Western disconnect: why the European model doesn’t translate to Japan

By Dan Kleiner


We begin our series exploring emerging markets in Japan, where in an interview with Rika Munemasa, site manager of Japacasi, we discover why western-styled affiliate websites simply don’t cut it with local players

Game Lounge was a relatively early mover into the Japanese market, launching Japanesecasino.com in 2016 under the premise of being a European product embedded in Japanese culture.

However, the Malta-based affiliate struggled to find success with the original site, which Rika Munemasa, site manager of its new Japacasi brand running on the same domain, believes came down to it not being sufficiently geared towards Japanese players.

She also thinks that cultural differences played a greater role than Game Lounge first thought. “The previous design of Japanesecasino.com was aligned with our other markets’ sites,” says Munemasa. “In Europe, clean and simple designed websites tend to be the standard, but when it comes to Japan or other Asian sites it’s actually the opposite.

“Japanese people are more used to busier and filled information sites with lots of banners and characters. Therefore, when they see these kinds of simple sites, they might think there’s no beneficial information on there, which causes them to leave.”

Redesign for locals

One thing that helped Game Lounge’s Japan division was having seven Japanese nationals on the team. They pushed for a redesign to incorporate the type of experience to which locals were accustomed.

What developed was “an overwhelming sensory experience” featuring animated banners, clashing colours and vivid images. There was also more emphasis placed on the already established kawaii characters, which are typically animated with charming, vulnerable, shy and childlike features.

Kawaii is the culture of cuteness in Japan and can be applied to anything from people, animals and items.

Japacasi has 10 kawaii characters that feature across the site. They appear in banners and also within content where they provide readers with information through question-and-answer style text messages sent to each other.

Along with its own look, each character has a unique style of speaking that encompasses grammar, language and humour.

In fact, the copy across the whole website has been changed. Proper sentences and correct grammar have given way to something between playful conversational talk and texting. Emojis are used and jokes are made, in an experience that is somewhat confusing for English readers who translate the page.

Yet, that’s exactly what Game Lounge wanted with the redesign: localised style on western approaches to affiliate content.

Munemasa believes it’s possible to find the right balance, especially now that Game Lounge have succeeded in doing so. “Japacasi is a well-blended website and there are some other Japanese affiliate websites which are based in Europe that do quite well, so it’s definitely possible.”

For example, clicking on the Japanese version of fellow Malta-based company Sweetspotaffiliates.com reveals a collection of kawaii characters across banners and articles, additions that are hidden in the English version.

“I also think that since the gaming industry has developed mostly in the West and Europe, in particular, it’s important for us to take in some of the European gaming culture as well,” she adds.

One feature that is different from Japacasi and Japanese-owned affiliate websites is on the homepage. “On these affiliate sites owned by locals you can see that the top-ranking table formats for games are a common feature, and how they structure their web pages is quite different from ours,” Munemasa says.

Another big factor in deciding to rebrand the user experience and interface of the website was the feedback the team received from its online gaming provider partners.

“The feedback I got from our partners was very intimate and honest,” the site manager admits. “They wanted us to have more visually obvious advertisements, which again was something we lacked before.”

Japan's heavily regulated market

Gambling in Japan is heavily regulated and only a few forms are legal in the country. When it comes to sports gaming, betting on the four public sports of horse racing, bicycle racing, powerboat racing and motorcycle racing is all that is permitted.

Besides these, the only other forms of legalised gambling are the public lottery and football pools. No private casinos or sportsbooks operate in Japan.

Loopholes in Japan’s gambling laws have sparked an influx in parlours that offer pachinko and pachislo, though, games where winnings are awarded in tokens that can be exchanged for cash equivalents.

Loyalty is also something that differs between Japanese and Western players. “Although most players, excluding high rollers, like offers and bonuses players here tend to be quite loyal,” explains Munemasa. “If they are satisfied with the product and service, they stay using their favourite casinos and don’t really mind investing more money for that.”

Yet, that allegiance isn’t unbreakable. “Losing their trust is also just as easy as gaining it,” Munemasa adds. “Once they have a problem with a casino or affiliate and something occurs for them to be doubtful enough about them, the players will never come back.”

Players look for casinos with strong reputations when searching through lists and content from affiliates in the market. “Players here really put strong emphasis on reputation, but are still attracted to offers which makes bonuses and free spins quite popular,” Munemasa explains.

“From what we’ve seen recently with trends, brands which have unique offers or features with full local services and solid branding for the Japanese market are more likely to get the attention of new players.”

Players who use external gaming sites in Japan do so at their own risk. In October 2022, the country’s National Police Agency (NPA) issued a warning declaring use of offshore online gaming sites a crime.

According to Japanese law, the penalty for gambling-related crimes is no more than JPY500,000 (£3,200/$3,800/€3,600) or up to three years’ imprisonment.

Currently, there are no plans for the legalisation of online gaming in Japan meaning the current system of affiliates directing to external providers will continue.

Image by Sofia Terzoni from Pixabay

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