Whether its commercial bingo, bingo in holiday parks or bingo on the high street, NRM has an incomparable track record for innovation and harnessing technology to meet operators’ specific business needs.
NRM is well regarded as being a gaming technology provider but how important is the bingo sector to the company?
Andrew Ludlow: Our Chairman, Paul Whitbread has lived and breathed the bingo industry for close to 40-years and I think it would be true to say that bingo is embedded in the DNA of the NRM business and culture. While you are correct in saying that we are active across the gaming landscape we do have both a deep and broad involvement in bingo.
Our customer base is diverse and encompasses commercial bingo, bingo in holiday parks as well as the high street. Our commercial team is very customer facing and spends a lot of its time in the bingo space, listening to and interacting with staff and players alike. We involve the industry in all aspects of our product development on the basis that our customers are best placed in providing advice and insight on the delivery of bingo player-centric technology.
NRM stands out because we have a holistic appreciation of and passion for bingo which is underpinned by data driven reference points. It is a powerful combination.
What are the main challenges facing the bingo sector and how can technology driven products help operators meet those challenges?
AL: There are a number of challenges relating to admissions and foot fall, inflationary pressures in the wider economy, slow wage growth and the impact that has on disposable income and discretionary leisure spend. I think all retailers are now looking to deploy a more flexible and strategic approach in order to provide an experience which is tailored to meet the demands of their customers at any given point of the day or week. With customer profiles changing throughout the retailing week every operator and club manager will be looking to have products, content and a offering which has the flexibility to meet those specific needs.
Technology can be a powerful ally and the challenge is providing operators with the right tool kit and it’s essential that platforms are truly open. From an NRM perspective whilst developing our own compelling content we are also seeking out opportunities to work alongside third parties in order to secure the very best content that’s out there. Bingo and the wider gaming sector really is about free market economics, in which the best platforms and content will always rise to the top based on player demand. Our philosophy is that technology should be inclusive and enable operators to draw on winning content which is why we are such strong advocates of Open Platform architecture.
Where do innovators get their ideas from?
AL: I have been involved in a number of different gaming companies active in different verticals. My experience is that innovation and the capability to innovate is actually a state of mind and it’s something that you cannot either teach or turn on or off. There are however different parts of the process that you can point to. Attending trade expos is imperative. I came back from G2E Las Vegas with a head full of ideas and concepts that can be applied to the UK gaming environment not least to bingo. ICE London sits at the same top table of industry events and in 2020 we will be part of the successful Bingo Pavilion that’s an important part of the ICE experience. We also attend ACOS, EAG and the Holiday Park Innovation show. I’ve always felt that the industry is at its very best and most impressive when it gets together and talks product.
It’s also extremely important to have an open mind, a willingness to ask advice and when it’s given be prepared to act on it. Our Engage app which significantly enhances the level of contact a retail brand can have with its customers, was the result of conversations and requests we had from BJ’s Bingo. It has subsequently developed in partnership with retail customers who have contributed to the product roadmap. There’s no room for the ‘Not Invented Here’ syndrome which holds back many companies due to inflated ego.
Tablets are a major part of gameplay in bingo halls. How is this option evolving and where can you see it expanding?
AL: Absolutely, tablets are a fundamental part of the bingo proposition for most (but not all) bingo operators. What’s interesting is there is not a ‘one size’ fits all approach to the content offers available, be that F&B, Mainstage, MCB, slots and Bingo variant. Therefore having platforms that offer choice, that are flexible, open to third party content and not restrictive are all important considerations as game content continues to evolve.
Are there any game or design developments/innovations that you are looking at in order to expand the market?
AL: NRM is well known for being an innovator, and I guess we should be flattered when we deliver new product opportunity, mobile applications, wide area progressives, entertainment platforms – citing just a few examples – to then see a number of industry peers hop on the bandwagon and look to introduce their own versions based on compromised commercial models. Only through open relationships that focus on delivering the right products on the right platforms that understand the needs of the retail operator and its consumers can we drive positive and sustainable innovation. We must also be mindful of the benefits of adopting an ‘holistic’ approach in order to ensure that products and services sit seamlessly together enhancing consumer engagement and satisfaction.
As a technology and software solutions provider we are continuously reviewing and evolving our products and their capabilities. We have a number of developments that are new or will be released in the first quarter of 2020. These encompass our Engage mobile platform, Budde, which is our handheld tablet platform, Jigsaw – the industry leading entertainment solution as well some really exciting developments with the Bingo Express platform.
Bingo Express remains one of the most consistently successful innovations of the last nine years – what’s its secret?
AL: Bingo Express enjoyed an outstanding year in 2019 having paid out in excess of £1,000,000 in prizes to over 70,000 winners. It was the first platform in high street licensed bingo venues to offer the National Game and a chance for players to win up to £50,000 for a stake of just £2. When NRM won the competitive tender process to deliver the system, it was unclear quite how successful Bingo Express would prove to be. The consistent success can be attributed to a near perfect level of machine uptime (99.5percent) and the appeal of fresh and compelling gaming entertainment. It’s become something of a cliché but content most definitely is king and because of this we hold a minimum of three content meetings a year at which we review the games and typically plan to bring three new ones to market over a 12 month period.
Growth has been accelerated due to a combination of content, technology and scheduling initiatives. In fact the schedules are in a constant state of review, a process which involves the operator and encompasses mix, timing, and the frequency of games. The playing experience has received a contemporary boost thanks to the introduction of electronic handheld tablets, which also enable players to enjoy catch-up games through the account based platform as well as playing slots between bingo games. It has entertained players in 80+ venues and paid out more than £6.5m in prizes – a remarkable achievement. Access to the National Game and the opportunity to win significant, five figure sums is another positive addition and one which places Bingo Express centre stage in high street licensed bingo venues.