Caesars Interactive Entertainment expects to be number one in the casino genre on Facebook and mobile, CEO Mitch Garber tells Inside Social Games at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this week. The online gambling giant hit the ground running on Facebook and mobile with its 2011 Playtika acquisition and a branded Facebook casino game, but it still has a ways to go toward leading the genre.
Currently, all that stands in its way is Zynga Poker — which still leads Playtika’s Slotomania on Facebook, Android and iOS in terms of traffic, according to our AppData tracking service. That might change in 2012, however, as more social and mobile game developers try to cash in on the slots and bingo craze and more land-based casino brands look at social and mobile acquisitions or licenses. Most recently, we’ve seen EA PopCap launch a slots game and IGT acquire Facebook favorite DoubleDown Casino developer DoubleDown Interactive. Meanwhile, Zynga continues to step up its “Casino” franchise of games with Zynga Bingo and is also offering licensed casino classics outside the franchise like Zynga Slingo.
Garber tells us it’s still early days in the casino genre competition. He sees plenty of opportunity to rise to the top of the category as its matures. For reference, Caesars Interactive currently has about 100 employees on the social and mobile team, and it hopes launch two new casino apps in 2012.
“Our key differentiator is that we only do one thing — casino style games,” he told us during a meeting at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this week. “We think we will win the casino [genre] war with our competitors because we’re going to focus on what we know. We’re not going to do a ‘Ville game.”
The Caesars casino franchise shows a lot of forward thinking when it comes to getting their brand out to the newer, younger generation of gambler. Many of its customers in the 20 to 30 age range expect to do their gambling online. Social and mobile fit into that plan by delivering the Caesars brand in areas where i-gaming and real gambling perhaps aren’t legal.
“I don’t have a gaming license in Australia, but I can offer Slotomania on Facebook,” Garber explains. “Brand proliferation and [in-game transactions] are the main parts of our social and mobile strategy.”
I-gaming’s merge with the social and mobile games industry presents investors and developers with a lot of new factors to consider. For one, i-gaming monetizes at a higher conversion rate and volume than anything even the most successful social-mobile game developer has seen to date. Garber declined to break out specific average revenue per user figures, but he was able to tell us that the lifetime value of a user in i-gaming reached $1,000 in 2006.
“We’re still learning how [to interpret] LTV in social games,” Garber says. “Right now we look at the daily ARPU in social.”
This means social-mobile game developers will have to adjust expectations around what their casino titles generate in ARPU. They might also have to drill down into the psychology of the traditional gambler, understanding that there’s a fundamental difference in psychology between those playing for real money and those playing for virtual currency.
A real money slot machine gambler, for example, will have a finer understanding of odds and payouts compared to a social gamer that is motivated more by the concept of achievement and fairness in game-playing. Garber compares Slotomania’s specific appeal to inserting quarters on the classic Pac-Man arcade game; a player does that to keep their score — not because there’s a chance at winning more quarters. The motivation is different, which has an impact on monetization.
Another new area of thought comes from managing the relationships between casino suppliers on and offline. On land, Caesars’ biggest competitor would be MGM. On Facebook, it might appear to be IGT now that it owns DoubleDown Casino — which is very similar to the soft-launched Caesars Casino. Garber says, however, that Caesars does not want to view IGT as a competitor — because the company is a supplier of gaming content to its land-based casinos.
“We will expect to license IGT content online,” he says. “Whatever IGT puts into DoubleDown, we would expect to license in [our Facebook games].”
Brands and licenses are a proven method for user acquisition on social and mobile because people trust names they recognize. Up until now, many license holders have carved up the rights to their properties by platform — for example, licensing Wheel of Fortune for mobile to one game developer and Wheel of Fortune for Facebook to a different developer. Garber says we’ve moved past all of that; but some social-mobile game developers might be slow to catch up, especially if they’re already locked into outdated licensing agreements that prevent them from launching games on new platforms.
As the casino genre expands on social and mobile, and Facebook explores real money gambling, we expect to even more players enter the space with high expectations. Garber says, however, that while there will be thousands of attempts, there will only be a handful of winners — and Caesars expects to be one of them.