The affiliate community landscape – what happens after sorry

March 1, 2009 | Sarah Blackburn

In my article in a previous edition of Inside Poker Business, I made reference to how affiliate programmes and the affiliate community should take a leading role in developing online gaming’s corporate social responsibility. This belief has not changed, but the dynamics on which this process was scheduled to rely have hit significant snags since the time of writing.

Recently, I watched a Panorama report styled What Happens After Sorry, which attempted not to dwell on the mistakes made by senior figures at the top of HBOS and RBS in the run up to the banking crisis, but instead tried to galvanise both industry and popular opinion over what the future holds for banking, society’s opinion of it and most importantly, our money. In the end, despite the directive of the report, the honest fact of the matter is that, still, people were more focused on pointing the finger of blame, rather than coming together and agreeing on a path to recovery. Much should be learned from this stagnant approach that all-too-often prevents struggling areas of commerce from rallying together and moving on.

As such, I do not wish to dwell on the happenings at and behind one of the affiliate industry’s leading forums. The truth behind the CAP ordeal is now very much irrelevant to 99% of us. What is more important is what happens next. Where does the future lie for the online gaming affiliate community? What do we want to emerge from all of this?

In a sense, the affiliate world should consider itself fortunate to have the opportunity to reflect on what has happened and to work past these short term hiccups and to once again look at the long term goals of the online gaming community.

The wonder and the excitement I’ve found with working in the online gaming affiliate industry has been its lack of formal regulation and the boundlessness this creates. It’s what the internet is all about. In comparison to more stringently monitored components of the gambling industry, this has meant that the affiliate community has not only ridden the backbone of online gaming practice, but has driven it in many facets. Behind this foreward thinking has been, to date, two prime stakeholder groups – the affiliates and the affiliate programmes or operators. As a byproduct to the obvious business link, there is natural disagreement and confrontation. This is where the forums have come to the fore. Working as a vital cog in relationship development and management, forums such as CAP and GPWA have provided an invaluable tool for the affiliate community to construct a practical code of conduct. More importantly the community has used them to harness working methods, new ideas and opposition to restrictive legislation. Up until recently, there was no substantial stake holding that blocked this tool from working to its optimum. With this changing and other upheavals in mind, the gauntlet has now been thrown down to those in the affiliate community wishing to take up the challenge that has been so ably managed for a number of years (and in no way am I ruling CAP out of the reckoning here). However, this opportunity and the responsibility it brings need to be fully understood.

The affiliate community must not forget the virtues that CAP as a forum has had to date and the bonding nature its posts and threads have inspired. Affiliates and affiliate managers who have taken steps to open new forums and run separate events must do so with a long term mindset. They must also resist temptation to pitch them as rivals to CAP, GPWA or PAL, who in turn must do the same. Now, more than ever, if we are to see a host of new forums emerge and grab a foothold in the market, they must work together to rebuild that community spirit which binds the self-regulation that has put affiliate marketing in such a well respected position in the online gaming industry. The online gaming industry needs this to happen – indeed I need this to happen, if my hope for the affiliate industry to spearhead corporate social responsibility strategies is ever to be realised.

Is there a need for new forums? Well, to put it bluntly, no. What there is a need for is a catalyst to glue what has been broken back together again. The likelihood is that the opening of new forums will only lead to polarisation of opinion, rather than binding it into one driving force. As for affiliate programmes coming together to run an affiliate forum, I cannot see this materializing, and I hope it does not. I have put my name to an attempt to ensure that a certification pricing structure is fair to all parties concerned, but with regard to a forum, and more events, it just won’t work. Running a successful affiliate forum requires integrity, diplomacy and experience, dare I mention an aversion to conflict of interest. The latter would automatically render a programme-run forum unviable. Who would run it? Will problems regarding one of the moderating programmes ever surface on the message boards? I’m afraid it just doesn’t add up to common sense.

The same has to go for affiliate events. Perhaps more than the forums, conferences require industry harmony in order to be successful. With two Amsterdam shows running so close to one another in March and May this year, stakeholder groups are already being forced to choose one or the other, meaning the likelihood of attendances being half what they should be at each event, therefore reducing value for exhibitors and affiliates alike. This clash will hopefully be a one off and lessons have to be learned from it. The industry does need conventions like CAC Amsterdam and CAP Euro, but, like the forums, they need to work together rather than against one another, and need to be beneficial to all involved.

Whatever happens after sorry, the online gaming affiliate industry must initially stop the finger pointing. Secondly, it must harness a school of thought that has the ability to rein in those who seek to start their own communities, and ensure that, at a fundamental core, everyone is working towards a common goal. At present, that goal has to be working together to broaden the online gaming landscape and doing everything possible to evoke a more positive popular opinion of online gaming. How this all comes about is the million dollar question. With any luck, the sensible voices in the industry will be heard over the loudest, and we can all get back to business.