Late last year, developer Fanhood launched Fanhood Sports on Facebook, providing users with a casual sports betting social casino game. We sat down to talk with Fanhood Founder and CEO Brandon Ramsey to talk about what Fanhood Sports does differently from other social casino games, as well as his thoughts on where social casino games are headed.
Ramsey comes to the game industry from the monetization side of the web. He used to work at Yahoo!, leveraging their various commerce sites like Yahoo! Shopping and Yahoo! Deals. In 2009, he co-founded the auction site BigDeal.com, which he then sold off and decided to get directly into games. For Ramsey, it’s the perfect time to do so, as he believes, “social casino games are going to outgrow the rest of social games in about a year.
“I thought there was a massive opportunity with social casino games. On top of that, Facebook is kind of also identifying sports as a big opportunity.”
Even though sports betting isn’t terribly prevalent in the social casino game space right now (instead, slots and poker games are dominant), Ramsey tells us it’s only a matter of time before the genre becomes its own force to be reckoned with simply because there are so many sports fans around the world. This is especially true in the international community, where sports like soccer and cricket (which aren’t as popular here in the United States) have 3 billion and 2 billion fans respectively around the globe.
For Ramsey, though, the most important thing was creating a sports betting title that had the potential to be incredibly deep but was also a snackable game experience for sports fans. As a result, the betting isn’t just limited to which teams will win. Players can also bet on trivia-like predictions like which player will score more points in a game, or who will throw the most yards in the National Football League next week, and there are also minigames like one that has players create Bingo-like matches on a score card based on their predictions.
“Our core tenant is that people don’t have a lot of time,” he says. “I love fantasy [sports leagues], I play them myself. But people don’t have time to go out and have that big commitment: Find all their friends, shoot them an email, and get them all together for the draft. And if you miss a week, you’re effectively out. With this light touch, you can play forever and come and go as you please.”
Aside from creating a lighter sports-betting experience for social gamers, Fanhood Sports features some impressive personalization features. Even though our Facebook account doesn’t mention or Like any sports teams or athletes (unless you count World Juggling Federation champion Doug Sayers), the suggestions for our favorite sports teams when we first signed up for the game were surprisingly accurate based on our location and college affiliation. It looked like a few teams suggested came from popular choices among our friends, too.
“We know who your friends are that you should talk to,” Ramsey explains. “You come in and you’re a 49ers fan; we know that before you get in. But when you make a bet [on them], we show you who your other friends are that are also 49ers fans. But let’s say they’re playing the Green Bay Packers: We also know who your friends are that are fans of the Green Bay Packers and tell you that you should bet with them on that game since these guys are rivals.”
Ramsey also notes sports betting provides a major advantage for developers: They can focus exclusively on the mechanics without having to worry about crafting a game’s content and/or storyline.
“The big problem with other social games is you have to come up with a new title every year,” he notes. The social casino games are seeing evergreen growth. With sports, you don’t have to come up with new content; the leagues take care of that for us. We don’t have to come up with CityVille 2 to keep us interested. You’re always going to have an affinity for the game, we just come up with fun things for you to do with your friends around the events.”
So if sports betting has so much mass appeal and there isn’t much competition in the genre, why haven’t more of these games been developed by now? The highest-profile of these games is RocketPlay’s Sports Casino, which is being published by Zynga, but even its numbers haven’t taken off yet. In Ramsey’s opinion, it’s all about timing: “People saw it taking off in a way that the social casino space was using real world outcomes … the one thing people are seeing now with the new platforms is that it’s right for now.”
That said, Ramsey also notes this dearth of sports betting titles won’t last much longer, noting how real money gambling groups are either partnering with or acquiring successful developers to get in on the social gaming market (a recent example being bwin.party partnering with Nordeus).”I think if you look at the people who are spending the money … and the amount of money they’re paying to get the audience, it leads you to believe there’s change on the horizon.”
At the moment, Fanhood Sports’ numbers have been growing quietly and organically; AppData shows the game is up to 9,000 daily active users. However, we’re told the game’s about to start a big marketing push on Facebook in order to take advantage of the sports fervor surrounding both the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 and college basketball’s March Madness.