Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been working on some updates to an old project that I designed and produced last year for bookmaker William Hill. Looking at it again, against the backdrop of the ongoing World Cup, made me think it was worth putting down some thoughts on the project, where it came from and how its doing now.
‘Betlive’ is a Flash application we developed as part of the complete website rebuild that William Hill undertook over 2008/9. This was a massive project for them; not only redesigning their brand and website but also moving their entire back-end infrastructure from an existing in-house solution to OpenBet, which is pretty much the industry standard platform for serious players in the online gambling industry.
William Hill took this opportunity to overhaul their live betting offering and put this at the heart of their website experience – which is where we came in.
You might think Endemol a strange choice for this kind of work but, as Endemol Gaming, we had actually pioneered live betting solutions for other leading online bookmaker’s such as Ladbrokes and Sportingbet, so you could say we had form in this area. However, whereas previous efforts had all been ‘bolt on’ standalone solutions, Betlive for William Hill was a complete rethink of how to deliver live betting content across a highly dynamic website.
Our solution was, rather than create one destination to cover all live events, to create one application that could exist on any page of the website, intelligent enough to configure its content depending on the page context. On menu and category pages Betlive was designed to display as a dynamic promo for live events happening now. On event pages it displays a range of live scoreboards and betting markets.
As entertainment producers ourselves the insight we followed was that people love watching live sports, so live sports betting should build on this experience and try to enhance the entertainment factor at all times. We achieved this by treating Betlive as a co-viewing experience, taking care to create an application that did not demand too much attention but that supported the action on screen with pertinent data and highlighting the inherent drama when prices across markets make a sudden change.
And with the inclusion of live video streaming directly into Betlive this co-viewing concept could be taken to its logical extreme such that the application becomes a one stop shop for sports entertainment. It turns out that that punters are more than happy to watch and bet on sports from anywhere in the world…the Chinese football league was one of my personal favourites.
We chose to build the application in Flash for its ability to auto update its own content – at the time it was still the most appropriate way of doing this, we looked into AJAX – which of course is all about doing this sort of thing, but at that time browser support was patchy and, given all the other project strands at the time, the strict deadlines required low-risk solutions, so this was rejected early on. Flash also provided for a rich and tactile interactive experience – very in keeping with WH’s stylish new brand.
However, over the last year, William Hill has replaced the markets component of Betlive with a more modern HTML based AJAX solution. In this instance Betlive has been been somewhat a victim of its own success; the uplift in betting activity on live events following its introduction meant a desire from William Hill to include a much greater number of markets on live events – this has shown up the limitations of Flash to support this.
We regularly found Betlive attempting to display markets by resizing itself beyond the maximum height supported by Flash (fyi.. it’s about 4000 pixels!) – beyond this size very strange things happen to formatting and data and ultimately markets can’t be reached and frustration abounds. The switch to HTML is the right decision and vastly improves usability.
However you can still see scoreboards, promos and media playing capabilities (which is what we have been working on recently to enhance) and overall it’s still stands up as good example fo the co-viewing experience, despite a lot of activity in this space from other bookmakers (check out the work of Endemol alumni Boolabus for the very latest thinking in this area) and even broadcasters such as ITV’s (Monterosa developed) World Cup Live.