Company delays Audition launch after US$80,000 ad campaign as authorities decide online gaming violates antigambling laws
VTC Online has “wasted” US$80,000 on a marketing campaign for a new computer game that has become almost impossible to play following a controversial government crackdown on gaming centres, its vice director said Tuesday.
The Vietnam-based company had intended to release its first online game, Audition, in Cambodia earlier this year, Ha Hung said.
Audition is a multiplayer game in which users create a virtual pop star who can enter singing and dancing auditions to become more famous. It has won legions of fans in Vietnam, where up to 100,000 people have played concurrently.
VTC Online has now suspended its release in the Kingdom after officials closed an estimated 300 gaming centres under antigambling laws, according to Ha Hung.
Gaming centres are internet cafés specialising in online games. With low internet penetration in Cambodian households, they are crucial venues for product placement in the gaming industry.
Authorities consider online gaming a form of gambling, which is illegal under Cambodian law, Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak confirmed Tuesday. That viewpoint is strongly opposed by the gaming industry, which, in Ha Hung’s opinion, is “bigger than Hollywood”.
“Police seize computers [from gaming centres], and the owners have to go to the police to pay for the computers, and agree to never operate the business again,” added Hy Borin, system administrator for Wicam ISP, which partners with VTC Online.
Following the crackdown – which began in February – VTC has postponed a further three releases, though Ha Hung still hopes to launch the titles before the end of the year.
The company said they would like to increase dialogue with the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications to convince them of the legitimacy of online gaming, and added that it had invested too much to withdraw from the Kingdom.
“We will not leave Cambodia. We will fix this problem eventually. The question is whether it is soon or not. Audition is a very good game for socialising. That is why we decided to bring it to Cambodia first,” Ha Hung said.
Based on experience in Vietnam, VTC Online expected to generate an average of $7 per Audition account in the Cambodian market by selling online items within the game to provide advantages to users.
The game would represent the first significant competition for market-leading title Justice X Wars II (JXII), launched by CIDC. It noted a drop-off among its estimated 60,000 users due to the crackdown, but said the reduction had been balanced by an increase in home players.
A Ministry of Information official was unable to comment on Tuesday.