Aruze Gaming Global is laser-focused on slots, aiming to leverage its cross-continental approach to games creation and dispersal, with a key focus on having teams on the ground.
Betty Zhao, Senior Vice President of International Operations tells AGB that the company can go toe-to-toe with competitors, supported by healthy upper management oversight and a mature games development team.
We’re joined today by Betty Zhao, Senior Vice President of International Operations for Aruze Global Gaming. Thank you for being with us.
Thank you. I’m very honored to be here. Thanks, Kelsey.
We’re happy to have you. I understand that you’ve been with Aruze since about November of last year, how has it been so far?
I’m very excited. I have received an enormous amount of support from Aruze Gaming Global – we call it AG2, Aruze Gaming Global, AG2 staff – both in the US and America, also including the Philippine teams over the past two months.
Many of these people have intensive experience, gained from their employment at AGA and otherwise. In this short period of time, I have learned so much from them and that will be very useful in working through all the new challenges facing AG2.
I have over 10 years personal experience in Asia gaming, which will be very helpful in understanding the different challenges and facing these markets, including the product acceptance, customer relationships, labor regularity, etc.
A significant portion of that time was also spent in Macau, the major gaming market of the world. But we have seen this huge growth in the markets, such as the Philippines and Singapore. So is it exciting to be facing this role of international operations where you get to be reaching into even more markets than you had previously?
Yes. That to me is very exciting experience that I’m facing because I can see different markets. And especially in Asia, the market is growing very fast. There’s lots of new opportunities and new IRs ongoing, and there’s lots of potential for the market.
Speaking of IRS, we know that Macau has kind of reached let’s say the final point. We only have six concessionaires; there are only so many properties. But for a place like the Philippines, we’ve got more IRS coming online. Is that one of your primary targets now?
The Philippines is also absolutely a hot spot of the market. However, we are game content supplier. It’s not only the Philippines, Macau and Asia, we focus globally.
What is then that interaction that you have with the US component, because we did see the alterations, the shift within the company, and there was a big alteration within Aruze itself. So how much do you interact with the US-facing team?
Basically, I am in charge of the international operation. And I had a business trip a couple of weeks ago in Vegas, and we work very closely with the US team.
The US market is of course, very good. And also I bring back lots of good experience from the US team, not only in the game product itself, but also sales and marketing and everything. We work very closely.
The two markets are very, very different in terms of the product offering. Certain games, which are going to work in the United States will not be at all a success in Asia and vice versa. So how much of a component do you have to include in order to kind of sculpt these games which might be coming initially from Aruze in the United States over to the Asian market?
Let’s see it this way: back to 90s and 2000s, lots of Australian games were having a big impact on the US market, later there were Asia games outperforming the traditional themes. So today across all the casino floor Asia-themed games are incredibly popular in North America. And this is clearly important for any suppliers in our industry, including us, to build and maintain the strong global presence. We believe that we are making the right investment decision and direction necessary to lead all the significant markets.
For the product itself though, there had to be a bit of a refocus as there was a division of the companies and when there was the sale itself. But then, from what I understand, Aruze Global Gaming is now focusing mostly on slots. Why is that?
Actually we are totally focusing on slots, because we want to laser focus on one product. And we don’t want to dilute any of our resources, energies, to any other products. We want to make the best level performing games in the slot world. (06:20)
How do you make a mark within the Asia Pacific region? How do you stand out?
Yeah, we are very focused on our Asia product development. And our team, we have a development team based in Asia. So most of the employees that we hired, we re-hired lots of previously AGA people. Most of them are very experienced, and they have lots of insight of the market. So, we do believe that no matter if short term or long term, we have a very healthy development of our product.
And we do think that we spent the last year to grow our product development team and we can see that we can go toe-to-toe to any of the competitors, we have a very mature product development team. This is our advantage. Furthermore, our developers have lots of unique insight of the games and we have different characteristic games for the Asia market.
Now you say that you can go toe-to-toe with the other competitors. But how competitive is this market?
It’s very competitive. Everyone is here. And everyone has lots of new games all the time. So we are very focused on developing new games. And we are very focused on new product delivery.
How many new games do you aim to put out? Is it based upon a weekly basis, a monthly basis, a quarterly basis? How does that break down?
There’s a number we are aiming at. But I cannot disclose it at this moment. Because it’s not only games we need to release to the market. So, you will see that in G2E very soon.
Aside from GT, which will be coming up a little bit later this year, we’re also going to have the ASEAN Gaming Summit – coming up in March in Manila. I know that you’re going to ICE very soon. Are you excited about that? And what new products are you taking over there?
I haven’t been to London for almost five years. I’m very excited that we have a stand there and most of our latest cabinets will be shown there. And also our iGaming team will be there. It will be very exciting to see lots of old friends and we can have face-to-face time with our customers. I’m very happy about that.
Yeah, it’s great to see that there has been the return in these conferences and expos, to get people back together after that downturn that we had. In Macau it lasted us nearly three years. Speaking of Macau, you guys just recently opened your new office, right?
Yes, that was last Saturday.
How exciting is it to have a new physical space within Macau? To be getting people together there within that, aside from having teleconferences or phone calls. What’s the importance of having that physical space here?
That is very important for us to work together in the same space, everything is more efficient than ever before. Maybe you know that the acquisition encodes Aruze America, South Africa, Europe, and Australia, it doesn’t include AGA. So we have a new office to build the team back together. So, it is very exciting.
Aruze does have offices based in different places. Where are these main focuses at? Where are your development teams up? Where are your marketing teams at? Are you spread out? Do you try and concentrate? Where’s the hub?
The Macau branch is in charge of all the Asia sales and operations. So, we have an office in the Philippines and most of our developers are there. And also we have a Japan office and the US Office, Australia and South Africa.
It sounds like you’ve got your bases pretty well covered. But are there any plans to open any new offices specifically within Asia within the near future?
At this moment, because we’re still quite new, the acquisition was in August, we are five months in. So, we are really focused on getting everything in good order and to have product, the pipeline and making everything in good operation first.
We have a strong group of employees who were hired from AGA. These employees – their history and knowledge – helped us a lot in making the transition less confusing, also from the customers and suppliers. And with the ownership moving to Mr. Frank (Feng), we find this very helpful, in that Mr. Feng is primarily focused on the supply chain in the Asia market. And with innovation of EGM games. Mr. Feng has been personally involved in the AG2 effort to build a good tier one development team.
This gets his daily attention like seven days a week. Likewise, each day, our management team has been thinking about everything: all the functions including sales, marketing and supply chain. Having this level of attention and support from the very top is an indispensable asset to AG2. Our decision making is very fast, in terms of large or complicated investments. So, I think, with this kind of management, we can move everything forward very quickly.
So this will be the second full quarter, considering that the acquisition was finalized last year. But it’s the first full quarter of 2024, a very exciting time, in particular for Macau because it’s going to be the first quarter where we’ve been completely out of the clutches of COVID.
What is the excitement in terms of that and do you have any expectations for what you can be getting from this market in the first quarter?
Macau, it has been very exciting, because Macau is bouncing back rapidly from COVID. Even though the GGR is not as good as back in 2019, the slot GGR is 1.4 billion – it is good. Also percentage wise, the EGM GGR versus the total GGR – there is growth: from 4 percent to 6 percent. So, Macau is still playing a significant cut in gaming. Especially slots. Slots are playing a more important role than ever before. So that is why we are very optimistic about Macau.
In the Philippines, lots of things are ongoing, the new airport, new IRs, there’s plenty of opportunities. Meanwhile other countries like Thailand, the Emirates, Japan, so everywhere. Asia is booming at this moment.
I’m curious, once the game has been created, how long of a testing period do you go through before it is completely released to the market?
That depends on the different types of games. So, some of the games are very fast and some of the games are pretty slow. And there is a new standard and we need to convert some old popular games to comply with the new standard.
We’re seeing a lot of changing regulations. But we’re also seeing continued development and growth. And we’re happy to see that Asia is roaring back even more. Betty Zhao, thank you very much for your time. I have to let you go for now, but I’m sure we will be talking to you very soon. Have a safe trip to ICE. Betty Zhao, Senior Vice President of International Operations for Aruze Global Gaming. Thank you.