Jerry Epstein is a recognized leader in marketing communications, spending three decades leading companies with innovative strategies for brand development, new product launches and marketing communications for many casino hotels and integrated resorts. Along with co-founder Bill Paulos, Epstein operates Engaged Nation, a company specializing in gamification to create attention and loyalty for any casino brand.
GGB: When did gamification really become a thing?
Epstein: The concept is quite old. You might remember—I do—S&H Green Stamps or Plaid Stamps. You’d go to the market and they would gamify it by giving you Green Stamps that you’d put in a book and take to a retail redemption center.
Inside and outside the casino industry, gamification has been viewed as “pay for play.” So to a certain extent, a players club program is gamification. Other applications are points for your credit card use, airline miles and the like.
But the modern way that we see it is you’re paying people for their investment. You’re rewarding them and driving them to your property ultimately to generate incremental visits and revenue.
Why has this taken so long to get a foothold in the casino industry?
Everyone says they want to be a leader, but they don’t want to be first. Gamification a very misunderstood and often misused term. It’s not just slapping a logo on a game; it’s offering an experience to a player to keep them coming back to the property. There are a lot of different ways you can implement these programs, and the casino industry is just starting to realize how powerful they can be.
What’s the theory behind this game play?
We immerse them in the experience. It’s very much like what the casino industry is trying to create on the floor—have fun in an immersive experience that is rewarding and challenging. When you put it together in the right way, you’re bringing people in or online and we’re educating them about the property so they actually become brand ambassadors. And for their investment of time—they do have fun while they’re doing it—we reward them with virtual currency or instant rewards like a drawing entry that drives business.
Sounds like there is real science behind this.
For sure! Gamification is changing motivational behavior to the desired outcome of the casino. And to get this desired result, the casino needs to determine what the goal is. Is it reactivation of old customers, acquisition of new customers? It really is a science.
So gamification allows a casino operator to touch his customer on an ongoing basis, even when they’re not at the casino?
Funny, but just a couple of years ago lots of casinos were saying, “My baby boomer customer doesn’t engage in technology.” Well, that’s absolute nonsense. They engage just as much as or even more than millennials.
Even if they did admit that they were tech savvy, they said they didn’t want to engage them at home, they wanted them in the casino. Today, a mobile device is a portable entertainment center. Do you want them to engage with you or play games with someone else? The opportunity to keep them connected with your brand, with your messages on an ongoing basis is really the foundation of what we call continuous engagement.