The number of bingo clubs in the UK has dropped from well over 1,000 between the 60s and 80s to just 400 today.
Since the 90s bingo has faced challenges from many directions, not least from launch of The National Lottery in 1994. Today however the greatest pressure facing bingo halls up and down the country is from online gaming.
As Graham Soult writes in his excellent scrolling article The Fall and Rise of Bingo the success of online bingo has been a double edged sword for the traditional bingo industry.
Established names like Gala and Mecca have managed to offset decline in trade with a new source of revenue and managed to dispel their supposed ‘old-fashioned’ image.
However the popularity of online bingo means that traditional bingo halls are having to compete with hundreds of new online-only operators. Foxy Bingo, The Sun, Sky and even Iceland supermarket.
Inspired by the above article I’m going to take a look at the online UX of the UK’s most popular bingo sites Mecca and Gala and see how easy and welcoming they are for new users.
If you’re a first time visitor you’ll be presented with this page…
Here you can see various different messaging designed to entice the new player and also reassure new members regarding certain industry regulations.
Mecca makes the function to join clear enough with its giant green ‘Join Now’ button, it also has big name partnerships (The X Factor) to perhaps validate its quality.
There is also important privacy information, reassuring new members that their information is secure. Most importantly there is information on responsible gaming.
However if you click on the ‘keep it fun’ website featured, you’ll find you’re just taken directly to the proper Mecca homepage. Apparently that page was just a Flash frontispiece that served no other function than to attract your attention.
Responsible gaming info is thankfully available from here.
My goodness the brightness, the pinkness, the busyness. Be in no doubt, this will be an assault on the senses.
As I am completely new to online bingo I am very happy to see that the largest portion of the homepage is devoted to ‘Bingo for Newbies’.
The incentives are all there. No deposit required, seven days of free bingo, entrance to an exclusive room for other newbies. This is where I belong.
From the first sign-up screen it looks like this will be an idiot-proof experience.
There is a lot of positive practices on the create account page. For a start, inputting your personal details is all done on a single screen.
Mecca also tells you where you’ve made a mistake or left something out as soon as you click out of a box. There’s little worse in form-filling to get to the end only to be told then that you’ve made a mistake.
Autofill has been enabled to save you some time and it also doesn’t matter if I leave out the space in my postcode.
To the right of the screen you’re given handy access to a customer service number, and even better a live chat tool. There’s also information on types of payment accepted by Mecca, including PayPal for speedier transactions.
Once complete, it’s time to add some funds. This screen shows you your minimum and maximum deposit options for each method.
Also note there’s a clear indicator at the top that tells me my balance and offers straightforward links to the most important areas.
Interestingly, I am also now eligible to play any of Mecca’s physical bingo halls. This is a great way to drive offline revenue.
Once I’ve clicked ‘play bingo now’ I am taken through to a secure page separate from the browser.
As there is sensitive information here on not only myself, but also real-life avatars of genuine users, I won’t take a screenshot of the actual bingo experience.
I won’t lie to you, I feel massively out of my depth here. There is so much going on, with language that is completely alien to me (80 ball, 75 ball, CM, lobby) and everything moves at a frenetic rate.
Luckily I am immediately presented with various beginner’s guide videos, which I urge you to watch if this is your first experience.
Also Mecca’s welcome email contains many links to help you along the way.
Click to enlarge
As another reassuring aside, withdrawing your money is really easy and there’s no minimum amount.
As a first time visitor, you’re presented with this excitable individual and some very simple clear messaging. This certainly isn’t as fussy as Mecca’s welcome page.
It’s extraordinary how busy the homepages of bingo websites are. Perhaps to capture the glitz and pizazz of old time bingo halls from the past?
Frankly I’m finding it a usability nightmare, but then again I’m a grumpy 34 year-old man so am probably completely the wrong demographic.
Featured on the homepage is a ‘responsible gaming’ link which leads to a really helpful scrolling website offering help and advice for managing gaming.
There isn’t any reassurance on the page that privacy and security is a matter of importance, but I’m sure that will come later. At the moment I’m more concerned with the lack of help or links for newbies.
On the ‘join now’ screen the text entry is a little bit more fiddly then Mecca, however it carries the same quick to enter functionality as Mecca. It really did take 60 seconds.
Gala’s support contains more options then Mecca, and even more helpfully it states that it’s available 24/7.
Gala doesn’t state what payment options are available so far, however when clicking on ‘join now’ I am presented with this pop-up that allows me to set deposit limits.
When I arrive at the deposit screen I’m presented with the same payment options as Mecca, including PayPal and other fast payment options.
My only criticism here is that the deposit screen suggests options for deposit amount, however it is possible to pay in less than the suggested £10.
Again when you click to ‘play bingo’ you’re taken to a separate browser window. It’s pretty much identical to Mecca’s effort, only the fundamental difference is that there’s very little help on offer for beginners.
There are no welcome tutorials, videos and the welcome email I received has little to help the beginner.
Thankfully withdrawal is easy, fast and requires no minimum amount.
Gala certainly offers a cleaner and easier to look at design, however Mecca is far superior when it comes to aiding the new gamer every step of the way.
To Gala’s credit though there were two occasions when a personalised live chat box appeared asking if I needed assistance if I lingered too long on a page.
Mecca also makes a better attempt at reassuring new players about responsible gaming and the security of their private information.
I feel that if online bingo sites wish to attract new customers they really need to streamline or simplify their design and ensure that the less digitally confident are completely comfortable using their sites.
For more information on online gaming check out our report on Improving Mobile Casino Performance.