In terms of doing business in the betting and gaming sector, 2020 has been the year that changed everything. As the COVID-19 threat lingers, CasinoBeats spoke to leading igaming suppliers about networking – and selling – in a virtual world.

“During the current COVID period we have all realised how powerful and useful the conferences and exhibitions have been for this industry.” Jesper Kärrbrink, chairman of Green Jade Games and former CEO of both Mr Green and Svenska Spel, is in a reflective mood.

“As a supplier COVID has changed our ways of doing business,” he muses. “The meet-and-greet and feeling the vibe on the show floor has probably meant more than we understood back when we could take tens of shows per year for granted.”

By the time the daunting reality of life during a pandemic had been realised, a large number of industry events were already facing delays or worse. Approaching six months later, and the diary is still largely clear of any of the traditional industry gatherings. And the few that are mooted, or taking place under the cloud of COVID-19, are finding it hard to attract visitors.

As Giles Potter, group marketing director for NetEnt, explains: “Our company policy is to stay away from all physical industry events until we can see that COVID-19 is under control. Our priority is our staff and clients, who we don’t want to see putting themselves or their families at unnecessary risk by attending mass gatherings in the current climate.” It’s an approach reflected across most of the industry.

“We’re missing the face-to-face nature of industry shows as they are great for relationship building,” says Potter. “With companies and people spread across the globe, they act as temporary igaming villages in normal times. They also give us the opportunity to showcase our brand, network, and attract new business.” 

Gareth Dando, head of marketing at Kalamba Games, agrees that face-to-face interactions are being missed. “I think the biggest drawback is the lack of in-person connections. It’s one thing to be able to showcase your product via a virtual event but it’s a completely different story when the physical connection has been removed,” he says.

“The main objective is to ensure that the faces behind Kalamba Games are still visible,” – Gareth Dando

“In terms of how we are trying to stay in touch with our target audience, both external and internal, we are moving towards a more visually digitised approach. Live streaming, video demos, partnering with relevant streamers, video presentations and even just showcasing everyday life within the office via video.

The main objective is to ensure that the faces behind Kalamba Games are still visible, out there and relevant in a world that has now gone virtual,” explains Dando.

NetEnt’s Potter: “We’re keeping in touch with clients through our account management network, as well as hosting small, face-to-face meet-ups where safe to do so. We’re also trying to be a bit more creative and generous with our merchandise, as well as hosting online product launches where previously these might have been events or parties. 

“The most important thing we can do is to keep delivering for those clients.”

“The product showcase and branding aspects of online events can be useful,” – Giles Potter

In terms of the digital events, Potter feels they reflect well on the industry. “On the digital events side, I thought the SBC Digital Summit at the end of April was good. It looked original and felt innovative and I thought it reflected well on participants, who were able to adapt quickly and offer things like the online tournaments for showcasing products. 

The product showcase and branding aspects of online events can be useful and could be part of our marketing mix if this [COVID] situation continues, but only if there is a proven audience that is not fragmented by too many competing events.”

“We can still showcase products, offer competitions and debate but in a different way,” – Jesper Kärrbrink

Green Jade’s Kärrbrink also believes that digital events can offer significant value at this challenging time. “Even if a digital event really can’t compete with [face-to-face meetings], it is fantastic that we have the opportunity to mimic the physical events to a large extent. We can still showcase our products, offer competitions, discuss and debate, but in a different way.

“The big upside will however come where we are post-COVID, with ‘digi-physical’ conferences and exhibitions, mixing the best from both worlds. And who knows, perhaps this time one-plus-one will actually equal three.”

Kalamba’s Dando also sees a bright future for digital aspects of physical events, when they return. “Obviously, virtual events are an important part of the mix now but the challenge here is to ensure that the returns are still viable, in terms of leads and visibility. 

“Having said that, it’s a great mechanism with which to get new games and features played with and has the added benefit of being super measurable, so I would love to see this layer of virtual events added to the physical events –  if and when they make a comeback.”

The SBC Summit Barcelona – Digital, the global betting and gaming show, takes place on 8-11 September. Find out more about the event, including how to register for free tickets, here.