Sergey Mukhanov, CEO at Connective Games, sits down with GI to discuss the future of the online poker market
Some industry analysts are saying that online poker is in terminal decline across Europe and the rest of the world, do you agree?
No, not at all. Poker has been undergoing a major change for some time now, but if operators and suppliers take the right approach the vertical can survive and thrive in existing and emerging markets around the world.
We at Connective Games see two important aspects. Firstly, localisation. Poker is played in diverse geographic, linguistic and cultural environments. In new markets, poker products that have been carefully localised are far more effective at attracting players than vanilla experiences offered by some of the large international operators. Second is a healthy player ecosystem. Sooner or later new poker players eventually become skilled players and the latter should be prevented from feeding on the former. Mature markets have too many professional players and need to ensure their ecosystem is properly balanced so they don’t deter new players.
What changes do operators in both existing and emerging markets need to undertake to return poker to growth?
They need to focus more on new recreational players, creating a comfortable environment for them to play in. For operators in ring-fenced markets, this means dialling-in on localization and offering a tailored experience. In well established markets, it makes sense to defend lucrative casual players, keeping them engaged with the game and playing for as long as possible. For example, operators may separate player pools based on their skill-level by seating them at tables with opponents of a similar ability. This keeps new and casual players coming back for more rather than being frightened away by experienced players. That said, poker is a game of skill so it is important for players to be able to compete against experienced opponents to develop and improve their skills.
Which new online poker markets are you excited about?
India is particularly exciting. Lawmakers are currently debating whether poker can be classed as a game of skill; if it can then it will be exempt from the country’s anti-gambling laws. There is an appetite for poker in India, particularly games that can be played online and on mobile devices. With so much potential at stake, it is vital that operators ensure the market does not become overrun by skilled players as we have seen in some mature markets, a cycle which can take as little as five years. If operators and platform providers deploy some of the tactics mentioned above they should be able to build a sustainable and successful poker industry in the country.
Why is poker a little behind the curve when it comes to mobile?
The main reason is tech; poker game clients are much more complex than casino as they need to be a real-time application working with many data flows simultaneously. Operators and platform developers are only just starting to build in HTML5, and this is because they were not able to create mobile experiences comparable to desktop in the past. Now, as devices become faster and new technologies like WebGL are being adopted by all popular browsers, they are shifting their attention to mobile poker. HTML5 allows us to build in all the required functionality, and offer a rapid and seamless experience in a no-download format improving the player experience drastically. At Connective, it has enabled us to push the boundaries and deliver new innovations for ring-fenced markets, creating the fastest mobile HTML5 game client in the world.
You previously mentioned localisation, why is this so important for online poker operators?
Generally, legal and regulated online poker is available in ring-fenced markets. Here at Connective Games our platform powers four of the top 25 operators on Poker Scout (based on player numbers) globally, so we understand what it takes to run successful poker sites in markets with a limited number of players. The first thing to understand is players are drawn to a tailored experience where they can pit their skills against players of a similar ability. They want to be able to deposit in their native currency and not convert from US dollars. The site must also be in their own language, and respectful of their cultural preferences. We have been doing this for a
number of years now and believe we have cracked the code.
What can we expect from Connective Games over the coming 12 months?
We are going to continue to push the boundaries when it comes to online poker platforms, for both desktop and mobile. We will continue to develop and iterate innovative tools that help operators maintain a proper player ecosystem, driven by our very experienced team ready to support any cultural specifics in the product.
We will also be migrating more operators to our platform, and by using our unique rake share agreement will remain incentivised to deliver the best possible product to our partners. We will continue to monitor new and emerging markets and will keep banging the drum for online poker the world over.