Comtrade Gaming: reliability, research and tackling migration challenges

As we’re going to delve into the topic of migration, what would you say are some of the primary factors in an operator choosing to migrate platforms?

The main reason why operators choose to migrate is they feel their business can’t grow any further with their current software provider. It’s a familiar story across the industry and several underlying factors contribute to this lack of growth. One of the most important ones is individual attention to meet an operator’s specific needs. Many platform vendors have a business model of “one size fits all”. As they have been hugely successful with that model, they have no reason to change it, and why would they? They may promise they can offer bespoke development but in truth very few have much appetite for this and even less who can actually deliver it.

However, for an operator that wants to keep growing, it is this individual attention and specifically bespoke development that they see as key to their success and way of differentiating themselves in the market.

Reliability is also a key reason for operators wanting to migrate. An iGaming platform or PAM as it’s called in the USA runs the entire online operation. It needs to run 24/7, any downtime means the operator is losing money.

While brands cannot afford to be let down by their tech, downtime is unavoidable. How do you best plan a date where players will be least inconvenienced? And could you elaborate on the importance of sticking to timelines and the dangers of delays?

We have never accepted that downtime is unavoidable. We architected our platform in a way so that every upgrade is delivered on a no-downtime basis. For us, that release cycle is every three weeks where our clients get our roadmap releases and the specific features or functionality they have requested.

When it comes to the actual migration day a certain amount of downtime is inevitable. For Comtrade Gaming this is typically an eight-hour period, that is it. Eight hours as a one-off, that has already been communicated to players, and the platform is switched over! There is a huge amount of project work and planning that is done to make that happen, anything from 5-8 months before the actual migration.

But once live we are then in “always on” mode. We provide an SLA of a 4-minute response time for any incidents and 1 1-hour fix time for any major faults.

How do you work with a client to allay any fears when it comes to migration?

We demonstrate to the client our experience and focus in this area. We present them with user cases from previous projects, and most importantly, we ask them to speak with our existing clients. We don't hand-select these clients; instead, we invite them to contact as many as they like. This way, they can hear firsthand about the migration experience and equally importantly learn how the partnership is helping their business on an ongoing basis.

What are the key factors to success that Comtrade Gaming considers concerning such activity?

It’s the experience that I mentioned and the huge number of resources we put into our migration projects. We have always been a company that is technology and service-focused rather than sales-focused. For a typical migration, the project is led by a project manager with around 30 people involved. The manager is supported by deputies, along with a team of business analysts, developers, and testers working in the background. They are solely dedicated to that project and many of that team will stay attached to that specific client post migration. Every migration project begins with gaining a deep understanding of the current business operations and ensuring there will be complete continuity after the migration. In many cases, there is an immediate opportunity to improve the current operations or increase efficiency and automate some of those processes as part of the initial migration project.

We won't proceed with the migration until we ensure everyone is satisfied and extremely confident that there will be no impact on an operator's existing player base.

In most cases, we observe an immediate improvement in revenues as the operational teams gain access to much better marketing tools and overall confidence in a highly stable system.

There has been a distinct shift across the online space in recent years, as an in-house trend has given way to the rise of the third party. Why do you believe that this has been the case?

The online gaming market is extremely competitive, and it’s the marketing where online operators really have to focus their attention.

It’s very hard to be a great marketing company and a great technology company at the same time. Platforms are hugely expensive to develop, even more expensive to maintain, and extremely difficult to consistently deliver new features whilst maintaining stability. Only for the very largest operators will the economics stack up and even then, they are usually paying more but they see that as a cost of being completely independent. It’s very hard for an operator to push into new markets with their tech, the day-to-day demands of staying competitive in the current ones always take the focus from tech teams being able to deliver for new markets.

Managing platforms demands an extensive pool of technical and domain knowledge from a sizable team. The challenge arises when team members depart from the company, their knowledge goes with them. It's not cost-effective for an operator to maintain a large tech team just to safeguard that knowledge, especially when serving only their operation.

Could you talk us through the importance of ensuring that a steady stream of updates is evidenced throughout the duration of a contract? And how does Comtrade go about developing and implementing these?

If updates are being measured by contract periods, I would suggest that their service may no longer be suitable for business. As mentioned earlier, we operate on a three-week sprint cycle. Each of our operators receives a new update every three weeks, with no downtime—amounting to 17 updates per year. Additionally, we provide patch releases for more urgent needs on a client-specific basis.

Behind every new feature or piece of functionality, there is a business need. Our project teams are assigned to individual clients and work closely with them to ensure we deliver solutions aligned with their unique business strategies.

Comtrade recently stressed that “live operators is our main focus”. Why is this the case? And are there any jurisdictions that the company is actively targeting more than others?

We have always been operator-driven rather than individually market-focused.

The reason we focus on existing operators is these are the ones that can most appreciate our attention to detail and focus when it comes to platforms.

As an example, please bear with me on this, if you walk around New York, you will see a thousand hot dog stands, they are cheap to set up and all are pretty much identical individual businesses, but the equipment does exactly what it needs to for a small business. The company that sells the equipment sells them repeatedly at scale, but the product doesn’t change.

At the other end of the scale, there are high-end restaurants, ones which not only operate in New York but have then expanded to multiple states or countries. These guys need state-of-the-art bespoke commercial kitchens to run their operation and to be able to expand. In the world of gaming platforms, this is who we cater to.

What tip would you give for someone migrating platforms?

Do your research carefully, ensure the company feels like a good long-term strategic fit and is aligned with your company, and most importantly whoever you choose, ask to speak to their existing clients, the ones you select not the ones they serve up.