Inside Asian Gaming

GAMING | March 2008 36 F or Asian gamblers, seeing is believing, saysHwa-MinHsuMBE,an international lawyer and marketing expert with experience of the high stakes worlds of diplomacy and gaming. “Asian people don’t like random number generated games,”he explains. “They like to see and feel cards being turned.” “With all automated online games, they feel hackers can intervene and that software can be used to cheat.Chinese people believe nine out of ten gamblers are cheating in any case, so live games are preferred.” Trusted products The understanding that Asia is a low- trust business environment—at least as far as gaming is concerned—is what drives the business model of iFaFa. Philippines-based iFaFa was set up in 2005 as a subsidiary of a UK holding company, and offers a comprehensive service for online operators in Asia ranging from start-up support to software, hosting, online broadcast studios and agent networks. iFaFa specialises in helping online companies create casino-style products that are live and interactive, replicating as much as possible the feeling and atmosphere of actually being in a bricks and mortar casino. “Last year, 27 million people visited Macau,” says Mr Hsu. “After they’ve been to Macau, people—especially the ones that live in China—want to come back.But because of the visa problem, because of transportation or because of their job, the Internet is the most convenient way for them to do it.” Casino atmosphere So how do you make that target audience—eager to rekindle that Macau feeling and eager to be entertained— feel they’re back in a real casino? More importantly, how do you get them to trust the gambling process,when in reality they’re sitting by a modem, keypad, computer screen and speaker? Simply having live video streaming to a dealer in a studio and an Internet chat facility between player and dealer isn’t enough, says Mr Hsu. “You must know what you’re doing. That means in terms of the software provider, studio provider, general agent and sub agents.The software also has to be localised and customised.” Fair play Crucially, the game play needs to be perceived by Asian players as fair, says Mr Hsu. “Fairness is very important,”he explains. “This is why baccarat is so popular in Asia—not just in Macau, but also in The Philippines, Korea, Malaysia and soon Singapore. “Baccarat is a game of chance, not skill, unlike poker, where the more you play the better you get. I’ve seen a baccarat player with 40 years’ experience beaten by a dealer who was in his first day on the job. “For Asians, baccarat should be a fast, fun and above all, fair, game.” All online gaming essentially relies on trust,and in the cyber environment there are many potential weak spots for that chain of trust to be broken, suggests Mr Hsu. Cheaters and trusted agents An example cited by Mr Hsu is a case in Taiwan where the dealers in a live online game knew in advance the turn of the cards. “Are you surprised? Don’t be surprised. Be careful with your partner.The online Asian market is a tough, difficult and dangerous place,”he warns. This low-trust culture can also apply between operators and their agents, says Mr Hsu. “At iFaFa, we organise the agents. We use reputable people. They are former ambassadors, lawyers, bankers and accountants. “If you don’t know the agent system, you can’t do business in Asia.They are the people who take the commercial risk on profit and loss, they do the marketing and they collect the payments. “On the technical side,we also use highly Asian gamblers like online games with a real casino feel Online Gaming