Mobile is big news, but there’s still a huge number of casual gamers playing social games on PC.
The big players in the social scene, though, are starting to move their games to mobile devices. It’s particularly interesting given the slightly older player demographic that populates the world of online social games like bingo and slots in a market worth an estimated $17.4 billion by 2019.
I caught up with two of the giants in social gaming at Casual Connect Europe — the Netherlands-based GamePoint and Vegas World creator FlowPlay from Seattle, WA — to find out about their transition to mobile and the challenges it presents.
I wasn’t expecting to find a world of weddings, gold diggers, and Martinis, but that’s what I got.
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A more mature demographic
GamePoint formed 16 years ago, and in the last three years, the Netherlands-based developer has grown in size from 30 to 60 employees and gained over 10 million registered players.
Some of its social games are already available on iPad, but it only launched its bingo app on iPhone last December. “We had to go mobile,” explained Kimberley Huizing, business development team member at GamePoint. “We have taken the first steps. We just need a bit more iteration on the iPhone game before we push it.”
Most of GamePoints’ players are over 30, and the majority are women. Facebook integration is key to GamePoint’s success, and Huizing explained that the social aspect of the games is what keeps players logging in daily.
“That’s really our strength,” she said. “We have people that have been playing for years. They return every day, they play in the same rooms, chat with the same people, form cliques, have arguments, make appointments. They even meet in real life.
“That really keeps people coming back. It’s easy for one person to lose interest — if you have friends here, you’re more likely to return.”
And the social connections often extend beyond the game. Recently, there was a wedding between two players which GamePoint’s community manager attended.
“There are also GamePoint babies already,” added Mercedes Ramirez, GamePoint’s business development manager. “The head of game development, he met his wife and now the mother of his sons and daughters on a GamePoint game. He was a moderator and she was a player, so they started communicating via email, and then they met.”
The slow burn
GamePoint’s players get free coins when they sign up along with a daily gift each day they log in. These let them play the games, which offer coin rewards but no real-money pay-outs.
Players will start off playing for free, but soon get drawn into a social world that they want to be a part of. It’s what makes them pay for extra coins and keeps them coming back.
“People really monetize through engagement,” said Huizing. “It’s common to see users making their first payments in week six.”
So a slow start, but players are then committed for the long haul.
“Our monetization is quite slow, but it has a really long tail — first the players came in, and then the revenue,” said Huizing. “We know from Facebook our retention outside the first month is the highest of all social casino games on Facebook. The vast majority of revenue coming in in month ‘X’ is generated by users who installed a year earlier or even more than a year.”
With the social aspect of games being so important to GamePoint’s players, squeezing that experience onto a mobile device is a tough challenge.
“We have a very big social aspect,” said Ramirez. “You have your friend list, you have your bank account, your currency, and that all works across all of our games. You can start a game on your iPhone or iPad — you can have a conversation with your friends and then switch to PC.”
So is it possible to get its users across to mobile? “They’ve already started, but we can see that they still play a lot on web, on desktop,” said Huizing.
And replicating the social experience on mobile? “It’s very difficult,” said Huizing. “That’s what we’re iterating on right now,” added Ramirez. “That’s definitely a challlenge.”
“I think that in a lot of casual game people are really migrating completely from desktop to mobile,” said Huizing. “It doesn’t hold true for all games. I think for our players, a lot of them are older; they like the experience of the desktop computer.”
So the two experiences need to complement each other. “They will play under different circumstances on desktop and mobile,” said Huizing. “They will play a quick round of bingo when they have five minutes to spare. They will still play on desktop to see their friends.”
And given Mark Zuckerberg’s belief in a social experience driven by virtual reality, will we see GamePoint’s players sat playing bingo wearing Oculus Rift headsets in the near future?
“You never know,” said Huizing.
“The target group of our games is really 30-plus females, and I don’t think they’re going to use the Oculus Rift,” said Ramirez, before adding, “Maybe in twenty years, yes.”
Vegas in your front room
Derrick Morton is FlowPlay’s chief executive officer. He didn’t mess around when explaining the secret to the success of his popular social casino portal, Vegas World.
“Last month we were number 2 in the [online social casino] space. We’re doing about 49 cents per day per user — almost triple what many of our competitors are doing, and it’s due to the fact that we are really social.”
Vegas World’s avatar system is what sets it apart from the competitors, says Morton. Players can create a 3D representation of themselves (or what they’d like to be) and adorn it with accessories. Then there are social spaces within the game where players’ avatars can interact … and even get married.
“Nobody else has a multiplayer environment,” said Morton. “Everybody comes to Vegas World thinking they’re going to play slots. What happens is they get immersed in the game, they meet people from around the world, and sometimes they find girlfriends and boyfriends. It’s almost like real life.”
“We have a wedding chapel where 30,000 people have got married in the game, “ he added. “People go on to get married in real life.
And these people are spending up to $100 of real money to buy the virtual wedding rings that let them marry.
“It’s mostly women,” said Morton of Vegas World’s demographic. “65 percent women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. Middle-aged women that are looking for a boyfriend.”
And they find them? “Oh yes.”
And the other 35 percent? “Men that have two accounts and have multiple girlfriends.…” jokes Morton.
But not everyone is after a long-term commitment. Some are just looking for a virtual sugar-daddy (or mommy).
“Everything that happens in the real world happens in Vegas World,” said Morton. “There are people that are gold diggers, that are looking for someone rich in the game to take care of them and pay for their winnings and losses — to buy them nice clothes and a nice ring.”
“There’s even guys that take advantage of nicer women that will buy them coins in the game.”
It sounds like a soap opera, I told him. “Oh, believe me, there’s tons of drama,” he said.
Martinis all round
Morton says that the move to mobile hasn’t been that hard, but he points out that all Vegas World’s predominantly flash-based games needed rewriting in native code to work well on Android and iOS.
“We didn’t want to start being super-active in mobile until we felt like we were ready and all our games were ready,” he said. Vegas World’s newest mobile app, Fringo, is about to launch, and that’s been built specifically with the demands and restrictions of mobile in mind.
Recreating the social gaming experience on a tablet or phone is the trickiest part of that process, given the size of the screen and the need for chat.
“It is more difficult to chat on a mobile device because you’ve got to pull a keyboard out and do some chatting,” said Morton.
And that social interaction is what actually keeps people playing, and spending, in the game.
“Even when you’re in a game like slots, you’re still in a room with 10 people. You’re still buying people drinks,” said Morton. “In fact, that’s how we make most of our money, by these food charms that people buy,” he added, explaining how the lucky charms that players can buy — including cigars and Martinis — help not just them, but the whole room of players.
“If I’m in a slot room, and I buy a Martini, everybody in the room gets a Martini,” said Morton. “And now, the odds for the slot game have gone up from 95 percent payout to about 105 percent. Martini only lasts for, call it 20 pulls of the slot machine … a Martini’s fairly cheap, it only costs like a dollar. We have $18 and $20 charms that could last you all day.”
Buying a round of drinks starts what Morton calls a “virtuous cycle,” and everyone starts getting involved: “I buy a Martini for the room and everyone says, ‘Thanks,’ and somebody else buys a soda.”
It’s a reflection on that social experience that players are getting, and it’s an experience many will continue to enjoy more on PC, despite everyone’s best efforts.
“Most people just enjoy the mere fact that they feel like they’re in an environment with other people,” said Morton. “You don’t have to interact, you don’t have to chat. But just being in a room and not being lonely, which is a lot of what this is about.
“Going some place where there’s activity kind of brightens their day rather than sitting at home on their phone feeling like they’re playing just by themselves.”