Joel Julkunen is the Head of Analytics at GameRefinery by Vungle, which provides feature-level analytics, market insights, and benchmarks for the mobile gaming industry. He leads GameRefinery’s analytics department and has a significant role in developing the algorithms and statistical models used in the company. Julkunen has been playing games ever since he could hold a NES 8-bit controller, and now with over 500 mobile games played and analyzed, he has a pretty good idea about the “do’s and don’ts” as well as trends of today’s mobile game market.
The social casino market is booming, but it’s up to developers and operators to keep this momentum moving forward post-COVID.
The impact of the COVID pandemic has been different for every sector, but for many, it’s accelerated a move towards digital platforms. When social distancing measures closed the doors of nearly 1000 casinos in the US, social casino games hit the jackpot. Total global gross gaming revenue of the social casino segment amounted to $6.2 billion in 2020, according to Statista. That’s up from $4.9 billion the year before, and revenue is forecast to steadily grow all the way to $8.3 billion by 2026.
But with more people returning to work and spending less time on their phones and other devices as a result, finding success in this competitive marketplace is only going to get tougher, especially with more traditional gambling and casino companies entering the market.
So how can developers and app makers stay on top? Thankfully, coming up with a winning strategy in the social casino market isn’t down to luck. It’s about knowing your audience and which gameplay mechanics and features have a solid track record of keeping players engaged and coming back for more – especially as there’s such a crossover between online video games and social casinos.
Whether you’re a developer entering the market for the first time or an established provider looking to switch up your strategy, we’ve analysed data from thousands of mobile games alongside Liftoff’s ad performance insights from over 12 million installs to create a list of winning tips that will help you craft stronger marketing strategies for your social casino game.
Video games are a competitive market in general, but the barrier to entry in the social casino gaming market is so tough that no new social casino title has reached the top 200 in the past year. The market is dominated by long-established games such as Coin Master, Slot Mania, Double Down and Bingo Butz, and there’s no shortage of high-quality content for players to dive into. So what can you do differently?
Some of the most popular titles climbing to the top of other genres within the mobile gaming market are doing so because they’re not just designed to look and feel great, but they combine gameplay elements from a variety of different genres. You can use these same elements within your social casino title to deliver deeper immersion and keep players coming back for more. Is there any reason your casino game can’t feature a strong narrative or story that makes it stand out amongst your competitors?
Don’t alienate yourself from what players love and know, but don’t dare to be different either. Just check out the gameplay mechanics below that are proven to work if you’re looking for some inspiration…
Taking a closer look at the top 100 social casino games reveals five of the most common gameplay mechanics and features. If you’re not as familiar with the gaming industry, some of these terms may sound slightly alien, but it’s important to understand what they mean and how they affect gameplay, given their proven success.
Album collectables are the most popular feature appearing in 74% of the top social casino games. True to the name, these are collectables rewarded to the player that mark their progression in the game and essentially serve as bragging rights. They don’t have any direct impact on gameplay.
You’ll probably be more familiar with the second-most popular feature: special side-modes. These are essentially bonus events or mini-games that are tied to the main game mode. In most cases, you’ll progress through the side modes using resources you gathered in the main game mode. They’re a fantastic opportunity to build on key narrative points or add new gameplay elements into your social casino game. 71% of the top 100 social casino games use special side modes – that’s up from 40% in 2020.
Third up, we’ve got piggy bank systems, used in 70% of the top 100 social casino games. They’re a simple but highly effective monetisation tool that acts as a constant milestone for players to work towards. Players fill up their piggy bank by playing the game, and once it’s full, they can pay to break it and gather the contents inside.
Guild mechanics are another growing feature as they make their way over from traditional video games into casino games. Featured in 42 of the top 100 social casino games, these gameplay mechanics encourage social engagement between players as they band together in guilds. Those mechanics might involve communal tasks, competitions or timed guild events, and players can communicate with each other via the guild chat.
Any rewards from guild mechanics are usually distributed between all of the players in a guild. Due to their popularity, many developers lock their guild mechanics behind a minimum requirements wall.
Another popular video game feature making moves in the casino market is the battle pass, popularised by games such as Call of Duty. While they only appear in 36 of the top 100 social casino games, that’s a huge increase from just five the year before, and we’re expecting similar growth in the years to come. They give players a sense of completion as they progress and unlock new items from session to session.
One of the reasons they’re so popular amongst developers is because they’re easy to monetise. Progressing through a battle pass timeline and unlocking everything takes time, but players can choose to purchase a battle pass and unlock everything they want in one swoop. The increased engagement and playtime resulting from players investing in the Battle Pass also leads to indirect monetisation opportunities from exposure to other offers.
The cost to acquire an iOS user is over 2x more expensive than Android. Though prices fell in 2021, with CPIs reaching a new low in April 2021, they’ve returned to above-average levels as marketers learn to work with Apple’s App Tracking Transparency framework (ATT).
But what does all of this mean for your ad spend? For those willing to play the long game, it’s good news. Liftoff analysed Social Casino Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) over 30 days, and while iOS beat Android by 5.32% on Day 7, Android outperformed iOS by Day 30. For now, we would recommend playing the long game by taking advantage of low CPIs for Android users.
Every marketer understands the importance of knowing your audience, particularly true for video games and social casino games. If you don’t know the motivations of your players, how are you going to keep them engaged and ensure they keep coming back for more?
After surveying over 7000 English-speaking players, we used the GameRefinery platform to analyse and deconstruct the player persona of social casino users. Highlights from the analysis show that social casino users:
Love thrilling gameplay and the excitement of collecting items and treasure
Enjoy competition, especially in card-based games
Are evenly split between men and women
Are older than the average demographic for most other genres – nearly half of social casino players are over the age of 45
So what does all of this mean? For a start, you’ll want to make sure you’re implementing mechanics where your players can earn additional items and treasure alongside the game’s main collectable treasure. The piggy bank mechanics we discussed further up might be one way of doing this.
As for the analysis that shows social casino gamers are more competitive, don’t worry if your game isn’t naturally competitive. You can get around this by implementing guild mechanics, leaderboards, or daily challenges to encourage friendly competition. Finally, as the average age of social casino gamers is higher than most other mobile genres, we’d recommend using simple but well-designed mechanics that focus on keeping players engaged and stimulated.
Cracking the social casino games market is tough, and competition will only get stiffer as more games enter the marketplace. While it may still be the most recognisable names at the top of the charts, there’s definitely space for smaller independents to win some of that market share by keeping on top of traditional gaming trends and implementing features that are proven to motivate your players.
Check out more insights into the casino games market and the mobile market as a whole at GameRefinery here!