Adapting to change – Asia takes it slow and steady

Technology is advancing at a breakneck pace, opening a world of opportunities, though when it comes to game design and convergence between the land-based and online sectors, customer preferences in Asia are slow to change.

This was a key takeaway from panels at the ASEAN Gaming Summit held in Manila last week, which this year focused on disruptive technologies, innovation and the convergence between the online and offline sector.

Although much is made of the need to the attract the millennial audience, whose adoption of new technologies and social gaming is fast and well documented, they are still a long way from being a driving force in the industry.

“Some of the major operators talk about what they are going to do to cater for the millennials, but they are the young people who are sceptical and have no money at the moment,” Clinton Long, sales director for Scientific Games Asia told a panel on game design.

“There was an article in life magazine in 1955 that was heralding the end of Las Vegas because it hadn’t targeted baby boomers, but the full impact wasn’t felt for another 25 years. When you look at millenials and the money constraints, we don’t think the full impact will be felt for another decade.”

Lawrence Levy, Novomatic’s vice president of global sales agreed, adding that one major U.S. casino client had pointed out that 91 percent of its revenue came from the over 40s.

“So obviously they are the ones we are designing games for.”

Across most of Asia, table games are still favored over slot machines, with baccarat still the leading table game. That said slot machines are gaining traction in Macau for example and are highly popular in some markets, such as the Philippines.

The panelists pointed out that a good game will play across all demographics and designers focus more on targeting customer wallet, with the tendency in Asia to be on the higher spending player.

Once suppliers have a winning product, they need to tweak and refresh the game to keep those players coming back.

In Asia, that winning formula is centred around having a strong base game, with 90 percent of players sticking just to that base. The themes on screen need to appeal and draw in the customer, with familiar colours and symbols, but once they sit down, the experts agreed it will be the mathematics that keeps them there.

“Asia is very strong on progressive links with passive jackpots,” Long said, pointing out that the maths underlying its most popular game, Duo Fu Duo Cai, and its spinoff products is simple and similar. “It’s scatter play, left to right.”

Aristocrat Managing Director Asia Pacific Chris Rowe stressed that Asia is a jackpot market and therefore a lot of game innovation is now centering around how jackpots are revealed on screen and how players become eligible for that payout.

“We have an eye on tech and trends and while we are conscious of these, for now the types of game mechanics we are looking at are the ways to enhance the ride,” he said, using a theme park analogy, that some players are thrill seekers and others like a steadier approach. “If you are that slow train rider, we want to make sure you have the best slow train. If you are the roller coaster, we want to find a new way to do that loop de loop to make you want to go and ride that roller coaster.”

That said, all the panelists agreed that change is coming down the pipeline. That may be in the form of skill-based games, though they are slow to gain traction, or through greater adoption of multi-game systems that have also not been fast to catch on in Asia.

“It’s more of a trust thing. It’s a trust of technology that will come,” Long says. “With that comes better technology on server-based gaming that can give the players endless choice and the ability for the operators to change games dynamically on the floor and that may be something millenials like too. That technology is there, but the market really hasn’t moved towards it yet.”

Convergence between the online and land-based sector has also been touted as the hot new trend of the past few years, though operators speaking on a separate panel on improving online offerings pointed out that in reality few casinos have been able to make convergence work.

It has partly been an issue of client trust in the technology when it comes to land-based clients migrating to online, therefore the key has been to build confidence.

Roger Marris, CEO of the Ritz Club in London and Rhys Jones, managing director of Ha Tien Vegas Entertainment in Cambodia, highlighted the different ways they are incorporating online offerings in their properties.

For Marris, whose primary audience is the Asia VIP, dual tables have proven highly successful, with the client able to go home and continue playing on the same table with the same dealer, providing a familiar and trusted environment.

“With any large VIP they want to be confident they will get paid and if there is a problem they have access to a senior manager,” he said, adding land-based casinos had been more inclined to offer their sports books online than their casino products, though confidence in the formula is growing.

The Ha Tien Vegas doesn’t offer dual tables, but live streams from separate tables with the casino in the background.

“The majority of border casinos in Cambodia, of which there are more than 100, operate in cash,” he said. “Every jurisdiction has their quirks and preferences. Players are very conservative about giving away personal information. They do not want a camera streaming on them. They have phobias about many things and one of them is technology.”

Even in the field of crypto-currencies, experts acknowledged that change is likely to come slower than much of the hype in recent months might suggest.

Jimmy Nguyen, CEO of nChain and a leading figure in the field, urged casinos to adopt blockchain cash in their payment systems, but admitted there are limitations with the current technology. He said the industry is working on creating a terabyte-size block that can handle four billion transactions every 10 minutes, which will be a game changer, but won’t happen any time soon.

“If you are not already accepting bitcoin cash as a payment method for your games then do it,” he told a panel on crytocurrencies. “Second think about the ways in which in your games and gaming applications you can eliminate intermediaries. People and companies in the middle. That will transform the way things operate and create more efficiencies and that can all be done with the blockchain and bitcoin cash.”

Although change in habits and the adoption of technologies may be slower than might be hoped for, or expected in Asian gaming, all agree it will eventually come and the industry should be ready for it.

“The thing is all of the companies here are still making lots of money and are highly cash generative so there isn’t that need to innovate,” said Tony Plaskow of Black Cow Technologies, an e-gaming software supplier.

“The industry has always adapted at some point, when it has been bludgeoned into it, but we are approaching the time, perhaps in five or ten years time, when there is going to be a crunch point where players are interacting in a completely different way in terms of entertainment.”

As for the Asia player, while fast to adopt new technologies personally, when it comes to gaming they remain conservative.