Pegasus Gaming Solutions | Pegasus Gaming Solutions http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com More than a gaming consultancy. Fri, 27 Nov 2015 14:20:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.4 You Are Not a Web Usability Expert* http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/thoughts/you-are-not-a-web-usability-expert/ http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/thoughts/you-are-not-a-web-usability-expert/#comments Tue, 29 Sep 2015 07:58:53 +0000 http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/?p=759 “I drive a car, therefore I can advise car manufacturers on how to design cars.” “I use the internet, therefore I can advise my web designer on how to design websites.” One of these things is… very much like the other. Yet, time and time again, I see companies putting people with no user experience (UX) training into situations where they are ... Read More

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web usability“I drive a car, therefore I can advise car manufacturers on how to design cars.”

“I use the internet, therefore I can advise my web designer on how to design websites.”

One of these things is… very much like the other. Yet, time and time again, I see companies putting people with no user experience (UX) training into situations where they are expected to make revenue-impacting decisions on best practice website design. Often, it’s the new guy. I’d imagine some of these folks think, “I spend a lot of time on heaps of websites, so this can’t be so hard!” and others think “Um, I don’t know what I’m doing here, but I’m new… Should I really tell them I’m not an expert?” Yes, yes you should.

That’s because web usability experts are, well, just that. Experts. They’ve often gone to university to study something like human-computer interaction. They’ve likely run dozens of focus groups. Like most experts, they have spent hundreds of hours researching and doing activities in their field.

Your single-person view of how a website should behave is your view only, and it may not be reflected across the thousands of people who will visit your site.

Why not?

Because web usage is idiosyncratic.**

You know how you try to help your mother figure out how to bookmark her favourite news website because she keeps losing it, and you are getting more and more frustrated because she types the full URL into the Google search box instead of typing it into the address bar and going directly to the site? Your hands are twitching because you want to grab hold of her mouse and just do it for her because she’s doing it all so wrong! Well, she’s not the wrong one: you are.

There are no hard and fast rules about how to navigate the internet and use websites. This is one superhighway in which everyone is doing their own thing. And that’s OK. But it does make life harder for marketeers and web designers, who have to struggle to appeal to almost all of the people almost all of the time. So when someone comes to them and says, “I don’t like dropdowns, so let’s not put dropdowns into our new corporate website”, that person is doing more harm than good (unless, by some fluke, almost all that website’s visitors share this person’s opinion about dropdowns).

So, do the smart thing. Hire an expert. And then let them do their jobs. Don’t dictate site design because of personal preference.

Are you interested in learning more about web usability? I promise, the more you learn, the less you will realise you knew about this subject. I recommend Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug as an excellent jumping-off point.

 

*Unless, of course, you are.
**I’m paraphrasing Steve Krug. I’d include his actual statement from the book, but it looks like I’ve lent it out to someone. Read it yourself, then jump in the comments and correct me!

 

About the author
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Lydia Barbara is the head of Pegasus Gaming Solutions, Microgaming’s consulting division. Lydia has been in the gaming industry for over 12 years and is considered one of the online gaming industry’s top thinkers on poker and other forms of gaming. She is not, however, a web usability expert, but she knows a few good ones.Connect with Lydia on LinkedIn

 

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Are Leaderboards Bad? Part 6 (Final) http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/promotions/are-leaderboards-bad-part-6-final/ http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/promotions/are-leaderboards-bad-part-6-final/#comments Thu, 24 Sep 2015 00:01:00 +0000 http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/?p=544 This is the last entry in my series on leaderboards. If this is your first time here, you’ll probably want to start with Part 1. Over the last several weeks, we’ve looked at what leaderboards are, how they’re used in online gambling, how they and similar game design elements are perceived by experts of all sorts, and a bit of ... Read More

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This is the last entry in my series on leaderboards. If this is your first time here, you’ll probably want to start with Part 1.

Over the last several weeks, we’ve looked at what leaderboards are, how they’re used in online gambling, how they and similar game design elements are perceived by experts of all sorts, and a bit of academic research on them. We’ve also talked more generally about gamification and its use (or not) in games.

And at this point, you’re probably starting to wonder if I’m ever going to answer the question: are leaderboards bad?

(Drumroll, please.)

Sure!

But are they bad like carbs are bad? (Who the hell really knows, right?) Or are they bad like that band my old colleague was in that didn’t really know how to tune their guitars?

I’m leaning towards the latter. In the beginning, they can be interesting, in a way, but long-term they’re not good for your health. That’s where the evidence seems to be leading, at least.

But if you must, if you absolutely must, offer leaderboards to your players, here are some general guidelines that will help you create effective ones.

1. Don’t run it for all of your players.

More specifically, make it opt-in for the subset of players you believe to be motivated to competition. If you recall:

Jane McGonigal

Be smart and identify that small percentage of players, then make them their own top-secret, hyper-competitive leaderboard.

Players not interested (and this will be most) will feel like an element of control has been taken away from their gaming experience if they’re plunked into a campaign as aggressive as a leaderboard. I resent someone snatching control away from me, don’t you?

2. Make them short and temporary.

Everyone gets bored of doing the same thing all the time, even for money. Sometimes, especially for money. Keep it short. How short? As short as you want. I’d suggest under a week for each one, and no more than once a quarter for each set of players, but do your own measurements and research and figure out what’s right for you. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

In fact, I’d love to see what happens with a one-day leaderboard.

3. Don’t focus on the top places by default. Highlight the individual user and show a couple players above and below. 
leaderboardpart6

Which of these would you find more motivating?

You want people to play more, not get intimidated about how impossible the whole thing is and give up early on. Or not start if they’re coming in part-way through the campaign. Competitive people like to win things, not just place in the leaderboard somewhere. This behaviour needs to be shaped a little, or you’ll end up with a small group of players trying for the top spot and a whole lot of players who aren’t trying very hard.

4. Make sure the top post is achievable with more play than what you’re getting now. 

The goal of your leaderboard campaign should be to get players to increase their play a bit. Aim for a 20% increase from the players, not 120%. Thus, your leaderboard should be challenging, but not exhausting. You don’t want players running out of steam before the end.

5. Run, measure, analyse, refine, run, measure, analyse, refine…

Et iterum. Identify your mistakes, then learn from them or you’ll keep making them. Your first campaign won’t be perfect. No first time ever is.

Try different:

  • player segments,
  • countries,
  • prize amounts,
  • prize types (iPads, cash, tickets to football matches, bonuses, etc. – go wild),
  • prize escalation,
  • qualifying criteria,
  • duration,
  • number of winners,
  • graphics,
  • notification methods, and
  • anything else you can think of.

Don’t be afraid to experiment! And try to find something that doesn’t directly equal wagers and that you can clearly measure the ROI from. For example, running a leaderboard based on “Hit the Kings achievement in Thunderstruck II as many times as you can!” includes the element of luck (more fun “wager as much as you can”) and you can easily measure the impact of the promo, as it will be the increase of activity on that particular game by the leaderboard competitors over the duration of the campaign.

Woot! First step onto the leaderboard!

6. Don’t just copy what someone else has done.

Our industry is in its infancy. No business in online gaming is doing everything right, and quite a lot of them are doing a lot of things wrong. And the worst thing you can do is just copy what someone else has done, as chances are it will be wrong for your player type/target demographic/region.  A campaign that’s hugely successful for high rollers in Sweden may be an expensive flop for beginners in Hungary.

7. Advertise the heck out of it to those players involved.

There’s nothing more frustrating than running a campaign with 100 winners, paying them all out, then getting emails from the confused players asking why we gave them money. Do your best to make sure that the players in the campaign know they’re in the campaign.

8. Most importantly, don’t fall into the danger zone. 

You will want to. Your casino/poker/bingo manager will beg you to. Your players will plead. But you will be strong, and you will absolutely not increase the value of your leaderboards without strong analytics backing the decision. And you positively, absolutely will not start increasing the value of your leaderboards just because players’ interest in them is waning. When that happens, and it will inevitably happen, back off and try something new. Be strong. Resist temptation.

 

After you’ve built your leaderboard (following all the above, I hope) and you’re ready to go live, make sure you have built a report that can answer these questions:

  • Is the behaviour being encouraged artificial or genuine? LinkedIn remained popular after the surge of user engagement fell away.  Indeed, its popularity likely increased further. That is because LinkedIn adds value proportional to its users’ contributions. The more people who contribute valuable content, the more people remain interested in engaging with the site. However, if the activity you are encouraging does not intrinsically add value to the users’ lives, then be cautious: you may be driving down long-term engagement when you use leaderboards.
  • What are the minimum and maximum lengths of time between leaderboards? You want to keep activity high, but also not exhaust your players. Learn this answer and your bottom line will thank you. Disregard it and your ROI will suffer in all subsequent campaigns.
  • Plus all the usuals. If you’re not making money from it, don’t do it.

 

In wrapping up, I’ve come to realise that one thing noticeably lacking throughout this blog series is actual research done on casino players’ behaviour and values before and after leaderboards are introduced. We need more research done for casinos! Do your own, of course, but don’t be afraid to share your findings more widely. Or at least to me. :)

participation badge 2Well done! You made it to the end! Hopefully now you know more about leaderboards than when you started reading. Hopefully you will stop using the word ‘gamification’ to refer to adding game design elements to games. Hopefully the world is now a slightly more rational place than it was before this series was written. Only time will tell.

Here’s your badge to show off. Thanks for participating!


This will be my last post for a while, as I’ve got three straight weeks of travel ahead. If you’re going to IAGR in Lima or EiG in Berlin, I’ll be attending (and speaking at) both. Come see me if you have a chance! Before that, I’m travelling around the UK for a week. The husband and I were lucky enough to pick up tickets to four Rugby World Cup matches, so we’re doing a bit of a roadtrip around the UK to attend the matches and see a bit more of the country I visit so frequently, but see so little of.

About the author
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Lydia Barbara is the head of Pegasus Gaming Solutions, Microgaming’s consulting division. Lydia has been in the gaming industry for over 12 years and is considered one of the online gaming industry’s top thinkers on poker and other forms of gaming. Connect with Lydia on LinkedIn

 

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Are Leaderboards Bad? Part 5 http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/promotions/are-leaderboards-bad-part-5/ http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/promotions/are-leaderboards-bad-part-5/#comments Fri, 11 Sep 2015 00:01:27 +0000 http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/?p=540 This is Part 5 of my series on leaderboards. Is this your first visit? You may want to read Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 first. In this segment, we turn to academic research on extrinsic rewards used as motivation in social networks and gaming. Fifth perspective: the academics I’ve talked fairly extensively about my own and others’ experiences with leaderboards in online ... Read More

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This is Part 5 of my series on leaderboards. Is this your first visit? You may want to read Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 first.

In this segment, we turn to academic research on extrinsic rewards used as motivation in social networks and gaming.

Fifth perspective: the academics

Women like science, too!

I’ve talked fairly extensively about my own and others’ experiences with leaderboards in online gaming, gamification experts’ thoughts and psychological theories. But there’s a big component missing in the discussion thus far – that of proper research done at scale. What is actually happening when leaderboards and other game elements are introduced into mature systems?

In the following I look at two different experiments that examine this topic. The first takes on gamifying office work, and the other explores introducing leaderboards into a game that previously didn’t have any.

First experiment

Rosta Farzan and team conducted a series of experiments in 2008 that they reported in their paper “Results from Deploying a Participation Incentive Mechanism within the Enterprise.”

No, not that sort of Enterprise.

No, not that sort of Enterprise.[1]

Prof Farzan’s team introduced a points-based levelling-up system into IBM’s in-house social network. Employees received points for adding content, commenting on others’ content and updating their profiles. Remember, points are a sort of extrinsic reward. The points system was only introduced to half of IBM’s employees (the test group), with the other half acting as the control group.

User engagement of the test group increased significantly when the newly gamified system was released. The participants especially increased the activity that would earn them the most points, indicating the direct relationship of the reward to the activity.

However, after just one week engagement started to decline.

In fact, for two of the three areas looked at, activity declined to levels lower than before the experiment had started.

Graph of points collection

Activity in the control group also increased once the gamified system was released, indicating that the control group participants were responding to more comments and other contributions by increasing their activity as well. Similarly, a decline in activity of the control group mirrored the decline in the test group. In fact, their activity also decreased to levels lower than when the experiment started (although their decline started the week after the test group’s decline). This is a very interesting finding, as it suggests that long-term use of a system like this is not just bad for the participating players, but also the players who they’re playing against.

And I say players now because it is easy enough to draw parallels between this gamified system and a poker network. In this experiment, a person posts content, others comment, and it grows exponentially. That encouragement to post content resulted in a sharp increase of comments to that content. Similarly, a poker player sits down at an empty table, other players join, players open more tables, and overall liquidity increases.

The researchers put this decline in activity down to a weakness in their experiment design: points didn’t expire, so level movement could only go up and not down. This made the system in the experiment less dynamic than most points systems. This was confirmed through interviews with the participants. Definitely something to keep in mind if you are building a loyalty or points system – make sure there is a risk of sliding back down the flagpole.

At the end of the experiment, the researchers concluded that “It is important to consider that the benefits to the community may not offset the costs of building the system if the incentive mechanism does not continually [incentivise] users to contribute over time.”

Speaking from experience, this is where companies fall into the danger zone. They see what great engagement they’re getting from £X each month, so the next month they increase it to £2X. Players increase their activity further, so the operator ups the prizes the next month. And so on. Remember Ladbrokes’s $1m rake race?


Verdict
: inconclusive. While this experiment definitely doesn’t show that a gamified system is positive in the medium or long term, the explanation the researchers have for the decline of activity is reasonable. But it’s very possible the real story is more complex. Unknowable without more research.

Also, this experiment only looked at two of the three elements in the gamification trifecta. If you recall from Part 2, those are points, badges[2] and leaderboards. And although this blog series is about the missing third, leaderboards, I would argue the research is relevant to what we’re discussing.

The entire report is full of interesting insights. I encourage you to purchase it and read it in full.

Second experiment

Elisa Mekler[3] is a psychologist and self-proclaimed gamer at the University of Basel in Switzerland. As she said at a 2013 Gamification Conference:

“There is ample evidence in psychological research that handing out rewards […] will in fact lower people’s intrinsic motivation to engage in a certain activity. […] [However], there is, as of now, very little empirical evidence that has shown that this is true, so this is where our study comes in.”

In her 2013 research paper “Do Points, Levels and Leaderboards Harm Intrinsic Motivation? An Empirical Analysis of Common Gamification Elements,” Ms Mekler and her team reference the Farzan experiment, and they draw the same conclusions as I – adding extrinsic motivation may decrease intrinsic motivation.

In their experiment, Ms Mekler and her team worked with 295 participants. Each of these participants (let’s call them players) was presented with abstract paintings that they needed to provide annotation tags for. The players got 100 points for each tag. After they looked at all 15 of the paintings, they were given their score. They could then compare their score against four (fake) participants in a leaderboard. The players then saw a progress bar with the label “next level” with the points required to move up.

Interestingly, Ms Meckler has a different idea than Prof Werbach on the three key elements in gamification. She sees these as points, levels and leaderboards. I suppose levels and badges are like different sides of the same coin (in some cases), but I may start thinking about the gamification trifecta as a superfecta. Or tetrad. Hm, it’s not nearly as catchy.

Behaviour of the test group was measured on each of the conditions. What the researchers found is that all players in the test group had increased activity vs the players in the control group. The experiment was repeated, and the increased activity declined, although not as low as the levels in the control group. The players in the test group were just more productive, even over time.

The researchers concluded that adding points, levels and leaderboards did not decrease participants’ intrinsic motivation. They posited that this might not have held true had they added cash prizes as incentives, which would add more of a “controlling” factor (this has to do with self-determination theory, a topic for another day).

Watch Ms Meckler’s presentation on this:

Verdict: inconclusive. This is a very interesting study, and I think it should be required reading for anyone interested in this topic. You can order a copy from this link. Of all the research I read, it’s closest to the topic, but I’ve got a few issues with the potential usefulness of it:

  • The task was too simple. If we were looking at whether gamification can make something equivalent to data entry more fun, then the answer to that seems fairly obvious. Whether a gamified system makes more complex work fun, or whether game elements like leaderboards can make casino or poker games stickier long-term, is not answerable from this research. This was highlighted in the “limitations” section of the research paper as well.
  • The experiment only measured short-term impact. Only 20 minutes. That’s pretty short.
  • Their 295 participants all came from the university’s database. Aside from the immediate concern that the people contained within a university’s database will not be representative of the wider game-playing public, there’s volunteer bias.
Volunteer bias can be defined as the bias that comes from the fact that a particular sample can contain only those participants who are actually willing to participate in the study or experiment (Heiman, 2002). There are apparent differences between those people who are willing to participate in a study or experiment and those who do not wish to do so. According to Heiman (2002), volunteers tend to have a higher social status and intelligence, exhibits an increased need for approval, and have a tendency to be less authoritarian and conforming. Also, those who participate and find the topic particularly interesting are more likely to volunteer for that study, same to those who are expected to be evaluated on a positive level (Heiman, 2002).[3]
Still, the research is compelling. Although what it mostly seems to do is provide some background information (always good), then highlight the need for further research.

That’s it for this week. Keep your eyes open for Part 6!


[1]Image courtesy of this Trekkie Wikia page. Whenever someone says “Somethingsomethingsomething in the enterprise” I get really excited for a millisecond, then I feel a bit let down.
[2]The experiment does utilise badges, although I haven’t referenced them in this blog, as I am trying to distill a ten-page paper into about as many paragraphs. Read the research paper for more information on this.
[3]Ms Mekler studies and works at the University of Basel in Switzerland. In addition to being lucky enough to be Swiss and live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, she studies in the Mensch-Maschine Interaktion department. Although it’s no doubt the same thing as Human Computer Interaction, the name reminds me enough of Kraftwerk that I haven’t been able to get this song out of my head all day.
[4]Thanks, Psychwiki.

About the author
Headshot - round
Lydia Barbara is the head of Pegasus Gaming Solutions, Microgaming’s consulting division. Lydia has been in the gaming industry for over 12 years and is considered one of the online gaming industry’s top thinkers on poker and other forms of gaming. Connect with Lydia on LinkedIn

 

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Are Leaderboards Bad? Part 4 http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/promotions/are-leaderboards-bad-part-4/ http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/promotions/are-leaderboards-bad-part-4/#comments Thu, 06 Aug 2015 00:00:28 +0000 http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/?p=542 This is Part 4 of what’s turning into a serial of posts on leaderboards. Catch up on what you missed in Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3. In this segment, we look at two other Microgaming employees’ thoughts on leaderboards. Fourth perspective: other people’s experiences Since leaderboards are such popular promotions despite the evidence against them, I asked for the ... Read More

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This is Part 4 of what’s turning into a serial of posts on leaderboards. Catch up on what you missed in Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3.

In this segment, we look at two other Microgaming employees’ thoughts on leaderboards.

Fourth perspective: other people’s experiences

Since leaderboards are such popular promotions despite the evidence against them, I asked for the opinion of a couple people in the Microgaming office who have a lot of experience with them. Here’s what they think.

Alex Scott, Head of Poker

Alex Scott, Head of PokerThe ultimate example of an ill-thought-out leaderboard in poker is the rake race. In rake races, players compete to generate the largest amount of revenue for the business by playing for as long as possible. Sounds great for the business right? Not really. Almost every operator on the MPN wants to ban rake races, and it’s telling that the world’s most successful poker sites have never run such promotions.

Rake races raise awareness of pricing, making customers more sensitive to what they are being charged for the service. As customers become more sensitive to price, bad things start to happen. You have to charge them less to get them to stay your customer. As soon as you stop running your rake race, the customer jumps to another site. You have not created any long-term loyalty.

Besides that, rake races are questionable from an ethical perspective, as they encourage gaming habits which are just plain irresponsible. It’s not healthy for a player to be playing at 20 tables, 18 hours a day to generate as much rake as possible to win the race.

The best promotions in poker are not ones where players feel compelled to play gruelling hours or compete against the elite few, but where players are challenging themselves to raise their game a notch. That type of promotion appeals to everyone and not just a small minority, and the effects are far more positive in the long term.

To read more from Alex, check out his blog on Microgaming’s poker website.

James Ford, Product Manager – Multi-player Casino

For Multi-player Casino, leaderboards are a component of our tournament product and, for the purposes that we use them, we’ve actually found that they tend to work very well for us.

Tournaments

Slot tournaments have increased in popularity over the years owing to their fast pace and valuable prizes for the winners. The tournaments are usually played in short bursts or over a number of days. They offer the fun associated with normal slot games, but have an added appeal to players who like to compete against each other for prizes.

With the way our tournaments are structured, players pay only the entry fee to take part. The entry fee buys a player credits to use in the tournament. Once these credits are used up, the player cannot continue to play in that tournament unless the tournament allows add-ons or rebuys. Add-ons enable a player to buy a certain number of extra credits and to continue playing in a tournament. A rebuy allows a player to restore his/her starting position in the tournament.

Tournaments require no more skill than normal slot games. This makes them accessible to players of all skill levels. Additionally, the easy-to-understand entry fee makes them very popular with beginning players or players who wish to control their spending.

Leaderboards

For slot tournaments, a leaderboard is utilised for each event – this keeps track of the players’ scores as they play the slot game. So instead of winning cash on a payline, a player is awarded points which contributes to his/her overall score and placement on the leaderboard. When a tournament completes, players in winning positions on the leaderboard are allocated prizes.

Casino tournaments with leaderboards occur on a regular basis, and we offer a wide range of formats to allow operators to use them for multiple purposes. This, in turn, allows operators to market and target different player types and demographics. We’ve seen very successful results for acquisition, re-activation, retention and cross-sell to single-player casino.

Terminator2_Game

The leaderboards are designed to add a competitive element to our casino games. These allow players to see where they are at any time within the tournament they’re playing, and to compete against their fellow players to reach the top.

Finally, the leaderboard format enables us to use points rather than cash, allowing us to provide greater time on device in a cost-efficient manner. And, as we all know, more engagement means a happier customer, which means better returns and a happier experience for all.

So there you have it. One person who dislikes leaderboards (or just a particular type) and another who considers them an essential ingredient in his product marketing mix. This is the end of Part 4. Stay tuned for Part 5, where we look at some research on leaderboards specifically in the gaming area.

About the author
Headshot - round
Lydia Barbara is the head of Pegasus Gaming Solutions, Microgaming’s consulting division. Lydia has been in the gaming industry for over 12 years and is considered one of the online gaming industry’s top thinkers on poker and other forms of gaming. Connect with Lydia on LinkedIn

 

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Are Leaderboards Bad? Part 3 http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/promotions/are-leaderboards-bad-part-3/ http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/promotions/are-leaderboards-bad-part-3/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 15:55:41 +0000 http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/?p=538 This is Part 3 of a series on leaderboards. Missed Part 1 or Part 2? In this segment, we’ll look a little at extrinsic versus intrinsic rewards and the overjustification effect. Third perspective: psychologists Let’s kick off with a couple of scenarios in which gamification has been applied in a non-game setting. Scenario One: Do X, Get Y Let’s say there’s an ... Read More

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This is Part 3 of a series on leaderboards. Missed Part 1 or Part 2?

In this segment, we’ll look a little at extrinsic versus intrinsic rewards and the overjustification effect.

Third perspective: psychologists

Let’s kick off with a couple of scenarios in which gamification has been applied in a non-game setting.

Scenario One: Do X, Get Y

Let’s say there’s an activity that you’ve just started up that you’re finding challenging and rewarding. With the Virgin London Marathon just behind us, let’s go with running. You wake up an hour earlier than you used to so you can get a quick run in before heading to the office. It’s hard work, but you feel yourself getting stronger and faster, and you’re enjoying it.

Then someone says, “I’ll give you £5 for every mile you run.” Alright! you think. Some idiot wants to give me money for something I was going to do anyway!

So you wake up the next morning and run five miles before work. And you get £25 for it. Fantastic! You run six miles the next day and get £30. The third day, you push yourself really hard and make it to seven miles for £35. It’s your longest distance yet, and you’re proud of yourself. And you just keep going.

You find yourself going out for runs even on days you’d previously rested. You’re getting faster and stronger at an even better rate, but you’re starting to enjoy it less. And then one day you realise that you’ve been spending hours of your leisure time doing something you’ve grown to hate for what you now realise is very little money. So you quit.

You quit, like you would quit a bad job.

Because that’s what extrinsic motivators are. They’re compensation. They’re salary. They are not fun.

Extrinsic motivation comes from outside of the individual. Common extrinsic motivations are rewards like money and grades, and threat of punishment. Competition is in general extrinsic because it encourages the performer to win and beat others, not simply to enjoy the intrinsic rewards of the activity.

Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on any external pressure. Intrinsic motivation is based on taking pleasure in an activity rather than working towards an external reward.[1]

In my example, the beginning runner found enjoyment in the challenge and excitement of learning a new skill. She was delighted when she reached over to tie her shoelaces in the morning and realised her calves were firmer than two weeks earlier. Her joy in running came from multitudinous sources. And then someone offered her money, and it became all about the money. And that wasn’t strong enough motivation to keep her engaged.[2]

 

Scenario Two: Compete for the Prize!

Now let’s talk about a running league. A well-meaning local sports shop decides to set up a league for runners in the area. They want to be as inclusive as possible, so they set up three divisions: beginner, intermediate and expert. The league starts at the beginning of the month and finishes at the end. Whoever has logged the most miles in each group gets a free pair of running shoes.

All three of the groups start out successfully. About 20% of the shoe store’s email database (who were all inundated with mails weeks before the start) sign up for the league. Lots of people are running loads of miles. One week in, and there are clear frontrunners in each of the groups. The top contenders are checking the store’s website several times a day to see their scores and their competitors’ scores. And they’re pushing themselves to get to the top of the leaderboard. For them, it’s not about the shoes. They could run through a few pairs just to win the league. It’s about the competition.

Running league

Yes, this is sometimes what it’s like to run on the Isle of Man.

And that’s great!

But only for them.

There are at least two other groups who not only won’t participate, but who may resent the leaderboard.

The first are the latecomers. They would have loved to have participated, but they joined up a few days too late, and the leaders are already so far ahead that they believe they’ll never catch up. So they don’t even try.

The second are the people who are just around for the fun of it. The recreational runners. They don’t like being made to feel as if they were inferior runners because they don’t want to join the league. Running isn’t about competition for them; it’s about lots of other things.

 

Back in our world

Put into the context of online gambling, think about what really happens when you run a promotional campaign like “wager the most in this game to beat the competition and win the prize” or “play 1,000 hands of poker to win some cash”[3]. Sure, your top-line revenues may increase while your heavy hitters start putting in the extra hours, but focus on the players in the lower and middle ranges. If they’re playing less, you need to reconsider what you’re doing. You could be losing the attention of the masses just to eke short-term revenues from the top few.

You could ask, “But the fun in gambling is winning money. So how can adding more money into the equation be less fun?”

Is it really all about winning money? People have different motivations for all sorts of things. A poker player could play for 2 or 5 or 20 years without consistently winning, but they just keep at it.

Consider a football match. Watching football on TV is fun for some people. Putting a bet on the outcome introduces an exciting element of risk[4] to the experience. The player will frequently not know whether he’s won until the match is over, but the whole footy-watching experience was enhanced just by putting a bet on it, even if the end result is that the punter loses the bet.

Also, there is a big difference between an expected reward and an unexpected reward.

In a 2009 research study, a group of scientists, led by neurosurgeon Kareem Zaghloul, set out to measure the impact of expected and unexpected rewards on the brain. In summary:

Zaghloul and his colleagues found that for unexpected gains, as compared with unexpected losses, one or more clusters of dopamine neurons near the implanted electrode increased its firing rate significantly during a crucial response interval after the gain or loss feedback was presented. For expected gains and losses, there was no significant difference in firing rates.

Basically, getting an unexpected reward is exciting. And getting an expected reward just isn’t.

In other words, getting an expected reward is about as exciting as getting a paycheck. It’s nice, of course, but it’s money that you feel entitled to, and it’s not terribly fun. Unexpected rewards are vastly different and far more powerful, even in small amounts.

Illuminas research

In 2013, Microgaming engaged research group Illuminas Global and asked that they find out why players gamble. In their final presentation on the subject, they broke down gamblers into two main categories, those who seek entertainment and those who seek the thrill of gambling. They provided us with this image, which has actual player quotes from the research.

Illuminas research

From the descriptions and the quotes, which of these players do you think would enjoy the competition of a leaderboard? Which would be turned off by it? How do you manage that?

This is the end of Part 3. In Part 4, we will look at how two other people within Microgaming feel about leaderboards and their appropriate use in the gambling world.


[1]Thanks for the definitions, Vijay Dewani!

[2] There’s a term for this: the overjustification effect. There’s a rather good Wikipedia entry on it that’s worth a read for anyone interested in learning more (note there’s no prize for further research aside from the inherent enjoyment of learning).

[3] Poker industry veterans know first-hand just how damaging rakeback and rake races can be for a business. But operators still keep offering them. They’re easy to set up, the short-term benefits are clear, short-term and long-term disbenefits are less clear, and they’re easy to slot into a budget (rake races are, at least). But they’re bad for business and they should be killed with fire.

[4] Risk, but also interactivity. Betting on football turns a punter from a spectator into a participant. That’s an interesting thought I wouldn’t mind exploring in another blog post sometime.

About the author
Headshot - round
Lydia Barbara is the head of Pegasus Gaming Solutions, Microgaming’s consulting division. Lydia has been in the gaming industry for over 12 years and is considered one of the online gaming industry’s top thinkers on poker and other forms of gaming. Connect with Lydia on LinkedIn

 

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Are Leaderboards Bad? Part 2 http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/promotions/are-leaderboards-bad-part-2/ http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/promotions/are-leaderboards-bad-part-2/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 12:09:17 +0000 http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/?p=524 This is Part 2 of a series on leaderboards. Missed Part 1? In Part 1, I travelled back to 2007 and my personal history with a type of leaderboard often used in poker, the rake race. In this segment, we’ll leave the gambling arena and see what gamification experts say about leaderboards. Second perspective: gamification experts Before I jump further ... Read More

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This is Part 2 of a series on leaderboards. Missed Part 1?

In Part 1, I travelled back to 2007 and my personal history with a type of leaderboard often used in poker, the rake race. In this segment, we’ll leave the gambling arena and see what gamification experts say about leaderboards.

Second perspective: gamification experts

Gamify Everything

Before I jump further into this, let’s take a little time to discuss what “gamification” is. Simply defined, gamification is “the use of game elements and game-design techniques in non-game contexts.”

<pedantry>Note, non-game contexts. Gamification is the process of bringing the things that work in games to motivate people in the real world. Like running a leaderboard for best-performing customer support agents, or giving out points and awarding badges for reaching weight loss goals[2]. So any time someone tells you they’ve added a gamification element to their game, what they’ve really done is added game mechanics to their game. The concept of gamification is sweeping through the online gambling industry, and that’s a bit weird – we’re just borrowing popular game mechanics from non-gambling games, not applying gamification elements. By definition, that’s impossible.</pedantry> 

An example of gamification in a business setting that you have likely tried out and probably didn’t realise was a game mechanic is LinkedIn’s profile completeness bar. It started out as a regular rectangular thermometer, but now it’s a circle that’s filling up with colour.[1]

LinkedIn profile completeness "bar"

This is mine. All-Star! Woohoo!

The LinkedIn founder later stated that this tool, which took about an hour to code, increased the average number of characters on a LinkedIn profile by 20%. How much time and effort would you put into increasing your players’ average engagement by 20%?

Kevin Werbach is a professor at The Wharton School[2] at the University of Pennsylvania and is the author of For The Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business. He literally wrote the book on gamification. He also teaches the class on it: “Gamification” on Coursera. I recommend both to anyone interested in learning more about gamification.

Leaderboards are one third of the gamification trifecta of points, badges and leaderboards (PBLs)[3]. These are the three game design elements that are most commonly used when gamifying your business. They can be used singly or together.

To quote Prof Werbach from his book: “Leaderboards are the final leg of the PBL triad, and perhaps the most troublesome. On the one hand, players often want to know where they stand relative to their peers. […] In the right situation, leaderboards can be powerful motivators. […] On the other hand, leaderboards can be powerfully demotivating. If you see exactly how far you are behind the top players, it can cause you to check out and stop trying. Leaderboards can also reduce the richness of a game to a zero-sum struggle for supremacy, which inherently turns off some people.”

Watch one of Prof Werbach’s Coursera videos on gamification, in which he talks about the risks of using PBLs when gamifying a system.

“Ugh … I just found out about this … I wanna give it a shot but if he’s got a 90k hand lead on me I have no chance.”

The above is a quote from a player in reference to the rake race I wrote about in Part 1. This is a player interested in playing poker for the company, but who may not have signed up and started because he would have been at a disadvantage to the leaders in the race. We may have lost this player entirely because he felt he couldn’t win a top position in the leaderboard – not a good outcome.

Another expert on the subject is Jane McGonigal. She is a leading game designer who dislikes the term “gamification”, and has spoken out against the movement[4]. What she said in her presentation at the Game Developers Conference 2011, Serious Games Summit, is that gamification is the equivalent of giving extrinsic awards for actions, and we should be focusing on intrinsic awards. More on that in the next part.Jane McGonigal

This is the end of Part 2. In Part 3, we look in more detail at the psychology of extrinsic vs intrinsic rewards, and more. Stay tuned!


[1]One of my favourite examples of gamifying business is from fiction. In Neal Stephenson’s excellent Reamde, the makers of an MMORPG design a system for airports to identify people entering the secured part of the airport through the exit. Apparently, the job of monitoring the out-traffic to ensure no one is moving against the stream is so boring that security guards start to phase out. With their new gamified system, players are shown a “game” in which they are trying to ensure that no goblins pass the wrong way through a one-way tunnel to the castle. The people and goblins on the bridge are simply motion-captured animations of the real traffic. Every now and then, the system would throw in a fake goblin just to keep things interesting. Every captured goblin would mean points for the player.

[2]Currently the number 3 ranked business school in the world. Prof Werbach’s no slouch.

[3]Other gamification experts sometimes say the three main game elements are points, levels and leaderboards.

[4]Prof McGonigal believes we should be focusing on what she calls “gameful design”, which basically means that we should port over the things that make games wonderful into the real world. You can learn more in her TED Talk or her book, Reality is Broken.

About the author
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Lydia Barbara is the head of Pegasus Gaming Solutions, Microgaming’s consulting division. Lydia has been in the gaming industry for over 12 years and is considered one of the online gaming industry’s top thinkers on poker and other forms of gaming. Connect with Lydia on LinkedIn

 

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Are Leaderboards Bad? http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/promotions/are-leaderboards-bad/ http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/promotions/are-leaderboards-bad/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 11:01:40 +0000 http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/?p=490 This is Part 1 of a series on leaderboards. I will be looking at leaderboards in online gaming from various perspectives. I have been operating under the assumption for the last few years that leaderboards are inherently bad. In my opinion, they’re costly, ubiquitous and, for a large portion of players, demotivating. But people continue to run them (although less ... Read More

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This is Part 1 of a series on leaderboards. I will be looking at leaderboards in online gaming from various perspectives.

I have been operating under the assumption for the last few years that leaderboards are inherently bad. In my opinion, they’re costly, ubiquitous and, for a large portion of players, demotivating. But people continue to run them (although less than they used to), and I wanted to look a bit deeper into what is actually going on with them.

To start with, what is a leaderboard? It is a ranking of players, as per some metrics, that rewards players for their placement on the ladder.

Image from blog.games.com

A CityVille leaderboard

There are essentially two different things going on with a leaderboard:

  • Competition. You’re battling against other players to reach the top.
  • Rewards. Once you reach the upper echelons, naturally you expect a little moolah as a reward.

Both are effective in some circumstances and less in others. We’ll dig a bit more deeply into that as we work through each of our perspectives on leaderboards.

First perspective: mine

Back in 2007, the company I worked for ran a poker rake race. It might have been the first online poker rake race ever; it certainly felt like a new idea at the time. The mechanics were simple: play raked hands, move up the leaderboard, win cash prizes according to your leaderboard position when the promo ends after six weeks. It seemed like the perfect promotion. Easy to set up, easy to explain, easy to update, easy to report on afterwards (or so we thought).

And the players went nuts for it. Our gross revenue shot up, although our net revenue was dragged down by the race. We had loads of new sign-ups. We had struck gold.

Current rake races run through PokerStrategy.

Current rake races run through PokerStrategy.

And so we continued them. And other poker operators caught on and started running their own. There was already a community of high-value players who chased the best bonuses – now they also chased the best rake races. The Rakeback Wars were already getting started, and our new rake races just added fuel to the flames.

We found ourselves falling into a cycle. We listened to our players, and they wanted rake races, so we continued them. They became a permanent part of our promotional mix. And then one day all the managers at the company got together and started to wonder if they were doing more harm than good, so we agreed to stop them for a while and see what happened.

Two things happened.

1. Players complained. Oh, how they complained. To quote one player: “This is absurd I will not be playing there much in Feb if no rake races.” Even players who were perfectly fine playing before we started running rake races started threatening to leave if we stopped them. One player called us “the greediest bastards around.” We were genuinely shocked by the vitriol sent our way for what was, we thought, a logical and understandable action.

2. Our revenues skyrocketed. Our first month without a rake race was our best month ever. Yes, we lost some of our high-volume players, but the rest of them made up for it and then some.

The summer decline started soon thereafter, and our revenues took the expected dip. Rather than bring back rake races, we started experimenting with other types of promotions, which had better net effect but weren’t quite as powerful as that first series of rake races. The gold rush was over.

In the intervening years, I’ve spent a fair bit of time thinking about leaderboards and what they do to players psychologically and to operators financially. I tend to think the world is better off without them. And, as I discovered when I started doing research into gamification, I’m not alone.

 

This is the end of Part 1. Stay tuned for the next installment!

About the author
Headshot - round
Lydia Barbara is the head of Pegasus Gaming Solutions, Microgaming’s consulting division. Lydia has been in the gaming industry for over 12 years and is considered one of the online gaming industry’s top thinkers on poker and other forms of gaming. Connect with Lydia on LinkedIn

 

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Women in Gaming Awards 2015 http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/thoughts/women-in-gaming-awards-2015/ http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/thoughts/women-in-gaming-awards-2015/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 14:25:15 +0000 http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/?p=498 This past Friday I won the Star of the Future award at the Women in Gaming Awards in London. It’s nice to win stuff, especially when it’s your competitors and other industry experts voting on it. I felt quite honoured. The WiG Awards (thankfully, we don’t call it WIGA) are a bit unique in that each winner has to give ... Read More

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This past Friday I won the Star of the Future award at the Women in Gaming Awards in London. It’s nice to win stuff, especially when it’s your competitors and other industry experts voting on it. I felt quite honoured.

Untitled

The WiG Awards (thankfully, we don’t call it WIGA) are a bit unique in that each winner has to give a short speech when picking up the trophy. Like most of the people there, I think, I started planning mine over dessert and coffee, and I fumbled a bit when on stage. But I have a blog! And so (drumroll please) here’s what I meant to say when I stood on stage last Friday and mumbled incoherently into the mic.

In my job, I meet a lot of operators’ management teams. And, although it’s getting better, I’m still often the only woman in the room. How often are there no women in these rooms? Although the stats on UK boardrooms are showing us that we’re approaching the government-set target of 25%, and that’s twice as good as when we last measured in 2011, it’s just not good enough. Anything less than 50% is just not good enough.

We women need to do our part in ensuring equal representation in business. My 4 recommendations to the women who want to make some waves and see equal representation across management teams in our industry:

  1. Try for that promotion even if you only satisfy 2 out of 5 of the qualifications. Your male colleagues will.
  2. Support the other women in your office. This could be in a formalised way such as a mentor/mentee relationship, or just going out of your way to congratulate someone on a job well done or wish them luck for a difficult presentation.
  3. Don’t be afraid of being branded a feminist. That term has been subverted[1] and it’s about time we take it back. If you look up the definition of feminism, you’ll find: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” Do you believe that women are equal to men, and you’re not afraid to say it? Then stand up straight and call yourself a feminist.
  4. Read and share Sheryl Sandberg’s works. It’s hard to have a discussion these days about women in the workplace without mentioning her. Her TED talk and her book Lean In are hugely popular, and rightfully so.

Let’s us women work together to enact change in our industry.

Thank you.

[1]It’s hard these days to find the word “feminist” without adjectives like “rabid”, “militant” or simply “angry”. That’s just tragic. (And it makes me a little angry.)

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The Deconstruction and Reconstruction of Brands, Part II http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/brands/the-deconstruction-and-reconstruction-of-brands-part-ii/ http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/brands/the-deconstruction-and-reconstruction-of-brands-part-ii/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 07:53:06 +0000 http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/?p=433 Not so long ago, I wrote an article for G3 on what land-based casinos should consider when moving online, The Deconstruction and Reconstruction of Brands. It has been a little while since I have published an article, so I quite proudly presented it to my husband after dinner one night and asked him to read it. When he finished, he ... Read More

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Not so long ago, I wrote an article for G3 on what land-based casinos should consider when moving online, The Deconstruction and Reconstruction of Brands. It has been a little while since I have published an article, so I quite proudly presented it to my husband after dinner one night and asked him to read it. When he finished, he said, “That’s a great article, Lydia, but I have no idea what you’re talking about with deconstructing and reconstructing brands.”

Disappointed dog

Since that conversation, I have wanted to approach the concept again, this time taking the time to explain it in more depth.

And I’ll do that with something very near and dear to my heart: food.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to get a seat at the now-closed 41 Degrees in Barcelona. One of their 41 (or so) courses was something called a liquid olive. When I tasted one, I had the most remarkable feeling sweep over me. It took me a few minutes to realise that my sense of wonder had returned, something I thought I’d lost when I first saw the Norwegian fjörds and thought, “Well, crap. Nothing can ever beat this.”

The incredible Adrià brothers, who ran 41 Degrees, launched liquid olives in the-number-one-restaurant-in-the-world-and-I-never-got-to-eat-there-which-I’ll-never-quite-get-over, El Bulli. A liquid olive is a green, spherical, gelatinous gloop that tastes like the best and most intense olive you’ve ever wished for.

It was like they found the original olive that all olives are just weak copies of, and then shared it with me. For months after, every time I’d eat an olive out of a little plastic tub I’d sigh and think “This isn’t a real olive. It’s just a metaphor of an olive. But I’ve had the real thing.”[1]

The ingenious Adrià brothers.Image from the Catalan news site Ara.

What I assume the Adrià brothers did was spend a lot of time working out what an olive really is. What is the essence of an olive? What does it mean? If someone eats an olive, what is the expectation of that experience? Now, how can we capture all that and produce it in a form that makes it better?

The reality is that they take a whole lot of olives, puree them, then take spoonfuls of the … If you really want to read about how they make them, go here.

But my point is this: if you want to create an experience that your users will dream about, and maybe even write slightly-crazed-but-enthusiastic blogs about, first you have figure out what you are about.

What is your brand’s essence? What does it mean? When someone interacts with your brand, what is their expectation of that experience? Now, how can you capture all that and produce it in a form that makes it better?

Let’s look at an example. Back when I was in university, Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) was the beer that we drank when we didn’t have money for anything nicer.[2] It was a step up from Bud Light, which was for the unwashed football-supporting masses, but a giant leap down from a proper beer like Beck’s.

Then something magical happened. In the early noughties, PBR redefined itself as a small, hard-working, almost artisanal company to make it popular to hipsters. And it workedTheir sales jumped 25% in 2009 after increasing the prices to fit the new clientele. It is now a hugely popular beer in the US. And, incredibly, they were able to leverage that success to launch into China, where they’re now selling for $44 a bottle to middle- and upper-class Chinese who don’t mind paying a lot for a premium American brew.

The beer didn’t change. Their logo[3] didn’t even change (although they did use a new one for China). But their brand identity and brand image changed. And I’d imagine it all started because a bunch of the PBR execs sat in a room and asked themselves questions like “What is the essence of PBR? What does it mean?”

If you are interested in running an internal branding workshop to see if success like PBR’s is in your brand’s potential, it’s probably best to bring in an expert to help you out. I’m not suggesting that as a way to tout for Pegasus business, but because I honestly believe that having an outsider working with you on something like this is essential. That person or people can ask all those questions that at first seem really stupid, then start to feel more and more like what you should be asking yourselves every quarter. Like, if my company’s brand were a person, how would I describe him/her? It seems silly, but think about it a bit. You can follow this particular rabbit hole down to some important truths about your company.

But don’t take my word for it. According to marketing expert Eric Thoelke on rebrands: “It’s very rarely done for aesthetic reasons and almost always done to strengthen the business to compete better with rivals or to signal a change in the direction of the company, like a merger, acquisition or spin off.” Does that sound like it could describe an online launch by a land-based casino?

To sum up, if you are contemplating a major change for your company, the first place you have to look is within. As far within as possible. Long into the deep dark olives of the soul. If you don’t, you risk two major pitfalls: misunderstanding your brand and falling into brand dissonance[4], or undervaluing some components of your brand and thus missing out on revenue opportunities.[5]

Have you seen any truly successful rebrands? Please feel free to jump into the comments.

 

[1] If you too want to try a liquid olive, go visit the Adria brothers’ Tickets in Barcelona. Please go there even if you don’t like olives; these boys are possibly the best chefs in the world. Maybe with their food you can find your lost sense of wonder. It’s a quite remarkable feeling.

[2] Pretty much always.

[3] As exemplified here, your brand is not just your logo. Your brand is your company’s personality. It is often most visibly represented by your logo, but an effective brand should operate behind and in everything you do, from your call centre’s emails to the end users all the way up to your CEO deciding whether to move ahead with that risky acquisition. If your core values are not embedded in all your company’s actions, you end up with dissonance between your brand image and brand identity, which in turn breeds mistrust. Think of Comcast. They used to advertise their great customer support. Puh-leeze.

[4] Blog post on this coming soon!

[5] Now, please don’t read this and decide to change your logo and brand identity to something entirely new, even if you believe the new branding better reflects your company’s values. I’ll talk in a later blog about the disasters that can happen if you overhaul your brand in one fell swoop.

About the Author

Lydia Barbara heads up Pegasus Gaming Solutions, Microgaming’s consulting division. She’s been involved in online gaming for over a decade, and she’s very interested in what our industry can learn from e-commerce. Connect with Lydia on LinkedIn!

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Welcome to the PGS blog! http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/uncategorized/test/ http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/uncategorized/test/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 16:12:53 +0000 http://www.pegasusgamingsolutions.com/?p=424 Every month or so, I will put up a few words about something I think is interesting. I hope you will also find it interesting. Perhaps you could even join in the comments to take the discussion further.

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Every month or so, I will put up a few words about something I think is interesting. I hope you will also find it interesting. Perhaps you could even join in the comments to take the discussion further.

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