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Social casino games, worth $3.4 billion annually, are an extremely profitable niche in the $91 billion global gaming market. What was once a predominantly browser-based experience is increasingly shifting to mobile, where players engage more regularly and monetize nearly twice as fast, according to a recent report from retention specialist Optimove.

But while things happen faster on mobile — “like web players on fast-forward,” writes Optimove — it’s important to realize that the web still wins in the retention department due, in large part, to its superior social features.

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Image via Jeff Kubina/Flickr

Embracing the speed of mobile

Given that people check their smartphones over 200 times a day, it’s no real surprise that social casino players engage more often on mobile than on the web. Having a device instantly available makes it easy to play a quick round of bingo or spin the slots on the go. As such, mobile users play every 4.2 days on average, compared to every 6.7 days on the web, according to Optimove.

Mobile players also convert into paying users far quicker than web players. The average conversion period is 30 days on mobile, compared to 52 days on the web. Subsequent payments also come quicker, with a transaction every ten days on mobile compared to every 14 days on the web.

Looking deeper, though, it’s clear that web players are still, individually, more valuable: they outperform mobile players in terms of payment amounts, conversion rates and retention rates. Why? Social features.

Social makes players stick

Speaking recently at Casual Connect Tel Aviv, analyst Adam Krejcik pointed out that players who socialize in games stick around longer and eventually spend more money. He picked out Big Fish Casino as a mobile title that features a strong player network, built for real interactions. That, he says, is lacking in a lot of its mobile social casino rivals.

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Image via YouTube/Big Fish Games

“Today’s social casino market is dominated by single-player mobile slots games that don’t necessarily have the features or gameplay to reach a more dedicated, engaged audience of social casino players,” says Derrick Morton, chief executive officer at Seattle-based social gaming company Flowplay.

Flowplay is gradually adding mobile titles to its more traditionally web-based business — including Fringo Bingo, Vegas World and its latest Android title, Vegas World Slots — while trying to preserve the social interactions that make web players spend and stay more than those on mobile devices.

Most of Flowplay’s Vegas World revenue actually comes from food charms that boost the odds for a whole room full of players. Buying a drink that helps everyone starts a virtuous cycle, says Morton. “I buy a Martini for the room and everyone says, ‘Thanks,’ and somebody else buys a soda,” he says. “Most people just enjoy the mere fact that they feel like they’re in an environment with other people. 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.”

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Images via FlowPlay

The long-term view

Morton agrees that Optimove’s mobile findings reflect other industry research and his own observations — mobile is a huge monetization opportunity for social casino games. But he adds that, looking at monetization and engagement more broadly, quicker conversion and higher session frequency doesn’t necessarily equate to a more valuable player.

“By focusing on social and multiplayer functionality, we’ve seen significantly higher retention rates, player lifetime value and monetization than industry averages across mobile,” he says. “Ultimately, we feel that the success of a social casino [game] has more to do with the gameplay experiences than the platform itself.”

By bringing Vegas World Slots to Google Play, Flowplay hopes to preserve the popular multiplayer functionality of its web games on mobile through features such as social gifting, one-to-one chats and pay-to-win power ups.

You don’t have to be a gambler to see that if other social casino developers want to add a long tail to fast mobile monetization, they should focus on key social elements, too.

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