In 2012 the social casino phenomenon hit its stride in Facebook and on mobile devices. In many cases the offerings were very similar to the games one would find in a land based casino or bingo hall. With slots and bingo being the biggest winners in 2012. Social poker also experienced a surge on mobile devices taking advantage of the natural virality components of poker outside the context of a social network like Facebook. Table games such as blackjack, roulette, craps, etc were less popular. However, this is relative to the success of slots and bingo and the viral nature of poker outside of a social networking platform. Social sports wagering is still relatively unpopular. However, there are very good reasons for this which will be discussed in a future blog.
With success comes competition. This has lead to a flurry of me too slot and bingo games. Overall, the play across all these games is still good. However, monetization is becoming more difficult primarily because it appears that social casino players have a wallet threshold for virtual currency(chips) and this wallet is being spread out, or perhaps being consolidated in a limited amount of social casino games.
Going forward social casino operators and developers should also consider player fatigue as a potential reason for a drop off in social game play. This does not appear to be the case currently. However, 2013 could witness a flattening of concurrent player usage.
So what are game developers and operators doing or should consider to reverse the slowing monetization trend and to revitalize interest in the the social gaming space?
Marketing - The usual first reaction to slowing sales or customer acquisition is usually a change in the way a product is being promoted and customers/players acquired. Certainly, advertising more, in different places and in more clever ways is a rather easy way to see if the existing product(game) can draw more attention and more players. Refining a games marketing program is certainly recommended and a good first step to determine if the game itself is still popular and capable of moneitizing at a rate that will cover the additional marketing effort and cost.
Competitive Evaluation - During the initial development of game developers frequently conduct a competitive analysis of the game space they are entering and base their new game design and features on the competitive landscape at the time of development.
Developers are less likely to go back to their game design after the game is released unless product management or marketing insist on changes. A more prudent practice would be to continuously review the competition to see what new features or game types are being launched. Even if a competitive game has been launched but does not appear to be immediately successful does not men that there is not something to be learned from the attempt. Clearly, the game designers saw something of interest in the new game.
Not So Obvious
We are starting to see some experimentation in social casino games that are unorthodox that may eventually become part of the social casino landscape. Exploration of these new game types is worth consideration as social game developers consider next steps in social game development and deployment.
Game Style Mashups - There is a long history of casino style games being played within virtual worlds or with video game style presentation. In some cases they have been wildly successful and in others not particularly successful at all. It is worthy to note that social game developers continue to explore these areas to attempt to "immerse" players in an environment and to offer them more then a single game experience. These development efforts are non-trivial requiring not only the building of social games but also the interaction between a virtual world and a game. However, more sophisticated engaging game playing "environments" may be required for differentiation in the marketplace.
Second Life - Second Life was one of the first virtual world to launch a full on "real" gambling casino in its world. It was phenomenally successful. So successful that the DOJ forced them to shut down their operation. Only a few people will recall experiencing this online casino. However, its creative presentation of the games and the interaction with the games is still talked about in many circles.
VirtualGamingWorlds - The VGM social gaming property was launched about a year ago with the concept that an individual could create their own social casino within a virtual world and garner the revenue from that casino. I am not sure how well this company is doing. However, conceptually the concept is interesting because it does foster a sense of "loyality" to the property they have build. Also, the ability to offer other venues is the virtual world could add to additional revenue streams.
MyVegas - MyVegas is a social casino game property launched by former Wagerworks(IGT) and Wynn executive Andrew Pascel. Given Andrew's experience with casino operations and online freemium and real money gambling MyVegas has the potential to be a successful amalgamation of land based and social gaming. The current state of the property exclusively offers standard slot games as game play with a back drop of the Las Vegas strip as a teaser. I suspect that the ultimate goal is to integrate game play in the virtual Vegas world itself providing the player with an experience well beyond the current game offerings.
888/Mytopia - Everyone was surprised that the Israeli gaming company 888 bought Mytopia. I was not. Mytopia is one of the more sophisticated virtual worlds where members can build their own world within Mytopia. Many people do not know that one of these worlds was sold to another Mytopia member for $160,000 USD a couple of years ago! 888 has been offering real money gambling casino games to people interacting in Mytopia. Many gaming and financially institutions have questioned this purchase. However, now that social casino games are very popular look for 888 to exploit the entire Mytopia world with social casino games, virtual currency and virtual goods.
A special mention about tournament play is warranted. In many ways tournaments themselves act as a meta game leveraging traditional non social(Slots) or semi social(Black Jack) games to add a social and interactive component to them. We all know about poker tournaments and how popular they are. Online poker tournaments create big communities of players because you have the natural social nature of poker combined with competition amongst players. The actual tournament pots can grow very large adding to the economic attractiveness within poker.
Social slot and table games may also be able to take advantage of tournament play especially in Facebook where friend connections can facilitate growing tournament sizes and some form of intersection between players, connections and tournaments.
Leveraging Virtual Currency Goods, Controlling Inflation And Managing An Economy
It is unclear if social casino games are fully exploiting or managing the virtual currency that is is being created by the games. Providing more play time and a chance to win more chips is heavily promoted. However, using these chips to redeem virtual items and virtual "status" goods appears to be absent. The danger of not managing a virtual economy is that the currency my become so inflated it is rendered ineffective at driving revenue growth. Virtual worlds have dealt effectively with this issue for decades and should be viewed as a source of information on how to properly manage a virtual economy to enhance game play and to keep the virtual economy credible.
Overall, we appear to be in the infancy of "Social Casino" with most social casino games offering very similar slot and bingo games to the social/freemium gamers. Although this first step has proven to be successful for some social casinos it is doubtful this strategy will continue to be as successful going forward. New and interesting social games will have to offered to keep the social casino phenomena alive and well. Also, learning how to properly manage a virtual world and economy will be required to make the economy and currency(chips) valuable enough to continue playing.