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Social casino games and the $1bn question

19th April 2012 8:44 am GMT
As an addendum to the social gaming feature we published earlier in the week we thought we would explore the make-up of the social casino games audience. It didn’t quite fit into the angle of the main feature but it is crucial to understanding this new arena. Are social games companies reaching out to a new audience with their casino-style games or are they taking customers from real money sites? At present most social casinos are aimed at US customers, which skews the picture somewhat. With no legal online gambling in the US, there will be plenty of customers drawn to facebook games such as Bejeweled Blitz and Zynga Poker. “I think there is a huge overlap,” says Plumbee CEO Raf Keustermans. “Your high rollers are not going to play but there are a lot of entertainment seekers playing online in real money casinos, who know they are not going to win. These are your sensible players, people who don’t get carried away and lose the house. “The experience in free-to-play is not that different because they are not high stakes players. I think those people are migrating to free-to-play because there is a lot more bang for your buck, it’s more fun, more acceptable and there’s a social aspect to it.” His theory makes sense. Just the other day I heard the American presenter of a poker players’ TV show pouring scorn on Zynga Poker because it’s a bit like decaffeinated coffee. Fair enough. But 36 million other people are not hanging around waiting for Full Tilt to relaunch. There has been little research published on the topic. It’s a tricky subject for US citizens. When Plumbee asked US players if they were interested in playing online casino for real money, assuming it would be legalised, most people answered “prefer not to answer”.However the general demographics of social gamers are more readily available. PopCap, the social games arm of Electronic Arts and creator of Bejeweled Blitz, conducted a survey of 5,000 gamers in 2010. It found the average age of social gamers to be 43 and 55 per cent of their survey were women. Inside Network, the website behind the oft-quoted appdata figures, put the latter figure as high as 70 per cent. That’s pretty close to the profile of the average land-based slots player. Most of these players don’t expect to win pots of cash. They go to Vegas or AC with X amount of dollars in their pocket and they will spend that money on entertainment. That’s the same mindset as the average user of social casino games. Since the poker decline set in two years ago, this is also exactly the type of player that most of the traditional online gambling world has been busy trying to recruit. From 888 and its Poker Six product to Bodog’s Recreational Player Model to Microgaming and its Poker Network Management Board; all are attempts to woo the “casual player”. The $1bn question is will they use both? And if real money gambling is legalised in the US, will social gamers stick with freeplay games? This is where we move into the realms of guesswork. Keustermans reckons that only the top 10 to 15 per cent of online gamblers are not playing social games. And he believes is will be a struggle to convert social gamers to online gambling. “Anyone thinking that they can easily convert their millions of social players into real money players will be very disappointed,” he says. Zynga’s success might be built upon tapping into the same psychological drivers as those that drive gamblers to gamble but it is also down to slick graphics and attractive gameplay. These are features that are conspicuously absent from many online gambling sites. As, Keustermans says, you just get more “bang for your buck” with social games. What little evidence there is suggests the online gambling world won’t lose its whole audience to social games but it wouldn’t hurt to spend a bit of cash on sexing up the online gambling experience.
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