A Wide Awake Q&A with Casino Mobile Marketing Innovator and JOINGO CEO Steve Boyle

August 5, 2015 – JOINGO CEO Steve Boyle sits down with gaming property marketing agency Wide Awake, for an in-depth Q&A on mobile technology in the casino and resort industries.

At Wide Awake we’re huge proponents of casino and resort properties embracing mobile technology to make player and guest experiences better, give them more power, learn more about player and guest behaviors, share offers and communicate more frequently and effectively with their customers.

Gone are the days of mobile apps being solely informational. Apps need to be useful, friction-reducing and interactive on casino-resort properties. Mobile devices need to start becoming mission control for guests to guide their own experience.

Because we feel this way, when different members of our team saw demos from JOINGO, both at the National Indian Gaming Association Conference and during follow-up meetings, we thought it would be great to get them to do an All Insights Q&A with us, so we talked to Steve Boyle, their CEO and a Founder.

What’s your purpose as a company?

We started this company with the vision of harnessing the power and promise of the smartphone revolution and applying it to consumer engagement. Your smartphone is your first truly personal computer. Our gaming operator customers use JOINGO to create a 1-to-1 relationship with their players and patrons. This relationship gives the gaming operator enormous insights into player behavior and preferences, and in return, gives the player access to games, offers, promotions and real value that enhances their experience with the operator.

What makes you better than your competition?

This is a very new technology and market. As a result, we don’t have what we consider to be head-2-head competition.

Bally (Scientific Games) is a name that we hear often in the gaming market. They are the biggest supplier and into everything. They have a mobile product that is focused on the distribution of their game content, which makes perfect sense given where they are focused as a company.

We are focused at a higher level and that is player engagement, bringing the player into the property more often, keeping them there longer, improving their visit experience, and encouraging them to spend more per visit. We support game content and customers who offer game content on our platform have achieved remarkable success. This said, game content is just one element of engagement.

We love pioneering thinkers and companies. Tell us your story. How did JOINGO originate?

JOINGO was conceived on the slopes of Diamond Peak back in the late 2000’s. Alex Kanwetz and I would meet for a few morning runs and share stories about what was happening in our respective industry domains. Alex is a native Nevadan and had been focused on Gaming. I was a Bay Area transplant with a background in Mobile Internet and Smartphone technologies. Alex was intrigued by the promise of smartphones and was convinced that the application of these new technologies and capabilities would unlock huge value stored within a casino’s patron database. We would be able to bring marketing to life with interactive games right on a patron’s mobile phone. The subsequent launch and popularity of the iPhone increased our urgency to get started. Once John Finney stepped in with his experience building successful tech companies, we had all of the elements to execute our plan and JOINGO was formed.

What compelled you guys to jump into the gaming/hospitality industry?

At the time, we were all living in North Lake Tahoe. As residents of Nevada, we wanted to focus on industries and segments that we could easily touch from where we were living, but would also benefit the state. Gaming was an obvious starting point due to their high level of marketing re-investment per patron, coupled with the enormous collection of profile data each of them already had on their patrons. We were able to tap into existing Customer Relationship Management profile information, segment, and send messaging and offers within a matter of days, rather than starting from ground zero and building a database one patron at a time.

How receptive to new technology have you found the gaming industry?

There are definite visionaries, risk takers, and early adopters. One of our first customers that understood the value immediately was American Casino & Entertainment Properties (ACEP). They had been working to achieve this level of personalization and immediacy for some time and had experimented with many methods, none of which enabled them to achieve their vision. Once we showed them what we were doing and where we were headed, they cut right to the question as to why they should trust a small startup company to deliver this element of their strategy. When you are small, trust has to be the foundation of your relationships. We were lucky that the decision makers were willing to take that risk and decided to start down the road with us. We are now working with ACEP on a refresh of that original application that is more contemporary in design.

At this point, we believe we’re beyond the early adopter stage of this market. Most properties recognize that they need to have some level of mobile solution and mobile is an imperative. It’s no longer a question, it’s just a matter of how far will they take it – a mobile optimized website, mobile app, or a full-scale mobile engagement strategy.

Give us the top three reasons properties should care about JOINGO.

We believe that we are the leader in the mobile engagement space, certainly in gaming.

Properties can never know enough about their players. Mobile engagement will give them new and deeper insights into player behavior and what drives them to act. For instance, our customers using location-based solutions can actually see the correlation between their players’ view of an in-app offer and the resulting property visit.

Properties need a channel to reach their patrons 24/7 wherever they are. At home, at work, in-venue, at their competitors’ venues, JOINGO can help an operator contact their patrons instantly with positive feedback on views and actions. If a property needs to illicit an immediate response, perhaps to sell out that night’s show tickets, they can target that message to patrons who are in the vicinity and able to act on that offer.

Demographics are changing and operators need to change with them in order to survive and thrive. Marketing and engagement methodologies tried and true for Boomers do not work on Gen X, Gen Y or Millennials. Mobile, self-service, experience driven, and instant gratification are the key phrases that define the next big wave of consumers.

Sometimes we hear concern about players adopting new technology and communication methods. What are your player adoption numbers so far? What is the key to adoption? Are there certain players adopting faster than others?

We have some great player adoption case studies and have been able to compare and contrast the various approaches taken by our customers to engage their patron populations. Some are killing it, some are chipping away. While player adoption numbers vary, we have customers reaching more than 30% adoption in the first year. One of the misconceptions we hear all of the time is that adoption is driven by giving away free stuff to join or download. Free stuff can drive downloads but does not drive long term engagement. Our most successful customers have woven the mobile experience into the fabric of the gaming visit. Instead of giving $10 free play to a player because they earned it last month, give that $10 in free play immediately when they achieve a goal or objective that benefits the business. Short term offers, flash sales of unused inventory, and reminders of events and promotions can all be used to generate what we call FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out.

Another interesting benefit of mobile is its ability to reach uncarded players. As you know, carded player rates vary by property. We have a customer who claims 90% of their players are carded and we have a customer who claims that 40% of their customers are carded. The property with 40% carded play is only able to market to 40% of their customer base. What about the other 60%? Well, the beauty of a mobile application is that it creates the connection to the player even without them offering up any of their PII (Personally Identifiable Information). We can push messages to them, we can potentially see their travel patterns with GPS fencing, we can potentially know their visitation patterns with location technologies [GPS, WiFi, iBeacon], we can dip into advertising databases and see what websites they frequent and use this information to build a demographic profile. All of this before they give us a player card number, address, phone number, or even their name.

Why is your platform and model better than a property developing their own custom solution?

A custom solution implies custom code. Custom code is what every property and every marketing department should try to avoid. Whether it’s developed internally or externally, custom code has schedule, cost, quality, and maintenance risks. Every bug in your custom code is there for you to find. On the other hand, products used by many have already been vetted by others and your chance of hitting an issue are exponentially smaller.

If you have an idea that is new and novel, then by all means, spec a project and spin up some custom development. When you review the spectrum of services required to deliver a full solution, it will be obvious that much, perhaps 75%, of that full solution already exists and is proven in the market. Why increase the cost, scope and risk of the project by 3x in order to build everything custom? Then what happens with V1.5? It’s a common misconception that the project ends when the App is published. This is just the beginning. Every digital touchpoint with the consumer requires constant care and evolution.

When selecting partners it is best to work with vendors who are open. Don’t deploy a game content platform which is closed to 3rd party games, don’t deploy a mobile product which is closed to 3rd party components. JOINGO is completely open. It can be deployed as a turn-key solution, act as the platform to host custom components, or be integrated into an existing application. Much of the time, JOINGO customers can integrate 3rd party components into their mobile solution within a matter of minutes without an update to the AppStore. This is a radically different application architecture and we believe this is the best of both worlds.

Wide Awake’s philosophy about mobile apps for properties is that they are only useful if they’re useful—utility is king. They should be thought of as a tool to make a player’s/visitor’s experience better and provide some benefit to them. Do you agree and why?

Absolutely, the objective is to anticipate the needs and friction points along the player’s journey and give them control. Coincidentally, Gen Y’rs and Millennials demand control over their time and experience. This is one of the challenges facing service-oriented industries going forward.

One common friction point is that casinos can be difficult to navigate, so we offer features that help players find what they are looking for. GameFinder uses interactive maps that allow players to locate their preferred game, and can even send players an alert when a seat is open at their favorite table. Wayfinding uses the familiar “blue dot” to provide turn-by-turn navigation within the property. Getting help from host services can also be initiated at the touch of a button.

To create additional benefits for the player, we have introduced the concept of in-app meta games, used to “gamify” the visit experience. Operators can create challenges that reward players for experiencing more elements of the property, such as a specific game, amenity or retail activity.

Give us a few examples of ways properties can use JOINGO to make the customer experience better. One for a casino-focused property, one for a resort property filled with amenities.

Our casino customers who are working to improve the player experience are attacking the friction points within a visit. Surprisingly, these are pretty obvious and fairly universal. A Digital Players Card removes the need to print duplicates on each visit. Mobile access to account information and offers removes the need to queue at the club desk. I mentioned Gamefinder before. Well it can help a player find their favorite game, an unoccupied seat, and game recommendations based upon past play. In-app redemption of freeplay removes the need for a player to fumble with the card reader display. Host interaction such as drink ordering or requests for help can be initiated and completed within the app.

Resort customers are providing one-button access to room, spa, dining, golf, even valet services that are connected with the patron’s identity and are automatically populated with their personal details, history and preferences. Nothing is more annoying to a VIP than to have to type in or speak their loyalty card number in order to redeem an offer. These should be 1-click operations.

We’ve talked with you a little about experience design and how important it is to consider the “customer journey” when it comes to creative technology like JOINGO. Talk to us a little about that.

What we like to do is work with our customers to define a set of player categories based upon their visit patterns and level of play. We find that these do not always fit within the typical player segmentation models being used for player reinvestment. For each of the categories we can walk through the lifecycle of the player from first visit to lost contact and identify the points in the cycle where there is opportunity to build loyalty, reinforce positive behaviors, create a visit, reduce churn, or draw a player into re-engagement. At the surface this appears complex and a daunting process to operate, but most of this can be automated.

At the same time, we can analyze the player visit and optimize the experience while on property. Upon arrival if the line at the front desk is long, players can use their app to check-in and receive an alert when their room is ready. Once settled in, they don’t have to search to plan what they’d like to do, they can view current promotions and easily book dining reservations, spa services or other amenities with the touch of a button. On the casino floor, players can use GameFinder to locate their favorite game. There’s no need to flag down a server to order a drink, or line up at a kiosk to view loyalty status or awards – everything can be done from within the player’s app.

What does a property that’s adopted JOINGO look like five years from now? How are their players and guests using it? How has it made the property better?

Progressive properties which have gone “all in” on mobile will see 50-75% of their patron population connected in real-time to their brand. They will see shorter queues, optimized floors and property layouts, higher utilization of property assets, and lower expenses for direct marketing. They will also see more of the younger generations participate, which will drive new and different gaming experiences.

Just from a pioneer’s and innovator’s perspective, generally speaking, what should properties be thinking about in general as they try to evolve and grow new customers?

This is a broad question and I’d address it in short term vs. long term. In the short term, we believe gaming properties need to shift their marketing mindset from player investment based upon past performance to one of player investment based upon player potential in terms of total lifetime value. Identify those players with the most potential and reward them immediately and in the moment.

In the longer term, this shift in all service based industries to one where the customer calls the shots and is in control of their experience is one that gaming operators should embrace. It will increase player delight, increase utilization of games and amenities, potentially lower expenses, and satisfy the next generations of players.

What do properties look like in 10 years?

The mobile revolution will happen very fast. In 10 years we will be talking about how the “internet of everything” has changed casino operations and the gaming experience. Once everything is online, the in-venue and off-property experiences will be merged into one. Innovative game publishers such as Gamblit are already starting us down this path with games that can be played anywhere and will take a wager in a legal jurisdiction. The traditional casino floor may look more like a lounge with players using their own devices to play. Rather than sitting at a gaming console they will connect with their own device to a gaming network, allowing them to play poolside, from their room, or wherever they choose.

What other new technologies are you seeing out there that the gaming industry could benefit from?

We are focused on the application of mobile and internet to the gaming and hospitality industries. Within gaming, the move to the cloud and mobility are still in their infancy. Cloud based services, BYOD based entertainment, in-venue micro-location services through use of iBeacon and WiFi technologies, and host mobility are all areas where the gaming industry could be leading rather than following.

Any other thoughts?

As you can see, we see a huge opportunity for the application of Internet and Mobile technology to the gaming industry and the biggest benefit will be an improvement to player experience and delight. Traditionally, player experience has been viewed as the shared responsibility of marketing and operations. We see more properties assigning a single person or group with the ownership of the player experience. We also see digital agencies as a critical resource in helping operators navigate the many options and technologies made available through mobile. Agencies with the capacity to move beyond Facebook pages and websites will be valuable partners as mobile expands through the gaming ecosystem.

Stephen Boyle is a Founder and CEO of JOINGO, a San Jose based company specializing in mobile customer engagement. With an exceptional track record of building businesses, producing and integrating new technologies, Mr. Boyle brings more than 25 years of experience on the leading edge of computer technology. As a Co-Founder and Vice President of Engineering at Unwired Planet, Phone.com and Openwave Systems, he was a pioneer of the Mobile Internet and was instrumental in developing many of the technologies that allow mobile devices to connect to the Internet today. He has been granted more than 30 patents in the domain of mobile/cellular data applications, with several more patents pending.


JOINGO is a mobile technology company based in San Jose, CA with offices in Las Vegas. JOINGO’s patented technology targets smartphones and tablets using the latest in apps, customer data, location-based services, mobile gaming and more. JOINGO allows brands to reach their patrons in real-time, wherever they are, with highly personalized and interactive mobile marketing campaigns that drive increased reach, loyalty, and revenue.

Read the full article on the Wide Awake website.