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A Closer Look at Social Casinos

5 July, 2016


There has been an explosion of popularity in social casinos over the last few years, with millions of players investing in an industry that, according to SuperData, is worth well over $3 billion. According to Eilers, the social casino games industry is predicted to grow to $4.4 billion by 2017. For casinos that have recently entered the space or are looking at participating in a B2B format, it is important to analyse the industry carefully and correctly. In an environment that’s equivalent to 100% rated play, more volumes of data available than ever before- and across totally new categories for the casino operator. In building your own social gaming business, what data points are the most critical indicators of success ahead? We’ll take a closer look at key definitions and building blocks of a successful social casino, in order to acquire a better grasp and overall understanding of this important and lucrative industry. The set of terms defined below is in no way inclusive of all the key facets of the space, but an opening framework. We’ll cover more in-depth key KPI terms in articles ahead.


User Experience- “The UX”


A social casino is best described as the playing of casino games online through an online community, social network or online casino. These have exploded in popularity thanks to the spread of wanting to do things online, and have particularly grown in popularity in the United States, where gambling online is almost universally prohibited. Social casinos and their betting games differ and are allowed as they include no prize element, a factor key in defining whether something counts as gambling or not. With such a large number of social casinos currently existing in the market, those that provide the best user experience are those that have the greatest chance of succeeding. An example of this is with Rewards and Loyalty programs. Social casinos are linked to hotel and brick and mortar casino rewards cards, providing added incentive and reward while enjoying a social casino product. At GAN, we have spent the last three years implementing a variety of different features, functionalities, and game theme titles to improve user experience and increase excitement with the product. Some examples of these include the gifting of credits and daily credit rewards, competitive leaderboards- be they daily or weekly- and experience points to incentivize increased gameplay and instil a sense of progression.  




What is the demographic of a typical social player? A SuperData study showed that almost 75% of social casino players are women, and that there is a strong correlation between land-based casino patrons and the social casino user base. 75% of the social casino audience are now playing on a smartphone, and slot games are now the most played format across all platforms- a fact SuperData attributes to their low entry barrier. Further interesting statistics include; the lifetime value of players spending on PC is $584.99 (Superdata),tablet players both spend and convert more than those on smartphones (higher average income) and half of players play the same games on both desktop and mobile, though they’re more likely to play on mobile first. The SuperData report also contains promising reading in terms of monetization. The findings show that the players are spending more money than ever, and have “never been more engaged”. Research conducted across 17 major franchises has shown that around half of all social casino players in the United States spend money on social casinos. This also lines up with mobile players, with a 2014 report indicating that 46% of mobile players, incidentally an impressive increase from 36% indicated in a similar study two years prior. 33% of the social casino gamers from the study who spent money were males between the ages of 21 and 35, a welcome younger demographic shift for an industry where the majority of players and spenders tend to be women over the age of 50.  How is this data relevant to our partners in the B2B space? Knowing your audience is critical to tailoring interface design (colours, font sizes, and much more) to marketing messaging construction to drive the likely interested players to the offering.




How do we measure the performance of a social casino? One of the means of measuring the performance of a social casino is engagement, how often are players coming back and playing online?


A play session can be defined as a player engaging in gaming on a desktop or mobile device for a period of continuous play, be that timeframe three minutes or thirty minutes.


It is important to differentiate between the kind of play session seen on desktop compared to mobile. Desktop users typically play fewer but longer sessions a day than mobile counterparts, where this trend is reversed. Also, player behaviour is different to payer behaviour, which leads to a much healthier blend of cross-platform play. According to data from App Annie, the average mobile player plays for around 30 minutes a day, with an average session time of around 8 minutes. And as stated in contrast to desktop, they can play up to 5 sessions a day, rather than sessions that are longer in length but fewer in number. With the ever growing size of the mobile gaming industry, and as industries trend more and more towards mobile, it is important to note the typical differences between playing on desktop and playing on mobile.


Game Development


The rapid growth of this industry over the last few years has led to a wide variety of choices. In an industry where the top ten social casino publishers control a whopping 81% of the market standing out is a challenge. As such, social casinos are forced to differentiate themselves from the competition by the quality and quantity of the games they put out, and here there is a delicate balance to maintain. As 70% of players choose social casino games due to graphics or theme, aesthetics are a key way to differentiate, especially considering the broadly similar gameplay that exists across the industry. An engaging mechanical product alone will not stand out in such a saturated market; harnessing the ability of excellent graphic designers and importing their smarts and vision into the product is key when attempting to create something that will be successful.


Some casinos look at releasing 1 game a week- pumping out content to keep their players invested in the product. However, this can lead to one cannibalizing one’s own content and wasting development and investment. Pumping out games too quickly means customers jump from game to game, latching onto the latest release and spending their dollars there. This can make it hard to determine the potential success of a game or not- being over-eager to continually pump out new content can drown potentially lucrative games before they’ve been given a proper chance to fly. Provided the quality of games being released is high; being patient and allowing them to run a longer life cycle will lead to better ROI and more flexibility across the life of an operator’s online casino- if a game is performing better than expected it can be promoted for longer than originally anticipated, separate from the original release plan. This also has the benefit of creating a back catalogue of titles, which is always good to have in an emergency. The importance of allowing games to have a proper run is seen by the schedule of major industry players on the Facebook canvas, where typically a regular game is released every two weeks and a major title is allowed to run its course over three or four weeks. Furthermore, constantly releasing games and subjecting players to a marketing barrage can dull the effectiveness of a marketing campaign when pushing a major release or title. In addition, one should note the importance of VIP rewards programs in retaining players and increasing revenue; SuperData’s report showed that the top five publishers with VIP programs earned 68% more in December 2015 than the top five publishers that didn’t.


This is a multi- billion dollar industry, the trajectory of which is only forecast to rise over the next several years, so having a mastery of the core business drivers and KPI terms is integral. While lots of social casinos run products that are broadly similar to each other, there are small yet clear differences that enable specific products to stand out, ranging from a mastery of the UX thanks to continued interaction, to marketing to the right set of players. Having a nuanced understanding of the space will be crucial while engaging in it, and is why GAN will continue exploring key KPI terms in future articles.  


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