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    GPWA Dan is offline Former Staff Member
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    Default Affiliate Manager Interview Series | Mark Podd, Royal Panda

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    You've worked in the online gambling industry for the last three years, but you started your career as a journalist in the video game industry. What was the best part of working in that industry? And why did you ultimately decide to leave it?

    Iíve always enjoyed video games, and just being part of that industry was something I loved throughout my time there (especially early on). But that being said, as I developed an understanding for the job, developing my existing skills and adding new ones to my skill set was very satisfying. So I was fortunate enough to take plenty of positives from my time in video games.

    But video games journalism isnít something you want to do forever, and Iíd been getting some interesting offers from iGaming companies. So when one came along that I found too good to turn down, I was on my way. And besides, itís nice to have video games back as a hobby.

    What are some of the major similarities between the video game industry and the online gambling industry? What are some of the major differences?

    I think as an entertainment industry, our consumers have similar expectations when it comes to things like quality of service, value for money (both long term and short term), variation of games and novelty value.

    But in other ways weíre very different from video games. If you look at most worthwhile online casinos, theyíll normally offer games from Microgaming, or NetEnt, or both. Whereas something like an Xbox or PlayStation console will always have a certain number of games you canít play anywhere else.

    But in a way, thatís good for us. It encourages us to differentiate ourselves from our competitors in other ways, whether thatís by offering more favorable bonus terms, more eye-catching promotions, superior customer service and affiliate deals, or suchlike. And likewise, it means our players can continue to play their favorite games if they do switch casinos. So if you know what youíre doing, you arrive at a situation where everyone benefits.

    Obviously there has been a great deal of debate recently in the gaming community about the role of women. What are your thoughts on the "Gamer Gate" controversy? Do you think there could be any parallels in the gambling industry?

    Well, aside from the obvious fact that itís completely unacceptable to harass female professionals simply because theyíre female professionals working in that particular industry (especially abuse on that kind of scale), I actually find it saddening. Video games, much like online casino, essentially exist to bring people pleasure. So for people to use that as a platform to spread such views is very disappointing.

    With regards to something akin to GamerGate specifically happening in our industry, though, I think weíre probably at less of a risk because of the way we present ourselves to our audience; a high-ranking person in the iGaming industry is less likely to be exposed to the same level of publicity a studio head or a popular commentator or critic would be in the video games industry. I also think the way our communities work would hopefully hamper that as well.

    But that doesnít mean it couldnít happen in other forms. Ultimately, youíre still talking about deep-rooted prejudice. And while environmental factors unique to videogames may facilitate that to a greater degree, the fact of the matter is these things can manifest themselves in any number of high- and low-profile ways (such as female customer service staff or croupiers being harassed). So itís something we need to be alert to, and be prepared to respond to quickly and robustly if it does happen.

    Video gaming obviously has a huge community, and as a journalist, you were a big part of that community. Do you find that online gambling has the same sense of community? How does Royal Panda work to build relationships with members of that community?

    One of the great things about the Internet is the way it brings together people who have a shared passion. And from what Iíve experienced so far, there are a fair number of sustainable communities dedicated to online casino and other forms of online gambling.

    As far as online casino goes specifically, the vibe and the way those communities work is very different from something like video games. Video games tend to revolve more around multiplayer games, where playing alongside your friends is an integral part of the experience. Whereas online casino tends to be more about single-player gameplay (although things like communal chat in live casino is bringing a stronger social vibe to it, even if youíre still essentially playing against the house). And naturally, that affects the way communities interact with each other. But I think you can draw comparisons in terms of the passion of those communities for both the subject matter and the communities themselves.

    And online community is something we take seriously at Royal Panda. We donít just wait for our customers to contact us with questions or complaints. We have members of staff who will check gambling forums and player review sites to see whatís being said and see if there are any questions or criticisms we can answer.

    You've been the director of Royal Panda for about a year now. What was it about the site that enticed you to take the position?

    Well, Iíd already gotten to know some of the people working on the project through my dealings with the iGaming industry, and their vision for the project looked very promising. Furthermore, as someone who enjoys going over things in detail, picking apart documents, etc., things like the regulatory side of the job, drafting terms and conditions and procedural documents, and so forth appealed to me as well.

    One of your main job responsibilities is ensuring that Royal Panda is complying with gambling regulations in various jurisdictions. How difficult is it to keep up with the changing regulatory landscape? How much of your time is spent making sure that you have all the company's ducks in a row, so to speak?

    It really varies from country to country, but the key is preparing yourself properly. Obviously, that means enlisting the services of respectable legal advisers, but it can also mean printing off the relevant regulations and reading them in bed in the evening. Now donít get me wrong, that can be a lot of work: When we were going through some of the U.K. regulations, youíd be forever rifling through documents that could be 50, 60 or even 100+ pages long ó but the good news is that once you are up to speed, itís just a matter of keeping an ear to the ground for changes.

    What have you learned from building an online casino brand from the ground up? What have the biggest challenges been?

    The biggest challenge by far was building a brand that really stood out. First, you need to identify a concept you feel your target audience will respond to, then you need to set about working out what its strong points are and formulating that into a quick-to-grasp message. And then thereís the small matter of putting it all together, testing it, analyzing the feedback, improving it and so forth. And of course, that means putting the right people in the right places.

    Itís certainly been a lot of work, but itís very rewarding when that hard work pays off.

    Royal Panda launched in March 2014. What have you learned since your launch? If you could go back in time, would you change anything you did in your first year?

    I think one of the big things we learned was that you can never do enough testing, whether youíre preparing for launch or for new features. We did dozens of usability tests ó on the deposit process, the sign-up process and all of those important functions.

    You develop them, you test them, you take the feedback onboard, identify where you need to improve, make the improvements ó and then the process starts again. In the end, we had features that went through several such cycles before we were happy with them.

    Royal Panda features a very friendly, cartoonish panda as a mascot. Obviously this is integral to the brand. So why Royal Panda? What was the thinking behind the brand and the mascot?

    The panda is one of those rare animals whose appeal is close to universal, and in many countries and cultures itís a ďfunĒ animal, associated with having a good time, while the royalty theme is designed to inspire a sense of playing in the lap of luxury. So thatís the theory behind it.

    But while itís a concept that may seem simple, realizing it was actually a surprisingly long process. Fine-tuning our mascot so heís the handsome, furry chap you see today actually took more than half a year, as did our crown logo, which also incorporates a pandaís face. But it was all worth it ó things like the crown create a link between casino and player, which weíre very proud of.

    Royal Panda offers both a live dealer product and mobile games. Were these products available when you launched? And how important are live and mobile products to your players so far?

    They were both available at launch, but not on the same scale we have now. Initially our live casino selection was equipped solely with NetEnt games, but during the summer those were replaced with Evolutionís live casino games, which we believe to be the best available. Our mobile casino was thoroughly overhauled this summer as well, and now offers a huge selection of games and a very slick interface.

    And itís certainly something we feel our players appreciate and enjoy. Evolutionís live casino games are fantastic, not only from a technical perspective (such as their TV-quality video streams) but also because they offer a great balance of variety and quality from a gameplay perspective, too. And weíre now seeing more and more big winners on our mobile casino, so obviously players are digging that.

    The online gambling industry is awash with sites that started up and failed within a year or two, so affiliates are often a bit reticent to sign on with a new site, choosing instead to wait and see if it's going to take off before they decide to promote the new brand. That said, how difficult has it been to convince affiliates to promote Royal Panda? And what are the unique selling points you offer affiliates (and players) that will lead you to success and longevity in this industry?

    RP Affiliates, our affiliate program, offers affiliates 50 percent revenue share for the first two months, no negative carryover and our assurance that their revenue share is guaranteed for life. And obviously, we ensure that our affiliate management team is staffed with friendly, professional staff, too.

    But I think our main strength is that we offer a casino thatís designed to retain players as well as attract them. And thatís not just important for us, but for our affiliates, too. Ultimately, weíre all dependent on players continually playing ó and depositing ó for our revenue, but thatís something a lot of casinos seem to slip up on. So thatís something weíve set about improving.

    Obviously, to start with, you want promotions that make a strong statement. So we have a creative marketing team that dreams up wild and wacky promotions that you just donít find at any other casino. Take the space-trip promotion that we launched with, for instance: Not only was the prize itself something few of us will ever experience, the game the promotion revolved around, Starburst, is one thatís been immensely popular (and we gave most players 10 free spins for it, too). We felt that sent out a really strong, positive message to prospective players.

    But we also work hard to keep our players. We have our Loyal Panda reward program, which gives them reward points every time they play. And we have a retention team that frequently gives our regular players personalized offers and promotions, which help reinforce that feeling of being appreciated as a customer. We had our customer service team in place six months before the launch, to ensure they knew Royal Panda not just inside-out as a product, but also understood its values and mentality.

    Certainly, weíve been very pleased with the reception Royal Panda has received among affiliates. From a very early stage, weíve been fortunate enough to work with some big affiliates in promoting our brand, and weíve had a continuous stream of affiliates signing up since launch.

    One of the most important issues online casinos must address is problem gambling. What does Royal Panda do to try to identify and help players with gambling problems?

    Itís something we take very seriously. As you probably know, Maltaís Lotteries and Gaming Authority (LGA) has strict rules regarding responsible gaming, and player protection in general, and naturally we ensure (as does the LGA) that weíre fully compliant in that regard.

    Furthermore, a large chunk of our customer service training syllabus is given over to responsible gaming, so our customer support team is able to help people when the need arises.

    It's one thing to bring in new people to a site. It's another thing entirely to get them to stick around. What does Royal Panda do to retain players sent by affiliates?

    A player is a player as far as weíre concerned, so we always do our utmost to retain that player irrespective of whether theyíve been referred to us or not.

    To this end, we actually have a retention team dedicated to delivering on this aim. The team actually does a lot of promotion testing as well, so many of our regular players are actually first in line to test new concepts. And if that concept is successful, we then consider rolling it out for other groups as well.

    And of course, we like to reward our players with things like the bamboo bonus, Loyal Panda, gifts or free spins for new games, and suchlike, which we think helps keep them on board.

    Royal Panda's affiliate program ó RP Affiliates ó offers revenue share of 50 percent for the first two months, and a sliding scale from 25-50 percent based on net revenue and the number of new depositing players per month thereafter. Why did you decide on this commission plan?

    I think the main reason behind that (and our guarantee that referrals really are for life, and our lack of negative carryover) was fairness. A lot of the Royal Panda team (myself included) actually has experience working for affiliates, so we know how predatory a lot of affiliate programs can be. So we thought fair rates and honest terms would be the way forward.

    So one of the things we decided on early was that if an affiliate decides to promote Royal Panda heavily (potentially in place of one of the big, established casinos), the least we could do was reward them accordingly. So not only would we start them off on 50 percent revenue share, weíd put in place the mechanisms required for them to stay on that rate, or close to it, if they saw value in the brand and continued to promote it to their audience as such. And I think itís something many of them have been happy with.

    Many programs are hesitant to offer CPA deals because they have been burned too many times by CPA fraud. Will you work with affiliates who prefer CPA deals over revenue share? If so, how do you combat CPA fraud?

    Although the vast majority of our affiliates are happy with our revenue share model, we are happy to discuss potential CPA deals, too. Due to the specialized nature of such deals, though, these are handled on a case-by-case basis (which would include various checks to avoid fraud). But itís not something weíre adverse to, provided the circumstances are right.

    How many affiliate managers do you have on staff? And what background do they have in the industry?

    We have two managers at the moment, both of whom joined RP Affiliates with prior industry experience. Pawel, who deals predominantly with our Eastern European affiliates, comes from an online gambling background himself, having worked for one of the major players in the industry. Onno, who is our head of affiliates, joined us with years of experience in the affiliates sector under his belt.

    Describe the office culture at Royal Panda. If there were a fly on the wall, what are some of the topics of conversation it'd hear about at the water cooler?

    Although weíre very busy (as Iím sure you can imagine), we all get on well together and the atmosphere is quite laid back ó which is what you want in a creative environment. Water-cooler conversation would really depend on whatís going on. Things like ideas for promotions, bonuses or stuff we need to submit or approve tend to be common themes. But then again, it might be about what weíre doing over the weekend, new video games, what happened in Game of Thrones yesterday, or restaurants and bars. Or just whether the waterís cool enough.

    You went to university in the U.K., correct? How long did it take you to adjust to life in Malta? How often do you get back home?

    I did go to university in the U.K., although I actually spent most of my childhood in Germany and The Netherlands (and returned to live in both countries again for spells in my twenties). So as someone whoís used to moving to a different country every five or 10 years, moving to Malta wasnít too daunting in itself ó especially as English is an official language here. The only thing that does take some getting used to are the summers, which can be especially hot and sticky for those of us accustomed to the more temperate summers of northern Europe!

    I head back to the U.K. to visit friends and family probably two or three times a year, and usually squeeze in a visit to another country as well. Although in saying that, I do tend to find that friends and family are quite keen to come visit me here for a cheap holiday.

    If someone from out of town were to visit you, where is the one place you would have to take them?

    Mdina (Maltaís old capital city) is always worth seeing on your first trip to Malta, as is Valletta. And as I live in St Julianís, a trip down to Spinola Bay and its assortment of restaurants, bars and pubs is pretty much essential most evenings.

    How do you ensure that payments are sent out on time? And when do your payments go out?

    Payments are supposed to go out 15 to 20 days after the end of the month in question. However, as we like to ensure our affiliates get their money before then, in reality we often send them out sooner. We find the sooner people are paid, the happier they are.

    Where do you think the industry will be in five years?

    We are facing a number of challenges at this time, particularly when it comes to regulation of individual markets and the matter of where VAT needs to be paid. So thatís all a little bit up in the air at this point.

    On the whole, though, Iím hoping the examples set by major regulated markets such as the U.K., coupled with the new tax laws within the EU, will persuade other countries to open up their markets more. Because as weíve seen, a properly regulated market will not only behave in a responsible manner, but also offers customers better products at lower cost.

    What do you use for most of your web surfing: desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone?

    It really depends on where I am at the time. If Iím in the office or my home office, Iíll use the PC (two screens are perfect in that regard). If Iím in the living room or kitchen, Iíll use my tablet. And if Iím in bed or on the move, Iíll use my phone.

    If we picked up your iPhone and pressed play, what song would be playing?

    Actually, probably not that much right now. I recently switched from an iPhone to an Android phone, so Iím still in the process of transferring my entertainment media.

    If you could go anywhere on vacation, where would you go?

    Right now, Iíd probably be thinking about going to Cologne or Bonn in Germany to enjoy the traditional Christmas markets. In general, though, Iíve always wanted to check out Japan ó but with destinations that far away, itís all about finding the time. So that one might have to wait a couple years!

    If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be?

    Ex-F1 world champion Jackie Stewart would be my first choice. Iím a huge motorsport fan, and although Iím too young to have seen him race, the way he merges such passion, dedication and knowledge of the sport without it compromising his principles or humility is something Iíve long admired. My second would probably be former British Prime Minister William Gladstone, whose strong principles are something Iíve always admired. And I suspect my third choice would probably be Tetsuya Mizuguchi, a former video game developer whose games Iíve admired greatly down the years.

    Name three things that people reading this magazine don't know about you.

    Well, in keeping with the countries I grew up in, I speak German and Dutch as well as English, which tends to come in rather handy in this line of work (especially the translation aspects).

    By extension, Iíve also developed a keen interest in cooking and baking down the years. When youíve lived in a few different countries, youíll always end up missing a particular dish from somewhere youíve lived before that you canít find in the shops and restaurants. So if you fancy a portion of currywurst followed up with a slice of luxe-rijstevlaai while living in Malta, you have to learn how to source the ingredients and make it yourself.

    And finally, thereís my love of motorsport, particularly Formula One and touring car racing.

  2. #2
    Miles_FTA's Avatar
    Miles_FTA is offline No longer with Fast Track
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    Some good things Said well done Mark .. Maybe In Berlin if your around and see me lets catch a drink and share some ideas.

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    Doolally's Avatar
    Doolally is offline Private Member
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    Great interview Mark.

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