After struggling for a generation to make serious headway in Asia’s online markets, a new breed of random number generator (RNG) game is finally surmounting a number of issues which had previously stalled the growth of online slots.
Online slots had been blighted by trust issues in Asia, where a large black market had left many players dubious of the legitimacy of titles where payouts are determined entirely under the hood.
The predominance of table games in Asia’s land-based casinos had equally made the transition of RNG titles to the online sphere less of a natural progression for customers than in Europe or the US.
These two factors combined to ensure Live Casino’s position as online gaming’s key growth driver in Asia, but this might finally be changing as technology, demographics and better game design make slots a viable proposition.
“Slots is probably the area of single biggest growth within the Asian online gambling business right now,” iGaming consultant Keith McDonnell, CEO of KM iGaming, told AGB. “Live Dealer and sportsbook have maintained healthy positions, but as a product category, slots is the one taking increasing shares of overall revenue.”
A lack of listed companies in the Asian online gaming sector makes it tough to estimate the precise nature of slots’ recent growth, but AGB understands that Asia is the single most important growth market for a number of the industry’s most high-profile and best-respected slots developers.
Meanwhile Peder Lindfors, CEO of online casino provider Flow Gaming, said growth in Asia had been particularly strong over the past two or three years, with the biggest RNG providers reporting annual increases of around 50 percent for Asian revenues.
This rapid growth of RNG games suggests they have overcome the historic distrust with which many customers had traditionally treated online slots.
“There has been a general distrust for online gambling in Asia and in particular for slot games, which have been perceived to be easy to manipulate,” said Lindfors. “In markets where non-regulated operators can offer their products, it is often the end customers who take the biggest hit, which creates the distrust.”
However, this is beginning to change as a more legitimate online sector emerges in Asia. Lindfors said the growth of RNG slots in Asia has been driven by an influx of “more professional, trusted and licensed operators” offering the games.
Max Niehusen, CEO of Booming Games, said historical distrust has tended to stem from a more general misunderstanding of RNG, that has led to many of the myths and misconceptions which have plagued online slots in Asia. But he too said this is quickly changing as operators and providers, aided by more effective legislation, take a more transparent approach.
“We work towards providing better clarity of our maths and the systems governing RNG,” said Neihusen. “Once major players start trusting the product, the masses follow.”
McDonnell argued that a generational shift is doing a lot to negate distrust in slots. He said it tended to be older players who believed RNG titles provided a stronger house edge than traditional table games.
“Of course, we know that online RNG reflects the house edge from land based casinos - and in many cases is better for the player - but it’s easier to be skeptical of something that is not physically in front of you,” said McDonnell.
“As demographics shift, technology developments become more widespread and online e-commerce generally continues to grow, trust in RNG builds with these trends, particularly when players can see the games come from credible suppliers and are licensed by known operators,” he added.
This broader shift towards RNG titles in Asia has in no small part been aided by the slew of Asian-themed online slots produced by operators in recent months.This year alone as seen the launch of major new titles from the likes of Yggdrasil (Monkey King), Habanero (Fa Cai Shen) and Microgaming (Lucky Twins).
Neihusen at Booming Games said that adapting titles to the specific market demands is critical to success of RNG titles in Asia. Booming Games, which has recently launched an Asian-facing arm, Booming Games Asia, has added staff with a knowledge of the region to its maths and design teams to better facilitate the creation of targeted content.
“Up-to-date and thorough research help us to deploy games that chime with the contemporary preferences of Asian player groups. Games that may have been successful in the European market can easily flop if they don’t adapt to the differentiation,” he said.
He added that as online slots remain a new proposition to many in Asia, titles which have established trust in the land-based arena often prove popular, and can act as a stepping stone to more dedicated online play.
Replacing Live Casino
Despite slots’ impressive growth, there are still questions over whether they can replace Live Casino as Asia’s preferred online vertical.
“Without question, Live Dealer has dominated the online market in Asia for years,” Kelvin Chiu, sales director at Asia Gaming, told AGB. “What makes Live Dealer games more appealing than other options is the interaction between player and dealer.”
While Chiu said the demand for slots in Asia is “undoubtedly rising”, particularly among younger players, he added that RNG games were unlikely to surpass Live Dealer in the next couple of years.
Lindfors argued the move towards mobile gaming will give slots a unique advantage over Live Casino. “As modern slot games are developed in HTML5, they are well suited for the mobile channel. In this very important channel, the customer will have a superior experience playing slots compared to the more technically heavy Live Casino,” he said. “As the mobile channel is growing drastically in Asia, this will be a very important factor for the success and growth of slots.”
Both Lindfors and Neihusen also called for better legislation and certification of RNG games in Asia as a means to build trust in the sector. It is likely no coincidence that those slots providers which undergo the vigorous requirements of Europe’s regulatory jurisdictions tend to be more trusted in Asia.
Regardless, both Lindfors and Neihusen agreed the slots opportunity was huge. For Neihusen, it presented “opportunities for us to satisfy a large section of players with our content.” For Lindfors and Flow Gaming, which serves as a slots aggregator, the timing of bringing new RNG suppliers to the Asian market is “exceptionally good right now”.
If providers can continue to build trust in Asia with locally-adapted RNG games, there is no reason why they cannot ultimately challenge Live Casino as the region’s primary online casino vertical.
Asia Gaming Brief is a news and intelligence service providing up to date market information for worldwide executives on relevant gaming issues in Asia.
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