With the launch of the latest site offering free bingo rooms for real cash prizes, I thought I would catch up with the man behind Cheeky Bingo, the UK’s first major play for free, win for real site. I took the opportunity to pose Simon some questions about the inception and running of Cheeky Bingo and the wider implications of free bingo for the online bingo market space, and to answer some other related questions.
Playing Bingo: What was the driving force to create Cheeky Bingo and its strong ‘Play for free, win for real’ model of bingo?
Simon Collins: The drive was the competition. We felt to sustain our charge, to be the number one in terms of players, (and) aiming to be bigger than even the likes of Gala we had to come up with something new, which would suit the current climate, an honest discount offering that would offer players something different. We also felt the community of free bingo users was not being serviced that well, as free bingo sites seemed to be run without a full service offering, and without many real prizes. As we saw it, we could do both effectively.
Playing Bingo: Has the level of its impact taken you by surprise or was it what you expected?
Simon Collins: It has surprised us. When we had the idea, there were many people internally who felt the cost of the free games would drive the site out of business within a few months. To be fair they (the free games) are really expensive: I hear players complaining the prizes are small and there are so many users in those free rooms – but I would ask some of them to do the maths – £1 – £10 free unfunded prizes given away every 5 mins on up to four rooms for up to 24 hours a day. This is not a cheap promotional giveaway offer for loyal players, it’s a huge cost of the operation.
Playing Bingo: Competitors are already following in your footsteps with the launch of Posh Bingo, and no doubt more sites on the horizon – how will Cheeky stay ahead of them?
Simon Collins: We feel these new sites will lack clarity. To work the model needs to be super simple, “Play Free Win Real” – it says exactly what you get – a bit like the adverts for decking paint – play on this site without paying, win money without making a single deposit. Cheeky is the ultimate ‘free to play site’ as the free games are paid for as part of our marketing expenses: we feel the “Cheeky” brand fits perfectly to the idea of free, as do the TV ads for the free concept. We built the whole model from the bottom up to suit the new idea. We wanted to make something totally new, totally different from all the other sites we run.
Playing Bingo: Do you think you’d ever adopt this model at sites like Foxy or Getminted Bingo?
We always used free games on the other sites, but they are not embedded into the ethos of the sites like Cheeky, they are promotional rooms run for shorter periods of time. These free rooms lack the commitment and duration of Cheeky free games. I guess this is why we feel no one will emulate the success of Cheeky because we can’t even do it ourselves.
Playing Bingo: Retail bingo has had free sessions for years, but the players attending have always been less willing to spend money than the regular players. I’d say the same of free bingo online, and given the amount of free players vs paying players, is it worth it?
Simon Collins: We think it’s worth it, as we felt the £15 free no deposit deals and the like simply reward newbies. What we love about Cheeky is mainly loyal regulars scoop the free game jackpots up. This means the free games engender a loyalty to the site and what it offers. I suspect the loyal players are raiding the free games so they are getting the best of both worlds, free and paid-for experiences side by side. I know raiding is contentious but as regards free games I would encourage people to try it out.
Playing Bingo: With rooms bursting with free players, and players’ dissatisfaction at not winning as a result, is Cheeky Bingo in danger of being too popular for its own good?
Simon Collins: As long as players realise the free bit is a bit of cheeky fun designed to give people a buzz. It covers if players don’t want to deposit or if they can’t. Its a bit of fun, it will never be perfect, but that’s the way it goes. I think we are doing a good job on it but there is always room for improvement. Maybe having slightly higher jackpots with a free pre-purchase game or similar will be added as testers to see if we can improve the balance more.
Playing Bingo: How long before the play for free space is as crowded as the play for real space?
Simon Collins: We don’t think anyone will be able to commit the marketing, the free money and the affiliate push in the way we have to (with) this idea. To give you a handle on the commitment, we have spent £1.2m so far, and we are confident we will offer more money than anyone else towards marketing the idea and supporting it with free games – Cheeky is the standout offering in the free bingo sector.
Playing Bingo: What next for Cashcade? Foxy Bingo is now a household name, and Cheeky Bingo isn’t far behind becoming one, so where do you go from there?
Simon Collins: The critical thing is to keep loyal to our users and players. They are the number one priority for the business; it’s largely through word of mouth (that) we hope to be able to overtake the big players like Gala and Mecca. We do have new sites in the pipeline, all of them with the same quality and concepts we hope, all based around a new idea. We will launch one more this year ourselves so we are all mapped out as regards our extensions in the UK market. More difficult is exporting our ideas to new territories; it will be interesting to see if we can create similar brands in other European markets but I doubt many people would bet against the team we have here.
Playing Bingo: What’s the future for online bingo as a whole industry, and what should players expect?
Simon Collins: I want to see a huge linked progressive where we set a record for the number of people to play a single game of bingo. The technology should make it possible, and then we can all be part of something incredible – a new world record, now that would be fun. Lets hope we can emulate the Euromillions and make someone a millionaire.