This week, ICS-digital returns to GamingTECH CEE, Hipther’s rebranded CEEGC summit in Budapest. One of the leading events in the gaming calendar each Autumn, GamingTECH CEE brings together key fintech and iGaming experts from across the region.
Having attended the Prague iteration of the event back in March, we can confirm that in GamingTECH, Hipther have curated a conference series that provides an exceptional deep dive into the industry’s hot-button topics through a series of panel discussions.
Our highlights from the various roundtable talks from Budapest 2023 are as follows:
Putting compliance and responsible gambling front and centre, the conference opened with twinned discussions surrounding the legislative environment within Central and Eastern Europe and beyond - and how the industry should play its own part in nurturing a culture of responsibility.
The inimitable William J. Pascrell, III, a long-time figure in betting compliance and advocacy in the US, explained that the country still “has a lot to learn from the multi-decade experience of Europe”, pointing to legalisation and regulation as the starting point for responsible gaming.
Bill held up the proactive approach of Ontario as a recent example to follow, with a focus on deposit limits, the monitoring of consumer behaviour and directing them to proper therapeutic treatments. He did, however, feel that the province went too far with the blanket banning of celebrity endorsements - suggesting that at least retired athletes should be permitted to advertise gambling.
On the other hand, Alex Antsyferov, CBO at Trueplay, argued that brand ambassadors can often be a harmful influence - using the example of a prominent US music star encouraging users to sign up at an unlicensed casino with limited protection protocols in place to illustrate this.
With regards to where the responsibility of responsible gaming actually lies, Pieter Remmers, CEO at Assissa Consultancy Europe, said: “Protection has to come from all angles: the regulator, the operator, the players themselves and, what is often forgotten, the gaming developers themselves.”
Paula Murphy, business development manager at Mindway AI, spoke about the necessity of gaming organisations training their staff in all aspects of player protection.
“The value chain has lots of different parts. Tech can do a lot of the heavy lifting, for example, to pinpoint those people who need attention… But training is super important and everyone needs to know about player protection.”
From a psychological perspective, Pieter pointed to the stages of change model and the importance of training and education to the problem players themselves. “Most importantly, when we talk about protection, the player must be ready to change his behaviour.”
Jan Řehola, director at IFGR, advocated for collaboration between regulatory bodies and gaming companies when it comes to responsible gaming. “Positive motivation”, as he termed concessions such as licence extensions or tax incentives, could be offered up in return for effective self-regulation and the successful delivery of measurable responsible gambling goals.
Ultimately, as Bill summed up, “the more restrictive a regulatory regime forces on operators, the more you’re going to incentivise operators to pull out of licensing altogether.”
One of the standout panels this year saw the exploration of the intersection between esports and gambling, and what lies in the road ahead. It’s a fascinating topic where, due to the ever-developing and fluid nature of the esports landscape, insights provided just a few months ago may now be superseded by new developments.
The discussion could have easily run into the hours rather than minutes, but Annemarie Furtschegger’s excellent moderation kept the panellists tightly focused on the key topics at hand.
Andreas Woerlein, attorney at Melchers Law, deftly summed up the challenges esports betting faces specifically in Germany - but that also apply globally: “The first problem is there are three terms that get mixed up in Germany: gaming, gambling, esports.
“The second problem is that there is no legal definition of esports and gaming in Germany… The third problem is taxation and visa restrictions for esports players.”
Urim Bajrami, an Austrian national champion for Hearthstone in 2014 and now an attorney and member of the eSports Association Austria (ESVÖ), argued that the lack of widespread official recognition of esports as a sporting discipline remains one of the biggest blockers for esports betting acceptance.
He said: “It would be beneficial for all stakeholders if esports disciplines would be recognised as sports. As a consequence, sports betting regulations would apply to betting on eSports events. That's what we are working on as an industry.”
A lofty goal according to Péter Rippel-Szabó, attorney at Bird & Bird: “I think, in short, my gut feeling tells me that eSports will never be recognised as a traditional sport simply because of the [necessary] involvement of the game publishers.
“There are so many stakeholders in this industry who do it for the money, rather than [traditional] sports where only the top end is driven by money.”
Gal Ehrlich, CEO at BETER, painted a slightly more optimistic picture of the global landscape: “More and more regulators are stepping into esports in its own right, rather than just treating it as another vertical… [they’re] cleaning up all of the illegal issues.”
This was supported by Andreas, who pointed to the dangers of players being forced to partake in black or grey-market betting, championing regulation as the solution to most of the current blockers facing esports and gambling: “In Germany at least, esports betting is currently illegal. I think it should be legal - we need it to be as attractive as possible as a legal proposition.”
The panel also paid mention to myriad other issues facing esports and betting, such as doping, hacking, the classification of loot boxes and the role of AI in determining odds.
Péter explained: “Integrity is paramount - we need to be confident there’s no possibility of matches being fixed, doping, or technical cheating.”
ICS-digital played its own part in proceedings later in day one, as I joined a roundtable discussion with fellow marketers Warren Sammut, Dana Lihotina and Lyubomira Lazarova - moderated by the affable and ever-organised Maria Arnidou - to chat about the key marketing and SEO trends for 2023. With a rather broad remit, the discussion focused on several key themes particularly impacting on the tech and gaming industry in recent months.
A consumer-centric approach to messaging was advocated across the various disciplines represented, with brand marketing and PR guru Lyubomira stating: “Marketing right now is going through one of the biggest transformations in many years. From a more product-focused approach, it is becoming more customer-centric, which I believe is the right change in marketing.”
The concept of customer-first content was explored further by myself and Warren, through an SEO lens. I pointed to Google’s emphasis on ‘helpful content’ and the importance of E-E-A-T in crafting an SEO content strategy - unpicking exactly what the search engine means by ‘helpful’.
As you would expect, AI remained a key agenda point, with each of the panellists advocating the use of machine learning and automation to inform various areas of a marketing strategy, without leaning on it to the extent of AI actually executing a content or branding strategy itself.
In practical terms, this could be using GPT to help inform aspects of content creation such as briefs, keyword research and ideation - or automating manual technical tasks such as interpreting SEO audits or producing meta tags en masse.
Attention turned to the role of social media in iGaming marketing, with Warren explaining how search engines such as Google are currently taking cues from social media when it comes to their algorithms: “I think social media is in a bit of a disruptive phase - I think TikTok has a big part of it. Google is taking a lot of cues from it, and it’s quite interesting because it’s the first big change to how Google search will work.”
He added: “People will always search, whether it’s for something they know, or the next best thing. In SEO, we need to be able to both look historically at what people have searched, but also anticipate what they are searching for next.”
Lyuba and Dana spoke of the importance of solid competitor analysis and understanding the needs of your target audience to achieve social media success - with all panellists agreeing AI has some way to go before it’s able to connect on the same level emotionally with consumers than is currently possible for brands to do with a more personal, human touch.
The first day of the event wrapped up with the glitz and glamour of Hipther’s GamingTECH Awards 2023. Recognised for their achievements in various aspects of tech and gaming across CEE, the full list of winners announced is as follows:
A hearty congratulations to all the winners and nominees present on the night.
ICS-digital offers our full suite of SEO and digital marketing services across the entire CEE region, including technical SEO, link acquisition, content creation and digital PR. Get in touch to discuss how we can supercharge your marketing efforts in Central and Eastern Europe.