This is a guest contribution by Sam Forrest of KamaGames. If you would like to submit a contribution please contact Bill Beatty for submission details. Thank you.
The concept of gambling is well known, a player wagers currency on a game or a bet in the hope of winning a prize. Key elements here are the concept of risk and the opportunity of being rewarded with something that has real-world value. While social casino games share a lot of similar gaming mechanics with real-money casinos, there’s a world of difference between the two.
There’s no gamble in social casino
In real-money casino games, both online and analog, the potential to win or lose money is obvious from the moment a player engages with the casino. In part, this excitement is what entices many real-money casino players back to the tables time and time again. Social casino is on an entirely separate playing field. In fact, these games are interesting due to just how differently they operate to the traditional, real-money casino games they so heavily resemble. The most distinct difference is in the fact that social casino gaming has no ‘cash out’ option, eliminating any possibility for monetary gain.
As a result, anyone who engages with social casino knows that if they put money into the game, they will not get it back and as this is an absolute certainty, any gambling element within these games is entirely phased out.
Mostly, social casino games, including KamaGames’ own Pokerist, are free-to-play meaning someone can play without spending money thanks to the bonus chips they receive daily. If a player runs out of chips and they want to continue playing immediately, they can, of course, purchase more but this definitely isn’t a requirement to play.
Another key difference is in player motivation which significantly influences the design of social casino apps. Players have different reasons for playing social casino games than those who partake in real-money gambling and this factors heavily into why a gambling mentality is far from encouraged. Pokerist players, for example, are attracted to the highly social elements of the apps and are encouraged to interact with one another through the community features we regularly roll out. These features include engaging via chat options, by sending gifts or by transferring dice throws in games like craps. Our players are attracted to the app, in part, because of these features along with their genuine love for the casino-style games we offer.
Even without the potential for monetary gain, there’s still a thrill of the win when players emerge from a long game victorious over their opponents, which is evident through the back and forth social engagement that ensues. However, that win does not inherently translate into a sudden desire to gamble with real-world currency.
A social sport
Just as any gaming sector evolves so will social casino with the industry branching out into new avenues such as sports betting in recent years, yet, like with other social casino games, this latest venture has no cash-out feature, with absolutely no chance of winning real-world currency.
KamaGames “soft launched” its own social sports betting feature 6 months prior to its full launch with 14 different types of sports including basketball, volleyball, tennis and of course soccer with games from some of the biggest tournaments including the Champions League and the Fifa World Cup. Within that “soft launch” time frame an impressive 30 million individual bets were placed, clearly showing there was a significant market for such a feature.
So why would players opt for a social sports betting platform in lieu of ‘the real thing’? Simple, sports betting in a social casino app appeals to players who want to be social, making watching these sports events with their friends a bit more fun and engaging but at the same time, do not necessarily want to risk losing their money. There are many players who have an avid interest in live sports and enjoy partaking in the social aspect of sporting events. This is what our new social sports betting app delivers.
Betting of this kind can make peer to peer interaction around sports more social without any negative impact from losing ‘the bet’. A player hasn’t lost anything that won’t regenerate the following day e.g virtual chips. This type of activity, with its highly limited risk, fits into the casual play mentality of these games. While players are invested through the potential highs and lows of the match, once it’s over, any ‘bet’ is quickly forgotten about.
Social sports betting isn’t a stop-gap or a gateway for gambling, it’s an entirely separate entity that satisfies different needs than it’s real-money counterparts. Similarly to our social casino games, the success of a social sports betting feature hinges heavily on the importance of social interaction amongst players.
No matter where players are physically, be it in a sports bar or at home, they can enjoy the social experience of interacting with people who have similar interests in sports. This can be with friends via the social sports feature on the app who may be geographically far away or friends that are in the same place watching the match, who simply want to add a touch more intrigue to the game.
Gaming gone wrong
The online games industry has been under scrutiny in recent years because of its potential links to gambling-like mechanics, most notably through the employment of loot boxes. Both The Netherlands and Belgium made headlines in 2018 for their stance against loot boxes and their belief that they constitute gambling. Most recently, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee in the U.K. recommended that Parliament regulate loot boxes as gambling. The department released a full report focusing on the ‘immersive and addictive technologies’ with a special emphasis on online gaming and loot box mechanics.
The report outlined its belief that as loot boxes can be bought with real-world currency without disclosing their contents to the buyer beforehand, they are “games of chance played for money’s worth” and as such recommended that Government bring forward regulations under Section 6 of the Gambling Act 2005 in the next parliamentary session to specify that loot boxes are a game of chance – and therefore should be classed as gambling.
Paying for a service
After the above ruling, some would like to put forth that because there is a possibility to spend real-world currency in social casino, then it still poses a risk in terms of encouraging gambling. Yet, the difference here is that players know exactly what they’re buying when they purchase social casino chips and in order to be considered gambling, any activity must be comprised of three components. Prize, chance and consideration. In social casino there is no prize. Virtual chips cannot be cashed out for real-money currency or anything of value and they also cannot be traded on any other platform. It should also be noted that poker, in whatever form it is played, is not a game of chance. Instead, it requires intense concentration and a significant level of skill in order to be successful.
How different is buying chips in social casino from paying for the stereotypical arcade game? In these games, players from previous generations routinely and generously traded their money in exchange for hours of entertainment. Spend on arcade games was seen as currency exchanged for an entertainment service. More of an investment than a gamble.
Similarly, players who invest spend in social casino apps are paying for an entertainment service. They know that should they lose, either through a run of bad luck or a lack of skill, their time in the game will come to an end. However, unlike those that play for real money, social casino players are paying for the enjoyment and skill of the games themselves. It should be noted that, unlike arcade games, if a player runs out of virtual currency they don’t need to buy more to continue playing. They can simply wait for their daily bonus chips to land in their account the following day.
What’s on the cards for social casino?
Social casino is experiencing a boom with its introduction into previously untapped avenues of gaming. In recent months, Rockstar has introduced social casino elements to two of its titles, Red Dead Online and Grand Theft Auto. Red Dead Online introduced blackjack and poker to the game while the new Diamond Casino in GTA saw a host of casino-style games, including slots, cards, horse racing, roulette, and craps, enter the online world. Since launch, the Diamond Casino has proved nothing less than a phenomenon with players flocking to the online space to embrace these social casino elements.
Just like with our own gaming titles, these online social casinos have zero ‘cash out’ options. Instead, they are solely an added element of entertainment intended to engage players and give them another reason to return to the online world in the future. Just like with social casino, developers must offer their players a wide variety of experiences within the game in order to remain competitive. They can come for the social casino elements and discover other facets of the game while they’re there.
These new additions display all the obvious flashing lights, mechanics, and suspense of gambling, the Diamond Casino even embraces the traditional look and feel of a real casino, yet still, like Pokerist, they’re not.
KamaGames and other operators within the social gaming space strive to provide responsible and fair play for all players who want to engage in our games. We have designed our games to be played by just downloading the app, there isn’t even a requirement to create a player account in order to play, however, a player can create an account if they would like to enjoy the full range of features within the games.
It has been suggested in the past that all social casino operators rely heavily on revenue from advertising real-money casino sites on their apps and the theory is that this heavily influences players to migrate to real-money casinos. The fact of the matter is that there has never been any type of evidence to substantiate this statement. KamaGames try to ensure that we do not have any external advertising on our app nor do we promote other companies or operators, particularly those connected with real-money gambling.
Another theory is that operator’s strategically manipulate the outcome of games in order to trick a player into playing more. An early big win for a new player may boost their confidence in their card-playing abilities and therefore encourage them to play further and bet bigger. The idea is that as their confidence grows, players begin to assume that if they were playing with real money, it would be an easy way to make a profit. KamaGames is adamant about our belief that success in our social casino games in no way correlates to success in real-world casinos. A belief that is communicated to our players.
We have invested in our Random Number Generator (RNG), which gives assurance to all players that no matter the situation, not only do we choose not to interfere, but that we simply don’t have the ability to affect the outcome of any game within our app. One aspect of social gaming which is also heavily criticized is the lack of guarantee on return on monetary investment. Yet, because we are in possession of an RNG, unlike other games that contain in-app purchases, you can’t buy your way to winning in Pokerist. In-app purchases will not afford you any special skills or allow players to unlock or bypass levels within the game, it will simply increase the number of chips in a player’s account. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Studies around both the social casino industry and the gambling industry separately are plentiful and still, there is no proof of a definitive link between the two. So far, those who cite a connection between them are only speculating. There have been a number of experiments to cross-promote players from social to real money casinos which have largely proven unsuccessful with disappointing conversion rates.
Also, some research studies which have looked into a possible tendency of social casino gamers to migrate to real-money gambling are somewhat limited. For instance, female gamers, which routinely top the list of players in social casino slots, are wildly underrepresented in these studies and focus groups. Some studies also admit to using participants who primarily perceive themselves as gamblers, not gamers.
With these limitations, it’s obvious why the results of these studies would lean towards participants engaging in gambling, along with social casino games.
From the evidence, it’s clear that there are multiple, core differences between gambling and social casino games. This lies in everything from the gaming mechanics employed by social casino operators to the very motivations of players for engaging with social casino games on a regular basis. The total lack of risk involved also separates the social casino market from their real-money casino counterparts and gambling of any form in a definite manner. And while in-app purchases are an option for players, another defining characteristic, especially with KamaGames’ own Pokerist, is that they are not a strict necessity, nor do they guarantee success within the game.
This is important as social casino is beginning to occupy a more prominent space in gaming than ever before thanks to its recently launched presence in high-profile games like GTA and Red Dead Online. Most notably social casinos, which include our own Pokerist along with these new launches, are safeguarding against gambling for impressionable players through their lack of cash-out option, absence of risk or the unknown involved in microtransactions and the presence of external devices that remove the operator’s ability to interfere with the outcome of a game.
It’s these exact reasons why the industry should be distanced from any discussion around encouraging gambling mentality.
With all the evidence to support the belief that developers are operating with the highest standards of fair play in mind, only one question remains – can you really call social casino gambling?
KamaGames is a global developer and a publisher of social casino hits designed for mobile, social and smart TVs.
Bringing together creativity, proprietary technology and a passion for games, KamaGames has built a premium portfolio designed to deliver real-life entertainment to the masses.
KamaGames’ Random Number Generator (RNG) is certified by iTech Labs and meets the highest standards to guarantee fair play.
The award winning flagship game, Pokerist(R) Texas Poker, was named one of the Best Apps by Apple, #1 Top Grossing App on the Apple App Store in 89 countries as well as being in the Top 5 Google Play Grossing Apps in 24 countries.