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How to build irresistible social casino games
This month’s Kontagent analytics webinar was packed yesterday, with hundreds of developers from around the world tuning in to make it their most successful webinar ever. The topic? How to build ‘irresistible’ social casino games. I summarize it here.
March 29, 2012
9 Min Read
This month’s Kontagent analytics webinar was packed yesterday, with hundreds of developers from around the world tuning in to make it their most successful webinar ever. The topic? How to build ‘irresistible’ social casino games. Clearly, the social casino games space is heating up, and game developers and casino companies alike want to learn more. Teaching them was Dave Bezahler, the CEO of Blitzoo, a 20-person social game company that experienced great success with its SlotSpot Facebook slots game. He shared his knowledge of the market and went through SlotSpot as a case study for social casino games.
More...A rapidly growing market
It’s no secret that there’s been a ton of interest in social casino games in the past 6 months. Two social casino game companies, Playtika and DoubleDown, were recently purchased at massive, 9-figure valuations. Everyone from EA to Zynga are getting in on what is expected to be the next hot social game genre. Kontagent also commented that their fastest-growing customer segment has been social and mobile casino games. But what does this all mean for game developers looking to get into the space?
First of all, if you’re not sitting on a pile of cash, don’t bother looking at Facebook. The viral channels that made Facebook a great platform for indie game developers are dead, says Dave. While this is true for Facebook in particular, competition in the social casino games genre has driven up CPA prices on all platforms. You should expect to be at war from day 1. Many newcomers are looking at cross-platform development solutions so they can spread their eggs across multiple baskets.
When being born into wartime, it’s important to pick your beachhead early. For poker, skill-based and sports-based games, Dave recommends targeting a young male audience. For slots and other chance-based games, the audience remains primarily older females (typically 65% of slot players are female according to Dave) but is starting to drift closer to an even gender ratio. This drift is due to the changing nature of how slots are presented to the player: men can try the game for free, play for home, and play online. These changes make slots-type games more appealing to a broader audience.
Furthermore, these changes make casino-style games more appealing to a broader audience across the board. If you look at the difference in growth curves between FarmVille style games and social casino games, casino games show more consistent, wider growth curves. This shows that casino games keep players engaged longer and are less reliant on a huge launch for success.
Lastly, Dave warned social game developers that real-money gambling games are going to be launched in many if not all major platforms in the next year. Facebook is already looking into allowing real-money gambling in the UK, and the few mobile gambling apps that already inhabit the Apple and Google app stores are experiencing meteoric growth. Real-money gambling games are going to be tough to compete against because these companies can afford a much higher CPA than virtual currency game developers. However, real-money gambling companies come from a world where each player is a paying player, and aren’t as familiar with the freemium model. If you’re intelligent with your user acquisition and optimize your free-to-paid conversion, you can compete with these giants.. for now.
SlotSpot Case Study: Build, learn, iterate
Blitzoo built SlotSpot in just 6 weeks with a single-minded focus on a Minimum Viable Product, or MVP. The game had no friends bar (a staple of Facebook games), no quests, no gifts, no achievements, and only 3 slot machines to play. The game did have levels and XP, but there was no reward for levelling up. Instead, Blitzoo focused on cranking out new features each week to fill in the gaps in their product. By cultivating customer feedback via their Facebook page, they were able to quickly prioritize the most important features on their product roadmap. Then, through live A/B testing of their game, they were able to test these assumptions about what features the audience was really interested in. All in all, Blitzoo used Eric Ries’ Lean Startup methodology to impressive effect with their first social game (more on this in a later post).
When building his MVP product, Dave highlighted the importance of analytics and metrics. You need metrics for every piece of the game business:
User Acquisition. You need to segment your inbound users and see which creative, which demographics and which countries converted most effectively.
Free-to-paid Conversion. Which trigger got players to purchase? Which offer got that finicky player to finally buy? What creative was most effective?
Game Balance. What is the average session length? How many spins does it take until they are out of money? How does this change as they level up?
Player Temperature. This was Blitzoo’s own measure of positive vs. negative player feedback.
As you are building your game, you should always be asking yourself: what do I need to know? The answer will help you determine the metrics that are most important to your business.
SlotSpot Case Study: Maximizing revenue
When looking to maximize your revenue, the first step you should take is to identify your high value players. For the social casino genre, there are two types of high value players: whales and evangelists. Whales are the players that spend the most, typically spending over 10x more than the typical ARPPU rate of your game. These players can spend over $1,000 per game and make up a substantial portion of your game’s revenue. Evangelists are players that love your game. They invite their friends, are active on forums, and give you valuable feedback. Catering to these two groups is of utmost importance for any social casino game.
To appeal to these high value customers, you should segment them internally via your analytics and present them with unique offers. You should also track their playing habits and retention so that you can optimize your game to keep these players around. When dealing with their support or feature requests, take a little more time to write a custom response. Small tweaks like these can create the best experience for these players and keep them coming back.
Your second step when maximizing revenue is a no brainer: maximize your revenue from all of your players. Run A/B Tests and experiments on players, using the Lean Startup as a framework. Notice how in the graph above, the revenue spikes get larger and larger. This is because the A/B tests are improving the promotions’ effectiveness over time.
When running these experiments, be sure to segment each test by player type, whether it’s a whale, evangelist, first-time buyer or someone who has never purchased. Dave says that 90% of players on Facebook never pay, 5% will typically pay, and 5% will maybe pay. The key to maximizing the amount of players that do pay is by running these experiments. Test different offers, such as coin bundles, sales or referral promotions, to see which copy performs better. Be sure you test one thing with each test: the copy, the collateral, or the offer itself. However, never test yourself into having only one “optimal” offer. Dave’s advice is that a variety of offers always performs better than one “best” offer. Also, be sure to vary your delivery method of the offers, whether it's from an interstitial ad, a banner ad, or an in-game graphic.
SlotSpot Case Study: Analytics as an immune system
The last key use for analytics is as an early warning system for bugs or problems with your game. Use your analytics tool to track errors, customer service requests, ARPPU, free-to-paid conversion, virality, average bet size, and anything else that is a mission-critical function of the game. If any of these numbers spike or drop dramatically, your canary is dead and it’s time to troubleshoot the coal mine. For example, Blitzoo had a problem where their overall revenue suddenly dropped. From their analytics, they could see that they had seen a significant increase in free-to-paid conversion rate, but an even larger decrease in ARPPU. It turned out that a promotion created by their marketing team was too aggressive, and undercut their price significantly. Once the error was spotted, fixing it was simple and the situation was resolved (damn it, marketing! :P).
Mobile: The Next Frontier
To conclude his presentation, Dave talked about Blitzoo’s upcoming transition to mobile and how they planned to adapt SlotSpot to the new space. He reiterated analytics’ importance on mobile because there are even more factors to a mobile player than a social player. There is no “single solution” for social sharing on mobile like there is on Facebook, so you need to incorporate and track a variety of them. Also, customer acquisition is done on a per-deal basis rather than run all through Facebook, so there’s a lot of segmentation there as well. Finally, customer onboarding is incredibly important to building a successful game on mobile and A/B tests are the key to optimizing your initial onboarding flow.
Dave pointed out that you simply cannot port a social network game to a mobile platform and expect the same results. For one, there’s a much shorter session length: mobile players spend 3 minutes per session on average while social players can spend up to 20 minutes. This requires a complete overhaul of game balance and the willingness to take an ax to your feature set. Offers are responded to differently on mobile, so you will need to start your in-game marketing testing all over again. Lastly, engagement is king on mobile. It’s much harder to keep players engaged with a mobile game and re-engage players that have been lost. Making all of these adjustments has been key to Blitzoo’s preparation for the mobile launch of their SlotSpots app.
Thanks again to Blitzoo and Kontagent for throwing a great webinar. I’d recommend getting on their webinar circuit by signing up for their mailing list, each one I attend keeps getting better.
The social casino space is on fire right now, and one can only expect the fire to spread to mobile. If you’re looking to get into this space, move quickly and buckle up, because it’s about to take off. And while you’re busy fending off incumbents, trying to keep distance from the newcomer nipping at your heels, and avoiding the real-money giants, you might want to look into Betable. We’re the first and only platform that lets you add real-money gambling to games, and it might be the weapon you need to win in the social casino game space.
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