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  1. The world is yet to come up with a widely applicable use for augmented reality. While virtual reality gaming has gained a certain level of momentum due to companies like Sony actively encouraging indie Game developers to create VR titles for use with the PS4 and PS5 the same is not true for AR. Yet despite AR not being a mainstream gaming application, there is one mobile-only game that has managed to generate an astounding $5 billion in revenue over its first five years since its launch, Pokémon Go! ✓What Is Pokémon? For newcomers to the world of Pokémon, it is a Japanese franchise owned and operated by gaming legend Nintendo. The world was first introduced to the adorable “pocket monsters” that are collected by Trainers and then used to duel one another in non-lethal Pokémon Battles in 1995. Players would take on the role of a Pokémon Trainer who would wander the world finding, befriending, and training various Pokémon in order to become the “regional Champion” by winning the Pokémon League. Since then, Pokémon has grown to be an international powerhouse comprising dozens of video games, a popular collectable trading card game, an anime series with over 1000 episodes to its credit, a live-action/animation crossover film starring Ryan Reynolds, clothing and toys lines, a multi-billion dollar AR mobile game and even a travelling theme park. ✓Niantic Not Nintendo While Nintendo owns the Pokémon IP and is the main beneficiary of the massive success that the mobile-only AR game has achieved the actual game and its mechanics were conceptualised and developed by Niantic. Here is how they describe what they achieved with Pokémon GO: “We’ve built the world’s only planet-scale augmented reality platform for current and future generations of augmented reality hardware. We think of this platform as a global operating system for applications that unite the digital world with the physical world. We pioneered real-world gaming — adventures on foot with others — which has helped transform the Earth into the new game board.” In 2016 when Niantic unveiled Pokémon GO to the world it was an instant success. The combination of the spellbinding world of Pokémon mixed with this fresh use of AR where you walked around your neighbourhood tracking creatures to catch was intoxicating. While the game is incredibly high-tech and innovative, the gameplay was surprisingly simple. Find a Pokémon, get it on your screen and use your finger to flick, aka throw, a poke ball at it till you manage to catch it. Rinse and repeat. Best of all it is free to play, and you do not need to buy an expensive Nintendo console or VIVE VR headset to play it. All you need to do is download the free app onto your cell phone and you will be collecting Pokémon in minutes. ✓International Appeal Pokémon GO was also released in the sweet spot when mobile technology and internet speeds were peaking. Everyone had access to a tablet or cell phone, and mobile data was commonplace which allowed you to load up the game and play whenever you had a gap. By making it free to play and giving players a reason to stay engaged with the game throughout the day Niantic created a loyal global fan base that has installed the game more than 1 billion times. Unlike other games where installs and active users do not line up a report by Finances Online shows that Pokémon GO fans are dedicated daily players: USA = 827,000 daily users UK = 272,000 daily users Japan = 270,000 daily users Sweden =117,000 daily users Canada = 105,000 daily users When looking at the global player base there is also no real skew towards any sex with 56% of the players being male and 44% being female. With ongoing review, it is highly likely this number will flatten out even closer to 50/50. ✓Player Friendly Monetisation With an average annual income of $1 billion, there is an instinctual inclination to assume that the game must make use of predatory money makers like loot boxes or gacha-themed incentives but that simply is not true. The reality is that Pokémon GO is one of the few games where you can truly get experience everything the augmented reality game has to offer for free. Rather than create loot boxes and using video slot themed monetisation tools Niantic and Nintendo offer a few items for sale in the games store such: Additional Pokéballs Additional Pokémon storage Additional item storage Clothing items for your Trainer However, all these items are fairly cheap in terms of the in-game currency, Gold. For example, additional storage space may cost 200 Gold, but rather than spending real money to buy it you can drop one of your Pokémon at a gym you will earn 50 Gold for “holding” the gym for one day. One of their primary income generators is special events. During events such as the ‘Pokémon GO Fest’ players stand the chance to catch special shiny variants of the events Pokémon and get cosmetic items showing they participated in the event. Tickets to these events usually cost less than $5 and not attending does not negatively impact your gameplay experience. Yet despite this soft sell, no pressure, approach to monetisation fans of the game still spend more than $1 billion a year, proving that creating an engaging experience for your customers is the key to generating revenue. ✓Health Conscious Developer While Pokémon GO always encouraged its players to get out from behind their desks and take their creature hunting on the road Niantic and Nintendo went the extra mile when it came to ensuring that their players could still play during the pandemic. The developer made some helpful quality of life changes to some of the games core mechanics to keep players entertained: They increased the spawn rate of Pokémon in less populated areas so players could make new virtual friends at home. They had enemies fly around in hot air balloons to allow players to battle bosses and win better items and complete quests. They extended the Trainers radius making it easier to trigger Pokéstops from further away to ensure social distancing. They began adding daily free boxes with items and Pokéballs to give players the tools they need to play for free. While they could easily have added a bunch of microtransactions to the shop which their fans would have made use of they chose to not add additional financial stress to players lives and offered all these useful new mechanics for free. ✓Leading the Charge for Mobile Gaming It is interesting to see how mobile casino game developers have responded to the success of mobile games like Pokémon GO and others. When Candy Crush first began to dominate the mobile space, we saw the launch of cluster pays driven mobile slots featuring big square game screens. These games are still popular today with Pragmatic Play having recently launched Gemix 2 using this model. The mobile gaming megalith Clash of Clans spawned its own series of mobile slots built using its premise of base building and pitting competing armies against one another. One of the best examples of this type of mobile slot machine is the SG Digital game Reel Clash. While we have seen the development of several RPG and adventure-themed slot titles what we are yet to see hit the market is a video slot that uses the augmented reality premise of Pokémon GO to allow players the chance to interact with reels and find bonuses by using their phone as a virtual gateway into the world of the casino game. ✓Gotta Catch Em All This is blend of conversation-starting tech wrapped in a model so simple even your grandparents can use it is one of the fundamental development challenges faced by casino companies looking to do new and exciting things in the mobile and AR space. However, with Niantic proving it is possible to create a mobile AR game that generates $1 billion a year from transactions that range from $1 to $5 it is only a matter of time before award-winning developers like NetEnt, Evolution Gaming or Pragmatic Play wow us with an innovative AR casino experience.
  2. While the adage "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" would have you believe that there is no real difference between gambling online or at your local casino, that simply is not true. While land-based casinos do offer certain benefits like the potential to get free drinks, be comped a meal, and the experience of a night out “on the town”, playing at an online casino offers far more benefits for both experienced and beginner gamblers to enjoy. Why Gambling Online is the Best Here are 10 reasons why we believe online casinos trump their land-based peers every day of the week: 1. Perfect Environment for New Players Most online casinos offer free to play versions of the real money games they have on offer. This is the perfect way for new players to get to grips with the mechanics, features and bet sizes of any game they intend to play for real money later. Not only can you play these games for free, but each game comes with handy in-game hints and a detailed help file that explains everything from what each button does to how wins are determined and the games specific return to player percentage. 2. Online Casinos Offer Better Payouts The simple fact of the matter is that the House always has an advantage, whether playing online or at a land-based gambling venue – the trick is optimising that advantage as best possible. This is where online casinos beat out their brick and mortar counterpart’s hands down. Land-based casinos must cover the costs of running sprawling complexes which include restaurants, bars, clubs and all the staff to man these various activities. Online casinos only have support staff and tech-related costs which cost a fraction of what it takes to run an offline casino. This is why online casinos offer payouts of around 96%, this means the average house edge is as low as 4%. 3. Incredibly Range of Online Slots Slot machines are by far the most popular game type whether you choose to play online or offline, this is due to their wide range of themes, interactive features, payline options and jackpot win potential. Plus, individual developers each offer something unique to give their slots even more appeal. Big Time Gaming created their Megaways system offering up to 117,649 ways to win, Microgaming offers incredible progressive jackpot wins on their Mega Moolah slots and so much more. 4. Gamble When It Suits You Unlike online casinos which are open all year round, not all local casinos offer 24/7 access to their games. By playing online you can hop onto your favourite slot machine or play a few hands of blackjack whenever it is best for you. Oftentimes it is also simply not possible to coordinate getting to a casino venue at conventional times given the demands placed on our time by work, travel, family and more. In this instance being able to relax over a cup of coffee and a few spins of the reels when you have downtime available to you is an important feature. When you add this to the fact that you can play on your mobile device online gambling offers the most comprehensive, customer-first, gambling experience you could hope for. 5. Live and Play on Your Mobile The mobile device is far more than just a phone these days, we all run our lives from these tiny handheld computers. Online casinos understand this and offer an engaging gambling experience right there in the palm of your hand. Best of all thanks to high-quality apps and HTML5 these casinos offer the same entertainment on your device as they do when you play on your laptop or desktop computer. Allowing you to gamble whenever and wherever you want to. 6. There is Always a Seat for You A very real downside to gambling at a land-based venue, especially in smaller towns, is limited seating or access to popular games. At an online casino, whether you are playing at peak traffic times or in the middle of the night, your favourite casino table or online slot will be waiting for you to dive right in. This is equally true of buying additional casino chips while playing your favourite game. Online casinos allow you to easily top your chip stack from within the game you are playing rather than expecting you to get out of the action to go get more chips as you would at your local casino. 7. Fantastic Casino Bonus Selection Receiving bonuses at a land-based casino is highly unlikely for a new player. All new players at reputable online casinos will receive some form of welcome bonus. This bonus acts both as a gift basket to make you feel at home and as a safety net with which you can test out casino games without risking your own money. These casino bonuses will include deposit match bonuses, Free Spins, no deposit bonuses, wager free bonuses or a combination of these. Once you are a regular at the casino you will be able to avail yourself of reload bonuses, cashback and Loyalty bonuses. 8. Choose When to Play with Others A big part of ensuring your mental health though, especially during lockdowns is having the choice to play with others when you need contact and give yourself space when that is more important. One of the fastest-growing niches within the online gaming industry is the live casino sector. This allows players to step away from purely RNG casino games to enjoy the experience of interacting with a live dealer and the players around the table. As the market appetite for live games has grown so developers like Evolution Gaming have stepped up to grow their selection beyond traditional games like blackjack, roulette, and craps, to include custom games like Monopoly Live, Deal or No Deal Live and Mega Ball. 9. Protect Your Privacy with Bitcoin For players who are looking to further enhance the privacy and security offered by online gambling, there is the option to gamble at a Bitcoin casino. These sites are built on the blockchain, offer provably fair gambling, and ensure that your transactions are hidden from prying eyes thanks to Bitcoin’s incredible encryption. This is over and above any other measures, one can take online to protect their search histories and online banking by using virtual private networks (VPN) to connect to the internet. 10. Safety First When making the decision whether to play online or go to a local casino one must consider the potential health risks. Given the current situation we all find ourselves in, it is prudent to avoid crowds of people and rather play from home. With the ease of access to multiple casinos and swathes of cutting edge casino games, not to mention the bonuses and 24/7 personal support, there is very little reason to play at a land-based casino when with the click of a button you can enjoy world-class entertainment from the comfort of your home.
  3. In the online gambling world, few game types take as much intricate planning to produce as Online Slots. Increasing innovation and technological enhancements have made playing video slots super exciting. The special graphic effects, sounds, and features developed over the past few years have been entertaining and have inadvertently churned up a heated and competitive market space. Did you know? In the USA, the latest stats show that nearly half of all casino visitors play slots. The trends are not set to change either, as a new generation is entering the market. These players have grown up on video games and are likely to engage better with slots than other game types. Quick fact: Online gambling stats in the UK show that young adults between the ages of 25 and 44 years old dominate the gambling player market. This is sure to make an impact on gambling trends. It is believed that online slot games will rule the casino world for years to come. We can expect to see so much more from this sector. Each year, the quality of the games improves, and the diversity of features and mechanics grow. This has us excited about the prospects for 2021! Let’s take a look at what we can expect in the slot world this coming year. ✓ Bitcoin is Booming! Decentralised casinos are a big thing right now, especially with all the attention that Bitcoin is getting in the finance sector thanks to its hefty growth over the past year. This has resulted in a healthy introduction of casino start-ups in this segment. With a push for a more transparent gaming environment, Game developers in this segment are introducing more and more titles with provably fair algorithms built into the RNG software. This way players can validate that each game is random and fair. Quick Fact: With provably fair games, the game developer provides specific tools for players to use that grant them access to the software’s open-source code. Gamblers can check to make sure that no alterations are made to the RNGs algorithms while a spin of the reels is underway, thereby proving that the result is unmanipulated and random. For this reason, we can expect that far more provably fair online slot games will enter the marketplace over the course of 2021. This is sure to set a strong trend for greater transparency in the casino market, as a whole. ✓ Mobile is Mapping the Future While mobile gaming is not new to the online gambling industry, we expect that far more players will be turning to “on the go” gaming options in 2021. More and more people are acquiring mobile phones year on year, which bodes well for gambling statistics. Did you know? Many top gaming providers are developing their games for mobile-first, in keeping with the obvious trends in this market. More and more people are using their mobile phones to manage every part of their lives. From watching Netflix to diarising their days and spending time on social media. It is only natural that these same people would use their handsets to play their favourite online slot games too. ✓ Keep an Eye on AR and VR Technology Virtual Reality entered the market a few years ago, providing players with a far more immersive way to play slots. Players could actually enter into the virtual world of the game by donning special headgear. They could control the mechanics with hand gestures which would be relayed back to the gaming software via sophisticated sensors. The main reason that VR did not catch on then was that the hardware was very expensive to purchase and not everyone could afford the tech needed for it. New tech is always over-inflated when it comes to cost, but we can hope to see these prices normalise soon. The implementation of VR for mobile is a far more cost-effective alternative as well, so expect to see VR’s possible return this year. Augmented Reality (AR) is another engaging gaming alternative to watch out for. The technology uses overlays in the mobile app software to superimpose an augmented reality over your present environment, which is visible on your phone’s screen. Did you know: One of the most popular Augmented Reality games still played today is Pokémon Go. While it is not a gambling title, it provides us with the perfect example of how slots may play out in the near future. We said earlier that this was the year for mobile technology innovation, and this may be two ways in which “on the go” gameplay might steal the show in 2021. ✓ Enhancements in 3D Imagery The noticeable demand for titles in video gaming culture has been for games that look more realistic. The better the graphics and effects, the more popular games tend to be. This is becoming the norm among modern video slot players too. This is also one of the reasons that games like Gonzo’s Quest are timeless classics. Here, 3D imagery was used to provide a cinematic-like experience for its players. With enhancements in CGI, game developers have all the tools at their disposal to create ground-breaking strides in the graphics department. Quick Fact: CGI stands for Computer Generated Imagery. It is a popular form of technology used to enhance the special effects visible in movies and TV programs. It is based on the 3D imagery that we are seeing more and more in video games and slots today. Keep your eye on the line up of games each month to earmark the stacks of ‘pretty’ games we are expecting will arrive this coming year. ✓ AI to Handle Slot Security The standards of security are set for enhancement this year, as game developers and online casinos opt for AI-backed protection for their players. Quick Fact: Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a computer science that uses machine learning protocols to undertake smart actions that would normally require human intelligence. In many sectors, AI is used to greater effect than a human workforce, because of the speed of transactions possible through the software mechanics. Artificial Intelligence protocols will be able to pick up on suspicious activities and hacking risks within seconds and move to resolve/neutralise the issues that players are facing in real-time. The Promise of More While the forecasting for the future of the slot industry is no exact science, all the trends suggest that the above technologies and innovations will be metered out over the next few years. One thing is certain though – This year promises advancements in the iGaming realms and is bound to build upon the innovations of last year to give us something more than we had in the past.
  4. The hit British Netflix series Peaky Blinders introduces us to a fictionalised version of 1900s Birmingham England where we follow the adventures of the Shelby family as they climb their way up the social ladder through dastardly deeds and both legal and illegal bookmaking. Based on the awe that the real-life Peaky Blinders inspired in his father, Steven Knight, Writer and Creator of the Peaky Blinder series said: “In a way I want Peaky Blinders to be a sort of the view of this world through the eyes of a 10-year-old because the men are smarter and stronger and handsomer and the horses are bigger and everything is big and intimidating as a kid.” His series so expertly interweaves the lives of the fictional leaders of the Peaky Blinders, the Shelby family, with real-world villains and heroes that most viewers struggle to separate fact from fiction. ✓ The Razor Blade Fallacy To clarify, the Peaky Blinders were a real-life gang of working-class Brits who were described as incredibly well dressed. These young men would often wear nice jackets, keep their hair closely cropped and wear peaked caps. Legend has it that they would stitch razor blades into these caps and use them as weapons in a pinch, blind enemies with a slash across the face. As dramatic as it sounds, and despite fitting their recorded penchant for violence this is simply not the case. Rather the reference to “blinder” in their name is an old English affectation which refers to how good they looked. An attractive young woman in her best dress or a young man in a stylish suit would both be considered “blindingly good looking” or simply “a blinder”. With the gang's affectation for bowler hats and peaked caps the name Peaky Blinder was an obvious choice in the day. ✓ The Shelby Bookmaking Empire A super fan of the Peaky Blinders series translated the money made by the main character, Thomas “Tommy” Shelby, into its modern-day equivalent. According to their estimations, Tommy would be making approximately £13 million per year from his bookmaking operation. In the series, the Shelby family run both legal and illegal bets on the horses in Birmingham and begin to come into conflict with other gangs as they look to expand their operation around the country. While the series shows operators like Tommy outwitting the law at every turn the reality was less in their favour. With the telephone in its infancy, special excursion trains that brought punter to the racetracks and the constabulary having a “the end justifies the means” approach to law-keeping, illegal bookmaking was not as common or as profitable as seen on TV. ✓ The State of Gambling in the UK The United Kingdom has always had an interesting relationship with gambling. While it was legal under English law the Unlawful Games Act of 1541 would make nearly all forms of gambling illegal as it was feared gambling would distract young men from military training. In particular, these new casino games were blamed for the “decay of archery”. This was addressed in the law as follows: “All Men under the Age of Sixty Years "shall have Bows and Arrows for shooting". Men-Children between Seven "Years and Seventeen shall have a Bow and 2 Shafts". Men about Seventeen "Years of Age shall keep a Bow and 4 Arrows". The penalty for non-observance was set at 6s.8d.” Since the British archers had been key to Henry V's victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 the practice was deemed one of national security, if not national pride. However, by 1845 the law was repealed as archery lost its importance as an art of war and, as a law revision would later note, archery was no competition for “the nefarious pursuits of cricket, dicing, and carding”. One gambling practice which was not deemed nefarious was that of betting on the horses. Bookmaking came into its own in the UK in 1790 and even under the Gaming Act 1845 was not made illegal but rather merely limited to racetracks. By 1961 the UK would have legal high street betting shops thanks to Harold Macmillan. These bookmakers made it possible for even more punter to place bets and without the concerns of dealing with gangs and underworld figures. At its peak, the UK was estimated to have more than 15,000 legally recognised betting shops practically putting illegal betting out of business. ✓ Online and Mobile Betting Generation The advent of online gambling in the late 90s changed the game for all parties concerned as the casino games industry blossomed. By 2001 the Big Three bookmakers – William Hill, Ladbrokes and Coral – were able to not only offer patrons the chance to bet at their local betting shops and offered bets online. With reputation being everything in the online arena these operators were easily able to spin their land-based punters into online punters with the promise of being able to gamble from the comfort for your home. By 2003 the first mobile gambling product was launched in the UK, The Mobile Lottery. It was not long after that the betting shops launched their own mobile-friendly sites and apps to allow punters to place their bets wherever they had the time and an internet connection. The government did step in to limit the scope of betting on offer through regulated betting shops – be they online or in retail outlets – with the Gambling Act 2005. This Act limited licensed betting to events that took place in the UK and European Economic Areas (EEA). Offering bets on no-EEA regulated events was deemed illegal.
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