December 11, 2008 (InfoPowa News) — Can you still launch a
profitable standalone Internet poker site in today’s world of large
networks and the preoccupation with player liquidity? Gioco Digitale,
a Cyberarts-powered poker site in the Italian market, says you can –
and points to its success so far in the Italian real-money online poker
market.
 
Within the first month of going operational, a
spokesman claims the company passed the 10,000 concurrent player mark
and ranks reasonably highly among the poker leaders in terms of
tournament liquidity. The Italian market has surpassed all
expectations, he said, and the government has recently upped its
forecast for revenues in the first year of legalized online poker.
 
In
the months preceding its real-money launch, Gioco gained strong brand
recognition and an immediate leadership position in the market,
supporting more than 50,000,000 play hands and 1.5 million tournament
hands to prove the software, thus empowering its success in the
transition to real-money play.
 
The brainchild of Internet entrepreneur Carlo Gualandri, who founded Italy’s largest internet portal, Virgilio,
Gioco Digitale claims it was the first of its type on the Italian
market. It initially took some courage as the Italian authorities
yo-yoed between online poker prohibition and regulation, but the gamble
paid off in the end when the government decided on the sensible course
of legalisation.
 
Gioco Digitale already had a suite of online
betting and lottery products, but on hearing the Italian government was
going to legalize skill games to include online backgammon, blackjack,
and poker, Gualandri knew it was time to execute his ambitious plans:
“We want to be a serious player in online gaming in Italy. We can’t do
that in the sports betting market, because, whilst not yet mature, the
market is sufficiently saturated that barriers to entry are high,”
commented Gualandri. “Poker, on the other hand, is fresh in Italy.
There are no established Italian brands so it is an ideal environment
for us to launch in.”
 
Gioco Digitale’s servers had to be
located within Italy; every single tournament has to be approved by the
government; and only players in Italy can be permitted into
tournaments, and the choice of software was therefore crucial. And in
addition to the government’s caveats, Gualandri, being a keen
technologist, wanted to be able to add to modify, customize and
integrate functions within a gaming logic that was reliable and robust.

 
“We decided early on that we would control our technology,” he
said, adding: “We always had in previous ventures so saw no issue with
managing and developing it ourselves.” It was going to be a tough task
setting up Italy’s first poker site in such strict conditions, but one
that Gualandri was eager to take on.
 
To achieve Gioco
Digitale’s vision, Gualandri required a core gaming engine to integrate
into its own system: “We evaluated ‘make’ versus ‘buy’ options for our
technology platform,” Gualandri reveals. “But in order to offer a high
end product, we realised it would be better to rely on a company who
had experience of igaming markets that are much more developed than
Italy and our own expertise.” After assessing several suppliers, he
chose Cyberarts for the task of helping him create a standalone
operation.
 
“I felt there was an affinity of values, goals and culture,” he recalls.  
 
CyberArts VP of Engineering, Rudi Diezmann,
expanded on the government’s requirements: “Italian law requires player
verification in real time,” he explained. “Within thirty seconds of the
table going live, Gioco Digitale needs to have had permission from the
authorities that the tournament can begin. If for some reason that
permission cannot be given, a message pops up on the screen to say the
table has been canceled and that the players should try again later.”
 
“Whilst
this was a new request for CyberArts, it was not beyond our scope, as
our platform has provisions to talk between servers. In the States, for
example, CyberArts is used to asking servers for permission in regards
to subscription based gaming.”
 
In May 2008, four months after
development first began, Gioco Digitale launched the first
Italian-based and owned poker site in an initiative that went off
flawlessly. But because the Italian government was not yet up to
technological speed, activities had to be confined to play-for-fun.
 
“I
was very happy with the launch. It was flawless,” states Gualandri. “In
terms of the platform, the site had all the functionality and
management of processes required for the real pay-to-play site.”
 
Having
conquered one challenge in keeping the Italian authorities happy,
Diezmann was surprised to see he had another unusual request to build
into the gaming logic that would heighten the customization of Gioco
Digitale’s product.
 
“Gualandri asked us to incorporate the
ability for the player to see the best possible hand based on whole
cards and community cards,” recalls Diezmann. “So when a player mouses
over their hole cards, the software computes the best possible hand at
that moment for the player. This is done at the flop.” He continues,
“It can be disabled by the player with a simple check box option.”
 
Gualandri
explains why this feature is attractive for the inexperienced Italian
poker market: “We had a rich road map of announcements and
modifications that needed to be programmed because Italians, whilst
curious, are not used to Poker in the same way as Americans, the
Swedish or British.” He goes on to explain, “In the next version, we
will add a feature that shows the player how and why a person won. It’s
part of the education that, with the help of CyberArts, will make our
product stand out.”
 
Market reaction to Gioco Digitale’s poker
offering has pleased its founders. “Player response has been much
better than expected,” Gualandri states proudly. “We closed the second
month of operation with 30,000 registered users.” He is not fazed by
the challenge of converting these players into real cash customers.
“Assuming the regulatory process goes to plan, we hope to have 100,000
registered users in the first six months of our offering and to be able
to convert a significant part to money gaming,” Gualandri predicts.
 
With
marketing targets ahead of schedule, Gioco Digitale has already had to
spec up the size of its tournaments as it is already experiencing fully
booked seats. “For me this could not have been achieved without the
flexibility, scalability and robust nature of the software provider,”
says Gualandri, before concluding modestly, “We understand the Internet
and have been responsible for some of the most recognisable online
brands in Italy. Creating a poker site, however, within the
restrictions set out by the Italian government and our own peculiar
requirements could have been a nightmare! By choosing CyberArts, the
process was extraordinarily smooth. And we are very pleased with our
status as Italy’s first poker site!”