Casears launches Elvis bingo room

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Elvis Backstage Bingo room released on CIE’s social bingo brand BINGO Blitz

Caesars Interactive Entertainment (CIE) has teamed up with Elvis Presley Enterprises to launch an Elvis-themed bingo room on Buffalo Studios’ Facebook app.

The Elvis Backstage Room is available on the Bingo Blitz app, mobile and tablets and includes gameplay features such as power ups, coins and experience points to achieve bingos and complete in-game goals. Caesars acquired Bingo Blitz operator Buffalo Studios late last year for an undisclosed sum.

“Buffalo Studios is excited to team up with Elvis Presley Enterprises to offer Bingo Blitz players one of the world’s most recognisable and entertaining brands in Elvis Presley,” Salim Mitha, vice-president of marketing at Buffalo Studios, said. “We look forward to bringing our bingo spin to The King.”

“Elvis Presley Enterprises is pleased to partner with Buffalo Studios to bring the power of the Elvis brand to Buffalo Studios’ popular social and mobile game, BINGO Blitz,” added Susan Meek, vice-president of Worldwide Licensing, Elvis Presley Enterprises.

The launch follows double-digit revenue growth at CIE for the three months ended 30 June, with Buffalo Studios singled out as a key contributor to its performance. Caesars is also preparing to spin off CIE into a separate entity, Caesars Growth Partners, having received authorisation for the move from the Nevada Gaming Commission.

Buffalo drives CIE revenue growth

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Social bingo brand one of main contributing factors in double-digit increase in revenues

 

Buffalo Studios was singled out for its contribution towards double-digit revenue growth at Caesars Interactive Entertainment (CIE) in the three months ended 30 June.

The Bingo Blitz operator was acquired in late December last year for an undisclosed sum, and described by CIE chief executive Mitch Garber as representing “a unique opportunity” for the operator to expand its reach.

According to July’s figures from Dystillr, Bingo Blitz was the eighth most popular social casino game during the month with just shy of 1.45m MAU, while CIE’s Slotomania brand ranks fourth with more than 3.2m.

Caesars Entertainment’s ‘other’ division, which contains the interactive division, saw revenues rise 14.2% year-on-year to $86.4m, while the loss from operations for the segment, which also includes corporate expenses, including administrative, marketing, and development costs, narrowed by 26.3% to $55.2m.

The results come as Caesars prepares to spin off CIE into a separate entity, Caesars Growth Partners, having received authorisation for the move from the Nevada Gaming Commission.

Caesars Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman spoke highly of the operator’s social business, which was recently named by Eilers Research as the number one social casino games publisher worldwide.

“We are pleased to see that Eilers Research named us the #1 global publisher in the $1.2 billion social casino-style games market, driven by the strength of our leading slots, casino and bingo franchises on the social games platforms,” Loveman said.

He also reiterated that the mobile and social arm “remains a very important part of our efforts to foster brand loyalty and expand our customer base”, making reference to last month’s acquisition of the World Series of Poker mobile and social games studio from EA.

Playtika partners with Sheriff for Slotomania Adventures

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Operator to take delivery of a suite of slot games for spin-off from flagship app.

Sheriff Gaming has partnered with Playtika to launch Slotomania Adventures, the operator’s first spin-off title from its core Slotomania brand.

The app features a selection of free-to-play versions of Sheriff’s popular 3D slots including Atlantis, Mr Good and Fortune Farm (pictured), with more titles to be added in coming months, and is already live on Facebook. Playtika chief executive Robert Antokol described Sheriff’s pedigree as “impressive,” adding that he was “excited to see how [his company’s] loyal and passionate gamers will react to Slotomania Adventures.”

“This marks our first spin off game from Slotomania, and we have high hopes that Slotomania Adventures will engage users and take the social casino space to another level,” he explained.

Sheriff Gaming spokesperson Eric Roskamp added: “We are absolutely delighted that Playtika and the Slotomania brand have decided to add some of our most popular games to their portfolio.

“We have created games with community and player engagement in mind and therefore knew that our games would cross-over into the social games space and the confidence Playtika have shown in us confirms this. This also enables us to reach players that have been unable to play through our other channels to date,” Roskamp said.

The game already attracts around 50,000 players according to Facebook, and becomes the first major title to be launched since its Farkle Pro game, which has failed to attract a big audience. The operator is in the process of integrating Buffalo Studios’ operations into Playtika, following the Bingo Blitz developer’s acquisition by Caesars Interactive

GSN launches ChaChingo Bingo

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Updated version of GSN’s Bingo Blitz sweepstakes game features hourly prize draws.

GSN Digital has announced the launch of ChaChingo Bingo, a redeveloped version of its Bingo Blitz product, allowing players to win a jackpot of up to US$5,000.

ChaChingo Bingo features hourly sweepstake draws, with a starting prize pot of $1,500, with the amount increasing by $50 each time players fail to win the jackpot. Players are also awarded with GSN’s virtual currency Oodles, and Tokens, which are used to play the operator’s social casino titles, for matching at least one number in the prize draw.

The game is an updated version of its Bingo Blitz title –unrelated to the app developed by the Caesars-owned Buffalo Studios – which allowed players to enter a daily sweepstake draw. Commenting on the launch, Jeff Karp, who joined as executive vice president of mobile and social games in September last year, said:

“Following the success of Bingo Blitz, we saw an opportunity to bring a new energy and excitement to Bingo with more chances to win.

“Players come to GSN to have fun and experience the thrill of winning, and GSN ChaChingo Bingo offers them the opportunity to win cash without spending a dime in the process,” Karp added.

Caesars acquires Buffalo Studios

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Acquisition for undisclosed amount marks gaming giant’s second major social casino acquisition in 2012.

Caesars Interactive Entertainment has announced the acquisition of Bingo Blitz operator Buffalo Studios, the company’s second high-profile social casino purchase in just over a year.

The acquisition, for an undisclosed sum, will see 74 Buffalo employees retained at the company’s Santa Monica development centre to integrate Bingo Rush and Bingo Blitz into an affiliate of its Playtika brand.

The operator originally acquired a 51% stake of Playtika in May 2011, before completing the buyout in January this year, less than two years after it was founded by Robert Antokol and Uri Shahak.

Commenting on the acquisition Caesars Interactive chief executive Mitch Garber said: “The Bingo Blitz business represents a unique opportunity for Caesars Interactive Entertainment (CIE) to add to our leading product portfolio of social and mobile game assets and to grow our market share across all interactive platforms.

“The team at Buffalo Studios’ Santa Monica office includes deeply talented product, technology and creative personnel and we anticipate that, together with CIE, it can bolster this category and develop new and exciting game offerings,” he added.

After launching in 2010 Bingo Blitz has seen MAU grow to 2.7m, with around 0.71m DAU, according to AppData. Founded by a team made up predominantly of ex-Electronic Arts employees who had worked on Pogo, the company has branched out into mobile gaming this year, launching Bingo Rush and Bingo Blitz on iOS, with an Android variant also in the pipeline.

However, Buffalo Studios also parted company with chief executive Michael Marchetti in September this year, for reasons which are yet to be made public.

Exclusive: Michael Marchetti leaves Buffalo Studios

Bingo Blitz operator’s CEO removed from his post after less than a year in the role – departure coincides with return of company’s founder to day-to-day operations.

Michael Marchetti, chief executive of Bingo Blitz operator Buffalo Studios, has left his role with immediate effect, Social Casino Intelligence can confirm.

Marchetti’s removal is known not to be a result of internal agreements, as had been rumoured, and the business is not currently underperforming. Its core products have maintained consistent player volume, while Buffalo has also established itself in the mobile space through the launch of Bingo Blitz and Bingo Rush on iOS, with an Android offering to follow.

His departure coincides with the return of company founder Christie Tyler to day-to-day operations after a period of absence. It is unknown whether Tyler will take over the CEO position, or if the company will look to hire an external candidate.

Marchetti leaves just ten months after he joined Buffalo Studios, joining in November 2011 from Electronic Arts, where he served as as senior vice president and general manager for social games. He previously held the role of CFO at mobile gaming startup JAMDAT, which was acquired by EA in 2006.

Just two months ago, when interviewed by SCi (parts one and two are available online), Marchetti spoke very positively of his job, and of his enthusiasm to continue in his role: “We’re really excited about what we’re doing – I love it. The market’s going to continue to evolve rapidly and we feel like we’re in a really great position from the technology which we’ve built both online and as we move to mobile.

“We feel we’re at the cutting edge to continue to build a really high-quality offering focused around consumers and what they want,” he explained.

Bingo Blitz moves to iOS

 

Buffalo Studios adds its flagship product to iOS – follows launch of Bingo Rush mobile game.

San Francisco-based operator Buffalo Studios is to follow the release of its Bingo Rush iOS game with a variant of its core Bingo Blitz product on the platform, with the game now available on the App Store.

Buffalo Studios chief executive Michael Marchetti (pictured) revealed that the game has been approved by Apple after being submitted early in July. At the time he admitted that he expected the application to be successful, and that it was to be available to US customers in “no more than a couple of weeks,” with an Android version also planned to follow the release.

The news follows the launch of Bingo Rush in the United States earlier in July, with the product already available to Canadian players. Essentially a high-speed version of Bingo Blitz, it has been released as part of the operator’s “aggressive roadmap” of features and upgrades to its portfolio, and marks Buffalo’s first move into mobile.

Speaking to SCi, Marchetti said: “The market’s going to continue to evolve rapidly and we feel like we’re in a really great position from the technology which we’ve built both online and as we move to mobile.”

Read parts one and two of SCi’s interview with Michael Marchetti.

CEO Profile: Michael Marchetti, Buffalo Studios – Part 2

In the second part of our interview with Buffalo Studios’ Michael Marchetti, he discusses his attitude towards product development and his plans for real-money gaming.

Going live

From its early beginnings the game has proven its staying power, but Marchetti is uneasy describing it as a finished product. Instead he refers to Bingo Blitz as a ‘live service’, capable of evolving with player need. “It’s gone through a number of iterations to get to this stage after an initial development of six or seven months to create a skeleton product. I think one of the big differences between our business and a traditional gaming business in Europe is that we run our products as a live service,” he says.

Buffalo’s live service approach means the tendency of operators, of all-stripes, to launch a game and move on is anathema. “We don’t launch a bingo, poker or roulette product then shift our focus to marketing,” he says.

“We need to constantly innovate to update and enhance the core product and content – obviously marketing and finding new ways to acquire customers is part of our lifeblood but an equal amount of energy, time and dollars is also spent on continuing to develop the product. Not just visually and on the back-end, but also in bringing it to other platforms.”

This marks the beginning of Buffalo Studios’ big push to address what has been seen as one of the company’s main weaknesses; its lack of a mobile offering. Marchetti claims that the launch of Bingo Rush – a pared-down variant of Bingo Blitz – on iOS was always part of the plan. Yet the fact that Bingo Blitz is set to quickly follow, having been submitted to Apple for approval at the beginning of July, with Buffalo hopeful of launching in the App Store by the end of the month, suggests that the company has been forced to push forward with its mobile launch in order to continue the momentum it has built up in its two years. Especially after competitors have begun to develop rival offerings, with Zynga Bingo the most notable.

However, despite Zynga Bingo hitting a peak of over 10 million monthly actives, it had fallen to 6.7 million at the time of writing, with 0.86 million DAU suggesting it was only retaining around 12% of players day-to-day. Marchetti feels these numbers justify Buffalo’s focused approach.

“Given the quality and size of team you need to make a single successful product and continue to run it as a live service”, he says. “We believe in creating products that have longer shelf lives and the ability to build up a community around them- a community that can be monetised and engaged over a long period of time. Having lots of products doesn’t fulfil that goal as much as having a small, focused suite of products.” Marchetti adds: “The gaming business has always been competitive

– I’ve been in this sector for more than twelve years now – I find that people who continue to produce quality, innovative products, and focus on the customer, and where the customer is going in terms of platforms, are most likely to be successful.”

Welcome to the real world

This desire to innovate and continue to move onto the most popular platforms goes as far as pushing Buffalo towards launching a real-money offering as the lines between social gaming and real-money gambling converge.

While Zynga was initially keen to deny any plans to cross over before hints at land-based partnerships and its interest in the Ongame Poker Network showed otherwise, Marchetti is candid about his interest in crossing the divide:

“Obviously it’s a new opportunity and I think the convergence between these two industries is fascinating, mainly because of the players and the dynamics of these games of chance. I don’t think players looking to win cash are our targets – I think in many cases the people trying to win real-money have different mindsets, and could be a different player to someone who just likes the chance to win.”

However, he is keen to highlight the potential obstacles Buffalo would face, saying that “our expertise is not in the regulatory environment and framework that comes with being a real-money gambling operator, and I by no means underestimate the complexity of that. There are a lot of companies that say they are going to go into real-money gambling that perhaps don’t appreciate the challenges and restrictions of that.”

These “challenges” have not prevented Marchetti from dipping his toes in the waters of real-world gaming. A partnership with the Riviera Hotel & Casino has offered Bingo Blitz players the chance to win a trip to its casino, to play in bingo tournaments.

“[The Riviera is] the largest bingo operator on the Vegas strip”, begins Marchetti. “We’ve always thought that there is a lot of overlap between people that play bingo for real in a hall, and those who play online. There is a natural opportunity for us to do cross-promotion here,” he says.

Buffalo is currently analysing the customer data produced by the promotion to, “see how we can improve on things”, and is certain, according to Marchetti, to look at more opportunities to work with the Rivieira and other land-based casinos in the future.

Buffalo Studios still only operates three products – two if you count Bingo Rush as a variant of Bingo Blitz – and continues to be run by the core team which left EA to start the business. In a career where he has moved from law to investment banking, helped establish and float a business before taking charge of EA’s mobile product development before moving over to take the reins at Buffalo, Marchetti seems to appreciate the continuity his current role offers:

“We’re really excited about what we’re doing – I love it. The market’s going to continue to evolve rapidly and we feel like we’re in a really great position from the technology which we’ve built both online and as we move to mobile.

“We feel we’re at the cutting edge to continue to build a really high-quality offering focused around consumers and what they want,” he explains. With Marchetti’s Power 25 plaudits praising Bingo Blitz’s understanding of the customer, it is easy to see how its focus on the end player remains essential for the bingo specialist as it moves into mobile and, with real-money gambling on the horizon, possibly beyond.

CEO Profile: Michael Marchetti, Buffalo Studios – Part 1

A career that began on Wall St has seen Michael Marchetti take a winding route through banking, mobile start-ups and virtual pets to reach his current role as CEO of the leading bingo operator on Facebook. In the first part of our profile, Marchetti talks to SCi about his early career, and how his tenure at EA helped alert him to the potential of social casino games.

After four years as senior vice-president and general manager of social games for Electronic Arts, Michael Marchetti could have been forgiven for fearing for his position when the company suddenly decided to spend almost US$300m on the acquisition of social developer Playfi sh. His world may have seemed even more uncertain after the majority of his development team then left the business to work on a start-up project only a year after the purchase. But by then, Marchetti had already started formulating his own exit strategy.

Almost exactly two years after EA had completed the Playfi sh buy in November 2011, he departed to rejoin his former colleagues at Buffalo Studios, the operators of Bingo Blitz, which by that time had grown to become one of the largest bingo games on Facebook with around 2.7 million monthly active users (MAU), hitting a peak of 0.87 million daily active users (DAU) by December 2011.

“I really loved working at EA, had a great experience, learned a lot; but after six years, I was really keen to do something more entrepreneurial again,” Marchetti explains. “It was really a case of going back to a start-up environment, and it was the ideal opportunity to do so.”

Indeed, Marchetti had only joined EA – originally as vice president and chief operating officer of EA Mobile – following the gaming giant’s $680m acquisition of JAMDAT Mobile, a mobile gaming start-up he had joined as CFO in November 2000 from online business incubator eCompanies. A move which in turn had seen him leave behind investment banking and his native New York to head west to San Francisco.

“I moved west early in 2000, at the peak of the dot.com bubble, and one of the companies we started was JAMDAT,” he explains. “JAMDAT was for me this combination of telecoms and gaming, which I thought was very exciting, so when I joined as CFO I was about the tenth employee, and we grew from ten people and zero revenue to go public on the NASDAQ in 2004, before selling to EA for almost $700m.”

Band of brothers
This appetite for entrepreneurship had been fostered by almost four years in investment banking with Merrill Lynch, who headhunted Marchetti from Wall Street law firm Cahill, Gordon & Rendiel in 1996. As vice-president of investment banking he had been involved in raising capital and funding

telecommunications and early internet businesses, and is keen to credit his early career as having helped him gain a grounding in how to effectively run a business, and prepare for management: “When I was a lawyer I had a good insight into the dynamic and rules and regulations of how

companies are put together, and then on the banking side you see how capital is formed, what kinds of investments the community is looking for, and also how the story of a start-up is told to appeal to investors.

“Having worked on the legal and banking angles, moving onto operations management felt like a natural progression,” he explains. “The interesting thing is, rather than focusing on the business as a whole or the financials, you focus more on the development of your team; how you put a team together, organise it and lead it, and that’s much more interesting for me. I’m less excited about the financing of a business, raising capital and ensuring profitability than I am about putting together a team to help accomplish these goals.”

It seems that this focus on leadership has served Marchetti well, with three of the original five-person development team which left EA to found Buffalo Studios still involved in the company. However, although at the centre of the first social games team set up by EA, Marchetti refuses

to take the credit for piquing the company’s interest in the space. An enthusiasm which has seen it spend almost $1bn in total acquiring Playfish and PopCap Games to establish itself in the sector.

“I wouldn’t say we were the main drivers in getting EA interested in social. We were a small team working on Pogo Puppies, which was a synchronous, chat-based game focused around community development at a time when the market was very much fixed on asynchronous, empire-building

games. I think having worked on Pogo we’d seen the opportunities that community-centred games offered, and even on Pogo Puppies casino-type games were proving to be more popular than others,” he says, explaining how the notion for Bingo Blitz first began formulating.

After this it was a natural progression towards developing a bingo game. Marchetti describes Bingo Blitz as a “community-focused, multiplayer social game similar to what we were doing with Pogo – it’s not social in a ‘play with friends’ way, but social in the concept of bringing people together to play games with one another”.

EA takes Zynga to court over The Ville

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CEO of EA subsidiary says “Maxis isn’t the first studio to claim that Zynga copied its creative product.”

Electronic Arts (EA) has filed a lawsuit accusing social gaming giant Zynga of copying “the original and distinctive expressive elements of The Sims Social in a clear violation of the U.S. copyright laws” with its newly-launched city building game The Ville.

In a blog post explaining the decision to sue its major rival, Lucy Bradshaw, CEO of EA subsidiary Maxis, responsible for its Sims and SimCity games, said that The Ville and The Sims Social were “largely indistinguishable.”

Bradshaw went on to claim that Zynga’s “design choices, animations, visual arrangements and character motions and actions have been directly lifted from The Sims Social,” and even accused the operator of having copied its rivals’ products on a number of occasions:

“Maxis isn’t the first studio to claim that Zynga copied its creative product.  But we are the studio that has the financial and corporate resources to stand up and do something about it.  Infringing a developer’s copyright is not an acceptable practice in game development.

“By calling Zynga out on this illegal practice, we hope to have a secondary effect of protecting the rights of other creative studios who don’t have the resources to protect themselves,” Bradshaw said.

However, Zynga’s general counsel Reggie Davis has dismissed the claims, with VentureBeat quoting him as accusing EA of having “a lack of understanding of basic copyright principles,” before going on to hint at a counter suit over similarities between CityVille, and EA’s SimCity Social:

“It’s also ironic that EA brings this suit shortly after launching SimCity Social, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Zynga’s CityVille game. Nonetheless, we plan to defend our rights to the fullest extent possible and intend to win with players.”

Industry commentators have previously highlighted similarities between several of Zynga’s games and those of its competitors, namely Zynga Bingo and Buffalo Studios’ Bingo Blitz, and Bubble Safari and King.com’s Bubble Witch Saga. Zynga itself has brought legal action against French developer Kobojo, accusing the studio of copyright infringement for developing games featuring the ‘-Ville’ suffix, such as PyramidVille.

Zynga pursued an injunction which would see the developer banned from creating any more games with a ‘-Ville’ suffix in the title, and Kobojo forced to pay damages of three times its profits from any of the relevant games.

The Ville is currently the largest game on Facebook with 43.8m MAU, and 6.6m daily actives, compared to The Sims Social’s 16.7m MAU and 2.8m DAU. The game’s launch was delayed until June this year, a move which saw the company lose US$22.8m in the second quarter of the year, prompting a reshuffle which saw chief executive Mark Pincus take charge of product development, taking the responsibility away from COO John Schappert.