The challenges in unlocking Asia’s potential
Asia’s nuanced marketplace presents a land of both unique challenges and unbridled opportunity, depending on where you stick your pin in the map, says Jonas Alm, CEO of QTech Games.
In a landmass boasting around 4.5bn people, varying cultural trends and sometimes polarising legislation, this really shouldn’t come as any great surprise. Therefore, as with most maps, the trick is not to walk off it into unchartered territory where the risks outweigh the benefits.
As a game distributor focusing on Asia, QTech Games has done its fair share of research in this risk-reward domain. Overwhelmingly, the experience has been exciting rather than alarming. And the direction of travel is reassuring as proper and intelligible regulations are finally starting to arrive in emerging grey markets.
Meanwhile, the established gaming meccas continue to astound with their reliable growth and innovation; just look at the gambling capital of Macau, where land-based casino revenues are nearly three times those of Las Vegas.
While it’s very hard to generalise on the gambling marketplace across Asia, there is one overarching pattern that can be observed across the continent, though, and that is the exponential rise of mobile, especially when it comes to smartphone adoption levels.
Obviously, this is a global phenomenon but it is particularly pronounced throughout Asia, where mobile penetration rates exceed those of Europe and the US, thanks to more affordable tech and broadband costs. Some operators have even unplugged their desktop platforms.
Take note of regional diversity
As with other regions, success in Asia can only be achieved via a partitioned strategy that meets the cultural taste and legislative leanings of any given country. For example, mahjong is popular in China, whereas pachinko is huge in Japan. It’s vital to deliver a diverse portfolio which segments player appeal and packages products accordingly.
In terms of the biggest opportunities, it’s in India’s emerging market that we’re currently seeing the biggest wave of growth. With a population of 1.3bn and rising faster than any other country, India economy’s is also anticipated by the World Bank to be the fastest growing this year.
The country is also well-connected — 87% of this keen gambling nation now has access to 4G, according to OpenSignal. You don’t need to be an accountant to appreciate those numbers, even in a country where most forms of gambling remain illegal.
In India slots are always popular, but the main revenues are being generated by table games. India’s standout card games for popularity are rummy and poker. If poker follows rummy’s approved skill-game precedent, as it is hoped it soon will, many spin-off opportunities could soon arise.
South Korea and Japan are two other players that have pulled up a sturdy seat at Asian gaming’s high table in recent years. However, the aforementioned fragmentation of Asia for game preferences and regional specificities (be they the result of player preference or regulatory requirements) continues to confuse many observers.
In fact, uncertainty has understandably led to some operators delaying their journeys to market. But rather than avoiding the market due to its complexity, some operators are instead utilising more sophisticated software to navigate the region.
As we’ve seen in the music industry, as competition between suppliers continues to increase, it appears that the capability of distribution systems — and in particular their machine-learning programmes — could prove a telling factor in the way in which operators impact and sustain the player lifetime cycle.
Harnessing prediction logic, which is powered by similar automated-curation algorithms to Spotify, is now the attainable reality for game proposals. It distils users’ habits, identifying their favourite games and recommending others which will likely prove right up their street for format, content and inherent playability.
Although universal regulation is slowing arriving across Asia, it will take time. But with a tech-savvy clientele boasting a voracious passion for gambling, it’s in all of the authorities’ best interests to get their licensing laws set up correctly in emerging and newly regulating markets.
Other footnotes include the innate cultural trust afforded to live games over RNG, which still endures in certain provinces. So it’s also important to combine the very best of the RNG and live casino worlds (where Baccarat remains the perennial Asian favourite) to capitalise. Watch out for more game innovation in the latter space as a result, but know that the tide towards RNG and its increasingly authentic gameplay is only running one way globally.
Having just returned recently from Asia’s defining gaming summit at G2E, I can confirm that the continent’s igaming potential has never been in ruder health. However, be sure to make patience and precision your watchwords, lest you walk off this fertile yet unforgiving map.
Jonas Alm is CEO of QTech Games, an RNG game distributor operating in Asia
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