Product and marketing lessons for the social space
No concept has rocked the casino industry in recent history quite like the rise of social casinos.
Last year saw a lot of discussion on the longevity of the social casino market and viability of casual casinos as a revenue source. But with those discussions also came an influx of research and a greater understanding of the online casino ecosystem—which paralleled the surge of revenues and M&A activity in the social casino sector, now valued at $2.7 billion worldwide, according to Eilers Research. Combined with the crossover of 83 percent of social casino gamers who visit a land-based casino at least once a year according to SuperData Research, and it’s clear why the convergence of land-based and online casinos has become such a hot topic.
Today, it seems the debate on whether or not brick-and-mortar casinos should extend their branding to a social casino product is over. Now the real question is in how to enter the social casino market. While those who launched social casinos a few years ago had the luxury to slap a single-player slots game on mobile, companies who are looking to enter the space today have a lot more competition. It is no longer enough to simply build a social casino; a concerted effort needs to be made on both the product and marketing side.
There are several major considerations for brick-and-mortar casinos to successfully enter the space, but ultimately it comes down to player engagement. There’s no doubt that a well-planned approach is essential—from selecting vendors (if any) and choosing platforms your game will go on (desktop vs. mobile), to the level of branding that will be incorporated and the types of gameplay you’ll be providing. However, a critical aspect that many land-based operators fail to make a priority is in making your online experience as social as your brick-and-mortar experience.
From a monetization standpoint, the more engaged your players are, the more likely they are to spend money to continue playing your game. Here are a few ways to increase engagement rates:
Consider a variety of casual casino game styles, not just slots—While slots are great (and easy to develop) they also miss an opportunity to take a more diverse player approach that other casual casino games like poker and blackjack can provide. Hybrid games combining the mechanics of different casino games have also become popular among social casino players, so look beyond single-player slots when approaching gameplay. Players get bored quickly. You can draw them in with familiar games like slots and introduce them to more complex hybrid games that will keep their attention once they’ve tired of the same old spinning reels game.
Incorporate additional social environments and capabilities—Provide players with additional areas to chat and interact with other players in the game. Whether you build out a completely separate social area (think bars or nightclubs) or simply integrate chat functionality into the gameplay, the approach isn’t as essential as the need to develop a community of players that want to keep coming back and playing more over time. Creating a reason beyond the casino play to return to the game encourages the development of that community and directly influences engagement rates.
Mimic brick-and-mortar branding within your online casino offerings—Tying your brand into your online presence can seem like an obvious thing, but not many land-based casinos are thinking about branding as a factor in more than just the name. While the name is important when it comes to discoverability (and can influence download rates), it’s also important to bake branding into the product itself. Make your players feel like they’re actually in your casino and they’ll keep coming back—both online and to physical locations.
While a lot of effort is typically placed in the development of a social casino product, without aggressive marketing, it will all be for nothing. It can be easy to skip over a creating an integrated marketing program to promote your online casino, yet when taking a look at what makes a social casino successful, the key differentiator is actually within marketing and player acquisition. Many companies have social casinos, but few market them well and some throw in the towel after not being successful the first time out. Here are a few key factors to consider when approaching marketing your social casino:
Cohesive strategy, across online and brick-and mortar—As a land-based casino, you don’t limit your marketing activities to one venue. Similar to the overarching marketing plan you already have in place, your online casino needs its own plan in addition to being baked into your brick-and-mortar marketing activities. Everywhere you touch players, you need to remind them that they can engage online—in the physical casino, on your website, as part of your rewards plan, direct mailing, etc.
Player acquisition, through social media and other venues—Social media, specifically Facebook, has provided a platform to connect with consumers where they play games (whether that is on desktop or mobile). But that’s not the only place to find your customers. Social casino players frequent casual game websites such as Yahoo! Games and AOL’s Games.com. Direct marketing to these players is highly effective since the demographic overlap is strong.
Think beyond your typical audience—While there is a crossover of players that want to engage in casino play online and in brick-and-mortar casinos, there’s a huge audience of players that may not be within traveling distance of your physical location. With a social casino, you have a much broader audience than those who come to your brick-and-mortar locations, so consider marketing to players who you may not have previously reached out to. Even if there’s no chance a player will ever set foot in your casino, every player in your game adds to the sense of community and excitement of the overall experience.
Overall, a good rule of thumb when approaching social casinos is that as much effort should go toward marketing and player acquisition as product development. Just building a social casino is no longer enough.