The challenge of regulation for slots affiliates in 2019

Raising the innovation bar for slot games

The slots vertical has seen exciting new developments in the last 12 months. The disruptive influence of Big Time Gaming continues apace with their Megaways™ engine now licensed to several rivals including Red Tiger and Blueprint who are prolific in releasing new titles on the expanding reels engine. Meanwhile across the board the innovation bar has been raised in every area of gameplay and design by all comers from stalwarts like NetEnt through to younger developers including Thunderkick, Yggdrasil and Push Gaming. 

For typical slots affiliates like who review the latest new online slot sites and games, product developments like these keep audiences engaged and create great content opportunities. At the same time however regulatory changes and intense competition all continue to present interesting challenges in 2019. 

Restrictions on Demo and Free Slot Games

From 7th May 2019 a new regulation from the UK Gambling Commission has meant that age verification is now required before anyone can play free demo versions of online slots. This restriction has been introduced to protect underage users from experiencing gambling products. 

For a long time slots affiliates have enjoyed the benefits of offering hundreds of free play versions of popular slots for players to try. NetEnt even created a freeplay version of their own game portfolio for this purpose. Free play games were a sticky product for affiliates to offer and a reason for players to return to their sites beyond casino brand reviews and the latest bonuses. 

Whilst initially there was some ambivalence over whether the free play restrictions would apply to affiliates as well as operators, it is now clear that as the games are provided by licensees, the affiliates have had to remove them for users from the UK jurisdiction. 

The demand through search engine traffic for free play slots still remains however and affiliates will have to look at new ways to fulfil this. One option would be to come up with a bespoke age verification model to satisfy the requirements of the UK GC. But no one has done that yet and many may consider it too impractical to try. A second option may be to create social-gaming style slots, or similar game format that don’t fall under the remit of the UK GC. But would such games provide the same satisfaction as the exact replica free versions of Starburst, Bonanza, Book of Dead and other classics previously on offer? 

Another alternative option for creating engaging content, but one that is less interactive than free play versions of slots, is video reviews. Some affiliates are already taking this route and creating high quality content to post both on their sites and You Tube. It should be remembered though that whist video is engaging and arguably sticker than the written game reviews, it still won’t satisfy those who want a real interaction with a video slot. 

The new regulation around free games has raised a few challenging questions, and ones that will likely still be asked as we head into 2020.

Identity Verification Updates

As well as the new restrictions on demo slots, from 7th May 2019 operators with a UK license have been required to verify the age and ID of new customers before they can make a deposit. Previously there was a 72-hour window in which to do this. 

The assumption is that the immediate impact of new rules like these will be to supress conversion rates and perhaps reduce the willingness of players to hop from brand to brand to pick up more welcome bonuses. Both negatives for affiliates who thrive in a market of bonus-hungry gamblers with multiple accounts. However, counter to that we may see better retention and improved player values as the pain of signing up elsewhere by going through the same verification process at another casino can be off-putting. Improved player values can of course help affiliates to help negotiate better CPAs and rev shares. 

The full impact of the new ID regulations brought in on May 7th 2019 though not yet reported, will have already begun to impact the businesses of both operators and affiliates who will be factoring them into their future plans. In the months to come we will start to see how those affected will react. 

Increasingly Competitive and Saturated Market

As ever, one of the biggest challenges for any affiliate in the gambling industry is the intense level of competition. Just as there is no let-up in the number of new white label brands entering the market from operators with efficient production lines, so too the affiliate sector continues to be crowded with experienced new sites looking for a share of the pie. 

Some of the best sites in 2019 demonstrate an excellent knowledge of the products from a real gambler’s point of view.  More specifically, these are players from the streamer community who have used their in-depth knowledge of slots and the loyalty engendered by their channels to build successful brands with a loyal and trusting readership. These affiliates are much like social media influencers with sizable followings to build revenue from. They provide formidable competition for those coming from more traditional backgrounds in the industry. 

So in summary, with the impact of new regulations and the squeeze from increased competition, any new slots affiliate looking to make a mark in 2019-20 needs to be at the top of their game, whether it be through an in-depth knowledge of the games, unrivalled business acumen, or a combination of the two. 

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