In the second part of our interview with Buffalo Studios’ Michael Marchetti, he discusses his attitude towards product development and his plans for real-money gaming.
From its early beginnings the game has proven its staying power, but Marchetti is uneasy describing it as a finished product. Instead he refers to Bingo Blitz as a ‘live service’, capable of evolving with player need. “It’s gone through a number of iterations to get to this stage after an initial development of six or seven months to create a skeleton product. I think one of the big differences between our business and a traditional gaming business in Europe is that we run our products as a live service,” he says.
Buffalo’s live service approach means the tendency of operators, of all-stripes, to launch a game and move on is anathema. “We don’t launch a bingo, poker or roulette product then shift our focus to marketing,” he says.
“We need to constantly innovate to update and enhance the core product and content – obviously marketing and finding new ways to acquire customers is part of our lifeblood but an equal amount of energy, time and dollars is also spent on continuing to develop the product. Not just visually and on the back-end, but also in bringing it to other platforms.”
This marks the beginning of Buffalo Studios’ big push to address what has been seen as one of the company’s main weaknesses; its lack of a mobile offering. Marchetti claims that the launch of Bingo Rush – a pared-down variant of Bingo Blitz – on iOS was always part of the plan. Yet the fact that Bingo Blitz is set to quickly follow, having been submitted to Apple for approval at the beginning of July, with Buffalo hopeful of launching in the App Store by the end of the month, suggests that the company has been forced to push forward with its mobile launch in order to continue the momentum it has built up in its two years. Especially after competitors have begun to develop rival offerings, with Zynga Bingo the most notable.
However, despite Zynga Bingo hitting a peak of over 10 million monthly actives, it had fallen to 6.7 million at the time of writing, with 0.86 million DAU suggesting it was only retaining around 12% of players day-to-day. Marchetti feels these numbers justify Buffalo’s focused approach.
“Given the quality and size of team you need to make a single successful product and continue to run it as a live service”, he says. “We believe in creating products that have longer shelf lives and the ability to build up a community around them- a community that can be monetised and engaged over a long period of time. Having lots of products doesn’t fulfil that goal as much as having a small, focused suite of products.” Marchetti adds: “The gaming business has always been competitive
– I’ve been in this sector for more than twelve years now – I find that people who continue to produce quality, innovative products, and focus on the customer, and where the customer is going in terms of platforms, are most likely to be successful.”
Welcome to the real world
This desire to innovate and continue to move onto the most popular platforms goes as far as pushing Buffalo towards launching a real-money offering as the lines between social gaming and real-money gambling converge.
While Zynga was initially keen to deny any plans to cross over before hints at land-based partnerships and its interest in the Ongame Poker Network showed otherwise, Marchetti is candid about his interest in crossing the divide:
“Obviously it’s a new opportunity and I think the convergence between these two industries is fascinating, mainly because of the players and the dynamics of these games of chance. I don’t think players looking to win cash are our targets – I think in many cases the people trying to win real-money have different mindsets, and could be a different player to someone who just likes the chance to win.”
However, he is keen to highlight the potential obstacles Buffalo would face, saying that “our expertise is not in the regulatory environment and framework that comes with being a real-money gambling operator, and I by no means underestimate the complexity of that. There are a lot of companies that say they are going to go into real-money gambling that perhaps don’t appreciate the challenges and restrictions of that.”
These “challenges” have not prevented Marchetti from dipping his toes in the waters of real-world gaming. A partnership with the Riviera Hotel & Casino has offered Bingo Blitz players the chance to win a trip to its casino, to play in bingo tournaments.
“[The Riviera is] the largest bingo operator on the Vegas strip”, begins Marchetti. “We’ve always thought that there is a lot of overlap between people that play bingo for real in a hall, and those who play online. There is a natural opportunity for us to do cross-promotion here,” he says.
Buffalo is currently analysing the customer data produced by the promotion to, “see how we can improve on things”, and is certain, according to Marchetti, to look at more opportunities to work with the Rivieira and other land-based casinos in the future.
Buffalo Studios still only operates three products – two if you count Bingo Rush as a variant of Bingo Blitz – and continues to be run by the core team which left EA to start the business. In a career where he has moved from law to investment banking, helped establish and float a business before taking charge of EA’s mobile product development before moving over to take the reins at Buffalo, Marchetti seems to appreciate the continuity his current role offers:
“We’re really excited about what we’re doing – I love it. The market’s going to continue to evolve rapidly and we feel like we’re in a really great position from the technology which we’ve built both online and as we move to mobile.
“We feel we’re at the cutting edge to continue to build a really high-quality offering focused around consumers and what they want,” he explains. With Marchetti’s Power 25 plaudits praising Bingo Blitz’s understanding of the customer, it is easy to see how its focus on the end player remains essential for the bingo specialist as it moves into mobile and, with real-money gambling on the horizon, possibly beyond.