Zynga Plus Casino is a new real-money gaming service from the social gaming giant. At present, it is available in the U.K. — its availability in other territories will depend on local laws relating to online gambling. Zynga Plus Casino is one of two real-money gaming services that the company has launched recently — the other being Zynga Plus Poker, which we’ll take a closer look at tomorrow.
Zynga Plus Casino may be accessed either via the Web or a dedicated downloadable piece of client software. The Web version does not work correctly on Mac OS X-based devices, failing to recognize when the user is logged in, and the downloadable client is only available for Windows-based computers at this time — so either way, Mac users are out of luck at present.
A Zynga Plus Casino account may be used in Zynga Plus Poker and vice-versa, so it’s only necessary for the player to create one account. In order to do so, they must provide their personal details, including their name, address and date of birth. There’s no apparent means of identity-checking in place to verify the user’s age aside from the birthdate selector — gamblers in the U.K. must be at least 18 years of age in order to play. There’s also no means of registering for an account with Facebook or other social networks — the Zynga Plus services use their own proprietary accounts.
Once an account has been created, the user can make an initial deposit using a variety of different payment methods, including various types of debit/credit card or PayPal. Initial deposits earn a bonus of “free” money, and subsequent deposits can also earn extra “free” money if a special redemption code is entered — though the existence of this special offer is buried in some small print on the service’s front page.
Both the Web-based incarnation of the service and the downloadable client work in much the same way, with the only difference being that the downloadable client offers a wider selection of games to play. Web games are streamed to the user’s computer as and when they are accessed; the client, meanwhile, downloads each game and stores it on the user’s computer for future access in subsequent play sessions. The games accessible in the client tend to be slightly more graphically-intensive titles with larger file sizes, while the Web-compatible games tend to be limited to simpler slots and card games.
Starting a game presents the player with a few options: to bring in some or all of their current real money balance, or to play with £500 of “play money” to try out the game without risk. The service appears to be a little buggy at present, occasionally failing to recognize the user’s existing balance and prompting them to make a deposit even though there is already money in their account — reloading the game sometimes fixes this issue, but it probably won’t fill the user with confidence to see that sometimes the real money they have paid into the service isn’t recognized. This problem occurred considerably more frequently when using the downloadable client than when playing games on the Web.
The games themselves vary from straightforward multi-line slot machines on various themes (including machines based on popular Zynga titles such as FarmVille, and licensed machines featuring Marvel comic book characters such as Spider-Man) to tabletop casino games such as blackjack, roulette and craps, to more obviously “computer game”-like experiences with attractive, appealing graphics, animation and sounds. Despite their appearances, however, these games are still almost entirely luck-based, with very little in the way of skill required. Even games that require judgement calls such as video poker tend to have “auto” functions that automatically take the “best” course of action for the player — though these features can be turned off for those who wish to take full control of their experience. All real money games also feature a log facility, allowing the player to review their spending habits and how well the various games have performed for them.
Most games are designed to be played solo, but there are a few multiplayer offerings available for those games that support it — blackjack, for example, has a multiplayer variant available in which players compete alongside other Zynga Plus Casino users. These games include a chat facility so players can socialize while they play.
Zynga Plus Casino also includes a rewards system to incentivize regular real-money play. For each game, a certain amount of total money bet corresponds to earning a “point.” These points may subsequently be spent in the service’s store on a variety of physical “prizes” ranging from decks of cards to iPads and Mac laptops — the latter option being a little ironic due to the service’s incompatibility with OS X. Not only that, though, but earning a particular amount of points per month or per quarter can increase the user’s “level,” which in turn reduces the point costs for the various prizes in the store. The top tier requires the user to earn 9,000 points in a quarter, which corresponds to a total bet of $90,000 on the slot machines or an astonishing $1,800,000 on single-deck blackjack. Even at this top tier, a Retina display iPad still costs points that equate to a minimum of $177,700 if earned through playing slots. To be fair, points are more easily earned through playing the Zynga Plus Poker games, where they are distributed according to “rake” calculations, but for those who do not wish to play poker, earning rewards has the potential to get very expensive indeed.
In fact, Zynga Plus Casino in general has the potential to get very expensive indeed, as it is extremely easy to spend a lot of money without realizing it. The service’s “Quick Deposit” function defaults to the user’s last-used payment information and allows more money to be quickly and easily put into their account, and each game provides the opportunity to bring the entire balance of their account to the table if they wish. It is possible to set up deposit limits to prevent overspending, but the risk of depositing and losing a lot of money is very real. This is the very essence of gambling, of course, but the relatively frictionless nature of making online payments means it’s very easy to chew through a large amount of money in a very short space of time.
At present, Zynga Plus Casino seems to have the potential to become a solid platform for online gambling, but a few flaws hold it back at present. Most significantly, the service needs better Mac support, particularly if it is highlighting Macbook Air laptops as one of its available rewards. The Web service needs to work with Mac at the very least, and it would be good if there was a downloadable Mac client in the long run, too. The bugs also need to be ironed out — when using the downloadable client, I got the “you do not have sufficient funds to play this game” message more often than not, even when there was plenty of funding in my account. Zynga may also wish to look at the rate at which “points” are earned for rewards and the various membership tiers, because at present it seems that players have to spend an unfeasibly large amount of money to “level up” even once.
Zynga Plus Casino is a service to keep an eye on in the coming months, then, but it certainly still has some work to do.
The foundations have been laid for a solid real-money gaming platform, but too many flaws and bugs spoil the experience at present.