REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — It’s a panel featuring the makers of social casino games, talking about the moves and trends that are making their industry one of the hottest in video games. But one word kept coming up during the presentation, and as far as some are concerned, it’s a word they don’t want to hear again.
“The industry — don’t know why we always talk about regulation! — regulation is taking its own path,” said Akamon CEO Vincent Marti at GamesBeat 2013 on Tuesday. “The industry is getting its act together. … At end of day, we’re not doing ourselves a favor talking about regulation.”
Traditional gambling giants such as Caesar’s are moving into the booming sector. Moderator Alex Kelly, the CEO of Playsino, says that the industry pulls in more than $2 billion today — and could grow to over $4 billion in 2016.
And that growth is going to come not just from current markets such as the U.S. and the U.K. but emerging territories as well, where right now, people are playing but not necessarily paying (as Akamon CEO Vincent Marti pointed out of places such as Brazil).
“Growth will come from emerging markets adopting smartphones and the continued astronomical growth in Europe and China,” said Big Fish Games CEO Paul Thelen.
Thelen later took a shot at the Caesar’s and another casino giant, IGT — companies not necessarily known for adapting quickly to new trends. “It’s about being fast and agile. Big people like Caesar’s can buy in. But that doesn’t mean growth.”
GameHouse VP of Studios Ken Murphy noted that it’s “hard to deny power these big players bring in — bought way to top of charts, and they’re also successful in migrating their IP in. They have a lot of traction. We’re seeing lots of consolidation going forward.”
Thelen points out that companies like Big Fish have a significant advantage over those relying on traditional slot games or real-money betting games — creativity. “One of our approaches is going beyond slot. We’re not bound by real-money gambling — we can be creative about things the real money guys can’t think about.” He also noted that Big Fish’s business is up 200 percent — and outpacing the big, traditional companies.
Kelly later introduced an intriguing idea — that regulation itself is a barrier for the gambling giants when it comes to innovating casino games.
Betable CEO Chris Griffin — whose company deals in real-money online gambling, not social casinos — latched on this. “You’re pretty numb to being agile and innovative. … Even thinking about viral mechanics — it’s totally foreign to the traditional gambling industry.”
Then that bugbear word came up again — regulation.
“Now that real-world [gambling] players are coming into the space, we hear mumblings if social should be regulated,” Murphy said. “We need to be active participants [in the dialogue].”
Thelen went so far as to even note that Big Fish’s games are really no different than other social sensations. “Social casino games are no more gambling than Farmville and Candy Crush [Saga],” he said. “Look at those pushing for regulation — it’s those with vested interests. You see our games divulging from real-money betting. It’s social.”
Thelen even pointed out that turn-based strategy games are No. 1 when it comes to sucking money out of the so-called whales, the small minority of players who spend big on free-to-play games. “Just because it looks like gambling doesn’t mean it is,” he said.
And as far as regulation — there’s that word again! — goes, Griffin says it’s not a problem. Because “Betable already solved the problem.”