Are online gaming firms losing younger players at the first hurdle?

Are online gaming firms losing younger players at the first hurdle?

In recent years, online gaming has become a booming industry – having held steady and even undergone growth in the face of overall market decline. In 2019 however, two things changed; in May the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) implemented strict new age verification laws, and the sector saw it’s first-ever fall in GGY – a 0.6% drop to £5.3bn.

So what’s changed?

Previously, operators had 72 hours to carry out their age verification checks. Following the changes, operators must verify customer age before they can deposit funds into their account or gamble. Whilst the new rules are of course an important step to protect minors, it may have had unintended consequences for both onboarding procedures and UX – particularly for younger, but legitimate, players.


Many operators still rely on laborious manual checks to onboard new players, with processing times taking hours or even days – quite an ask, even ignoring the fact players have first been forced to gather and send the various documents they need for verification. Furthermore, what about players who are unable to prove their identities through traditional methods?

For younger players, the world isn’t what it once was. More and more people in the UK are living at home with their parents, and for longer, than in previous generations (a 46% increase for 20-34 year olds over the last two decades, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS)). This means that many don’t pay their own utility bills, haven’t taken out mortgages, and may lack all the foundations of a traditional credit footprint. Even for those that do have some of the required elements, in our online world they may not have any paper statements to prove it. Without this kind of data, many young people are unable to prove their identities through standard means – making the verification process at best even more laborious, or at worst impossible.

Furthermore, online gaming has become increasingly mobile – quite literally. 50% of all online gamers surveyed by the UKGC had used their phones to do so in the last four weeks, an increase of 6% from 2018. The increase was most marked in younger age groups, with 76% of 18-24 year olds, and 72% of 25-34 year olds having done so. Comparatively, mobile phone use was as low as 14% amongst those aged 65+. Reflecting the increased use of mobile devices, younger players are also far more likely to bet outside of their home – can you imagine trying to fulfil manual verification requirements whilst on your phone, let alone on the move?

Unsurprisingly, in-play bets (once a thriving sector for younger players) have decreased in both the 18-24 and 25-34 categories (40% to 37% and 38% to 30% respectively), whilst mostly increasing or remaining steady amongst older age groups. Predominantly an online activity focused on sporting events, the nature of in-play bets means many players may well be signing up with operators with the intention of placing a bet immediately – something that can now only be achieved if they also manage to have their identity immediately verified.

Even amongst players who do successfully sign up with an operator, the chances they will remain with them for longer than a year are extremely low – in a recent survey by Feefo, 96% of respondents said they switch operators each year, with 25% of 18-34-year-olds admitting to switching as frequently as every two months. This willingness to jump ship is also reflected in account ownership – according to the UKGC 56% of players had more than online account, with 20% of 18-24 year olds holding five or more accounts.

What does this mean for the future of gaming?

In a hugely competitive market with hundreds of operators, and one where the slightest friction in onboarding or UX can mean failure, the outlook could feel bleak. There is hope, however.

Whilst most respondents in Feefo’s survey admitted to regularly switching, 93% nonetheless claimed they could be persuaded to stick with a favourite operator. Many players also show a surprising willingness to engage with firms – 23% of online gamers follow a gaming company on social media, rising to 44% amongst 18-24 year olds. Research has also shown that younger players have a greater belief that sports bets are profitable, with 12.2% of 18-24 year olds playing with more than £100 per month.

If younger players are more willing to engage with operators as well as both more active and optimistic in quick-fire areas of play, then attracting them in the first place shouldn’t be too much of an issue. But as consumers increasingly expect to be able to transact online quickly and without difficulty, how can operators make sure they don’t lose these players before they’ve even managed to sign up?

Thankfully, firms no longer need to depend on traditional data sets or manual processes to onboard new players. As the world has moved online, so too have our identities – and it’s these online and digital footprints that hold the key to transforming the onboarding process. By combining social media data with automated document validation, facial authentication, and address verification, player identities can be verified in real-time; taking as little as minutes or even seconds to complete. Not only does this provide players with a seamless onboarding experience, but these automated checks are also a fraction of the cost of their manual counterparts. 

For the world of gaming, it’s a win-win. 

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