Inside Asian Gaming

GAMING | March 2008 18 Mobile Gaming Y ears ago when travelling in south Asia, this writer stayed in a village that had only one television. The set took pride of place on a tree stump and the power cable was threaded through the branches of another tree and then through the window of a building to the nearest power source. The whole village gathered round to watch a subtitled episode of a fantastically politically incorrect British comedy programme from the 1970s called Mind Your Language . The relationship those villagers had with their television set in the 1980s is rather like the relationship many Asians have today with gambling and gaming entertainment. Even 21st century citizens have to physically move themselves to places such as Macau in order to huddle around a gaming table. Gaming entertainment options are growing though—and growing quickly— thanks to the ready availability of relatively cheap and powerful mobile phones offering Internet protocol content including video on demand and online gaming. “This development is considered by many academics to be as big as the television revolution of the 1950s and 60s,” says Shailesh Naik, Vice President Asia Pacific for CryptoLogic, an award-winning provider of online gaming content and support services to the telecommunications and multimedia industries. Gaming includes casual games, role-playing strategy a n d adventure games (RPG) and of course the high- margin games of chance aimed at mature players. The company says it hopes to make an announcementsoonaboutanonlinegaming operation out of Macau, which suggests the territory may be about to publish its long-awaited legal framework for online play. Although most Asian countries do not currently have a regulatory framework for online gaming, it’s hard for governments to ignore the industry. Mobile handsets are becoming more affordable and powerful every year. Those available today have more processing power than many desktop computers on the market in the late 1990s, according to technical journals. Scientists are also coming up with new ideas about how to improve energy efficiency so that the gain in handset computing power isn’t cancelled out by a sharp fall in battery life—designers of the first generation iPhone might like to make a note. The spread of Bluetooth technology could even help overcome the limitations of handset screen size by allowing images to be ported from your mobile phone to any large LCD screen in your vicinity, as could the development of miniaturised digital projectors allowing images to be projected to the nearest suitable surface. “What we have in Asia is a huge and perfect storm that’s been set up for the gaming world,” says Mr Naik. This perfect storm has been created by a conjunction of technological, demographic and societal developments that has allowed gaming delivery systems, content and markets to converge in one place at one time, faster and with more momentum than at any previous time in human history. The middle class in Asia is growing at the rate of 100 million people every ten years says Mr Naik—the equivalent of two thirds of the current United States’ labour force. That means every decade, Asia will have“100 million more people with mobile phones and PCs, and they love gaming,”he adds. “They have more money in their pockets and they have more leisure time. A generation of Asian parents has sacrificed their future for their children’s education, and many of those young people have been exposed to global trends and pop culture or have studied abroad. Now they have come back, they’re educated, they want to be near the family at home and they have money and they want to play.” Under the land-based casino model of product marketing and regulation, a gambling game is what the law or regulator says it is. The difficulty is that regulation has a tendency to categorise what it observes rather than what’s going on at the cutting edge of the market. “Anything that requires any amount of skill that people feel they can place a bet on, we’re going to see in that market,” says KenCrouse, C r y p t o L o g i c ’ s Asia is the right place at the right time for online gaming, according to CryptoLogic