What Is the Future for Online Gaming?
Technology will be the future, be it real or imagined.
It all started only 22 years ago with the InterCasino game from Antigua in August 1996. Since the tentative beginnings, online gambling has come a long way and is virtually unrecognisable from the first iterations. There are now over two hundred sites in the UK and many more hundreds of games to play. But the competition for a punters stake is fierce, and the only way for companies to stay in the game is to keep advancing the technology they use—the experience always has to be bettered.
What's at stake?
In the UK alone, over £4.5 billion was gambled online between April 2015 and April 2016. When you realise that the National Lottery only took £3.4 billion over the same period, then the importance of staying ahead becomes obvious.
Who is the competition?
In 1996, the UK had only a single online poker game, Microgaming. Since then the competition has hotted-up somewhat. Would-be players now have access to the following;
- 19 UK Mobile Casino sites
- 24 UK Sportbook sites
- 140 UK Casino sites
- 1 UK Lotto site
- 16 UK Poker sites
- 19 UK Bingo sites
The drive to stay ahead using technological innovation is constant. The pressure to improve the levels of user experience and create more interactive and compelling games. The move from online, to mobile and then live gaming was inevitable as soon as the technology allowed it.
What have been the biggest changes?
"Online" used to mean just that you could play games from your PC either at home, in an internet café (remember those?) or at work. Download times were usually slow, and a residential dial-up service was very unreliable. Apart from the introduction of high-speed broadband services, which have made access to online services so much quicker, the biggest change has been the introduction of the "smart" phones. We take them for granted today, but their introduction gave the gambling companies an opportunity like never before. You would now be able to play whenever and wherever you wanted—you didn't even have to go to the betting shop or the casino to place a bet. With your mobile phone in hand, you could even play while waiting for the bus; online casinos now provide real competition for land-based casinos due to the live dealers and the ability to interact with fellow players.
Introduction of Apps
The development of downloadable mobile phone apps in 2009/10—the take-up for which was incredible—opened up another avenue for game operators. However, there are distinct differences between phone/tablet apps and web-based mobile casinos. Web-based casinos do not require special software or installations, whereas apps (short for software applications) only work with specific devices which make them always available on the desktop via a tile link. The difficulty has been to try to replicate the same environment on a tiny screen with less space for options. Mobile apps have limits.
Another driver for the success of the mobile Bingo and casino apps, despite their limitations, has been the number of "bricks and mortar" bingo halls and casinos continuing to fall year on year due to rising costs and, partly, smoking bans. Those Bingo players, mainly women, however, still want to play their game.
The growth of the internet has affected many businesses; retailers especially have suffered from the inexorable rise of online e-commerce transactions as people have preferred to sit at home and make their purchases. The rise of online gambling using the ubiquitous smartphone app has been largely responsible for the rise of online gambling per se, and the demise of the desktop punter. Desktop gambling isn't dead, though.
Recent statistics show that 97% of online gamblers place their bets at home—the growth is in the use of tablets and smartphones which now account for 51% of all bets placed, an 8% increase from 2016. The future is mobile.
The gambler doesn't have to make a trip to the betting shop or the casino to place a bet anymore. He or she can download an app to a phone and have immediate access to place a bet—there is no waiting for the PC to boot up! The smartphone is always on. While gamblers could always place bets using their phones before apps appeared, it was never very easy due to slow page load times and sites not being optimised for mobiles—we're so used to it now that we don't even notice. The development of apps has changed the game in many ways.
Skill-based games have been talked about for a while; the exciting combination of video games and casino games has fascinated game makers for years. Virtual reality is still relatively new technology, but before long you'll be able to sit at the table with the other players in your front room; augmented reality is in the same developmental place. They're all coming, and it won't be too long before the technology is ready. Online gambling is entering an exciting phase. You can bet on it!
Some observers believe the next step is to create a genuine augmented reality experience to let players "be" in the room with their adversaries— they will be able to "see" the other players. It's a brilliant idea, but, as Sami Mughal says in his piece "The Future of Online Gambling" (Sept. 13, 2017), "The bricks and mortar casinos of the past successfully survived the arrival of online gaming, with many of them actually investing in an online presence." The future isn't simply online. People will still want to play people. They want to see the whites of their adversaries' eyes across the table. They've still yet to make this possible online.
There is still a lot of work to be done for online gambling to replicate the "live" event. Gambling has become the dominant force in the online gaming world, and this is set to continue. There are genuinely exciting technological advances waiting to be released, and casino operators are creating innovative new sites for a wider variety of players. Government regulations in the UK have recently changed in a way that should benefit the online operators. The emergence of the cryptocurrencies, which are attractive to gamblers with the associated anonymity, and blockchain technology, which will make secure peer-to-peer gambling possible; all of these are possible and may emerge as the way forward. Technology will be the future, be it real or imagined.