Social Casino Games - Casino Slots | Bingo | Blackjack | Roulette
It has been ten years now since the initial explosion of social networking. Having started with school-reunion website Friends Reunited and then MySpace and eventually the daddy of them all Facebook, in that time it's grown to be an all-encompassing aspect of daily life for many of us.
One of the biggest areas of social interaction is in gaming, and in particular it's social casino games that are now seeing the biggest growth.
Maybe it's because the social aspect gives casino gaming a more respectable air. Maybe it's because many of the casino operators with social platforms offer free gaming, and even ways to win real cash prizes that are within the law.
Whatever the reason, the future growth of social platforms offering casino type games seems assured, especially with the arrival on the scene of the highly promising Celebrity World casino. Here we'll take an advanced look at what social casino games are all about, who runs the gaming sites, whether the promised entertainment is really free, and what the chances are of actually winning real cash.
Social gaming for virtual or real money is the title given to a wide range of games that can be found on popular social networking sites. It's nothing new, they've been around for a long time.
What is new is that the gambling industry has realised that the potential market for social gaming is huge - and with it comes the opportunity to market real money casino games to a whole new social audience.
That means you, of course, and in some cases exactly what that means for you is blurred.
It means free-to-play virtual money gaming for sure - casino games, bingo, and poker are all on the list.
But it also means the chance to play for real money prizes, and where there is real money at stake there is almost always the risk of losing some real money too.
Is It Gambling, Or Harmless Fun?
Gambling can be defined as "the staking of something of value on the outcome of an event governed by an inevitable element of chance for a reward with monetary value". In other words, the risk of using money to win more.
Gambling can be dangerous. If you become addicted, it can have long lasting negative effects on you, your family, and your friends.
'If you become addicted' are the words to note here
There's little doubt that playing real money casino games in an online casino can result in addiction. But could these social casino games have the same potential?
The answer is probably yes. Casino games are inherently addictive.The flashing lights, the turn of the cards, the anticipation of spinning reels. The desire to win, and the thrill of doing it. You can lose plenty of cash, though remember you also lose time too.
All are hard to escape being drawn into. Some of the behavioural and psychological aspects of real money gambling are very much present in the social gaming world.
The plus side to this in social games is that they're either free, or you'll be limited in how much money actually playing can cost. The same rules of depositing money from a bottomless well to an online casino don't apply, the most you're going to lose should be the subscription fees if any, or maybe a few dollars spent buying virtual currency.
You'll still need to be careful not to let it get out of hand of course. The social gaming aspect encourages you to build up big scores (or reserves of $s!). It's the achievement aspect of play. Trying to keep up with your social network of friends and family perhaps, or just to be seen to be a big winner/scorer.
This aspect of social recognition is one even the big gambling firms are preying on. Big poker sites like PartyPoker and some of the sportsbetting operators have introduced 'achievement' indicators in their platforms.
There's no doubt that this ability to progress and rack up big scores or piles of virtual cash is what attracts many social gamers.
But there's a bigger danger - that of getting sucked in to real money casino gaming by your exposure to the social versions.
There is some heavy debate on whether this is a real fear, and you'll see both viewpoints represented. The key point to remember though is that winning money on a social casino site does NOT mean you'll win on a real money site. The games might be the same, but they operate entirely differently.
Can You Trust The Social Games
For an online casino to operate successfully (and be known as trusted) it needs to be transparent. Everyone knows (or should do) that the odds are always in favour of the casino, but those odds (and the percentage chances of a positive return) need to be known.
Trusted online casinos will have independent auditors who make sure that the casinos are doing what they say they'll do.
Real money casino gambling is regulated in some countries in an attempt to impart controls on the operators (and to bring in money from taxes!)
For a social casino, there's no obvious need for an operator to be proving anything and there's no real regulation. So can we trust that the sequences of games are random?
There are fears that a social gaming site can push the odds more in favour (or against them) at will. This might be to give a player the impression that winning is easy, for example, and thereby encourage longer term playing time.
The whole point is that social games are designed to enhance player enjoyment and keep you playing for as long as possible, and the can be 'set' to deliver that perfectly.
You'll see from this that the major premise of social and real money gambling games - their target achievement - is almost entirely different.
Almost - but not quite - and there are some crossovers.
So How Do The Social Operators Make Money?
We've seen that social gaming is a long way removed from loading up an account with your hard-earned cash and then gambling it steadily at in card games or slots.
But the operators need to make money somehow to keep the games running, and they do this by offering what we'll call 'enhancements'.
These may be additional features built into games that you need to purchase to 'unlock'. They may offer weekly leaderboards which encourage players to spend more to build up a good position. They may be special challenges that require some spending in order to complete. They may be special in game experiences.
Or the profits may come from pure and simple virtual cash 'purchases'. These are generated by offering players free reserves of virtual cash on sign up, and then offering more by paying fixed amounts.
When Does It Really Become Gambling?
We need to make note of the word ''regulation'' here. Gambling is not legal everywhere in the world, but where it is the safest form is where it is regulated - that is the local jurisdictions have set up rules by which the operators must run their services, there are checks in place to ensure they perform to the level of expectation, and users are generally safe from bad experiences.
If follows that the social operators with a presence in regulated environments have a much easier route to offering real money versions of their games on top of their social offering.
Easier, but not entirely without some questions needing to be considered.
The UK is one such regulated market. Two social games operators that attempted this casino introduction were Zyngaplus and Bingo Friendzy.
Both fell flat, with no mention in the news of the bingo site for over 4 years, and ZyngaPlus experiencing an ignominious closure after failing dismally to get enough social to real money converts to make the platform commercially viable.
The lesson learned from this is that a casino operator does not necessarily have to run a real cash social platform in the same way as an online casino operates.
Games can be used to promote a real money gaming brand and encourage deeper engagement, perhaps pulling those social players into other areas. Plus the social operators have realised that regulation is a messy business, whereas focusing on social gives them a massive potential market.
You'll find the full range of games normally found on online casinos on their social cousins too. Let's take a look at some of those that are most popular for social players.
Blackjack Social Casino Games
If you want the most trafficked blackjack game on Facebook, this is it. It's known as Blackjack King and offers a standard blackjack version based on the normal rules.
As with many social games, you'll get a set number of chips free on registration, with the option to buy more. The starting point is $1000, and for example buying an extra $10k will set you back 99 cents.
Wildly popular in Asia, Baccarat is not so well known in Western circles. However there is a social version which you'll find at Baccarat Live Casino.
Also known as Happi Baccarat, Baccarat Live Casino has quickly gained a following in the tens of thousands.
Free play and a live chat feature, couple with the option for gift transfers between players, mean it's securely at the top of the tree for social baccarat fans.
Well positioned as one of the most regularly played real money casino games, Roulette has a similarly large following on social gaming platforms too.
Facebook Roulette Tournaments is one to watch out for. This version doesn't just pitch you against the dealer, and you'll be joined at the wheel by other players who you'll be able to interact with as if in a real casino.
Normal roulette rules apply, and the gaming is complimented by high quality graphics.
Slots are wildly popular, both in the real money casinos and the social ones. There's a reason that slot machines take up the most floor space in land based casinos - they attract the most players and they're highly profitable for the casino operators.
If you do want to play slots for real money I'd advise you go for playing in slots tournaments but of course the social casinos will give you the opportunity to play for as long as you want with virtual cash.
Poker is a huge game with many variations, the most well known being Texas Holdem and 7 Card Stud. Both are widely available from social operators, with the gameplay working almost exactly the same as you'll get on real money poker sites.
There's plenty to like about social poker, with the game offering the chance to use skill and experience to win consistently.
A word of warning though - there are some reports that some social operators rig their games which appears to skew the results you'd normally expect. No big deal from a money losing perspective as you're not playing for real cash, but this means you shouldn't necessarily expect the same level of success you see in social games in real money games (plus in real money games you'll be meeting a wildly different type of opponent).
Two other types of poker that are worth a mention are 3 Card Poker and videopoker. The first is not always seen on social sites but is an easy to play an entertaining variant, while videopoker appears on some sites and offers equally high entertainment value.
Outside of the other games we've covered, you'll also encounter various types of video games and in particular those that need skill to win.
Bingo is popular too.
Social Game Developers
The games themselves are important no matter what type of gaming is involved, and most of us play without needing to know who makes them in the first place.
And why should we?
Well on a game by game basis of course it's not important. It's either a great game with excellent graphics or it's not.
But once you do find a game that plays well, chances are that the makers will have others in their portfolios which are equally as good. So let's see some of the big names involved in social casino gaming:
The Playtika home page lists out a host of well known social gaming operators in the poker gaming and casino gaming arena - names such as Caesars Casino, House Of Fun, WSOP, Vegas Downtown Slots, Bingo Blitz, Slotomania, and Caesars Slots. All names which you'll find in our best social casino games list further below.
That's quite a list, displays a wide portfolio, and clearly marks the software house out as one of the leaders in the field.
Playtika promises to ''captivate audiences with beautifully produced, highly immersive social games'' and represent themselves as
''storytellers and artists, gamers and strategists''
Playtika were in fact the first to introduce free-to-play casino-style games to social networks, a move that's obviously positioned them well as a dominant force.
So dominant that on the App Store and in Google Play at one point they were listed as the the number one publisher and accounted for 21% and 22% respectively of the total revenue commanded by the top 10 publishers. No doubt if we had figures for Amazon app store downloads of social casino games we'd see similar results.
This London based developer promises ''innovative and top quality gambling games for license to the regulated and social gaming markets''.
Revolver Gaming develop games in Flash, HTML5 and Unity3D to ensure compatibility across multiple software platforms.
With around 8 different games titles including the soon to be released GoodFishes - a video slot casino game based on the famous gangster film.
This primarily US focused developer are one of the newer kids on the block, only started up in 2013, and were recognised as the fastest growing towards the end of 2015.
Much of their success is the attention they've given to one specific type of slots - the old style 3 reelers. Known as 3RM category games, two of the biggest titles of this type are Viva Slots Vegas and Triple Double Slots. These are part of a portfolio of around 30 slots titles which are seeing more than 700,000 players a day.
GAN Game Account Network
GAN are an ''award-winning developer and supplier of enterprise-level B2B Internet gaming software, services and online gaming content in the United States'' who are seeing big success with their GAN Simulated Gaming™ product - one which has been developed to allow integration between real money and social gaming.
This solution is seeing selection by a number of land-based casinos to offer an online social experience that ties in well with that offered by their land-based real money properties. The name of the most recent operator hasn't been announced yet, but it's reportedly one of the big Native American organisations. They'll be joining about a dozen others.
Simulated Gaming™ offers around 200 casino games with a social slant, including all of the popular variants. For an example see www.EmpireCityCasino.com, a site which was launched in 2014.
GAN are also involved in the early days of virtual reality casino games, making VR slots available for play using Oculus Rift VR headsets. You'll find these at the aforementioned EmpireCityCasino site.
More Social Casino Games Operators
Other big name developers include Doubledown Interactive/IGT, High 5 Games, Big Fish Games, Zynga, Buffalo Studios, Scientific Games, Blue Crystal labs, Williams Interactive, BitRhymes, FishStick Games, Gamepoint, and don't forget the massive Unity Games. Unity is a software engine for games makers, with a number of social casino games apps in the list of developed titles.
On the smaller side keep a look out for developers such as Rushmo, who have some interesting and innovative ideas.
Where To Play
We've mentioned that there are a whole raft of different social casino game operators, so let's take a look at a few of the more highly regarded ones:
In excess of 6 million players a month enjoy DoubleDown Casino's range of games, including 40 plus free slots titles, poker, bingo, blackjack, and video poker. Games are available against the casino or in multi-player poker tournament format.
Sign in every day, get free chips every day! Invite your friends and get even more chips.
It's designed to give mobile gamers fast-paced poker action with a focus on beginners. Gameplay is based on PokerStars' highly popular Spin & Go tournaments which give players the chance to buy-in to a tournament for a low fee and play for a massive prize pool.
Each Spin and Go tournament is between 3 players and has a jackpot that's known before the first hand is dealt. The winner is guaranteed the final prize, but on a spin of a wheel this can be transformed by up to 3000 times the amount.
Jackpot Poker has an in-built quiz that will test a players knowledge, and the social aspect is encouraged through chat facilities and regular offers that tempt players to bring friends into the fold.
Billed as ''the first and most successful social slot game in the world'' Slotomania has earned that accolade by being one of the consistently top grossing video slots iOS app in all major social casino games markets.
Opening in 2010, Slotomania has grown a fanbase of over 50 Million users across all major gaming platforms. The Slotomania Fan page on Facebook has over 5 million Likes.
Playing free games with Slotomania gives you access to an exciting video slots casino with the chance to grow your virtual bankroll and unlock new games plus win gifts with friends.
Celebrityworld is owned and operated by a well known name in the gambling industry - World Poker Fund Holdings.
Launched in Beta test at the beginning of May 2016, it joins a number of other operators like PokerTribe and Pureplay in offering a wide range of poker or casino type games with virtual money prizes.
You'll play games alongside real celebrities in avatar form as if they were in your own social network. Party, chat, shop, and play.
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...And It's Not Just Casino Games, Right?
No it's not. We've already seen that games like bingo are available to play socially that you may not find in a casino normally.
But one are that is coming under increasing scrutiny is in social betting...as in the type of betting that takes place on sports.
So does social sportbetting work?
Actually there is some evidence that it doesn't, at least not with the same interest that casino or poker games attract.
Betting (on horse races, football, tennis etc) is more of a solitary activity. Most sports betting punters are only going to be interested in sharing winners, not losing bets. In poker there's an acceptance that you can get a bad beat, just play badly, or just be plain unlucky. In casino games it's pure luck, the odds are always against you (in a real casino anyway) and everyone knows that.
But when you bet on sports it's more a case of there's nowhere to hide when it all goes wrong.
All that said, there is growing interest in social betting.
Winview Games is worth a mention - offering a way of social betting in play during sports events - and others include Betfect, YouBetMe, GameOfOdds, BetYou.ie, and TedBets.
Most of these give a way for making social type betting challenges between friends plus make single bets and/or enter tournaments and tipping competitions.
The Future Of Social Gambling Games
So social gaming is already a big hit, but is there room to grow?
The evidence suggests yes, and one area that's guaranteed to take off eventually will be in virtual reality casinos. We will definitely be seeing the release of more VR games for use with headsets such as the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR, such as those already on offer by GAN software.
But that's not the only future growth area, there are a handful more that point the way to the future:
The real money casinos are currently looking at ways to grow their business, and one way to attract players from the younger generations is to introduce some form of skill driven outcomes. The focus right now is on skill based slots which will work in the same way as traditional slots but perhaps have elements - like bonus rounds - that a player can use skill to influence.
For the social casinos, this does of course open up the possibility of a massive audience.
Live Dealer Games
In the real money gaming world live dealer casinos have proved to be highly popular. We could see increasing use of live dealers in social games, though the cost of providing this type of service may limit any widespread availability.
The first firm that does deliver live dealer social gaming may well corner a niche market.
Migration To SmartPhones
As bigger and better smartphones are released, we should see a steady migration away from the solid base of tablet users to the smaller screens. Improvements in delivery of mobile games will have a similar effect, as will the increasing availability of high speed broadband in regions that don't currently have it.
The Market Opens Up
There are plenty of games developers active in real money casino gaming that could turn their hand to social efforts. With their skills and knowledge, they could rapidly gain a strong foothold.
It's a Big World
So far - as you might expect - all of the focus has been on western countries and players, But there's a huge untapped social market in Asia that loves gambling and may welcome the chance to play free casino-type games.
3D poker and casino games online have been around for some time, but not in the social free to play space. They do offer another dimension to gaming, but will most likely take a back seat to virtual reality social gaming when it does hit the big time.
Even so, if you want to try social 3D games they're worth a look. Gamentio is a name worth remembering. The site offers poker, teen patti, and rummy games all in 3D and free to play.
With Gamention you can select and play with your own 3D Avatar, find and follow friends using the chat feature, and make your way to the top of leaderboards while winning rewards.
Land-Based Casinos Opening Social Games Websites
As a marketing ploy you can't argue it's a good one - provided you do it well. Hollywood Casino and Maryland Live are two bricks and mortar casinos that have started up online social versions, with both offering a great variety of free games with strong graphics.
Sign up to the Maryland Live site was simple and painless for me, and the first slots I played - Crazy Money - landed a bonus feature where you have to click on dollar bills floating across the display to win various amounts. Great fun!
Pros & Cons
So the future does look bright, and there are only a few negatives to forms social gaming which are underpinned by gambling type activity.
The pros include free or low risk games that everyone can enjoy without the stigma attached to gambling, although it's noted that the impact of playing social casino games may be to encourage real money gambling for some.
Another pro is the wide variety of options, and arguably you could say that having access to social games easily could stop some players from the need to go look for real cash alternatives.
The cons as we've mentioned do focus on the potential to encourage real money gaming, but the jury is out for the present on the reality of this happening in problem numbers.
If you are interested in playing social casino games, you won't be alone for sure. I've seen figures that suggest up to 11 million players a day get involved in one way or another on Facebook, with hundreds of millions playing other types of games.
Those millions of players have plenty of choice with new operators starting up regularly, hundreds of games to play, and already established favourites such as Zynga releasing new games. Their latest title is Wizard of Oz: Magic Match’ - a match 3 free-to-play game that's now on Apple’s App Store, Google Play, Facebook and the Amazon Appstore.
There are not too many reasons why not to take the plunge and start playing - 11 million can't be all wrong!