Making Social Casino Games Fun for Everyone
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
It might not seem like it on the surface, but the social casino industry is in peril of stagnation. With an estimated $4 billion in annual revenue, social casino games represent one of the largest segments of the entire gaming industry, but the category’s growth will stagnate and it almost certainly will never reach its full potential unless its developers start to attract a broader audience than they do currently.
In many ways, the social casino industry is a victim of its own success. It attracted a flood of users by re-creating the most popular games from land-based casinos -- only substituting virtual currency for real money. For players who love the thrill of pulling the handle of a slots machine or going “all-in” on a straight flush, social casino games offer a fun, convenient and risk-free alternative to real-money casino games. There are millions of such users, and for years they have fed the industry quite well, but signs of a slow-down in user growth have begun appearing on the horizon.
Meanwhile, there is a whole universe of gamers for whom casino mechanics may be fun, but not quite fun enough to wrest their attention away from the Strategy games, Puzzle games, RPGs and the other apps that dominate the charts. As the traditional social casino audience reaches saturation, developers must find other ways to make their games fun for a broad range of gamers, beyond just their core audiences.
Below, we describe five important ways that developers can make social casino games fun for everyone.
1. Add Strategy and Skill-Based Gaming
In most casino games, players’ fates depend on the flip of the cards, the roll of the dice, the spin of the wheel. And that’s a big part of the allure. But mobile gamers also love Strategy games, where they must think skilfully about how to allocate resources, solve challenges, and combat opponents to achieve victory. The next generation of social casino games must combine chance-based gaming with skill-based elements that add a new layer of strategy and tactics to the gameplay. This combination of skill and luck will make the genre appeal to players who want to feel like they have more control over the outcome of the action.
2. Take Players on a Journey
There’s very little sense of journey or adventure in most social casino games, where players’ progress is marked primarily by how much virtual currency they’ve won or lost. But most gamers want to feel as if they are working towards some kind of final outcome or destiny. They want to be taken on a journey in which the experiences build on top of one another, creating a narrative arc that keeps them engaged and entertained. At any point they might face an unexpected opponent, unlock a special power, or stumble across an entirely new challenge. Traditional social casino players might be okay with simple wins and losses, but broader audiences expect more of an adventure.
3. Make Social Casino Games Truly Social
When “social casino” games first became popular, they were named for the fact that they appeared on social platforms such as Facebook -- not so much for being necessarily all that “social.” But that is beginning to change, and today’s developers realize that the more social features they can integrate into their games, the easier it is to attract a wide audience. Chat rooms, leaderboards, friend invites and other social features have helped traditional social casino developers increase virality and acquire new users organically, but the next generation of games must become even more social by adding more head-to-head challenges, more alliances and team-based gameplay, and more ways to connect friends through the digital world.
4. Use LiveOps to Make the Games Feel “Alive”
One of the drawbacks of traditional social casino games is that they tend to get somewhat repetitive. The gameplay mechanics themselves are practically identical from game to game, but one way that developers can make the experience more unique and interesting is by using LiveOps. Short for “Live Operations,” LiveOps involves making changes to a game after it has launched so that it continues to feel fresh and new to its audience. Social casino games can leverage LiveOps to readily insert new content, for instance, or to host worldwide events that strengthen competition and generally increase the level of excitement. An effective LiveOps strategy gives players more reasons to play and a greater sense of achievement, which in turn prevents monotony and attracts a broader segment of players.
5. Tap Into Celebrity Power
For generations, celebrity power has been used to sell everything from soda and cigarettes to pavement rollers and candy bars. More recently, mobile games have gotten in on the act, with the success of apps like Kim Kardashian: Hollywood and Gordon Ramsay Dash proving that games based on celebrity IP can dominate the charts. Meanwhile, other developers have tapped celebrity power to promote existing games -- such as Arnold Schwarzenegger's endorsement of Mobile Strike or Kate Upton’s famous Super Bowl commercial for Game of War -- to great effect. As social casino developers tap into celebrity cache, they can attract a broader audience by working with celebrities beloved by a broad demographic of consumers. Think not just World Series of Poker champion Scott Blumstein but beloved celebrities like Ellen Degeneres, Tom Hanks or Will Smith.
The Next Generation of Social Casino Games
The social casino industry stands at a crossroads. It can continue down its current path towards slower user growth, or it can reinvent itself. If social casino developers don’t do something soon to appeal to a wider audience as opposed to just their core base, the industry will almost certainly begin to plateau, or worse. But if social casino developers can learn to make their games fun for everyone, the industry faces nearly limitless upside.
At Playtrex, we are choosing option B.