Archive for January, 2011

Web-Based Sweeps

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Every sweepstakes product requires three components.

The Client System. This is the “game terminal”. It is where the customers play games. Businesses can have from one to several hundred client terminals.

The Game Server. This special computer is “the brain” of the operation. It determines the results of all the sweepstakes and “talks to” each of the client systems to display results (who wins and who loses). The server also maintains the database that contains the finite prize pool information.

The Point of Sale (POS). This special computer allows business owners and employees to interact with the server. The POS is used to create customer accounts, to add “entries” to customer accounts, to determine which customers have won prizes, and to do reporting (such as “how much money did we make yesterday?”)

There are currently two models for deploying these three components in a promotional sweepstakes environment. One is a Client-Server model, and the other is a Web-Based solution.

The Client-Server model requires that the sweepstakes software be physically installed on each Client System (game terminal). This option also requires that the Game Server and the POS be physically located onsite, within the same facility as all the Client Systems. In simple terms, this means that a business with a sweepstakes promotion that is Client-Server based needs an onsite server, an onsite POS (these might be combined into a single computer), and software installed on each Client System.

The Web-Based solution pushes nearly everything to “the cloud” (the Internet). It still requires a Game Server, but that server isn’t physically located in your business, but somewhere offsite. This is how eBay, Google, and Amazon run their businesses. Their servers are tucked away in high-tech, air-conditioned, super secure locations (called colocation center) and are being carefully monitored by a team of technicians. Generally there are a handful of different colocation facilities, all with extremely fast Internet connections and back-up power generators. Since these locations are geographically spread out, even if one of the facilities catches on fire or gets hit by an earthquake or any other disaster, the other colocation facilities will immediately step in and share the extra load. This guarantees a very reliable system that almost never “goes down” or has service outages or interruptions. With this model, Client Systems access the Internet, but the actual game application doesn’t need to be installed on each system. The Game Server is offsite, and the POS simply accesses information via the Internet.

Both the Web-Based sweepstakes solution and the older Client-Server model create a unique, finite pool for each location (or store). It would not make sense to have numerous locations playing from the same prize pool because some locations might pay out high while others are paying out low. No worries–whether the solution is Web-Based or the older Client-Server model, both create a unique prize pool for each store.

Now that I’ve explained the components of a sweepstakes system and the different models used to deploy the sweepstakes product, let’s talk about what this means to someone running a business with sweepstakes promotions. In other words–this is all great, but why should you care?

Nearly every sweepstakes product on the market uses a Client-Server model. However, the Web-Based model has several huge advantages over the Client-Server model.

Advantages of a Web-Based sweepstakes solution:

A Web-Based solution means your customers have a choice–they can play in your store or they can play at home. The implications of this concept are staggering. It allows business owners to send customers home to play if the store is too full (no open computers left). It allows customers to play at their own convenience, whether or not your store is open for business. Thus, even while your store is closed and you are asleep, hundreds (or thousands) of your customers can be playing your games and making money for you. Revealing sweepstakes entries at home is perfectly legal, this is how Coca-Cola does it. It allows business owners to tap into an enormous money-making ability that would be IMPOSSIBLE–if not for the advanced Web-Based functionality.

The Client-Server model requires an onsite server. Having an onsite server means you have to purchase an expensive server to put in your business. Generally you need to pay from $3,000 to as much as $10,000 to buy that server. A Web-Based model has that server offsite. You don’t have to buy it. This is a huge up-front savings.

Now that you have purchased an extremely expensive, highly technical Game Server that is, in essence, “the brain” of your outfit–how does it get installed? You have to pay someone to come out and install it. Don’t think that you or another technical friend of yours can install the system. It will require someone with a very specific knowledge of the sweepstakes software and how that software works with the server, the POS, and the Client Systems. This process usually takes at least a few days and can be extremely painful. Some sweepstakes companies may say “We do the installation for free!” Do not be deceived, there is no such thing as a free lunch (you’ll just get a smaller dinner!) I can assure you that the cost will be buried in something else you pay for. With a Web-Based system the installation is remarkably simple. The systems are “Plug-and-Play”. Pull the systems out of the boxes and they immediately work. The technical genius of a Web-Based solution removes the nightmare of a complex (and expensive) onsite system installation.

At this point, with a Client-Server model, you have purchased a Game Server and gone through the headache of installation. Congratulations! You now have an extremely expensive, highly technical piece of equipment sitting in your store that runs your entire operation. It’s right there onsite, where people can accidentally spill their coffee on it, a power surge can destroy it, or a disgruntled employee can exact his revenge upon it. Let me ask you this question–where would you rather have that server, sitting in your store or offsite in an ultra-safe, backed-up, air-conditioned, humidity-controlled, redundant power generator-fed colocation facility?

Let’s take this another step–what happens if your Game Server has a technical problem? With a Client-Server model and the expensive server onsite you can expect to see a significant technical server-related problem at least once every six months. We know because we’ve opened hundreds of sweepstakes Internet cafes and we’ve been there and done that. If the server has a technical problem with a Client-Server sweepstakes model you’ll be on the phone with tech support trying to get it fixed. Most companies don’t have stellar tech support and even those that do are tough to get ahold of on a weekend (which is, of course, when your store will be busiest and when you’re most likely to have a problem). Odds are they’ll have to send someone out to fix it. This process generally takes at least 2-3 days, during which time your business is closed. OUCH. Compare to a Web-Based solution. The servers aren’t in your store, but are being carefully monitored by a team of highly technical, professional “server babysitters”. The only web-based sweepstakes product we have seen, PromoGames, had an average 99.9% uptime (down for 1 hour per year) for the past 3 years. You simply don’t have server-based technical problems with a Web-Based sweepstakes product.

Computers go down–it’s a fact of life, and the older Client-Server model has no solution other than “hopefully we can get that fixed some day soon!” We’ve had OUR CLIENTS who have used a Client-Server solution be offline and CLOSED for over a week while waiting for their onsite server to get repaired. OUCH! The last thing you want is to not be able to sell your product when you have customers lined up wanting to buy from you. One more point for the more advanced Web-Based sweepstakes solution!

A new game releases – or a new patch or update comes out for your Client Systems or your Game Server. With a Client-Server model how do you think you get that update or that new game? In many cases a technician has to actually come out to your location to install it on each computer. Or, best case, you have to call the sweepstakes company and try to talk them into spending the time to manually update each of your computers. This process usually takes weeks. On the other hand, with a Web-Based solution your systems and servers are automatically updated as soon as the update is made. You don’t have to do anything, “it just works”.

Another key benefit to a web-based sweepstakes platform is that it is a necessary technology to enable a sweepstakes “Totem“. A Sweepstakes Totem is, in essence, an Internet access kiosk that doubles as a sweepstakes terminal. This stand-alone unit has a bill-acceptor and allows patrons to reveal entries. The Totem has no need for a server or a point-of-sale system. Generally, 1 or 2 Totems are placed in businesses such as bars or convenience stores. These units have almost no overhead and have been proven to bring in at least FOUR TIMES as much revenue as stations in a standard sweepstakes room. The Totem’s functionality is enabled by the web-based sweepstakes platform and would not be economically feasible without it. No overhead, 4x the income–Web-Based.

Now let’s take a moment to address a myth about Web-Based sweepstakes promotions. Some sales reps that work for companies selling Client-Server sweepstakes products claim that Web-Based sweepstakes are illegal or increase the chances of legal problems. Hm… Tell that to Coca-Cola (open the cap, read the number on the bottom, and plug it in online to see if you’ve won the sweepstakes!), or to Ford, or to any number of huge companies that offer sweepstakes online. Here’s a specific quote from an opinion letter written by one of the most well-known sweepstakes attorneys in the nation, “…a lawful electronically-delivered instant-win free promotional game is equally lawful whether the server which contains the pool of electronic game pieces is located at the venue where the promotional game is conducted, or anywhere else in the world.” Top sweepstakes attorneys agree–there are no legal problems with having a Web-Based sweepstakes solution.

Let’s move on from the discussion about the Game Server and talk about the Client Systems. In order to run a Client-Server sweepstakes the application needs to be installed on each and every client PC. It’s running locally and it consumes a lot of resources. This means the system requirements, and therefore the system cost, will be more expensive with a Client-Server model than with a Web-Based solution. With a Client-Server environment the application can crash at the client level, causing errors or locking up. With a Web-Based solution the application will never crash at the client level because it’s merely displaying a web page. The Point-of-Sale system is also web-based, which means you can access the full functionality of the POS system from any web browser (including your web-enabled cell phone).

Finally, your data is completely safe with a Web-Based solution because the key servers are 100% remote. If a meteorite hit your business in the middle of the night (heaven forbid) and you showed up to find the entire store in a pile of rubble, you could open up the next day with new hardware right across the street without missing a beat. All of your customer and financial data is 100% safe.

In summary, a Web-Based sweepstakes solution is much easier and less expensive to install, is significantly less likely to have technical problems, and it has automatic patch and new software (or new game) deployment. It allows your customers to play at home so you can be earning income even when they’re not in your store. Oh, and it costs a lot less to purchase.

All things equal, I can’t think of a single reason why anyone would spend more money for a lower-technology solution. It is our professional opinion that a Web-Based sweepstakes product is the only way to go.