At Casual Connect USA 2018, experts in social casino and real-money gaming (RMG) will be tackling major issues for both independent casino gaming developers and the casino industry as a whole. The conference’s casino track will span three days of content – including over 20 sessions from more than 40 speakers. The conference itself will include over 200 speakers and be attended by roughly 2,000 games industry professionals who work largely within the content-creation pipeline.
By Ivana Crnjak of AskGamblers.com
In terms of online gaming, social gaming has been present in our lives for quite some time. Due to the popularity of social games, certain people may even have the feeling the term social gaming has been around for as long as the Internet itself. However, that’s not quite true. This article will cover the differences and similarities between social gaming and online gambling, as well as some of their advantages and disadvantages from a developer standpoint.
Computer Games Association will be hosting three days of high-profile casino-oriented content at its upcoming Casual Connect USA conference this August 1-3 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. The conference has hosted tracks dedicated to online and mobile social casino and real money gaming for years – and this show will be no different, showcasing big names from various different areas in the casino industry during its casino track. However, the track will also feature content important to non-casino game developers as well – especially in regards to a new emerging market: land-based casinos.
Casual Connect USA 2016 broke open social casino with a three-day track July 18-20 that focused on the $3.5 billion industry. With many of the industry’s top 15 companies present, as well as innovative independent studios, no topic was left unanalyzed – whether it was on user acquisition and retention, game development, business strategies or more.
Jamison Selby shared his knowledge and views on real-money gaming during his session at Casual Connect USA 2014. “By 2018, less than .01 percent of commercial mobile apps will be considered a financial success by their developers,” he said.
The best thing about being a part of the games industry, according to Jamison Selby, is, quite simply, that he gets to make games. He says, “I spend days creating new recipes for fun and testing them out.” He heads the Games team at b Spot, but refuses to divulge the secrets of how he joined up and exactly what he does there. State secrets, he claims. Or could they be industry secrets? But he admits that for years he walked the line between the video games space and the real money gambling world, an experience which he has found the perfect ground for his current endeavors.
He also reveals that he has had some great moments along the way in this industry, but he hopes the best moments are yet to come. He says, “Someday, I’ll get to show my kids what I’ve done. Ask me then.”
This busy father clearly makes his family a priority. With two young children, he spends his time chasing, splashing, running, dodging, reading aloud, and cleaning. And occasionally sleeping.
But he does find time for some game play. However, these days GTA5 on the Xbox often gives way to Wonder Pets and Octonauts. Currently, he is playing Wasteland 2 Beta and Broken Age. And his preferred platform is whatever happens to be available.
There seem to be quite a lot of choices available, since he says he has all the usual consoles, including his Nintendo DS which “shall never sunset.” For mobile gaming, he uses both Android and iOS depending on which game he is playing and claims the most interesting place he has played mobile games was in the crew bar of a cruise ship late at night in the middle of the Baltic.
It Started With The TV
Selby became involved in the games industry while working on TV game shows. The trivia content was the jumping off point for him to dive into the games industry. He became the head writer for ODVD games, working on a series of trivia titles published by Hasbro. He states, “It was a big creative challenge and offered a very different path from the feast or famine world of TV production.” He believes if he had not joined the industry, he would be producing questionable reality TV shows or possibly teaching drama at a small Northwestern college. Or even serving drinks at a bar on an island without a zip code.
Here Come The Wearables
The next big trend Selby sees affecting the games industry is the explosion of wearables and VR technology. He believes this will bring huge opportunities for new content creation in the years ahead. He insists, “Every new innovation opens up creative possibilities, and we’re constantly dreaming up new ways to play.”
Selby has years of experience leading cross-disciplinary design and production teams to create multiplayer social games and interactive entertainment. He founded and leads the International Game Developer Association’s Real Money Gaming SIG. Previously, he launched the Monkey King Games consultancy and was the senior producer at TimePlay Entertainment, creating a new generation of multiplayer gaming in casinos, cinemas, cruise ships, bars, clubs and stadiums.
“The analogy we like to use is if you are comparing designing a slot machine to a movie, the math of the game is kind of your screenplay, and that’s what is going to be giving you the experience stuff,” said Shridhar Joshi during a panel at Casual Connect USA 2014.
Shridhar Joshi, the president and CEO of 2 By 2 Gaming, never really planned on a career in the games industry. But as he was finishing his Masters Degree in Computers, he received a job offer from WMS Gaming, the world leader in pinball at that time. They were starting a new gaming division, and he was hired as their first software person. He was fascinated by the casino games and the gaming industry because of the combination of psychology, creative execution and mathematics. He insists, “The joy ride is still on after 22 years.”
At 2 By 2 Gaming, they create games and license for use in land-based casino gaming, real money online gaming, and social/mobile casinos. In his previous company, they dabbled a bit in online gaming and social gaming. Their early success suggested enormous potential; as a result, it was an easy decision to launch 2 By 2 Gaming.
Differentiation Through Creativity
He claims the most appealing part of the casino games is the creativity required to differentiate your product while following all the gaming regulations. In his opinion, this business is more challenging because of the financial constraints – you can’t take out more than you put in – and the regulatory restrictions – the game must be ‘fair’ to all players regardless of the play. The key is to create a new user experience within the constraints.
In his career, he has had several moments that gave him a feeling of great accomplishment, from launching the first ever gaming product in 1992 to establishing a new business to launching their games for social play this year. He believes, “Every meaningful accomplishment makes you feel proud at that moment, and then you get motivated to do something better.”
Real Money Joins Mobile
Joshi expects the next big trend in the industry will be the convergence of real money gaming with social/mobile gaming. He has already seen some evidence of this, for example, the success of social casinos like Double Down, which offer real money casino games. But real money gaming is not accessible in the US and many other countries, so social/mobile gaming doesn’t have much impact on casino gaming today. Once real money online gaming becomes legal in meaningful numbers, he expects social/mobile players to get involved in real money gaming in large numbers. The result will be more variety in games, open doors to new entrants, and opportunity to increase revenue exponentially.
The Psychology Of Gambling
To capitalize on this trend, social/mobile gaming companies need to develop a deeper understanding of gambling psychology and mathematics, and the intent of gaming regulations. At 2 By 2 Gaming, every game is created to become available to all channels: land-based casino gaming, online casino gaming and social/mobile gaming. He states, “We make sure every game, while unique and innovative, is compliant with well-known gaming regulations because I don’t think the gaming regulations will ever go away, at least not in my lifetime.”
When Joshi is not involved in gaming, he is active in theater for a non-profit organization, where he enjoys producing and directing plays. Occasionally, he also writes and acts. In fact, if he were not in the gaming industry, he would be working in theater because he loves to create new experiences that entertain customers.
At Casual Connect USA, Joshi announced that 2 By 2 Gaming will be working with Ruby Seven Studios and Leading Edge Design to jointly create a new social casino app. 2 By 2’s gaming development team has nearly 120 years of experience creating high quality casino titles, and LED Gaming is one of the leading suppliers of innovative casino titles seen in casinos across America. The app will feature LED Gaming’s award winning game Multi-Strike Poker, the popular matching game Wild Tiles, and select well-known land-based casino titles from 2 By 2 Gaming. This app will come out in early fall.
“Real money gambling is actually a lot larger than you guys think,” Jonathan Flesher said at Casual Connect Asia 2014. “People say ‘Oh, well, you know, you are limiting your activity to the UK alone.’ Just to be clear, social casino worldwide is approximately $3 billion, $2.9, $3.1, roughly $3 billion dollars. The UK online gambling market alone, just the UK, is $3.5 billion.”
Jonathan Flesher, the executive vice-president at Betable, leads the company’s business development group, which includes commercial partnerships and developer relations. He finds his previous work in similar roles at both Zynga and Electronic Arts an advantage now that he is at a platform for game developers to get into real money gaming. The last deal he signed for Zynga with bwin.party was especially useful, helping him to understand the intersection between virtual currency and real money gaming.
Keep It Authentic
Now that he has worked in both the video games industry and in real money gaming, he has come to respect some of the virtual casino developers who have voluntarily chosen to use real random number generators to determine all play outcomes, even during the first-time player onboarding experience. He states, “Some say it gives their game a more ‘authentic’ casino feel, which I agree with, but I also think it creates a more transparent relationship with the consumer. I’d like to see more F2P developers take similar steps in their games as appropriate to the genre or game mechanic.”
He emphasizes that Betable, as a regulated gambling operator, is required by law to determine play outcomes using certified random number generators. This is the industry standard and something Betable was already doing.
Growth Through Real Money Gaming
Flesher sees real money gaming becoming the next big thing in video games. This is why he joined Betable; it is the first and leading company enabling this intersection. He asserts, “We will see more and more interesting games that incorporate real money play over the next few years. They will bring a whole new level of entertainment to ‘gambling’ as we know it.”
For his personal gaming, Flesher has always preferred FPS on PC. But these days he has little time, so he usually plays on his iPad Mini, feeling,“It is the best blend between a tablet and a smartphone, giving you a decent screen size and better handheld playability.” He hasn’t yet found a decent FPS for touch screen, and actually hates virtual joysticks. So he is now playing a lot of casino games and poker for work, and, in his free time, he enjoys Real Racing 3 and Deer Hunter 2014. And he is very excited to play Hitman GO.
Immediate Consumer Feedback
F2P has really opened up the market and made it far more accessible and social to a large number of people, in Flesher’s opinion. Previously, there was always a price barrier that was a limiting factor in audience size in all but the largest franchises. F2P also dramatically expanded games-as-service, giving developers live feedback on content as they grow their games. These developers no longer had to rely only on experience, gut instinct, and play tests to find the right formula for success.
However, he has also seen that F2P is typically supported by a very small set of payers who spend outsized amounts of money in the game. He says, “While it may be fine for a wealthy person to spend six or seven figures in a game, we all know the stories of players spending beyond their means or falling prey to other unhealthy behaviors.” He also states that he can easily see the entertainment value in a $60 console game such as FIFA or GTA, but it is hard to see the average F2P player getting similar entertainment value for that amount of money.
Flesher finds great satisfaction in working in an industry that he really loves and that brings smiles to the faces of so many people. He claims the proudest moment of his career came the first time his children visited him at work, saying, “I’m not sure I would have gotten the same response from my kids if I had still been working in financial services.”
When not working or gaming, Flesher is an auto/go-kart racer and advanced scuba diver, both activities he loves. To keep in shape, he wrestles with his kids, works out at a CrossFit gym, and takes occasional yoga classes.
“Essentially, this is worth your time,” David Chang said in regards to the social gambling industry at Casual Connect Asia 2014. “Globally, we’re looking at a $391 billion industry. That includes offline, as well as online.”
David Chang, CMO at Gamblit Gaming, became involved in the games industry as a conscious decision to be a part of something he loved. He had already had careers he enjoyed as an attorney and in business intelligence/software services. But he is an avid gamer and wanted to get into an industry he had an interest in; when the opportunity arose, he leapt at the chance.
Building From Solid Ground
His career in this industry began at IGN, where he was able to use the skillset he had already developed in corporate and business development, exploring new partnerships and business opportunities. The business skills he developed as an attorney and the technology skills from product management were all valuable in this position. He did have to learn about the business of games as well as the business of media and the marketing of games. He says, “Fortunately, I started out with a company that really knew what it was doing, and I received a terrific foundation for my career in the games industry.”
A friend introduced Chang to Gamblit Gaming at a time when they were interested in getting some feedback from the games community on their initial plans. Initially, he thought he was simply sharing his perspective on where the games industry was headed, but he left intrigued by Gamblit Gaming’s value proposition. And Gamblit Gaming felt he brought a good perspective and value to the table as well.
Games evolve in a way that mirrors how our societies consume media, according to Chang. He has seen that people are now consuming media from many more channels than previously and in more concentrated sessions. He claims, “You see this across all media, and games are no different.”
Chang emphasizes that real money gaming is not something new; in fact, it has a long history in territories such as the UK. But now the games industry has become aware of this entire ecosystem serving their core audience. He insists, “The games industry is famous, perhaps infamous, for the rapid rate of change and innovation, so all it took was some awareness of this particular area and the games people were at it, trying to come up with compelling content.”
The Challenge Ahead
There are definitely challenges in real money gaming; not simply regulatory requirements, there are also design and creative challenges. A major challenge is how to present a real money game as a fun experience. Chang emphasizes, “I believe a core concept that makes games fun is the notion of discovery and exploration. In a traditional game, questions such as “What does this skill do?” “Where does this story arc lead?” “What happens when I combine this item with this other item?” all add to the entertainment experience. But with a real money game, people may be reluctant to engage with these exploratory elements because real money is involved.”
Chang encourages developers interested in creating a gambling game to think beyond the current game paradigm. New entrants in the traditional social casino genre will experience an uphill battle for discovery. He insists, “Instead, do what our industry has always done—innovate! Be the first at creating a new sort of game, one that shifts the current paradigm.”
Pay Attention To Content
The biggest issue he sees facing the games industry today is discovery. As the cost of development has plummeted, more and more content has become available, but finding the content you want is becoming increasingly difficult. But now, niche content that people had rarely noticed can become the focus of attention for different studios, and gamers will see games that were unthinkable a few years ago. He stresses, “The challenge will be linking someone that likes a certain game style or theme with the content, and right now, the sorting elements in the relevant stores are not refined enough.”
Chang believes that in the games industry today there is an over emphasis on monetization methods and techniques. Instead, he recommends that the industry as a whole should pay more attention to content and retention, otherwise creative elements may become a secondary concern. But he feels this will be a short term trend, and more focus is beginning to be put on content and entertainment factors. Group funding of games is a model he supports; this points to an opportunity to create amazing content.
He is clearly excited about the future for Gamblit Gaming, declaring, “We are planning our commercial launch for later this year! I hope people will like our new games and our new take on gaming in general!”
Royal Wins is an Australian games studio focused on bringing real money skill and chance social and casino games to various platforms. They work to provide adults with a variety of real money games and control in the way they play. Luke Jeffery, the community manager at Royal Wins, talks about the company and their product, Mojikan.
A Royal Change
Royal Wins, founded in 2013, is a Sydney based start-up which focuses on a hybrid social skill and chance-based experience for the web, desktop, and mobile devices. We have a dynamic team of experienced executives, game designers, developers, and artists who have honed their skills with stints at some of the world’s biggest game developers including Aristocrat, IGT, KMM, Konami, and NextGen Gaming.
Back in late 2013, the team decided to shut down their immersive online social game world known as MojiKan.com (which had been in beta-test for the past year). We had some incredible feedback and suggestions from our amazing user base and VIP members. As a result, we have taken this feedback into consideration and re-engineered the site.
A New Direction
With this new information, our game designers decided to focus the new Mojikan.com site solely on a totally new style of hybrid experience (skill+chance based games), where elements of each would be found in the other. Imagine a slot game where you could use your gaming skills to improve your chances of winning, or skill-based games that also featured a random number-generated bonus feature. We wanted to provide that type of experience.
Now that the base gameplay and genre was worked out, we had the luxury to be creative in deciding upon an overall theme. With a clean slate, our games designer’s imaginations ran wild, with the Mojikan theme evolving from a fantasy themed world, to a “Casino Royale-like” CIA spy thriller, to a Wild West saloon adventure. However, after many attempts, the theme and game-play just wasn’t the way we envisioned. These themes were too restricting and specific in the types of games that could be made. The Mojikan needed to have a broader, more open-ended theme. It was during this time that our team had a sudden spark of inspiration from the past Mojikan world and pulled a brilliant idea out of a hat! The Mojikan Kash Karnival was born, a carnival that could be fantasy, Wild West, and whatever we desired all at the same time because of its setting. This carnival housed all of the different types of games and soon it became apparent that we wanted to develop the idea further. This led to the final idea of the Kash Karnival™. This new “Karnival” theme worked on so many different levels. It meant that:
- We had a setting that could resonate with multiple target audiences, as carnivals are for people from all walks in life.
- We could be as magical and as crazy as we liked with the world and the characters which inhabit it, along with the stories we could tell.
- This gave us many opportunities to create countless types of games with multiple aesthetics, featuring wild characters and various stories.
This carnival idea lit a magic fire within our bellies, allowing our 3D and 2D artists to create an eclectic world of colorful environments and characters, as well as allowed our designers to go crazy with different types of games that span multiple genres. We can mix and match whatever we liked and it will just work!
Designing a Karnival
With a theme chosen, it was time to develop the new Mojikan world even further. We were put to the test to answer the question of who inhabits this world and, more importantly, what is this world? The first part of the question was easy to answer: a carnival needs a ringmaster. We decided that this ringmaster would be given the grand name of Mojikan.
The character of Mojikan had four main inspirations: Willy Wonka, Guy Fawkes, and, of course, the original Ring Master from the original Mojikan game. Our designers worked hard with Jason Williamson, our art director to create a robust back story and look for our protagonist. We wanted Mojikan to be a three-dimensional character with depth. This gave our 2D and 3D artists a chance to really develop the aesthetics of the game.
The Kash Karnival is the central hub and can be found on Moji Island. The central hub is an area where players gather and interact with each other. It acts as the main “station” before they enter various themed areas. Within the hub, there are two special areas for players to explore – the Skill District and the Adventure Casino. Each area is tailored towards two player bases: players who love skill games like Angry Birds or Candy Crush, and players who love to play social casino games like slots, blackjack, or roulette. Myles Blasonato, our lead game designer took the time to think extensively about what our players would want. From past experiences and feedback from the previous Mojikan, we concluded that we want to give players the best of both worlds; to combine elements of skill and Chance together into one seamless experience. This is how the Skill District and Adventure Casino was born.
The decision to make two separate areas was not taken lightly by our design team, as it would affect the overall user experience. The team needed to consider how a player would enter the game world and how they would filter through all of the different genres so they could easily navigate and find exactly what experience they wanted to have. The team thought it would be easier and less confusing to separate the two player bases and create two areas specifically tailored to each one. This allows both players to co-exist in the same space and even jump over to the other side and experience something they might never have before. It gives choice to the player to decide their own entertainment, whether it be skill games, chance games, or even both!
The Skill District is for gamers who love skill based experiences. This area is special because it allows social gamers to be rightly rewarded in a unique way for their amazing efforts by introducing small amounts of “casino-like” elements to the games. Players can choose different difficulty options and place various bets on how well they perform to give themselves a better chance at winning bigger prizes! The harder the difficulty, the bigger the prize!
The Adventure Casino is a unique area for social and online casino players. It contains all of what they love, such as slots and other popular casino games, but with more entertainment value. These games aren’t ordinary, standard casino games. The Adventure Casino games are designed to drive narrative and tell character-focused stories that engross the player into the world of Mojikan and its inhabitants.
For our upcoming Facebook release, we will launch with four games in total: two skill-based games and two chance-based games. I know what you are thinking, “Only 4?” But as we say here at Royal Wins HQ, quality over quantity.
“Don’t half-ass anything” is Myles’ philosophy. “Our team wants to build the best games; we want to dedicate our time to managing and perfecting a smaller number of games to ensure a solid gameplay experience and not churn out a bunch of crap that nobody wants to play for the sake of quantity, which is mostly what’s out there. We feel the trade-off is totally worth it and hope that our fans appreciate our efforts in making the best experience possible. However, that being said, we already have a bunch of exciting ideas in our road-map for new experiences just waiting to be created.”
Kevin Flood spoke at Casual Connect USA in San Francisco. He participated in a key panel discussion entitled The Gamble of Social Casino Game Distribution. During that discussion, Kevin advised that, “Developers should embrace social casino gaming development, but tread cautiously into Real Money Gaming.”
Kevin describes himself as an adventurer, and his free time activities clearly show his penchant for adventure. He is an avid cyclist, usually going to the last stage of the Tour de France in Paris in July. He is also an avid mountaineer and climber, having climbed many well-known peaks in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. And he is a musician who appreciates many different music genres and has played the guitar since he was ten years old.
Kevin is CEO of Gameinlane, the second company he has started. As a result of his earlier experience, he was familiar with the process, risk and challenge of beginning a new business entity when Gameinlane launched.
Listening to His Audience
He had previously launched an online gaming platform in Europe. He tells us, “The exposure to launching and managing a game product in another culture and economy helped me understand how different consumer preferences and business processes are in various geographic regions.” Gameinlane now does most of its business internationally because Kevin has learned how to work, communicate and address localized preferences and business practices.
The advice Kevin gives on making a better product relates to his experience addressing product needs within different business sectors and in different regions around the world. He emphasizes, “Listen and adapt your product or service to the needs of your target audience. Do not assume that the product you have previously created or envisioned is automatically going to be accepted in all markets and by all potential customers.”
You Never Forget Your First Time
Kevin feels that starting his first company was both the proudest and the scariest moment of his career. He was attending MIT, working on a research project on behalf of a tech company where he was employed at the time. When the company began to struggle, Kevin started his own company with other members of the team, based on the research they were doing. The biggest challenge was turning a research project into a business and a product. He had to transition from being a “tech” guy doing research, and develop the skills needed as a business manager, a marketing manager and a financial manager.
Globalization and Virtualization…
…These are the trends Kevin feels will strengthen in the future. Flexibility will be the critical asset to meet these trends. Products, services, business operations and workers will all have to be flexible enough to achieve objectives without any physical contact while serving a broad spectrum of consumers.