As Engaged Nation celebrates its 10th anniversary this month, the gamified marketing company is set to unveil 14 new games at Global Gaming Expo and another 40 by the end of the year.
The company’s games, which serve as digital marketing for casinos, include a dozen new skill-based games such as bowling, driving, horse racing, hockey, billiards and pinball that can played on phones or computers. Players play for virtual currency to win such prizes as free play, rooms, discounts on food and beverage concert tickets and entry into drawings on the property.
The company has become a pioneer in digital marketing by engaging existing casino customers, reactivating dormant ones, and luring new customers into properties to generate additional revenue.
Engaged Nation currently offers 35 games, ranging from skill-based games and brain teasers to puzzles and casino games such as poker, keno, roulette, blackjack and others. It now also offers NFL picks and college basketball and fantasy sports props.
“It’s evolution. We want to continue to offer games to the marketplace that broaden the appeal for what we do,” said Engaged Nation CEO Jerry Epstein. “Skill-based games provide another challenge. Down the road we will have competitions, and we have leaderboards and trophies. We (want to) take it to the next level by creating an atmosphere of healthy competition.”
Healthy completion increases engagement and gives players a greater sense of pride, Epstein said. It drives them to the property with bragging rights.
“Players get bragging rights through telling other people. They become brand ambassadors,” Epstein said. “It’s a great new viral customer acquisition tool for properties.”
Epstein said it’s about evolving as a company and as gamified marketers. Gamification isn’t taking one game and slapping a logo on it but offering players games that get them emotionally connected to the casino, he said.
“Most people aren’t doing it (onsite) now,” Epstein said. “Most gamified marketers are just doing it online.”
When Engaged Nation first launched its gamification platform, casinos didn’t offer coupons or other rewards, Epstein said. The analysis of what casinos do offer, however, is a vital role the company plays.
“If a property gives out a $10 free play, is it a profitable visit or is it just a visit? We learned the hard way about strategically put together the reward you are giving. A lot of gamified marketing will put up an ad and offer $10 in free play trying to drive new visits and the casino will go back, do the analysis and see they lost money because people hit on it.”
Epstein co-founded the company with Bill Paulos, who has more than 30 years’ experience building and managing hotel and casino properties in Nevada, California, Pennsylvania and Australia. He was the architect of both the Excalibur Casino & Hotel and Luxor Casino & Hotel and oversaw the establishment of Cannery Casino Resorts and its properties in Las Vegas and Pennsylvania.
Epstein, an expert in marketing communications, has consulted with more than 10 major Las Vegas casino properties, including the Excalibur, the Luxor, Mandalay Bay, the MGM Grand and New York-New York.
The two had a history of working together. It was natural to join forces to form Engaged Nation.
“We realized that the casino industry, especially in the local and regional scenarios, was as much as a marketing play as anything else,” Paulos says.
“How do you market to people and get them in the door? How do you service them so they enjoy themselves and come back to your property, and not the one next door?
“We realized it was a completely different paradigm than the Strip. That is how we began to evolve.”
At the time, digital marketing was growing. The challenge was how to turn online engagement internet into property visits, Epstein said.
“That was the foundation of Engaged Nation or as Bill puts it, clicks to bricks,” Epstein said. “I’m so proud of the fact that we are ahead of the game.”
It wasn’t an easy sell for the industry at first, since casinos didn’t want to give anything away for free, Epstein said. It started with online currency that couldn’t be redeemed.
“No one was doing it yet. When we said digital engagement back then, people’s eyes would glaze over,” Epstein said. “They didn’t understand it. We told them, ‘we want to drive customers to your property, so give them 50 percent off a buffet or $5 of free play.’ We got a lot of pushback initially. “
“We had the great fortune to have a great business partner and to be able to build our product from the standpoint of a casino operator,” Epstein said. “And we helped popularize gamification,” a term they chose after hearing it used one day.
The idea was to modify player behavior with a little bit of incentive psychology.
“When you win or earn something, the perceived value of getting a reward is much greater than just getting it cheaply,” Epstein said. “We just don’t take a look at the value of the offer but also the value of the experience and the emotional bond created.”
Engaged Nation has been honored for its work. The company’s REACH system recently received Martech’s Breakthrough award for Best Interactive Content Platform.
“We’re feeling really good about life,” Epstein said. “We’re just coming into our own.” The company now has 22 full-time employees working out of its Las Vegas offices.
Engaged Nation works with Las Vegas and tribal casinos and is working on a number of deals with Strip properties and other casinos across the country, deals that will be announced by the end of the year, Epstein said.