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Social Gaming Market Getting More Expensive For Developers
by William Chambers on 07/10/13 11:44:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


This blog originally appeared on the Betable blog

In a sign of the changing times, three of the top four social casino market leaders last quarter were traditional gambling firms according to research released last week by the gaming analysts at Eilers Research.

Caesars, which entered the social gaming space through its $80m acquisition of Playtika, now is the market leader with an a 18.6% combined Facebook and mobile market share, Eilers Research’s quarterly report said. Zynga, the former number one, now has a 15% share. Slot giants IGT, owner of Double Down Casino, and WMS were in third and fourth position respectively, with 14% and 6% shares of the market.

Adam Krejcik, Managing Director at Eilers Research, told the Betable Blog that the presence of these big gambling companies is only helping to make the space more expensive for social game developers.

“The cost-per-instal in social gaming is only going up. As bigger companies have entered the market and revenue opportunities improved, the pricing has increased. This is certainly true in social casino, where the entrance of gambling companies has made the space more competitive. Competition has improved content and price points, but in tandem there is now a higher CPI,” he said.

“Once the CPI hits the $8-$10 level, that is likely to start causing a lot of problems. Most big social casino games are not profitable until revenue hits $15-20m, and the vast majority of that is spent on CPI and marketing to drive growth in the game.”

Mobile remains a somewhat more fragmented in terms of market share. In mobile, Big Fish Casino continues to the market-leading app with a market share of around 14% according to Eilers Research. But even in mobile social casino, traditional gambling companies are making inroads.

“From nothing a couple of quarters ago, mobile is up to 25% of revenue for these companies’ social gaming businesses. It is very quickly becoming an integral part of their business,”Krejcik said.

In an increasingly competitive landscape, finding new ways to monetize is only becoming more important for the future of social gaming ecosystem on mobile or web platforms. When cost-per-acquisition rise out of proportion with increases in revenue-per-player, there is a structural issue throughout the industry.

This is one major reason why so many social game developers are exploring real-money games, which generate much higher revenue-per-player. While CPA is on a different level, every customer you acquire is a paying player. You don’t need 20 million users to have a profitable game, or make substantial revenue.

32Red is a small traditional online casino operator in the UK, which offers both web and mobile gambling games. They only have 40,000 active customers (measured as those who bet in the last year). Those customers generated revenue of £32m ($48m) in 2012. By contrast, in 2012 Zynga’s 9.2 billion daily active social casino players generated $195.1m in revenue. It would take just 160,000 32Red customers to generate the same level of revenue as Zynga’s billions of players do.  And bear in mind that 32Red is a small, traditional gambling company, working with games which have been offered to players in the same form for hundreds of years and have no social hooks to increase engagement or retention. In other words, there is room for improvement.

Even on a basic level, what is more economically viable; a customer that cost $100 to acquire and generates $500 in revenue, or a customer that cost $8-10 to acquire and generates $25-30 (averages for social games in 2012) in revenue? With economics like that, it is no surprise that social game developers, large and small, are exploring real-money games.

Already, anecdotally, this blog has even heard of some instances where social game developers have paid as much as $15-20 per customer. As the economics of social games market change, expect to see more developers look for better ways to monetize.

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Ramin Shokrizade
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The key to success in this space, imo, is not related to finding more efficient ways to tap an already heavily served consumer group. The key to success is to identify wealthy underserved consumer groups. In the rush to target whales and such, the hardcore gamers of 10 years ago have matured into a wealthy demographic that is now almost entirely untapped. This presents a gold mine just sitting there for the first companies to tap it, but right now there seems to be both a lack of motivation and knowledge on the part of major developers on how to go about this.

Eric Finlay
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There might be multiple unexplored keys to success - like offering to the same heavily served consumer group, but giving them something that has more value than fake coins (which is how I believe Zynga casinos operate).

Eric Robertson
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I suspect most experienced adults are busy.

If my theory is accurate, games that make them revisit old game feelings but at the same time allow them to maintain their busy lives might work well with this demographic.

When we were young we had lots of time but no money.
Now that we are all old, we have lots of money, but no time.

Titi Naburu
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Sorry, but I don't understand what is CPI. Wikipedia mentions "consumer price index" and "cost performance index", but neither make sense in this context ("once the CPI hits the $8-$10 level").

Mike Williams
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CPI is defined as "Cost Per Install"

Michael Joseph
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Why is the so called CPI rising? Too many lures in the water and the fish can hardly tell one from the other?

Users here are basically viewed as a resource to be mined/harvested/whatever. Little to no talk about offering good products. It's almost an admission that there's no such thing as a good product in this space.

But that makes sense because if you actually had something (without a hook and a line attached to it) that the fish wanted, you could just sell it to them up front.

Robert Green
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When I really think about it, it seems kinda strange that a slot machine game where you can pay real money and win real money gets regulated, but a slot machine game where you can pay real money but not win any doesn't, unless we're assuming that the potential to leave with more money than you started is a vital part of being addicted to gambling. In practice, I'd say that's only one of many factors, and that if you play any slot machine long enough, your chances of making a profit approach zero.

Abel Bascunana Pons
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An interesting idea to explore could be giving that digital currency earned or purchased by the player an added value. How can this be laid out? Virtual currency could be seen as the traditional XP points that allow the player to climb up the ladder that can open up to new challenges, i.e. If you reached 25 million virtual coins a new game mode could be available, VIP slot machines unlocked, achievements unlocked, etc.

Other idea would be stimulating competition among players of different currency levels, i.e. Players on a rank of 50k-10k will "fight" to win the grand price, that's 100k virtual coins, that will subsequently allow them to play with more "advanced" players with special features unlocked. There are a lot of ideas to explore here that can lead to a better engagement, retention and montetization.