Cristina Niculae, CEO of Interactive Gaming Group, joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam.
Cristina Niculae, CEO of Interactive Gaming Group, takes us through how they reinvented and reimagined iGaming affiliation through the power of streaming – follow her story below.
How did IGG Ltd take off? What were IGG’s biggest challenges when first starting?
Doing something different is always challenging. 3 years ago, when the affiliation sector was focusing on the traditional SEO sites, IGG did something different by looking at other affiliation business models and by developing our in-house streamer academy model and campaign partnerships model. We reinvented and reimagined iGaming affiliation through the power of streaming and we are now the leading streaming affiliate, perfectly positioned to capitalise on the growth in the sector. The biggest challenge when doing things differently is to not let yourself and your team be easily discouraged.
What helps make your performance successful? What are the main challenges for the sector?
Of course, to stay competitive in today’s business environment one has to constantly reinvent and reimagine. I believe our passion, creativity, and constant drive towards getting the most talented people as part of our team is what makes our performance successful. Our culture is very diverse, we are currently employing people from 11 countries and 50% of our leadership team is female. Capturing such diverse perspectives is one of the key contributors to our success. Our culture rewards, above all else, teamwork and relentless business impact.
The biggest challenges for the sector revolve around responsible gambling and player protection, ensuring marketing campaigns are constantly done responsibly.
Tell us a bit more about your business model based on streamers. How big is it, compared to the more traditional SEO sites out there?
I wouldn’t compare our model with the traditional SEO sites. We have a different audience focus and we believe the traditional SEO sites lost, to some extent, their appeal on a new generation of adults that are inspired by interactive experiences. Our business model in IGG Media is based on connecting players, creators, and operators on a global scale and on bringing to life new interactive experiences.
How many streamers do you currently manage under the IGG portfolio?
We are constantly on the lookout for the best and most talented creators out there and we are targeting a number of verticals. Our portfolio varies as we engage in new long-term partnerships, or new short-term campaigns, or wind down partnerships depending on our and our partner’s focus. We also have an in-house streaming academy which is constantly evolving.
And how does it really work? You sign contract deals with such streamers for a number of years and they are exclusive to you?
We have various models of engagement from direct engagement in our academy, to exclusivity agreements depending on our focus. We like to be bold and constantly explore new ideas and new ways of working to deliver the best content to the viewers and the best value to all our partners.
Which GEO locations are best suited for streamers? And where do you believe is the most up and coming region for twitch?
Of course, Twitch is mostly an English language focused platform; however, the second largest language is Spanish primarily in the regions of LatAm and Spain, followed by Portuguese (Portugal/Brazil), French, and German. We are working globally with a range of clients based on their expansion KPIs in different regulated and soon to be regulated markets. We are not limited to Twitch but are engaging with a variety of other platforms.
Are there other platforms out there besides Twitch that perform so well in specific regions? If yes, can you name a few?
The most known are YouTube and Facebook Gaming with a few others coming up. According to one of the latest reports, Twitch has set a new viewership record in March 2021 with over 2 billion hours watched.
Who are the best streamers out there at the moment?
It really depends on the content watched, there are various streamers with millions of followers playing a variety of video games like Shroud or Ninja on Twitch, or Esports team members like Valkyrae from 100 Thieves on Youtube Gaming. We have even seen politicians making their debut on Twitch and playing video-games, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with 438K peak viewers whilst playing Among US.
This model is truly unique. Until recently, there was a heavy M&A activity, with smaller affiliates with good ranking websites being bought out by the bigger fish out there. It seems, however, much easier nowadays to capture traffic and deliver good results on Twitch rather than trying to build a good-ranking SEO website. Based on what you experience at IGG and with all these great streamers, how true is the above observation? Do you think we will see a slow down of affiliate websites being bought?
All new successful models are easier said than done in general. What looks very easy from the outside is the result of years of hard work, learning, and dedication. Therefore, I do not believe we will necessarily see a slowdown in SEO due to traffic captured on Twitch, but I do believe the slowdown will happen due to the general sentiment of the end user which will migrate from a linear experience to a more interactive one and from a 2D to a 3D/AR experience in the near future.
From your experience, how can affiliates be more unique in their approach?
It takes lots of courage to reinvent, but for a unique approach, courage is the number one ingredient. This is not only applicable to the affiliate sector. Secondly, a strong focus on diversity of staff and ensuring all perspectives are taken into consideration when launching new products and new campaigns, leads to a unique market presence and capturing a wider audience.
Which qualities and skills are essential in an affiliate team/business?
Teamwork and speed of execution coupled with the drive to innovate are essential factors. As the world continues to shift and technology advancements are generating new business potential, the ability to deliver innovation at speed remains a key factor in staying competitive and ahead of the game.
How does technology play a part in your day-to-day?
Digitalisation has changed consumers’ behavior and it has done so more rapidly than expected. Businesses which in 2019 were still debating over digital transformations, were faced in 2020 with a transform or perish moment. I have always been an advocate for digitalisation and a fan of technology and of the role technology plays in enhancing humanity’s standard of living. It is for me natural that technology is present in almost all aspects of my day to day. At the moment, at IGG, we are a remote first company and we have learned to make the best use of technology to improve our team interactions and work processes.
Can you foresee any growth for the affiliate business industry? Why and by how much?
Yes, as some of the latest reports are showing, the global online iGaming market is set to grow at a CAGR of approx. 10% in the period 2020 – 2025 and, driven by regulation and demand in newly regulated markets, the affiliate segment is also expected to play its part in this trend. Moreover, the Global live game streaming market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 20% in the 2020-2027 forecast period.
What can operators do to increase support with affiliates? Do communication and support with operators meet your expectations? How do you manage your relationship with them?
Close collaboration, trust, and establishing a long-term relationship are fundamental for me and we work with our partners to ensure we are bringing them the best value based on their expansion goals and KPIs in various territories. We have been working with a large number of brands and operators in the industry for a number of years, we have the team, the learning, the operational experience, and the proven ability to build long term solid relationships and deliver solid results.
Have you ever been to SiGMA? SiGMA Europe, Africa, Asia, or Americas – which of these four expo shows would you likely book on your diary for 2021, COVID-19 permitting?
I have been to SiGMA Europe and I look forward to exploring the other events as soon as the COVID-19 regulations will permit.
Tell us a bit about yourself – after all, business is done with people, not just companies! Your hobbies, favourite book, favourite quote, whether you are into Gaming yourself, etc.
I enjoy tennis, doing heli snowboarding when time and weather permits and starting to experiment with skydiving. I have been into gaming and esports for many years, having played everything from Quake III Arena, to WoW, StarCraft, and many more.
Favourite book: The Foundation series by Isaac Aasimov.
Favourite Quote: It always seems impossible until it is done.