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EiG day one; Wish you were here?

17th October 2012 8:20 am GMT

Is it just me or do you find that the more of these conferences you go to, the more depressed you get?

OK, depressed maybe taking it too far but there is always a sense that nobody is doing enough. The challenges are exciting but they are tough challenges. And is your organisation innovative enough and nimble enough to survive? Because Kodak wasn’t. Nokia wasn’t. Microsoft wasn’t. Hell, even Google missed out on social! What chance do I have?!

Perhaps we should just put it down to opening day blues. EiG might have returned to its “spiritual home” (according to the organisers), but it feels almost as quiet as Copenhagen was two years ago. Almost. By the end of the day there is a fairly healthy crowd around the drinks tables.

So hopefully things will improve. No it’s not the turnout, the opening day blues originate from conference organisers’ increasingly de rigeur habit of scheduling a futurologist or AN Other much smarter than thou non-industry guru to open proceedings. Today we had Travelocity founder Terry Jones. And Jones did what he was supposed to do but then Gigi Levy came on and told us what we are doing wrong all over again!

The Return of Gigi Levy had been highlighted in advance and rightfully so. As chairman Andrew Burnett of Burlywood Capital noted: “Gigi’s ideas were way ahead of his time.”

Burnett also said that he believed Levy was unfairly “vilified” for his purchase of Mytopia, a purchase that is starting to look prescient rather than foolish. Indeed. And besides all that, Levy was as entertaining a speaker as you could expect to find at your average igaming conference. And that is the key here. Until the ridiculous habit of accepting cash for airtime is eradicated, speakers like Levy will continue to stand out like a sore thumb.

Levy’s appearance at EiG seems to be part of the rehabilitation of a former cult hero. British media watchers will be used to the build ‘em up, knock ‘em down and then rehabilitate ‘em narrative of the nation’s sporting heroes (think David Beckham) and Levy seems to have undergone the same painful story.

It is an unusually humble Levy who opens proceedings with the phrase: “I don’t claim to have implemented anything I am going to talk about.”

However, it probably hasn’t been that painful for him. While it is never good for the ego to leave a company under a cloud (as he did after 888), he has after all made (presumably) a small fortune from his shares in Playtika and has enjoyed a seemingly fruitful jaunt down the West Coast of America, interviewing CEOs for his PhD.

Levy does not disappoint in the role of futurologist/professor of innovation although, as previously stated, such lectures can worry you as much as inspire you.

“The good old days of the dot.com are almost gone,” he begins, recalling the days when he started at 888 and $90m were pouring in from the US and people told him the only decision he would have to make as CEO was whether to fly first class or not.

In a nutshell, the world is moving really fast nowadays. It took almost 100 years to sell 100m cars, 70 years for radio to get 100m listeners, 40 years for TV to get 100m viewers, the internet grabbed 100m sets of eyeballs in 10 years, Facebook took just three years to access 100m users while Cityville reached 100m players in just 91 days.

This makes it a difficult world where customers are just one bad experience away from switching product and you have about 25 seconds to impress them with your app. However, it is also the perfect time for innovation. But how do you get it right?

Ultimately it comes down to good people, the right culture, keeping innovation teams small, eradicating politics, an adaptive strategy (“no more ‘wait and see’”), tapping into innovation ecosystems (such as developer networks) and fast M&A to fill the gaps you cannot otherwise fill.

Levy is most passionate when talking about recruiting the right people: “You want people with fire in their eyes, people with passion. It is their passion that will enable them to succeed. Hire for attitude then train for skill. The biggest mistake is to hire people for their skills because they can be taught. And don’t be afraid to recruit people, who are different and unique.”

Amusingly, Levy tells us that he told Google CEO Larry Page why he is wrong to always hire the top people from the top schools. But he is right. Diversity breeds success.

Management lesson over, Levy gave his very brief view of the state of play of the igaming industry.

“I have not seen very many smart strategies or people moving quickly. We are moving very slowly as an industry,” he summarised, before adding prophetically: “The next winners of igaming will not be the traditional companies.”

This will come as a bit of a shock to the traditional companies represented on the CEO panel that followed him. Or maybe not. The debate’s theme was convergence. Of the CEOs assembled, only Playtech CEO Mor Weizer was in ebullient mood constantly stressing the necessity for a comprehensive platform across land and online and mobile, supported by a single wallet.

“Not a lot of companies can do that,” said Weizer more than once.

The implication was, of course, that Playtech can but it was left to William Hill Online CEO Henry Birch to point out the sales pitch more explicitly and somewhat cattily.

“Clearly, Playtech can offer a single platform and we are partial beneficiaries of that,” Birch continued. “In an ideal world you would have a single platform with content from anyone and everyone. We are some way off that.”

The overwhelming impression, not for the first time at events of this kind, was of an industry struggling to cope with convergence, social gambling and mobile.

“The big mistake that traditional companies have made is using social as a marketing funnel,” said bwin.party co-CEO Norbert Teufelberger. “That is wrong. It is a product in its own right. If we do not get it right, some of us will not be sitting here because we will have lost our jobs.”

Weizer agreed that social ought to be treated as a business in its own right: “Nobody has converged social and real money gaming.”

He was also a little controversial on mobile apps. He criticised one-product apps because customers will have to exit an app before entering another, which could be someone else’s. His point, I think, was also that the player would have to log in several times but it was an interesting point because just last week GameAccount Network CEO Dermot Smurfit told me he wanted customers to populate their screens with as many of his apps as possible. So there is clearly still room for discussion on mobile strategy.

All in all, it was a somewhat muted offering  from the platform – perhaps not helped by the fact that everyone was bathed in shadows. Perhaps today, we will emerge into the light. Let’s hope so.

sah@gamingintelligence.com

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Pragmatic Solutions
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