Earlier in the week, OpenBox Gaming announced itself to the igaming industry amid an ambition of bridging the gap between Asian and European markets.
Detailing high aspirations for both operators and suppliers across the coming month, the supplier says that it doesn’t just boast access to a “huge amount of highly successful Asian content,” but can reverse that flow for European studios struggling to break out beyond their traditional markets.
Subsequently, CasinoBeats has been speaking to Richard Hogg, CEO of OpenBox Gaming, on the hurdles faced when entering Asia, similarities between the US and China, and changing perceptions of the industry.
CasinoBeats: Can you walk us through how Openbox Gaming came to be and the initial thoughts for the company at conception?
Richard Hogg: The people behind Openbox Gaming have been working extensively with an established group with a very successful business in Asia for a long time, as our access to thousands of the continent’s websites would suggest. What we wanted to do was make the most of that content in Europe too.
And, if water can flow in one direction, it can do so in the other too. Conversations with numerous friends and colleagues in the European industry who were struggling to make a meaningful impact in Asia persuaded us that having a company directing that flow was much needed. So here we are.
CB: How difficult it is for suppliers and operators to embrace the Asian market and what complications have you found focusing on Asia?
RH: We haven’t found any problems because that’s where the actual business originated in reality, given our relationships. We set up our Malta operation to act as a stepping-stone for those without a presence there themselves.
That in a nutshell is the issue, particularly for smaller companies: they don’t know where to start. Obviously, a lot of the big operators have been successful, but for the smaller ones, not to mention individual suppliers it can be difficult terrain to navigate without some proper guidance.
CB: What similarities and differences do Asian-based players have compared to their European counterparts?
RH: They both like to be entertained, they both like familiarity with a twist of novelty, and they like to see fresh content. With any player anywhere in the world they also like to know the product is trustworthy and reliable.
Whilst there may be some individual quirks in certain markets, I’m not convinced there are huge differences for certain types of games.
However, we have access to very many local games which will be totally unfamiliar for non-regional players but we do believe they can be entertaining given the appropriate narrative. Players are essentially cut from the same cloth the world over.
CB: You mentioned Openbox Gaming is a ‘bridge’ between Asia and Europe, why has it taken this long to create that conduit between the two markets?
RH: Others have tried, but they just don’t have the contacts we have or the critical mass when it comes to the sheer number of consumer-facing websites. Because we have our own proprietary content that is highly successful on these sites, we have the relationships in place.
Just like online casinos in Europe, they are hungry for fresh content. Our relationship with them and the suppliers in Europe means we’re perfectly placed to provide the bridge.
CB: What can both the European and Asian market learn from each other moving forward?
RH: You could say there is an obvious lesson for Asia to learn from Europe about regulating the industry, but they will inevitably do it their own way, taking into account local conditions.
I think European operators in particular can learn that there is a little more to content provision than the standard table games and endless slots. We might just be able to help them out when they do.
CB: What’s the future aim for Openbox Gaming?
RH: The current set-up is not long out of the starting blocks, but casinos are interested in utilising our content and suppliers are very keen to make use of our aggregation services, so it bodes well for the future.
I can see us growing very quickly and expanding not only our European operations but those in Asia too. I’ve worked with a lot of companies in this industry now, and this one has the potential to go sky high.
CB: Looking at recent advancements in online casino access within the US, do you think we could see similar moves in Asian markets, like China?
RH: It’s an interesting point. There are certainly interesting similarities between the US and China, particularly when it comes to the size of the economies and their enjoyment of gambling. But you have two fairly – and obviously – different systems of government. I’m not an expert on these things and wouldn’t really like to make predictions.
CB: What hurdles do operators and suppliers face when entering the Asian market?
RH: It comes down to market knowledge and relationships really. There are numerous other things, but you can boil it down to those two. You need to know the right people in Asia and have the right contacts. You could have the best product in the world but if you don’t know who to sell it to and how to sell it, it will sit on your shelf. And that’s where we come in.
CB: With regards to online slots within Asia, what are the player preferences when choosing a title to play?
RH: I think we need to be careful that we don’t slip into the realms of cliché and generalisation here, if I’m honest. There is as much variety in game types and player demographics in Asia as there is in Europe. There isn’t a slot title of choice in the same way that there isn’t an ice cream flavour of choice. And as a word of warning to European studios, slapping a couple of dragons in a game with an oriental soundtrack doesn’t make it an Asia-facing product!
CB: If we look specifically at Japan where gambling is prohibited and generally frowned upon, how do suppliers look to change these perceptions?
RH: In the same way that they do elsewhere. Governments and the people they govern need to have faith in the product and the people behind it. As an industry player protection is now front and centre and that isn’t going to change any time soon.
It may be prohibited in Japan and some other countries at the moment, but it was in the US until semi-recently – and now look at that market. A few years ago Germany and Holland were also in the same boat. Maybe Japan will have its own PASPA moment?