BABELFISH

Not everybody likes poker networks. That’s a harsh reality that we have to deal with here at Microgaming. We’ve invested a lot of time, effort and resources into the network model ever since we created one of the first networks – Prima Poker – 12 years ago. Prima Poker is still thriving today, albeit rebranded ‘MPN’, but over the years we have had to get used to the idea that sometimes, people would rather go it alone. Sometimes poker networks will be criticised, and sometimes – sadly – that criticism will be right on the money. As the network provider, it’s our job to take those criticisms and develop solutions to the problems that are identified. We’ve done this in the past, for example: • Networks were criticised because of the issue of drain (i.e. players from Operator A could lose to players from Operator B, reducing Operator A’s revenue potential). So we developed True Value, a system which rewards operators with extra rake if their players lose to the network overall. • Networks were criticised because operators didn’t have enough control over policies and network strategy. So we introduced the Network Management Board, to give the best-performing operators on the network a real say in how it is run. Another common criticism of networks is the ‘one size fits all’ approach. As the software developer, we have to accept that we cannot please all of our operators all of the time. Take 2014 for example: we spent a significant amount of development time and effort on necessary compliance with UK regulations. But there were many operators on our network who chose not to apply for a UK licence and to exit the UK market instead. Those operators did not directly benefit from this work. Being the network provider, you can be accused of ‘playing it safe’ with software, and to some extent that is true. After all, it’s easier to take a risk when you’re gambling with your own money – but when you are gambling with your customers’ money, it’s a different story. The problem of ‘one size fits all’ was crying out for a solution, and it was our job to find it. We think we have done so with Babelfish, our new API. In a nutshell, Babelfish makes it easy to create poker client software and run it on our network. That means that an operator who doesn’t want to use the same software as everybody else doesn’t have to. They can build their own software, and it can look and feel however they want. Our first customer to use Babelfish is taking an interesting approach. They’ve built client software which is quite similar to their existing platform to make the transition as simple as possible for their existing players. Anyone who has switched networks in the past knows that migration can result in a short-term drop off in players, but by making the migration as smooth and hassle-free as possible, this drop off can be reduced. But Babelfish has far more potential. Another possible application is in regional markets. Only one operator has ever succeeded in mounting a real challenge against PokerStars in regional markets – Winamax, in France. They have done this by having their own custom software, which looks and feels French to the core. While their competitors are selling English products translated into French, Winamax is selling a French product, and there is no doubt in my mind that this is a key component of their success. Babelfish allows operators who are operating in regional markets to offer custom, exquisitely tailored and carefully localised software à la Winamax, while having many of the benefits of a network at the same time – real tangible benefits compared to going stand-alone, like increased liquidity and reduced costs. It is perfect for operators looking to make an impact in the regulated markets which have previously been so difficult. Another possibility afforded by Babelfish is for an operator to create a niche market for themselves. Previously, niche markets generally didn’t work because it was hard to build up the liquidity necessary to make money. But now, an operator can build a niche poker client – say for a mobile device which isn’t commonly supported (like a Windows or Xiaomi phone) or for a new platform, like Xbox or PlayStation, and the network liquidity will take away some of the risk. By making it so easy for operators to create unique poker experiences, we hope that we will open the door to new innovation in online poker. The potential in Babelfish is huge, and we can’t wait to see what ideas people will come up with about how to use it.

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