FACT: Social casinos are growing rapidly and are forecasted to grow more in the future.
Social casino apps market is currently worth $5.2bn and is growing fast, just have a look at this forecast prepared by Eliers & Krejcik Gaming. 1 Is gamification the answer to this incredible growth?
With a 10% YoY growth and 81% retention rate social casinos are clearly doing something right. Only 19% of players did not return to the app after playing for the first time according to a survey by TraffGen. 2
There are some obvious benefits to running a social casino app versus a real-money gambling operation.
There is no strict licensing, no geo restrictions and easier access to multiple marketing channels. 3
For the purpose of this article though we’re going to focus on the main USP (unique selling point) of social gaming apps which is undoubtedly gamification.
- PBLs – Points, Badges & Leaderboards
- What is really gamification?
- 1. Endowment effect
- 2. Appointment dynamic & torture breaks
- 3. Locked content
- 4. Variable and set rewards
- 5. Appropriate challenge and reward
- 6. Reciprocity
- 7. Engaging onboarding
- 8. Leaderboards
- 9. Groups
- Can those techniques be used with real money gambling?
PBLs – Points, Badges & Leaderboards
You might say ‘Gamification is nothing new in gambling, we have points, leaderboards and even some funny badges we give our users when they bet with us’.
Well, keep that in mind while we try answer this question:
What is really gamification?
The main goal of gamification is to create an experience that:
- is engaging for a long time
- excites the player every time he comes back
- stimulates the creative potential
In other words the goal of gamification is to create a game-like environment in which the player has so much motivation to complete certain tasks that even a mundane action like clicking a ‘spin’ button thousands of times seems exciting because it brings him closer to completing a goal at hand.
⬇️ Keep on reading for an exhaustive explanation on how to do just that ?
Elements most commonly missing from real-money online casinos trying to implement gamification:
- appropriate challenge – leveling up with every other spin doesn’t require the user to use his creative or strategic thinking enough to engage with the environment
- focusing on game mechanics not emotions – good game designer asks first ‘how do I want the user to feel?‘ then chooses appropriate game mechanics to achieve that state of mind
- no social interaction – interacting with other players is not required to successfully gamify a product but is a very powerful tool if implemented correctly
There is a lot more to gamifying your product than just adding game-mechanics like points, badges and leaderboards.
Having that cleared up let’s jump straight into it and discover what tactics and game elements social casinos are using to increase their retention and conversion rates!
1. Endowment effect
The endowment effect is the main reason why it’s so hard for us to give up that old t-shirt laying at the bottom of the closet or throw away your chipped tea cup. Subconsciously we attribute more quality and value to an object we already own. 4
The endowment effect works almost instantaneously and doesn’t have to be connected with deep emotional experiences as proven in multiple peer reviewed studies.
In a classic experiment conducted by Daniel Kahneman, Jack Knetsch, and Richard Thaler group of participants was given a simple coffee mug at the beginning of the experiment. After a while when asked how much would they sell the mug for the mean answer was $5.78. 4
The other group of participants was only shown a photo of a coffee mug and asked for how much would they buy the cup for. The average response? $2.21.
That is a 62% discount from what sellers where asking for only because the seller subconsciously didn’t want to part ways with the newly acquired cup.
How are social casinos using this?
Social casino apps like Slotomania and House of Fun found excellent ways to incorporate endowment effect into gameplay and increase their revenues.
Lets analyse Slotomania first.
Little piggybank icon is always displayed on the screen, when you first start using the app you get notified how it works.
Every time you spin the wheels of the slot machine you will add coins to your piggybank. Money added to the bank is on the house – it’s not coming from your winnings.
You could say this is just a repackaged traditional comp points scheme you could find in most online casinos and it would be completely true.
So why does it work so well?
Awareness – piggybank is always visible, with every level up you can see coins traveling to the bank, little nudges like animation and info bubbles will prompt you to break the bank.
Coins instead of points – this might seem like a small difference but it has a big impact on our perception of the reward. Points are an abstract concept – you cannot touch them, see them, smell them – coins on the other hand are easy to imagine, you can see yourself holding them, playing with them, putting them in your pocket.
Our brains have not yet adapted to digital age. As proven by this 2013 study on effect of haptic imagery on perceived ownership the more you can imitate the physical product the better. 5
Use of piggybank – as I mentioned in the previous point, use of physical piggy bank lets our brain easily understand the concept of collecting the coins.
There is another, even more powerful aspect to the piggybank though. Slotomania is trying to plant a concept in you head that with every spin you’re saving money not spending it. Most of us will have very strong, positive feelings connected to a piggybank from our childhood.
Through association you will now get the same excited fuzzy feeling when you break the piggybank in the game as when you did in real-life when you were 10-years old and you thought you had all the money in the world (even though now you realise it was barely enough to buy a coffee on the way to work).
When you decide to break your piggy bank it brings back the childhood memories even more – paintings in the corner of the room, piñata hanging from the celling – what 10-year old doesn’t want to break open their piggy bank?
If all that is not enough you get nudged with added benefits like free collectables, even more comp points etc
Lets have a look at the use of endowment effect in House of Fun app.
Slot machine Gummy King introduces an interesting feature called ‘Gummy Collectibles’
It’s a gamble within a gamble – even if you win no money on a particular spin you might get a gummy so that way or another you ‘win’.
On each spin you see the gummies flying into your collection – it’s impossible to forget about them.
When you want to open any of the gift-boxes you need to spend a considerable amount of you hard-earned gummies on a bonus of an unknown value.
You know however that if you open all the boxes you will get 15 free games – that’s a great example of a variable and set rewards tactic. We will talk more about in point number 4.
The more gummies you collect the less sense it makes to stop playing the game – you don’t want to lose your hard earned bonuses. The added excitement of not knowing what the small milestones keeps you going in the short-term and the big reward of 15 free games is your ultimate long-term goal.
House of Fun knows it will take you hundreds of hours of playing the game to finally reach the end of that journey and will nudge you with well-timed notifications not to give up on the quest of opening all the boxes.
It’s a deceptively simple feature that can keep the players glued to the screens of their phones for weeks on weeks – do not underestimate the value of the endowment effect.
2. Appointment dynamic & torture breaks
For appointment dynamics to work effectively there needs to be a clear reward for ‘showing up’ on time and a negative reinforcement for missing the time slot.
In case of social casino apps most often the reward are free chips you can use to play the games, the negative reinforcement is missing out on the free chips – the timer will reset only when you claim your reward.
How are appointment dynamics being used in social casinos?
Most social casino apps will try to get their users to return to the app every 3 to 6 hours.
Long gone are the days when gaming apps tried to get the users glued to the screens fo hours and hours. Playing in shorter but more frequent intervals poses multiple benefits for the app:
- less churn – playing in shorter intervals leaves the user in a state of always wanting more and doesn’t let him get bored with the game
- shorter sessions add up to longer lifetime value – 4 fifteen minute sessions per day add up to more than 1 thirty minute session and yields more average bets per day
- more marketing opportunities – on every open of the app user goes through a sales funnel (more on that in next points)
How an appointment dynamic can turn to a torture break?
Torture breaks are sudden, forced stops in the game for a specified period of time. In theory a game forcing you to stop playing for a couple of hours might seem like something trying to limit the time you’re spending using the app. 6
In reality a torture break interrupts us on a way to achieve a certain goal, by telling you to come back in a couple of hours the design makes you think more about what you can’t have in the time you have to wait. Most users will be waiting with a watch in their hand for the break to end.
Most commonly torture break will happen in social casino apps when you run out of chips, not having chips will stop you from achieving your goals like leveling up, playing with friends or winning a jackpot.
The only way you can achieve your goals now is to either wait for a couple of hours till you can claim more free chips which will feel like torture since you’re being actively stopped from doing what you want or to buy a package of chips.
3. Locked content
Locking parts of the experience for the new users is a fairly common concepts that poses multiple benefits for the app.
Simply locking a game with a padlock sign and telling the user they cannot play it at the moment will already motivate some of the people to put all their efforts into unlocking that game. Even if there are no reasonable indications that this new game is in anyway better than the games already available. 7
Slotomania took the principle of locked content and implemented it across the whole user journey. Certain games will be unlocked only when you reach a certain level.
Assigning different levels for specific games creates the illusion of exclusivity. Exclusivity is a very powerful drive that has been well documented in law of demand in microeconomics (Veblen goods) and psychology.8 9
Achieving new level in the game now gives you not only the feeling of an accomplishment but also makes you feel special, you can play the games others can’t – you’re in the inner circle now.
Another benefit of locking certain games is reducing the initial choice paralysis.
As explained by psychologist Barry Schwartz in his book ‘The Paradox of Choice – Why more is less’, more choices equals more anxiety. 10
At a certain point we would rather give up the benefits we might get from making a choice just to free ourselves of the burden of having to take a decision.
4. Variable and set rewards
Social casino apps are full of rewards for performing small actions – biggest difference between them is the schedule on which they’re attributed to players.
Let’s start with fixed-ratio rewards, whenever you perform a certain action you expect a corresponding reward.
Actions that social apps want you to perform are pretty easy to guess:
- return to the app frequently
- place multiple bets per session
- refer the game to your friends
- make purchases
As you can see in the screenshots, all of the actions I mention above have a certain set reward for completing them. If you return to the app frequently you will get more and more free chips, if you place enough bets you will level up and get even more rewards and so on.
Simply offering a reward for completing those key actions makes them a lot more attractive to the user.
What’s even more powerful are variable rewards, probably one of the most successful examples of this principle are slot machines themselves.
B. F. Skinner was an American psychologist most commonly know for his contribution to creating the operant conditioning theory. By performing multiple experiments in an operant conditioning chamber (known as Skinner box) he discovered that the reinforcement that will get people to repeat the behaviour the longest without any external stimuli is based on a variable schedule. 11
Each app contains multiple lottery-based mechanics where you can win chips, bonuses, collectibles or other game items.
Using variable reward schedule leads to:
- long-lasting, steady participation rate
- quickly created long lasting habits
Using fixed reward schedule on the other hand is great for:
- scheduled, repeatable actions like daily login
- establishing new behaviours
5. Appropriate challenge and reward
Even though playing slot machines doesn’t require much strategy or planning as we mentioned earlier for the player to stay engaged the experience should stimulate the creative potential and require some strategizing.
Desire to add a bit more strategy to the games can be based on a psychological concept of flow coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. 12
To achieve the state of flow, four requirements need to be met:
- each moment of the activity needs to be focused on an achievable goal
- rules of the activity must be clear
- there needs to be an immediate feedback for each action
- the activity needs to be challenging
As you can see from the screenshot above all four requirements can be easily met by creating a simple missions mechanic.
Each mission completion or level up is always instantly rewarded so the player maintains the feeling of progress.
Another level of strategy is added by giving the players ability to granulary control their bet amounts and number of lines they’re betting on.
Although it does not affect the RTP (Return To Player) of the game it creates the illusion of control and opens new ways to create betting strategies.
If your friend borrows you $100 this month, you will feel obliged to lend him the same $100 if he asks for it next month.
This phenomenon was described by Dr. Robert B. Cialdini in his book called “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”, published in 1984, book became a must read for everyone interested in psychology of persuasion. 13
Social casinos are using this principle to increase player engagement and strengthen their bond with the app.
As you can see in the screenshot below, Huuge casino lets their users interact in a limited way to steer them towards actions that will lead towards reciprocity and even further engagement with the platform.
There are two sides to reciprocity though, positive reciprocity is mostly used by marketers trying to increase engagement or get initial buy-in from their users.
Negative reciprocity (more commonly known as revenge) can be even more powerful mechanic to increase engagement.
Perfect example of using negative reciprocity in social casino environment is Coinmaster app – it’s a slot based game where you can collect coins from playing slots but also steal, attack and take revenge on other players.
This simple mechanic seems to work pretty well for Coinmaster as currently they’re averaging $50M (yes, fifty million USD) in monthly user spend.
7. Engaging onboarding
All of the social casino apps we’ve tested have some kind of onboarding sequence.
Huuuge Casino however has perfected the art of onboarding by keeping it simple, straight to the point and easy to follow.
Let’s have a look how Huuuge casino welcomes it’s players when they first launch the app:
First of all, Huuuge clearly has done their homework and understands users motivations behind installing the app.
We start with a simplified version of a slot machine you can find in the game later on.
Instructions what to do next couldn’t be clearer, there is ‘Press SPIN to play’ headline in the middle of the screen, ‘Tap to spin’ bubble just above the spin button and an animated hand pressing the spin button. If there was a discovery made of a never contacted tribe, knowing no technology at all, living deep in the jungle isolated for thousands of years – even they would know what to do next.
After following step two and three and making a couple of spins you land on an incredible win of 4.000M coins. Lucky, right?
Not really, since it’s all a part of the tutorial, Huuuge has never stated that the slot game you were playing is a game of chance. It’s a clever way of giving you the welcome bonus that triggers a powerful psychological effect known as beginners luck bias.
When a player lands a big win within the first couple rounds of a game of chance he suddenly forms a realisation in his head – ‘this is my lucky game, I must be incredibly skilled at it‘ and continues to play the game longer (even if he sustains substantial losses) than he would normally do, if not for the lucky win in the beginning.
At the completion of the tutorial the player receives a level up and a small reward which again plays on the endowment effect principle that we discussed earlier on.
Even though I mentioned leaderboards in the beginning of this article as something that is not enough to gamify the experience on its own, properly used leaderboards can enhance the motivation of many users by engaging with their competitive nature. 14
As you can see in the screenshot above Huuuge casino uses leaderboards to recognize achievements of not only players with highest number of chips but also fame point leaders and players with highest number of likes.
Both of these actions require players to engage between each other and create a more social environment. Quantifying those actions motivates player to engage with the experience as well as other players which ultimately increases average time spent in the app and revenues of the casino.
PRO TIP: Humans have a tendency to compare upwards – meaning that seeing ourselves on the bottom of a leaderboard can be very demotivating. To make sure you do not encourage that feeling when creating your gamified experience you can resort to a couple solutions:
- add more dimensions – instead of comparing the user to the entirety of your player base, display leaderboards filtered by nearest region or by players who signed up within the same time period
- put a positive spin on achievements – as you could see in the screenshot above, character I’ve created at Huuuge casino is not doing that well in accumulating ‘fame points’, I have only 33 points while the leader has over 40 billion. To avoid demotivating me, Huuuge casino doesn’t show my actual rank on the leaderboard but tells me I’m in the ‘top 99%’ of all players. Instead of being being one millionth something on a leaderboard I’m actually better than 1% of all players.
Belongingness is one of fundamental human motivations, as a whole human beings are a very gregarious species.
It’s not hard to see why humans historically always prefered to stay in the company of others. Being in a group of your mates meant easier access to food, potential partners and most importantly safety. 15
Each bet you make in the app contributes to the club score that then is ranked in the clubs league.
Making bets is no longer just a fun pastime, now making a bet contributes to a higher purpose. By joining a club you made an obligation to other club members, if you don’t make enough bets in desired games the club will suffer by moving lower down the league table.
This responsibility creates social pressure for you to keep contributing to the club score even if you wouldn’t normally choose to play certain games for your own pleasure.
To make sure you don’t slack off, your donations and contribution to clubs score is prominently displayed on the homepage of the club creating even more pressure to perform and not disappoint your fellow club members.
In DoubleU app, this contribution is summarised in ‘prestige level’ score which gives you nothing else but bragging rights but works well to keep the group members engaged.
Can those techniques be used with real money gambling?
You would be right saying that a lot of techniques described in this article cannot be transferred one to one to real money casinos due to restrictions that various licensing bodies put on operators.
The main takeaway though is that social casino got extremely successful not because they are a convenient place to play casino games but because they’re a game themselves and different slots or cards games are merely the next level you take when you sign up for that journey.
In iGaming CRO you usually have to look outside of the box to achieve above average results, take some of the existing solutions from social casinos and try to incorporate them in your next AB test.
Are there any other interesting techniques you’ve seen being used in social casinos? Let us know in the comments below!
- Kahneman, Daniel, Jack L. Knetsch, and Richard H. Thaler. “Anomalies: The endowment effect, loss aversion, and status quo bias.” Journal of Economic perspectives 5.1 (1991): 193-206.
- Peck, Joann, Victor A. Barger, and Andrea Webb. “In search of a surrogate for touch: The effect of haptic imagery on perceived ownership.” Journal of Consumer Psychology 23.2 (2013): 189-196.
- Chou, Yu-kai. Actionable gamification: Beyond points, badges, and leaderboards. Packt Publishing Ltd, 2019.
- Schwartz, Barry. “The paradox of choice: Why more is less.” New York: Ecco, 2004.
- Nakamura, Jeanne, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. “Flow theory and research.” Handbook of positive psychology (2009): 195-206.
- Cialdini, Robert B., and Robert B. Cialdini. “Influence: The psychology of persuasion.” (1993).