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East meets West: the case for iGaming in Asia

How operators and affiliates are navigating the complexities of the Asian markets

by Jake Pollard

Asia has been a hive of activity for the iGaming sector for many years and the features most often mentioned about the region are scale and volume.

This is the case for casino or sports betting, where the sums and volumes involved allegedly surpass the biggest numbers the European industry can muster by some distance. It is impossible to know if the tales of rooms stuffed full of cash to be divvied up by super-agents after the weekend action had been played out were ever true, but the mere fact that they have lasted so long gives an idea of how big the industry is in Asia.

However, for all the talk of vast scale and even vaster profits, getting the basics right when operating in Asia: having the right contacts on the ground, acquiring quality traffic, offering excellent customer service and, most important in many ways, the fastest and easiest payments options; are still the hardest and most time consuming things to get right for operators.

When it comes to geographies, currently the key markets after China are Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan. As Alex Czajkowski, long time iGaming executive and most recently marketing director for Laba360, explains, “there is China; and then the rest of the region, with Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia considered by many operators to be the hot markets outside of China, with Japan recently coming into play as well.”

This is explained by the size of the Chinese market and its specificities, notably the tightly controlled online environment the authorities keep a very tight lid on. Another feature is that social media in China revolves around WeChat, QQ and Weibo, which are nothing like Facebook or Youtube.

This means player acquisition and “all of the recruitment and retention is done one-to-one via WeChat” says Czajkowski, “the Chinese don't use email much and you can't send an SMS with a link, never mind with gaming language, so it's laborious and repetitive one-on-one marketing, sales and player management.”

Getting up to speed with this way of working and finding the right staff that can do it well is one of the hardest tasks to get right for operators. Another trend in China has been that some of the market leaders of the past few years, such as Mansion with its M88 brand, Dafabet or Bet365 are being replaced with newer brands such as Fun88 or 138 that have strong connections to the country.

Clearly the China-instigated crackdown that has been going on in the Philippines and Cambodia recently is unlikely to abate anytime soon, but firms based in the former country in particular will continue operating across Asia, China included.

When it comes to marketing the fact that iGaming is widely unregulated in Asia affects how operators advertise and market their products.

Shino Besson, operations manager at the Japan-focused affiliate specialist Game Lounge, says: “Most non-Japanese (affiliate) mediatargets different market segments, therefore, promoting casino or sports betting brands through affiliate websites is the best and most powerful strategy at the moment.”

The affiliates focus on SEO to attract Japanese players but Besson adds that it is important to have the right products to ensure they open accounts, if the sites “do not cater to their demands, no one will buy the products. Affiliates are required to have a thorough knowledge of both SEO and market trends, since it’s well-known that the Japanese market can be tricky or even unique”.

As ever, mere localisation is not sufficient to make a mark in Asia, it’s important to have truly fluent Japanese speakers and “highly qualified marketers, designers and content writers” Besson explains, “and this enables us to tailor our design and content to a Japanese audience.Last but not the least, we have an actual network of players that enables us to suggest improvements or promotions after listening to their suggestions. This is one of our strongest assets”.

Besson adds that support and payments are the two most important features of working in Japan.

“If an operator claims to have support in Japanese but replies to customers using Google Translate, Japanese players are not likely to tolerate linguistic mistakes.We are very aware of the importance of support and this is confirmed by the number of visitors on our support ranking article (which gives casinos support services a ranking). As a result, casinos that rank high on this tool have very good conversion rates,” she says.

The appropriate payment methods such as dedicated credit card options are also key, but Besson adds: “It’s important to point out that the way most of the people view Asia in Europe is not the way the Japanese view it. We’ve seen so many brands that mixed up Asian countries.It might seem easy to indicate that the brand is focused on Japan by displaying images of Mount Fuji or a geishabut we are now living in the 21st century!” In other words, don’t generalise.

For a broader take on the Asian affiliate sector, DovAllin, founder and CEO of Marketing Cross Media Asia, says “one of the key trends in terms of products has been the move away from table games and live casino, which have always been a must have for Asia-focused casinos, to online slots in recent years”.

This makes sense as slots generate higher margins and operating costs are lower than those of live casino. Allinadds that his operators are currently focused on China, Japan, Vietnamand Thailand, with South Korea also coming up strong. The Asian affiliate sector is also modernising and getting more sophisticated.

“It is clear Asian countries enjoy igaming across all the key verticals and the affiliates who are catering to those markets with a long-term view are building up strong SEO profiles, backlinks and referencing options. The traffic is also improving, whereas in the past much of it came from unreliable sources such as blackhat or adult and sports streaming websites; it is improving constantly and now offers good options for players,” he says.

The China-related regulatory upheavals of the past few weeks are likely to carry on for some time, although this is unlikely to deter operators from targeting China or other Asian markets. In addition, high connectivity levels and cheap smartphones will continue to spread across the continent, while the agent system that is so prevalent is gradually being supplanted by online direct-to-consumer systems like the affiliate ecosystems that run in the West. Those trends are only likely to increase in the near future and affiliates are moving with the times.

SiGMA's moving to Asia, with our first major event in Manila, SMX Convention Centre, June 08-09, 2020.

Asian affiliates and delegates apply here!

About SiGMA:

The next SiGMA – World’s iGaming Village show is taking place in Malta between 27th and 29th November 2019.  Visit our website to reserve Delegate and Affiliate Passes.   You can also choose Sponsorship and Exhibitor opportunities.

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