Social gaming most commonly refers to online games that allow for social interaction between players. They may include multiplayer card games, board games, social network games, as well as interactive multiplayer video games. Social casinos which enable gamers to play and wager on casino games online is one of the biggest branches of social gaming. The global social casino gaming market was estimated at 6.2 billion U.S. dollars and mobile casino games were among the top-grossing mobile gaming genres worldwide. However, after a mobile gaming boom caused by COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021, casino and slot gaming apps are especially suffering from a decline in downloads and revenues as user engagements starts to even out.
Social casino gaming compared to other mobile genres
What once started as social network-based browser games in the early 2010s morphed into Facebook-to-mobile games with casual gaming apps exploding in popularity with the increased usage of smartphones among the population. Compared to other genres, casino apps are usually monetized through in-app purchases and only about a quarter of casino gaming app revenues are generated via in-app advertising.
Social casino players are also more willing to spend money on in-game content than other players – in 2021, the average value of in-app purchase transactions per paying user amounted to 12.28 U.S. dollars, up from 11.88 U.S. dollars in the previous year. This is significantly higher than the amount than users of other gaming genres are spending on their digital content.
Biggest social casino players & titles
One of the most popular titles in this segment was - and still is - Texas HoldEm Poker, a poker gaming app published by Zynga. The game can be played on Facebook and the app remains one of Zynga’s top grossing gaming app to date. In 2022, Zynga Poker grossed approximately 88 million U.S. dollars in app revenues. Zynga, however, is not the only player to capitalize on casino gaming going mobile. Other successful social casino game publishers include Moon Active, Playtika, as well as other emerging players such as DoubleDown Interactive, SciPlay and Huuuge Games. Mobile gaming companies specializing in social casino games also boasted strong brand awareness among U.S. consumers with Big Fish Games and Zynga ranking first. Additionally, the potential of social casino publishers is attractive to mainstream game publishers looking to enhance their mobile portfolio - in January 2022, Take-Two Entertainment (of GTA5 fame) acquired Zynga for 12.7 billion U.S. dollars.
Social casino gaming has boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic and several companies in the sector have gone public or were preparing for an IPO. In 2021, the market is seeing lots of movement, as there are not only pure play social casino gaming app developers but also traditional gambling companies which are entering the online and specifically mobile social casino market. However, with the general economic slowdown, things have been less hectic in 2023.
Upcoming online casino gaming regulations are also expected to have a strong impact on the market; however, this can vary strongly by region. As such, many social casino gaming companies are diversifying their portfolio to counter an over-reliance on their gambling segments. For example, Zynga’s revenues from its social slot and card game segment have been decreasing over the past few years and and Playtika share of revenues via casino-themed games has been decreasing over the last few years, accounting to only 46 percent in 2022.
In order to appeal to wider audiences than online gambling users, the social casino segment is also seeing a lot of genre-crossover on mobile. Moon Active’s Coin Master is a particularly successful mashup-title, combining slot machine gaming with mid-core mechanics of base building, as well as attack and raid PVP gameplay. Thanks to in-app purchases and microtransactions, Coin Master is close to reaching three billion U.S. dollars in lifetime player spending on mobile.
Spotlight: real money games (RMG)
The improvement of online financial infrastructures and interest in online casino gaming lead to the growth of real money, skill-based online gaming. Unlike other casual games, real money games (RMG) reward players with real cash and have long been equated with gambling. The RMG market increased during the pandemic, although general awareness of skill-based real money games is still low among the general population in the United States. During an October 2022 survey, around three in four responding adults had not heard of any of the presented cash gaming companies. The operators Blitz and Skillz had the highest awareness reach, with 13 percent of respondents claiming to have heard of them.
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