Top 5 casino-themed Facebook games by popularity, with analysis

While not the largest genre on Facebook, casino games are in the spotlight at the start of 2012 as more companies enter the genre with standalone slots or card games or complete casino simulations. Here are the top five games in the category by traffic as recorded by our AppData service.

Though Facebook doesn’t currently allow real money gambling on its games platform, many social game developers seem eager to cash in either when Facebook changes its policy, or via other social game platforms that don’t ban the practice. Earlier this month, market leader Zynga confirmed it is actively searching for means to add real money gambling into its offerings, while casino gaming company International Game Technology acquired Double Down Interactive, Facebook game developer of DoubleDown Casino for $500 million. Last month, U.S. casino giant Caesars Entertainment Corporation fully acquired Slotomania game developer Playtika, and earlier this month launched a new Facebook game, Caesars Casino. January also saw the closed beta launch of Zynga Bingo, which will likely become a major competitor to Bingo Blitz.

Taken together, our top five casino-themed games account for a total of over 45 million MAU and 10 million DAU.

Texas HoldEm Poker (Zynga): 6.6 million DAU, 31.3 million MAU

Zynga’s Facebook adaption of the popular poker game is also among the longest running games on the platform, having launched in 2008. Along with Zynga’s Words With Friends, it is also among the top Facebook games to enable cross-platform play between the social network, iOS and Android smartphones. After reaching a peak of MAU usage of about 39 million in the summer of 2010, the game lost several million MAU. However, since December 2011 (when it had 28.5 million MAU), the game has seen strong upward growth to its current level.

Over the last three months, its daily active users as a percent of MAU (or DAU/MAU) has fluctuated between 22.5 and 20.5 percent, which reflects relatively strong engagement compared to other social game genres. Helping drive this continued growth and activity is the Poker by Zynga app for iOS, which uses Facebook Connect to help enable play between iOS and Facebook. Launched in 2009, the app still holds a top rank on AppData’s iOS charts, currently number three in the Top Grossing Apps list.

Gameplay: After loading the game, the player is taken into a lobby area densely packed with options and player information. The game’s initial display lists the total number of online players, and an option to choose among the many servers where the game is hosted, listed according to geographic region, which is likely a move by Zynga to reduce latency in live multiplayer games.

Players can find an open poker seat from among the listed tables, or get auto-joined to an open table with a single click. The actual poker game is a faithful recreation of Texas hold ’em for up to seven players. When it’s a given player’s turn to execute their move, a time meter ticks down over the person’s profile. If not made in time, the player’s turn is forfeited. One unique feature of Texas HoldEm Poker is a “hand strength meter,” which gauges the relative strength of a player’s current hand. (If this feature is enabled, the house takes a cut of any winnings.)

Other gameplay modes include one-on-one matches with a Facebook friend and team-based challenges with several friends. There is also a mini-game slot machine which players can play to win chips — given the relatively slim odds of payout, it seems to function mainly as a sink to deplete player chip holdings and nudge them toward monetization.

Viral growth and engagement: To encourage viral user growth, Texas HoldEm players earn more playing chips by successfully inviting friends to play. They can also broadcast their game activity by auto-posting wins and achievements to their Facebook wall. The game has a leveling system incorporated into a competitive leaderboard with the players’ friends.

Socialization seems to be an important feature for increasing engagement and retention in Texas HoldEm. Multiplayer matches not only come with a live, player-to-player chat feature; players can also buy each other virtual drink items and miscellaneous virtual gifts with chips or gold. Further, players can add each other as game buddies (as opposed to Facebook friends), enabling players to develop a mini-social network of people they enjoy playing with. In the game lobby, the game’s socialization aspect is emphasized by an in-game feed depicting friends’ recent game milestones, with an option to send them gifts or congratulation messages.

Monetization: Zynga monetizes Texas HoldEm by selling Chips and Casino Gold for Facebook Credits, with an option to buy via mobile phone. Chips are used for basic gameplay, and Casino Gold to purchase premium items and buy into weekly tournaments. A monetization option window pops up when the player attempts to make a bet or join a table that is more costly than a player’s current holdings.

Slotomania – Slot Machines (Playtika): 1.700,000 million DAU, 5.6 million MAU

Launched in December 2010, Playtika’s Facebook slot machine game enjoyed steady growth through 2011. The game saw a strong spike in July shortly after the company was partially acquired by Harrah’s, a casino brand in the Caesars Entertainment Corporation. In the last three months, the game has seen relatively stable usage of between 5.25 and 5.6 million MAU, and a very strong engagement rate of between 26 and 33 percent DAU/MAU. As previously mentioned, Caesars Entertainment bought out the rest of the company in December 2011.

Gameplay: New users are given a 200 coin welcome bonus, and are then presented a menu of eight different themed slot games to choose from (farm items, pirates, etc) though only the first game is available to play at launch. Basic gameplay is modeled on traditional slot machines, with players paying a number of coins for each spin and payouts awarded based on symbol matches generated randomly from spins. Players can choose how many items they want to match, with larger sets of matches earning a better payout (while costing more coins, with riskier odds). Successfully completing some matches will launch a separate mini-game with the chance of winning play bonuses. For example, spinning to match three or more tractors in a farm-themed slot machine launches a “Beat the Mole” mini-game in which players must choose vegetables from rows of crops while avoiding a mole underneath the garden. Spins that generate other matching items unlock a series of free spins, which in turn sometimes generate even more free spins, creating a long succession of free spins in which the player is largely a passive viewer.

Viral growth and engagement: To foster retention, returning Slotmania players are offered a special bonus every four hours. The game includes a leveling system, with coin bonuses given at level up, which also unlocks new slot game boards. To encourage viral growth, player can post slot game wins to their wall, and are intermittently given the option to send ten free spins to friends. Facebook friends playing Slotomania also compete on a leaderboard.

Monetization: The primary source of revenue for Slotomania is virtual currency which is purchased in batches with Facebook Credits.

Bingo Blitz (Buffalo Studios): 970,000 DAU, 2.9 million MAU

A fast-paced Facebook adaptation of the classic casual casino game, Bingo Blitz launched late in 2010 and had slow but steady growth through most of 2011. It gained faster traction in August of that year before reaching its current, stable player base of between 2.5 and 3 million MAU. In the last three months, DAU/MAU rates have been very strong, fluctuating between 30 and 35 percent.

Gameplay: New players are first invited to play a 30 second tutorial, then given the option of choosing among several open games based on payout rate and player level. These are displayed in the game menu as “cities,” and also list the number of online players currently in session. Once entering a city, players can buy one to four cards with Credits (one of the game’s two currencies), then must wait for the current game to finish before joining the next match. Bingo card numbers are rapidly called out in audio and displayed in an animated row at the top of the screen. When a player earns a bingo on any of their cards, it’s their responsibility to click the “Bingo” button beneath the appropriate card. All winnings are collected at the end of each match.

Bingo Blitz includes a number of features to increase engagement and encourage retention: Clicking a timed power-up button places free squares or bonus items on squares; if they monitor the charge-up timer carefully, players can use this option many times during a match. Bonus squares pay out power-ups and game credits (displayed as treasure chests with game bonuses), and are won regardless of whether a player earns a bingo. Adding a level of suspense and skill to gameplay, it is possible for a player to select incorrect squares on their cards and call out a bad, invalid bingo — if so, the designated card is rendered ineligible for the remainder of the match. In addition, only a select number of winning Bingo cards can be claimed during each match; this is depicted as a countdown display at the top left of the screen, creating further excitement.

Bingo Blitz has a number of features which add a social element to gameplay. Each player has a user profile listing their national origin, game level and other game stats. These profile icons are displayed at the bottom of the match screen. Further, players can live chat with each other during matches.

Viral growth and engagement: New players are offered a game bonus for repeated play in the first two days after installation and there is also a daily credits reward for returning players. Bingo Blitz has a player leveling system, and some cities are locked until a certain level and other game goals are reached. The game also includes achievement badges for gameplay, such as collecting selected game items, and for reaching gameplay milestones. To encourage viral growth, winning bingo matches and other successes can be shared on a player’s Facebook wall. Players can also win extra Credits by inviting friends to install the app.

Monetization: Bingo Blitz has two currencies, Coins and Credits, which can be converted between each other. Coins can be spent to complete game collections (which in turn earn Credits), customizations for player cards, game power-ups, and “keys” which unlock bonus prizes. Extra Credits can be bought with Facebook Credits. Bingo Blitz also monetizes through a slot machine mini-game, in which players can spin to win Credits; these spins are bought with directly with Facebook Credits.

DoubleDown Casino – Free Slots, Blackjack & Poker (DoubleDown Interactive, LLC.): 1.3 million DAU, 4.7 million MAU

Launched in early 2010, DoubleDown Casino began steady growth in the fall of that year, then gained momentum through most of 2011. In the last three months, growth stabilized at around 4.5 million MAU, with an engagement rate in a range of 30 percent DAU/MAU, a level consistent with high monetization rates.

Gameplay: At game launch, the player is presented with several variety of casino-style games: video poker, blackjack, slots, tournaments and roulette. Most are single-player, but blackjack is live, with up to six competing against the AI dealer. To leverage the live multiplayer gameplay, blackjack includes a player-to-player chat feature, and a timer which requires each player to make bets, request hits, etc. within a few seconds, or risk forfeiting their turn. Blackjack play includes high roller options with large buy-in levels which restrict play to high level or highly monetized players. Roulette games, also in real time, come with similar multiplayer functions.

Viral growth: Viral user growth and engagement in DoubleDown Casino is encouraged with a number of features. A player can earn more play chips for sending game invites to friends or by adding friends and can win chip bonuses by returning everyday to do a “daily spin.” Players can also compete with each other on the game’s leaderboards and direct their gameplay to earn achievement badges for various game successes. Earning these badges also win the player chip bonuses. Players also have the option to share individual game victories with friends on wall posts.

Monetization: New players are given a free number of set playing chips to start with, and can buy more through Facebook Credit purchases. Along with appearing when a player attempts to make a bet which exceeds their current chip holdings, the purchase option payment window is displayed immediately at launch of game. This monetization method is more in line with real world casinos, which typically demand an up-front chip buy-in before play.

JackpotJoy Slot Machines (iwi): 380,000 DAU, 1.8 million MAU

Launched in mid-2011, the slot machine game saw strong growth for most of that year, then stabilized to around its current traffic level in October. In the last three months, its DAU/MAU rate has fluctuated between 20 and 27 percent — a good level of engagement, though somewhat less than category leader Slotomania (see above).

Gameplay: Similar to Slotomania, new users of Jackpot Joy are given 200 coins as a welcome bonus and sent to a lobby of eight slot games with different themes, only one of which is available to play at first. Gameplay is modeled on real life slot machines, with players able to bet a range of coins for each spin and payouts awarded based on matching selected patterns of symbols. Successfully spinning some matches launches a mini-game with the chance of winning game bonuses. Players can win awards for special symbol matches, and win achievements for game milestones. Jackpot Joy comes with a multiplayer tournament mode with high buy-in and large prize rewards.

Viral growth and engagement: Players can share 250 free coins with ten friends, share coins with friends already playing and ask friends for coins by posting the request on their Facebook wall. JackpotJoy has leaderboard, leveling and achievement systems. To encourage retention, coin bonuses are given out every four hours. Further, early on in gameplay, players are encouraged to play the game in full screen mode — selecting this option reveals a robust and active player-to-player chat system, and the option to play mini-games.

Monetization: Game coins are bought through Facebook Credits for cash payments between $5 and $200.

Note: Since it is localized only in Turkish, gambling game Mynet Çanak Okey was not included in this report. It currently sees 520,000 DAU and 2.4 million MAU.