What Social Casino (Really) Is
And Why I’m Betting on Sports as the Next Big Category
By Brandon Ramsey, CEO and founder of Fanhood, a social application developer that brings the sports content you care about to Facebook in fun formats to share and compete with friends. Previously, Ramsey co-founded BigDeal.com and headed Engineering for Yahoo! eCommerce properties. Ramsey started his entrepreneurial career at Farechase.
The Social Casino industry has seen tremendous growth in the last eighteen months - gaining tens of millions of customers and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue. Yet despite significant interest and attention, there still seems to be quite a bit of confusion about what Social Casino actually is. (If you ask five people to define what social casino is, my guess is you would get five very different answers, and no small amount of head scratching.) While many people have heard terms like “social gaming” (Farmville, right?) and “Social Casino” (Facebook poker, right?), there’s still not a deep understanding of what sets Social Casino apart. More than just a different genre of game, its differences are profound, extending to player engagement, fundamental game mechanics and interaction, sustainability, the nature of social integration and more.
To alleviate confusion, here’s my own definition for Social Casino Games:
Social Casino Game(s): Digital, socially connected versions of real life casino games which use virtual currency.
These are popular games in the “real” (physical) world in which activities include an element of chance that have been ported onto social networks and mobile platforms to leverage new distribution opportunities. The user experience is focused on perception of risk/reward and competition. The games are free to play and supported primarily by the optional in-app purchases for customers who desire premium experiences.
To date, Poker, Slots and Bingo are the proven categories in this new Social Casino market, but there is much room for growth. Here are a few reasons why:
Social Casino’s Connection to the Real World
Social Casino’s inherent connection to well-known, real-world gaming experiences that players already enjoy gives the category a powerful hook. People already gather around a card table for regular poker nights, pull the arm of a slot machine, drive over to the local Bingo hall, assemble for game day parties, and run office March Madness brackets. The Social Casino builds on these ubiquitous national pastimes, extending the fun online with a replication almost identical to their real-world counterparts which has less friction to join the action.
Social Casino offers a convenient forum for these real-world activities to link seamlessly into existing social networks, providing a perfect outlet for our quickly growing social networking generation.
A Longer Lifetime
It looks as though Social Casino games will have a much longer life expectancy than their social gaming counterparts. The much publicized decline of social games in the invest/express (e.g. FarmVille), simulation (e.g. SimsSocial) and RPG (e.g. Mafia Wars) categories may point to a very simple truth – that these types of social games are subject to player fatigue, much like traditional video games. In fact, evidence shows that the average half-life of these games is approximately 12 – 18 months, and declining.
New Audience Opportunities
Social Casino’s games are more accessible to a broader audience – no matter how old they are or where they live, people can enjoy the thrill of having some skin in the game. This will attract new social gamers as new genres are built within Social Casino, all the while delivering compelling business economics. Most importantly, there is an enormous – and as of yet, untapped - population of people who the industry should be targeting as future social casino enthusiasts: sports fans. Which is why I believe that sports is poised to be its next and possibly largest category.
Why Sports and Social Casino are a Perfect Fit
The emergence of sports into Social Casino will unlock the passion of the vast number of sports fans eager to engage. Millions of sports fans participate in social betting or small stakes social pools outside of social networks – in the U.S. alone, over 35 million people participated in fantasy sports last year, and over 75 million took part in March Madness brackets. Internationally, the market explodes as you include action around soccer, rugby and cricket (among many other popular sports).
The point is, sports events are naturally social, shared experiences, and ones that fans already spend time debating, analyzing and competing for bragging rights over. The third trending story of 2012 (behind Hurricane Sandy and the Kate Middleton photo debacle) wasn’t the presidential election debates – it was the Olympics. And activity around sports – specifically, social sports betting - has been a largely untapped market, until now.
How Fanhood Works
Fanhood, the company I started not long ago, aims to harness this passion by offering a super-social sports betting experience for a casual sports audience that uses a social network that we already have – Facebook – and provides a light-touch outlet (i.e. less time consuming than fantasy) for fans to engage in what they love. Think March Madness pools with your friends, but all year long and for all sports, with other games mixed in to deliver fun even on the days that teams aren’t playing. Key to making this experience as appealing as possible is Fanhood’s ability to present users with only the most interesting and relevant data. It will automatically serve you the sports, games and teams that you care about – based on a wide range of anonymous data from your FB profile - including your location, your friends, and your behavior. It also smartly surfaces what your friends on Fanhood are already doing – and makes it seamless to challenge them within Fanhood.
The Future for Social Casino
Future social casino games need to recognize the fact that players don’t have the time or inclination to do the work of telling the service how they want to use it, what they care about, or to expect users to bring their friends into the service for some arbitrary gameplay benefit. For a game to be truly social, it needs to know its users, and serve them, rather than expecting them to serve the needs of the game. Furthermore, the aim for social games in general should be to translate existing real-life social games and activities into a digital format that makes them more accessible to a broad audience. In the future, we expect that more developers will leverage deep data analysis tools to provide users with game services that feel more and more personalized for the user’s habits and behavior. There’s no reason why, for example, any social casino landing page should look the same for each user – if the service can already know what that user will be interested in. Sports games are simply the most obvious example of this.
With millions of passionate sports fans around the world, it’s not a matter of “if” but rather when and how massive of a category Sports will be in Social Casino. My bet is made.