Despite potentially being viewed as something of a taboo frontier across many sections of society, the challenge of making casino play more social is one that has been, and will continue to be, tackled by many across the space. 

But what can ultimately act as a vehicle/s to potentially push this segment of the industry ever closer to the mainstream? We tasked a six person panel to delve into these exact topics and much more, see Twitch, streamers and mechanics becoming prominent features, at last month’s SBC Summit Barcelona.

“When we take a look at gamification, it’s a really simple process, it’s making the boring activities of the boring habits that we do, like running and learning language, and making it fun by adding a game mechanism into our entire lifecycle,” kicked off Wesley Ellul, Chief Creative Officer at Quizando, as the near 40 minute session got underway.

In a bid to foster gameplay that is not only more inclusive in nature but maintain delivery of a heightened entertainment experience, Jamison Selby, SVP of Games and Marketing at Game Play Network, pointed to the need to adopt engagement layers in a thorough manner. 

This, he noted, is achieved via “taking the aspects that make a game powerful, that engage people in gameplay, the things that are second nature of what drives you to a game experience, but then extrapolating those mechanics and putting them into every layer of the game, from the moment you first show up all the way through onboarding the funnel, so that the entire experience turns into a gamified experience. 

“…competition is deep rooted in all of us as individuals”

Sam Brown, Chief Commercial Officer at Rootz

“And we can leverage that to drive the user engagement across the entire experience, not just the traditional individualised gameplay.”

Here, Sam Brown, Chief Commercial Officer at Rootz, stepped up to the plate to back-up the opinions previously shared by his fellow panelists.

“Especially in our industry, competition is deep rooted in all of us as individuals, and often adding any type of competitive element, anything you do, inherently or gallop will gamify it and make it a more exciting and interesting experience,” he said.

“And as Wesley said, it’s about turning mundane things into something marginally more enticing piece by piece.” 

As attention turned to utilising gamification to “really make it stand out in a plethora and see of quantity,” as per moderator Ivonne Montealegre, Founder of Malta Poker Festival, Selby continued by highlighting the importance of standing out “from a gazillion” other titles.

“Why should someone who briefly sees you stay and come back,” he continued. “The entire aspect of gamifying an entry layer for a game is to grab someone’s attention, to hold it to give them a reason to stay for 10 extra seconds, and then 10 seconds beyond that.

“So there’s a constant series of actions that they can take, and micro rewards that they can get, that suddenly pull them into a broader experience that hopefully gets more and more rewarding and a quick experience that can begin to have immediately. Because it’s brutal.” 

“…it’s for us to work more on the innovation area of this social casino social gambling”

Jennie Strandberg, CEO of WKND

With competition rife across an array of fellow entertainment verticals, Ellul shared agreement that gamification features “become a way to anchor the experience to give someone a reason to stay and to come back”. 

Jennie Strandberg, CEO of WKND, took over to add a belief that social influences are “bringing the gamification to a next level” through “increasing the time on site and repeat visits of players”.

This saw Livespins cited Livespins as a “good example” being trialed on her casino sites which are “already seeing how some of our regular gamblers are coming into an almost friendship relation with our regular streamers”.

On the aforementioned issue of potentially crossing a so-called ‘frontier taboo’ of making casino play social, Strandberg continued by stating that “that’s the golden question”.

This saw a perceived translation of casino into a “fun social games” touched upon, with competition taking place against those that already have “much bigger acceptance” along those lines, such as poker.

“And I think it’s for us to work more on the innovation area of this social casino social gambling, so that we also think about how we can evolve the classic five reel slot into something that is inherently a group game,” she said.

This subsequently teed up Ellul to point the usage of avatars as potential engagements: “So, sitting down playing slots is great. But it can be very lonely. If you have audible interaction coming around you, so you’re sitting playing your game or slots, but you have five other machines next to you, you have five other players who are avatars, again, who you may engage with. But the sound of them winning can encourage you to continue to say, oh, it could be the next one.

“You can create a shared social experience and still achieve a strong level of actual personal privacy”

Jamison Selby, SVP of Games and Marketing at Game Play Network

“But we’re going to be seeing more of the social engagements, being able to talk to someone while you actually play the slot very much like you were in the traditional casino.”

With the importance of personalisation also cited, and Netflix cited as one particularly that undertakes this to “an incredible extent,” Selby advised that the concept of a shared experience does not necessitate revealing every aspect of one’s personal identity.

“You can create a shared social experience and still achieve a strong level of actual personal privacy. It’s what you are sharing, and to share a gameplay experience doesn’t mean I have to share my name, my bank role.”

Adding: “You know, right now, I think one of the largest problems that we have in online casino is that it’s such a lonely experience for many players.”

A sentiment that resonated with Brown, who agreed and echoed: “It’s a really good point, we can really over think that everybody wants to make gambling a big social thing. 

“The vast majority of people gamble privately, they love to do it privately. But there are some people out there who like to do that publicly. 

“They generate audiences, those audiences can help you build brands. And ultimately, that’s where the value is, in my opinion. 

Trying to bring a product where everyone’s all playing together, I think that misses the target quite significantly.”

This saw that discourse slightly change track to focus on streamers, with both Brown and Jacqui Gatt, COO of BeyondPlay, with the latter suggesting that the challenge moving forward will not be retaining players but rather engaging fresh viewers.

“Players don’t give a damn about what mechanics are, they want to have a good time”

Jamison Selby, SVP of Games and Marketing at Game Play Network

“It’s engaging new players who are new viewers who would usually be on Twitch and moving those people over to the casino,” she said of the streaming challenge that lies ahead.

Strandberg took the Twitch reins to suggest that the platform didn’t help to shake negative viewpoints held by many and that it alternatively served as a catalyst for pushing stigma.

“I think what happened with Twitch is a good example. It has gotten huge traction, a huge audience, but it hasn’t been able to reduce the stigma,” it was said. 

“Because it kept on with the same way of utilising casino as unrealistically big bets, it’s all about the big win and chasing your losses. So we managed to get a good social community around it, but we still kept the heart of what is making casino so stigmatised.”

She continued: “And now we have the opportunity to instead create smaller environments that are within the bounds of the operators where you do have some actual control and understanding of what’s happening. 

“So that we can work towards what we want to achieve, which really is larger quantities of players playing for smaller amounts over a longer period of time, instead of a classical burnouts, players coming in for a month, and then leaving the space again. So I think that we can make something really good out of this.”

As the issue of spectator monetisation fell under the spotlight, the discussion began to draw to a close with a series of glances at what could potentially stand firms out moving forward.

“I think the basics of all of this are quite simple,” Selby closed. “Players don’t give a damn about what mechanics are, they want to have a good time. 

“It’s very simple. Gamification, tactics, when you really work on them, they can give a player a reason to play today, instead of tomorrow, a reason to play for five extra minutes instead of four extra minutes, you can use that the basic key thing we look at in a game, is one if it’s fun to play. 

“And two, if the game is more fun to play with more people, then you’re gonna do really well. Because games that draw more players, the more players that play them increases your player base exponentially.”