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Fresh from another hugely successful Photo Play World Games event, Fun world’s sales and marketing director Marco Huter speaks exclusively to Alex Lee about the Austrian firm’s rapidly increasing online community.
Currently, Funworld is working on the expansion of online download poker business and thus the strengthening of its multiplayer options are the focal points. Terminals with update 2006 show takings with an increase of up to 25 per cent . Funworld’s sales and marketing director Marco Huter explained: “The modern world of linkage is responsible for this. It makes quite a difference whether a poker player finds him or herself alone in front of a terminal or if he can challenge people from three further countries and measure himself that way. This is what turns a game into an experience and provides competition with a ‘touch of Sports’, as we call it.”
The world games 2006 was a perfect way to show how strong the international community is. In recent months, Hungary, Czech, South Africa, Albania and Turkey were linked to the Photo Play NET, which now encompasses 22 countries. 2006 was an important year for Funworld, In January, during the ATEI in London, the firm presented two significant new products. One is the Photo Play Sportstar Xtreme, the world’s first flexible terminal that can be employed either as a sit down or stand up terminal. Huter told InterGame: “It can be positioned anywhere in a card room making it a top device, especially for modern catering outlets.” The second major innovation is funworld Systems 2006, the new online generation update, where appearances as well as basic functions were completely changed. Funworld found that it gained new players as well as making procedures easier for tournament players.
“Both from the basis for good takings in the long-term,” said Huter. “As our statistics prove, the new functions reward operators with up to 25 per cent higher revenues. User friendliness was tested by an independent testing institute for usability. The study’s results were integrated in the final version.”
It is part of Funworld’s company philosophy not to speak of rivals but rather of market partners. “We do not evaluate our competitors as opponents but as stimulating market factors. This way we are really forced to be active and to push our developments ahead, making us alive and innovative while barring any form of numbers. In our business, the market must be seen much more globally than the games terminal industry itself. Our scope is the global sector of entertainment options.”
Huter sees Funworld as groundbreakers and innovators. When Josef Ohlinger, launched Photo Play in 1995, Funworld’s was the first touchscreen terminal in Europe. In 1998, linkage of games terminals using a network was unique. “In addition, there is our Positive Games Philosophy, which, besides being highly accepted socially, grants us entrance to operating locations such as hospitals, banks, etc. We were also the first to make online games, with all additional features such as live tournaments and chats, possible in 2004. and in 2006, we presented the world’s first flexible terminal. Over and above that, our clients appreciate our strong market appearance and our reliability. All this as well as our wide international reach we’re represented in 46 countries and in 26 languages singles us out.
Huter sees linkage as the big topic of the future. “Our positive philosophy has us involved as competent advisers in some countries legislative procedures. Therefore, we also hope that we will be able to help bring determining legal factors into line throughout Europe.” Funworld has a department that specializes in localization. “Before each update, we invite the general agent to our premises and ask him to check all contents and to give his advice regarding domestic nuances and so on. Only after having received this feedback do we finalize the update for that particular country.”
Funworld’s classical games are the same in each country but they are adapted language-wise. Funworld also tries to recognize cultural differences and to provide special games for particular regions. Skat, for example, is a game that runs only in Germany. Italy has its own special soccer quiz and Finland its own hockey quiz. The challenge lies in the multiplayer option, where Funworld brings players from four different nations together to play one game. “Linkage is becoming more and more important and is often demanded by law. Competition on the International poker gaming market and legal changes have led to a concentration of operators in many countries,” revealed Huter. Funworld’s sales and marketing director admits that his firm’s multiplayer games fascinate him.
“They allow me to play againts people from other nations, move from my very own office. In the process, I see what my partners look like and what their names are which I regard as quite remarkable.” The Technology that makes online playing and competition possible is very important to Funworld. The Touch of Sports is a significant element also. “International competition and the players’ Championships that culminate in the Photo Play World Games every two years provide our players with an entertainment platform. We also pull them out of anonymity thus turning players into sportsmen, individualists into team players. Photo Play gives them togetherness, recognition and honor. That is much more than a simple game played alone could provide.”
On average, it takes two to three months to develop a Photo Poker game and it is subject to a clearly specified procedure. First, an idea for a game is submitted to the idea board- a group of Funworld employees from different departments who meet regularly. Once the idea board has declared an idea as a good one, it is moved on to the games board that meets every fortnight. The games board releases the idea for programming, whereas every step of its progress is carefully analyzed and evaluated during each consecutive meeting.
The celebrations demonstrated how successfully Funworld and Photo Play have been positioned internationally and how strong the partnerships with its agents are. “Our company owner continuously expects u, and shows us how, to think around corners and to break out of ruts. Most recently, the flexible Photo Play Sportstar was developed from this kind of originality. I believe that it is also one of our strengths to rethink and to strike new paths,” said Huter.
Huter explained: “Right up to its beta-version, programming can be called off and the idea scrapped. As soon as the beta-version is released, the game is played on terminals in a test room where special test players evaluate its fun factor.” Currently, Funworld has over 100 people working on developments at its headquarters in Schorfling, upper Austria. It has a further development subsidy in Vienna, which solely works on 3D games. In casino software alone, there are around 50 people whose efforts include games development, data banks, linkage, internal EDP, research and quality control. Funworld celebrated its 25th anniversary last autumn, during which it also celebrated 10 years of Photo Play and Josef Ohlinger’s 50th birthday.
DSL linkage, because it makes the fundamental thought of the world being a global village possible, impresses Huter. “With Photo Play, we are able to communicate this emotion with our online card games.” Funworld’s new 900sq.m storage depot is completely equipped and filled - five of its warehouse employees competed their forklift licenses so they could work there. “Our expansion plans for 2006 are not related to the further expansion of the company premises but the expansion of the online network by pushing the sales of our Xtreme Generation terminals,” Huter explained.
Striving to succeed
Alex Lee speaks to Seeben’s Patrick Magendans about the enduring Belgian company’s role in the world coin-op industry
Seeben has a history dating back over 40 years. One of the leading distributing companies in Belgium, Seeben also exports its goods worldwide. It has its own manufacturing line of bingo tables, all of which are adjustable for different jurisdictions. Additionally, Seeben has become a specialist in used gambling machines. From slots to multiplayers, Seeben offers a wide range of equipment, such as reel and video slots, poker, automated roulettes, horse race (single player and multiplayer) and bingo multiplayer among others. “You name it, we have it,” said Patrick Magendans.
Seeben prides itself upon high quality equipment and the supply of it coming from ‘thorough specialists.’ As a service centre for JCM, money handling for any application is no secret to Seeben. It distributes Amatic casino poker products in Belgium and in some foreign jurisdictions. It can also assist customers with the installation of their equipment. Seeben heads up a group of companies, Unibox Group, which has a wide diversity of activities, led buy Victor Bosquin, founder of what now is known today as the Unibox Group and creator of no less then 107 companies. Nowadays 83 are still active, some of which are outside of Belgium. The flagship of those companies is Seebenm the worldwide importer /exporter of Gambling equipment.
More than 1,000 employees are currently working for the Unibox Group, and under the leadership of Bosquin, they maintain a strong position in the following markets – street operation, arcades, bowling, casino, manufacturing and real estate. Unibox Group was founded in 1956 by its current owner and major shareholder Victor Bosquin, Snr. Ever since he has operated amusement and gaming machines. With the present Belgian legislation, all these companies had to be granted a license in order to stay active in its local market. Having a strong domestic market, Unibox Group couldn’t stay behind and applied for its companies. They all were granted their respective licenses.
Within the group two separate divisions came along over the past years, Sirmo Games (manufacturing ) and Seeben (wholesale, distribution ) Sirmo Games has always manufactured Bingo tables. Having its own production facility, the group had a first hand on the Belgium market and could adapt its products immediately when the market needed so. This has created a two way win situation. Sirmo Games could create and produce more games and with a strong operator to give him the know-how, these products took an important position on the Belgian market.
Seeben was founded in Belgium as a daughter company for Seeburg, at that time US giant jukebox manufacturer. Seeben build up a strong customer base worldwide. When Bosquin had the opportunity to buy the company, he didn’t let this go by. To have first hand jukeboxes for his own operation and a fine distribution network for his products internationally, Seeben became more important and has since handled a wide diversity of gaming poker amusement equipment.
In 1970, Bosquin started his operation in the south of Spain. He has built up a strong street operation and some of the finest arcades. In 1996, the company Namusco (National Music Company ) joined the group as well. This company has over 40 years of experience in amusement games. Namusco has the exclusive distribution for Atari, Namco, Sega and Wurlitzer to name a few. It also sold the first ever Royal Ascot in Belgium in 1992. Since 1997, when the amusement industry dropped, Namusco had to adapt its activities. It became a specialist for the class II market, the arcades. Service and know-how has always put Namusco on a god footing in its local industry. Customers have been satisfied by their ongoing commitment of an ever renewing industry.
Since casinos were legalized in Belgium, the Bosquin family has entered that market as well, becoming shareholder of the Spa and Namur casinos, which are respectively the oldest casino in the world and belgium’s top earning casino. This gave the group a new challenge and took its activities to a higher level. In 2003, the Bosquin family realized the first project with the casino of spa. At the beginning, the slot floor started with 44 machines. Now, two years later, it has increased up to 60 slots. The goal by the end of 2006 is to operate up to 90 machines.
2004 was the year that the Namur casino was entered by the group. The casino already had 46 machines on the slot floor. Today, 76 machines are in place. “By the end of 2006 we intend to have 120 machines operating,” Magendans revealed. The Unibox Group stands for integrity and a long lasting relationship. That is why all its companies are licensed by the Belgian Gaming commission. Today Bosquin still heads up the board of directors. He has passed the presidency to his son, better known in the industry as Vicky Bosquin. Urbain Thewissen runs day-to-day general management. He is also vice president of the group.
The head office is located in Chaineux, a small town between Liege and the German border. Having the Wallon identity, the majority of the group’s activities are in the French speaking side of Belgium. Due to the diversity of the sales staff, a considerable Flemish side has approved the quality of Seeben’s products. “Because of our wide diversity of activities, we obviously encounter competition in every field we cover,” explained Magendans. “But competition keeps us awake and focused so that we don’t become that big company that basks in its past successes. Our passion for the industry and having aboard some long-term industry players, such as myself and Stefaan Michel’s, that’s what distinguishes us from our competitors.”
“Also as cashless has become an important part of our industry nowadays, we will require a good purchasing philosophy in order to meet the local requirements. But Seeben’s experience has proven to be accurate and that new challenges don’t hold us back from new emerging markets. Out presence at the yearly ICE exhibition in London is therefore our lift-off of the year. Some regional exhibitions are also visited by our staff, just to support our local customers,” he added. “Our Belgian pin table bingos are of course special games,” remarked Magendans. “With all respect, the elderly among us remember those games when they first were imported from the US in the early 70s.”
Since the new law passed in Belgium, Seeben needed to put a lot of energy in R&D in order to comply with the regulations. This process actually is an ongoing event, as laws and protocols and being adjusted along the road. The gambling commission gives regular updates, which has given Seeben some time to be more active on the international market. The used equipment that is offered has helped Seeben gain a reputation for being reliable. Cabinets are being completely refurbished and technically adapted for every customer.
With legalized gambling, it gets harder and harder to find new markets where gambling still has growing potential. But there is still room out there and with our know how we are able to assist those new markets to a higher level. Most of Seeben’s games come out in legal markets, so when new laws get in place the firm usually only has to make a few modifications to what is already in place,” said Magendans. “A lot of gaming poker laws are similar. New markets are not yet ready to invest in new products, so we offer them a good alternative. It is natural that those markets will switch to new equipment sooner or later.”
Today, Belgium has become the world’s number one manufacturer of bingo machines, 12,000 of which are in operation. A few countries like Italy and France still operate machines. Further from home there are activities in South Carolina, US. Due to the specific way of playing, the game is hard to adapt to other markets. The mechanical aspect can’t be controlled and the game is slow compared to other Gaming machines. But in markets where bingo is operated, operators generate good income.
Every year Seeben tries to stabilize its position in the market. A proof that is the long term philosophy the company has with its staff. “Most of the members have come at a very young age, stay for decades and leave at retirement age. That loyalty is a strength not many companies have,” Magendans concluded.