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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How Land Based Casinos Can Leverage Social Networks And Social Games To Improve Their Business

At a panel discussion at GIGSE this year I mentioned the interesting story of MGM’s online games for prize site launch in 2001. Many people where not aware that MGM launched a free to play site, with the help of Wagerworks, in preparation for their ultimate goal of launching a real money site in Europe. The free site had a number of free to play slot games that tied game play with prizes at MGM properties. These prizes were free buffet tickets, discounts at casino restaurants, free hotel rooms, etc. With little or no advertising this site was tremendously successful from a traffic, game play and trips to land based casinos to redeem prizes perspective.

MGM’s ultimate goal was to launch a pay for cash experience in Europe. The prize site was an early test to see if online MGM games would be popular. They achieved their objective with the prize site. They then decided to redirect Wagerworks ( now IGT) to build the for cash site abandoning the prize site.

The Wagerworks team was a bit surprised at this decision given the success of the prize site. The team tried to convince MGM to keep the prize site going in the US and launch another project to develop the for cash site for European deployment. The team was unable to convince MGM to keep the site going because MGM did not build a link between their land based loyalty program and the online site. Hence, they could not quantify the economic impact of the prize site on their land based business.

Despite this decision the Wagerworks team learned a very valuable lesson. Online free games could have a positive impact on land based operations if executed properly. Developing a strong linkage between a casino’s loyalty program and their online properties was key to quantifying the economic impact of the online site on offline operations.

Another, better known, example of the synergy between online and offline gambling is the WSOP phenomena. I worked for Harrahs (now Caesars) during the heyday of WSOP witnessing the symbiotic link between online poker play and qualification for the WSOP land based event. In this case online activity was more then supplemental to the offline experience it was a critical component that created a perfect storm and big profits for Harrahs and online operators.

The 2006 enactment of US Internet Gambling(UIGEA) law changed everything and broke the linkage between  Internet game and the WSOP offline event. WSOP has never been the same.

Fast forward to 2011, the dominance of social games and social networks and the success of the ultimate social game, poker, in attracting online players to gambling style games. Clearly, the advent of the popularity of social networks and the shear number of people using them on a regular basis fundamentally changes the Internet and the way people and gamers interact with it. It is no secret that one of the most popular games in social networks is Zynga poker.  This poker game is so popular because it was originally built to take  advantage of social networking features to attract and retain players. It is not a “ported” game from an Internet gambling site. It is specifically designed to encourage “viral” adoption of the game. Poker also happens to be a “natural” social game making it even more popular within a social network.

Certainly Zynga Poker is an enigma due to its pre-development before any applications where deployed in Facebook (a story in itself). However, it does demonstrate that with the right game design and integration with social networks games can have a profound impact o social network participantion. I suspect that Facebook games are the most popular applications within Facebook.

Casino operators should task notice of this and develop a plan for linking their offline operations with social networks to drive traffic to their land based operations. Most of the existing or potential casino customers have social network accounts and regularly engage other players in a social setting.

There are some basics of Facebook marketing that transcend games and are a requirement for any business marketing their property, brand or business on line.

 The Fan Page – The fan page is similar to a web page or web site with the exception that it is embedded within Facebook. The advantage to the page is that people can ”like” the page notifying other friends in their network that they like it. The “liking” results in friends within their social network to become aware of the business and to engage with the business. Essentially, growing a community and impacting the social graph.

A land base casino should add features to the fan page that promote visitation to the land based properties. The fan page should also reward viewers for any of their friends participating in  a promotion that results in a visit to a casino.

Loyalty Program Linkage – The fan page should have a mechanism to identify a Facebook member with a casinos loyalty program. It could be that every Facebook visitor to the fan page is assigned a loyalty ID or anyone that responds to a promotion gets an ID. This will engage a tracking mechanism to determine the intersection on casino visitation.

Facebook Groups – A Facebook group is a collection of people that have  a common interest. In the case of a casino it should be the casino itself that acts as the focal point.  This group can become very influential in promoting the casino or the opposite if they do not like something. Cultivation and growth of the group requires a “community manager” to encourage people to join continually engage participants in a dialogue and to retain members. Groups can and should grow to large numbers (thousands of members in some cases). Communication with the group should be regular and constant encouraging a dialogue and the groups desire to add more members to the group. For instance, notifications should be made to the group for special deals, events, ad promotions at the casino.

Casual/Free Games – Free to play virtual currency games are a good way to introduce new games(especially slot games) to an audience. In an ideal world every new physical slot game would have a social or casual game complement introducing the game to Internet users and encouraging them to come to the casino to play the real game. Providing a virtual currency scheme that would allow people to wager and win virtual currency in the game is advised. Providing there is no consideration to buy virtual currency a casino could offer a player some free  land based casino(hotel rooms, buffet, etc) items using virtual currency to attract them to the “real” property.

Casino  To Virtual World Connection – Promoting a social or casual game in the physical casino is very important. This will establish a closer link to both worlds. An obvious promotion would be an offer of free land based casino items for play  on the Internet site.

Certainly, The above mentioned items are only a few of the many ways a land based casino can leverage an online community and social networks to enhance their land based operations. It should be noted that the online world is distinctly different from a land based operation and requires a staff with a mindset that comprehends the virtual world and can cater to its peculiar marketing and game play characteristics. It is advised that a casino add these skills sets to their operation to ensure the success of their online and social network initiatives.

Kevin Flood is the CEO of Gameinlane, Inc. Kevin writes extensively about online games and their impact and integration into iGaming and E-commerce environments. Kevin is a frequent speaker at online game events and conferences in Asia, Europe and the US. Kevin and his Gameinlane team are currently working with online gambling, social gaming and e-commerce companies integrating social gaming with online gaming operations and integrate game mechanics into e-commerce applications.

How Land Based Casinos Can Leverage Social Networks And Social Games To Improve Their Business

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