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Line between social gaming and real-money gambling continues to blur

TAGs: Betable, big fish games, Playsino, PokerStars, social gaming, Zynga

pokerstars-zynga-playsino-big-fishThe chasm that once separated social gaming from its real-money counterpart has become a mere crack in the road. Zynga, the struggling social gaming veteran and real-money gambling newbie that just laid off 18% of its employees – or, as Slate’s Will Oremus put it: ‘Zynga inexplicably spares 82% of its workforce’ – is coming under renewed attack by PokerStars, a real-money gambling company making further encroachments into the social gaming arena.

In April, Stars tapped Mark Buser, former general manager of Idle Games’ Fresh Deck Poker, to move their nascent social gaming effort forward. Stars launched a Facebook app in February, following that up with a US-facing free-play mobile app. As director of social gaming, Buser is tasked with helping Stars “achieve mass market adoption,” which is shorthand for dethroning Zynga Poker as the top social poker product.

Julien Codorniou, Facebook’s head of partnerships, told Social Casino Intelligence that while Stars’ knowledge of poker is unparalleled, much will hinge on “how well they use social and understand user acquisition on Facebook.” Poker is one of Zynga’s few remaining hit products, so it must not be much fun for embattled Zynga CEO Mark Pincus to see Stars trying to drink his milkshake. The only thing worse would be if Stars’ debuted a new PokerVille app, in which you inhabit a world where the goal is to wake up at noon, start threads on 2+2 and say ‘one time’ a lot.

Clearly sensing it was time to pile on Zynga, social gamers Playsino announced the debut of their Playsino Poker app on Thursday. The Facebook app, which is available in 15 languages, offers the ability to play four tables simultaneously. Android and iOS versions of the app are in the pipeline.

Will Collins, Facebook’s head of social casino, believes hybrid partnerships like Zynga has in the UK with real-money operator Bwin.party are the best way for social gamers to get their real-money feet wet. Collins said Facebook was using the UK’s “very established market” as its real-money gambling laboratory, wanting to make sure they’re doing all they can to help make the Gamesys, 888 and Bonza offerings successful before the social network considers expanding real-money gambling to other markets.

But who needs Facebook when you’ve got Betable, the bolt-on backend outfit that covers the licensing requirements and financial transactions for social gaming companies looking to further monetize their offering? Betable’s first big client in the UK was Big Fish Games, which launched a slots-only product last August. On Thursday, Big Fish Casino added a synchronous multiplayer roulette product that simulates standing around a roulette table with your friends, or at least their avatars. Big Fish Casino VP/GM Carey DiJulio said the ability to play with six of your social friends “was not just a feature, it was the main part of play for us, as we understand that winning and losing while others are watching heightens the play.” The iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch free app is available via BigFishGames.com.

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