics through an exciting way that elevates a centuries old traditional lottery product into a modern consumer product. Further we are innovating in the Retail space, and introducing designs with examples being the latest DreamTouch suite of terminals that combine interactive experience with the retail user touch points. It effectively changes the consumer experience from buying a lottery ticket as if it were a simple consumer product into an entertaining playing experience. It is a significant leap forward from the traditional lottery vending machine. Gaming Content is an important area and we strongly believe that with all the new devices that are in place, the Lotteries will more than ever seek interesting and consumer appealing games and complementary content. We are happy in this respect that our Universal GameStream product brings video content to the retail shops in a unique and convergent way. We have received very positive feedback on new game designs specifically geared to our industry, and in particular in the area of Instant Mobile Games, that provide a combination of appealing graphics, game mechanics and multichannel adaptations.

Overall we are optimistic that strategic product positioning, solid migrations plans, and convincing argumentation will further accelerate the introduction of all these new exciting developments to the benefit of our industry.

Which brings us back to the “Universal Gaming Experience”.

At the core of this simple phrase is the conviction that our customers need to have games which reflect the desires of the player. That’s where it all starts, the play styles and preferences of the player. But the player experience involves a whole host of factors, not just the game itself. And we need to think about how we can leverage the entire palette of user experience to create that emotional connection, that positive feeling that will cause the player to come back to the game.

In our last conversation, you referred to that as the “ecosphere” of the consumer experience.

Exactly. The ecosphere of the consumer experience is simply all the elements that surround the game itself. Tapping into those elements is the way to create the Universal Gaming Experience. It involves so much more than the act of playing a game. It is an overall experience that may begin when you see a “like” pop up on your friend’s Facebook page because they just won a small lottery prize. Or you see a billboard, or the person in front of you at the retail store buys a lottery ticket and piques your curiosity. What exactly happens then – how can we better leverage those countless “zero moments of truth” to reinforce the positive experience of playing the lottery ? What can we as an industry do to turn even the smallest consumer touch-point into an event that leads to something else, like noticing a jackpot sign in a store or a headline about a Euromillions or EuroJackpot or Powerball winner, then buying a ticket, then telling a friend about it, then coming back a few days later to buy another ticket? Lottery creates thousands upon thousands of winners every week. Why aren’t we capitalizing on the good feelings that winning the lottery produces? And as for “zero moment of truth” events, there are literally millions of those and we want to make them all part of the Universal Gaming Experience.

And social media exploded the number of those “zero moment of truth” events.

Connect the dots. People love to share information with their friends and relatives, and everyone else too, it seems! They are willing to tell others about themselves on social media like Facebook. I would submit that it isn’t just about being social and interacting with friends. It’s much more than that. People choose to share because this is an intrinsic human value that identifies ourselves, , defines and expands our social graph The power of this social phenomenon can’t be -overlooked. Now, think about what they like to share. We notice people sharing innocuous details about what they are doing. But this could be an indication of people also sharing more exciting things? They want and need more interesting things to talk about, to share, to use as material for more interaction. So, let’s give it to them.

Let’s make lottery be that something, the new thing that people want to talk about with their hundreds of closest friends. Everyone wants to be the hero of their own story, and Lottery is creating heroes every day. We need to look at the entire ecosphere of gaming to see the story, to tap into people’s desire to have a story and to be the hero of that story. Think about how you feel when you win something. You feel good, right? And wouldn’t you want to share that good feeling with others? This is just one part of the picture.

That is why I refer to it as an ecosphere of gaming. The game itself is just one part of the whole experience. We need to create a Universal Gaming Experience that gives attention to all the elements that surround the game, that lead up to the actual playing, and that stay with the player long after they finish playing. We could significantly enhance the overall value proposition that drives buyer decisions by appealing to this huge multiplicity of touch-points and reinforcing the positive feelings that cause people to want to play, and to come back and play again.

Play-styles and preferences of the consumer evolve. The consumer drives product changes, and changes in game content. But won’t technology in some ways change the nature of the game? For instance, won’t games implemented over digital media be fundamentally different from paper scratch-tickets sold in retail stores. And doesn’t digital media open up new ways to enhance the entertainment value of those games?

Absolutely. The design and implementation of the game content is being shaped by the technology that enables and delivers it. Consider the device that has become the primary communication tool and media channel. The smart-phone has transformed the way that humans interact with each other, with informational resources, and with merchants and vendors. The Mobile has altered the foundational infrastructure that forms the basis for exchanging information and executing instructions, for buying products and services, and for playing games of chance. That is a radical notion but it’s true, and I think that at this point, everyone recognizes the transformational impact that the Mobile has on society, on commerce, on everything we do. It is also a marvelous accomplishment, a wonderful marriage of advancing technology and consumer needs. There is practically nothing that can’t be done on a smart-phone.

Changes in consumer tastes do drive changes in game content and the technological changes necessary to meet those needs. But the reverse is also true. Think about how game content is evolving to adapt to the medium that delivers it. Games played on gaming machines like a slot machine are different than games played on a home computer with keyboard and large screen, and games played on a home computer are different from those played on an X-box or augmented reality device. The gaming experience of all of those is quite different than purchasing a product, like a lotto or Instant ticket, over the counter at a retail store. And the design attributes of a game played on the Mobile is different from games played on all those other media.

It would seem like the iPhone is the iconic example for that phenomenon – for how technology can create a totally different user-experience, and how that technology-enabled experience in turn drives changes in consumer behavior.

Apple demonstrated the need to focus on the outcome as user-experience, instead of the outcome as advances in technology or technological sophistication or even functionality. Technological prowess matters only insofar as it produces a superior consumer experience. That is precisely how we need to think and what we need to do in the gaming industry. We need to strive to design a new world for recreational gaming, one that focuses on translating technological capability more directly into an enhanced player experience.

Your moniker here at your ICE Gaming Show booth, “Rethink Gaming”, points us in that direction.

We can rethink even the most basic assumptions about lottery. For instance, lottery has always been about numbers. Why is that? Are we that much in love with numbers? I don’t think so. Numbers are just a convenient tool to use as the basis for games of chance. But now that we have the visual display on the smart-phone, why shouldn’t we use that capability to deliver a richer variety of playing experiences? Let’s rethink the most basic premises for what constitutes a lottery game. Let’s improve the way lottery looks and feels.

There is much talk about creating an emotional connection with the consumer. Perhaps the abstractness of numbers could perhaps be an obstacle to achieving that?

The fundamental game logic of lottery is somewhat immutable, but the way we package and present it is rich with potential to make it more exciting and fun. The Mobile platform is the perfect technology to introduce a wide variety of creative design elements to completely change the player experience. The user interface of Mobile enables us to represent the game elements with graphically interesting symbols and even story narratives that include flip-boards and all the elements that have proven so popular in the world of non-money games. Mobile enables us to truly gamify the modern lottery playing experience; INTRALOT’s Mobile Lottery solution is the perfect example of how a simple lottery playing procedure can be engaging for the player. The goal is to gamify all the elements in the ecosphere; put gaming and fun elements into a traditional process of selecting numbers to make the game come alive as a playing experience.

Lottery means two things. First, it is a product. The product is the dream, the hope and dream to win a jackpot, change your life. And just the act of buying the product changes your mood. It gives us something to hope for. Buying a lottery ticket causes one to ask “do I feel lucky today”. Buying that ticket is our way of saying “YES, I DO feel lucky today”. Infusing our attitude with that kind of positive energy is a wonderful thing! That is the buyer motive that lotteries have become adept at appealing to.

But we also refer to “playing the lottery”. We need to look carefully at all the elements of the ecosphere to make better use of them and create a richer playing experience for the consumer. Making it easy and fun to share their lottery experience on social media is a powerful way to do that. But that’s just one way, and we are working closely with our customers to develop lots of ways to create that Universal Gaming Experience.

Your booth here at the ICE Gaming Show demonstrates your focus on building out the Mobile platform for lottery players.

The enabling technology and software is vital, and we have that. But our resources are being channeled towards creating that emotional connection that you refer to. It is said that “People don’t always remember what you say, but they do remember how you made them feel”. Likewise, players will remember how they felt when playing the game. It is that feeling that will bring them back again. We need to use all the technological tools and creative talents available to bring the games to life for our players.

Our market research approach is also cutting edge to fit the unique qualities of lottery players. INTRALOT goes beyond what people say to what people actually think and feel. We apply research tools and techniques that work to identify the inner thoughts of the players, to decode their real motivational drivers in a structured and scientific way. Game design is thus driven by a more accurate understanding for what the consumer responds to in the real-world. We want to combine that understanding with advanced technology to deliver a superior player experience. That’s what we mean by deconstruct the parts, rethinking the entire mission, and putting them back together again in fresh new ways.

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