Opinion: The next big thing for social

Faisal Siddiqui

Faisal Siddiqui, CEO and co-founder of Real Deal Interactive, explains the growing importance of the US land-based sector in social casino

There’s been a lot going on in the news lately about online casino gaming. Steve Wynn partnered with Caesar’s Interactive to offer online gaming in New Jersey, then put those plans on hold, stating “online gaming does not appear to be a good entrepreneurial opportunity.” Sheldon Adelson is essentially declaring war on online gaming, announcing he is “willing to spend whatever it takes” to stop it.

Adelson cites many reasons to block online gaming, ranging from protecting our nation’s youth to safeguarding land-based casinos from cannibalisation. While there certainly are a number of reasons to be cautious when it comes to online gaming, it doesn’t mean that brick-and-mortar casinos need to stay away from offering casino gaming on the internet completely.

Since online casino gaming in the US is still in its infancy, with states having been given the go-ahead to decide on their own whether to allow it or not as recently as December 2011, the casino industry as a whole has been slow to incorporate this new business model into its fold. Because of the heavy regulatory restrictions involved in allowing and administering casino gambling via the internet, there are only three states that currently offer some form of online gaming – Nevada offers online poker only, and New Jersey and Delaware offer all casino games online. There are also the costs associated with operating an online casino such as development or acquisition, marketing, compliance, payment processing and KYC to name but a few. Online casino gaming requires a substantial investment in something that hasn’t yet been proven in the US.

Going social
One market that has been proven, and continues to grow significantly is the social casino gaming market. Social casino gaming has been one of the fastest growing subsegments
in the free to play casual game space for the last few years. And while most of the major players in this segment, through acquisitions, have so far been traditional slot equipment manufacturers, more and more land-based casinos are starting to see the benefi ts of investing in social casino gaming.

Firstly, and this may be the most compelling reason of all, social casino gaming has zero regulatory or jurisdictional restrictions – the market is completely unregulated. There are no limitations as to what games casinos can offer, or where players have to be located – after all, remember, this is NOT gambling, it is pure entertainment.

Social casinos can offer any games to anyone, anywhere. And unlike “grey” markets where they are limited to sweepstakes or amusement games, social casino gaming can offer real slot machines for real casino-style game play with no regulatory issues.

Land-based casinos can use social casinos as a brand management tool, introducing new players to the casino brand and building the brand’s credibility and equity by offering players an authentic and rewarding casino experience. It is important, however, that these social casinos offer real casino games – the same games developed by slot manufacturers that are found on casino fl oors – as well as unique player rewards or experiences, in order to successfully create brand loyalty. Players expect the same playing experience and customer service that they would find in a traditional casino.

Utilising the brand extension of the social casino, land-based casinos can begin to build their databases of new customers. With the social casino gaming market growing by leaps and bounds, upwards of 173 million players worldwide, this can open up a whole new demographic for the casino.

A recent survey by Traffic Generation found that 32% of social casino players visit a land-based casino “more than once a week” and 12% visit “once a week”. That means that 44% of social casino players will visit a casino at least once a week.

Not only can a social casino help to drive new player traffic to a land-based casino, it can and should also be viewed as a legitimate revenue channel, similar to retail, F&B, hotel and other alternate revenue streams of a casino. Eilers Research reported that the social casino gaming market saw gross revenues reach $1.98bn at the end of 2013, and
that number is projected to grow by double digits over the next few years. Social casino gaming should not be viewed by land-based casinos simply as a leech-in business, but as
a serious business and highly lucrative transition (if not alternative) to online gaming.

Innovating to succeed
The bottom line is that online gaming in the US is getting more and more attention. And whether or not online gaming becomes a mainstream reality remains to be seen. But land-based casinos that want to get in on the internet-based gaming action don’t have to wait until online casino gaming is a reality in their jurisdiction.

They can do something now. Social casinos are continuing to evolve and getting closer to the experience of real-money gaming. If and when online casino gaming becomes an actuality, the land-based casinos already operating social casinos will be poised and ready to flip the switch.

Moving forward, the key to succeeding with social casinos is to be as close to the real casino experience as possible – players expect the real thing. As we have clearly seen by the two largest players in the space, those that can offer content as close as possible to the real thing are winning.

Gone are the days when social game developers just put out a slot game that is fun and looks pretty. Many social game developers, some of the biggest in the industry, have tried to migrate to real-money online gaming and have failed. In order to be successful as a transition (or alternative) to real-money gaming, social casino operators need to have not only social gaming expertise, but also the casino industry insight that only comes from years of experience in the casino games industry.

It’s not just a social gaming business, it’s a casino gaming business. And with having to offer only real licensed gaming content from casino equipment manufacturers, this begs the question on what is the future of our industry. Is ‘innovation’ in the social casino business dead?

Real Deal adds quartet of slots to mobile app

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San Francisco-based firm strengthens Lucky Loot Casino with casino-licensed games including Fishing for Bucks 

Mobile social casino platform developer Real Deal Interactive has doubled the number of slots titles on its Lucky Loot Casino mobile app after launching four new exclusive games.

The new titles – Fishing for Bucks, Blazing Wilds Triple Sevens and Lightning Strikes Twice – are all licensed from land-based casino slot manufacturers in the US and are available on the firm’s app on Apple, Android and Kindle devices.

“I am confident that the addition of these new titles, along with the regular release of new slot titles, will continue to drive the success we have already experienced with the Lucky Loot Casino app as well as greatly enhance the white label offering with our B2B partners, including land-based casinos and other national entertainment brands,” Faisal Siddiqui, CEO and president of Real Deal Interactive, said.

Lucky Loot Casino offers players the opportunity to obtain real-world loyalty rewards, including physical gift cards to major retailers, which can be won by earning in-app Lucky Gems.

Real Deal Interactive launched its flagship mobile product in October 2013 and its portfolio now consists of eight casino slot games including Wicked Mad Hot, Cashablanca and Ragin’ Bull.

Read our profile of Real Deal Interactive here

Profile: Real Deal Interactive

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Despite being a relative newcomer to the social casino space, Real Deal Interactive has firmly established itself in the US market. Founders Faisal Siddiqui and Bart Yeary talk to Andy Roocroft about how it all started and where they plan to take the business from here

“It is quite an interesting story,” Faisal Siddiqui, co-founder of Real Deal Interactive (RDI), says when asked how he got into the social casino industry. “It was also a bit of luck.”

After his father received a student visa to study literature and economics at UNLV in 1973, Siddiqui and his parents moved to Las Vegas four years later. It was there that Siddiqui first got a taste for the gaming industry and had the opportunity to meet the likes of casino owner legend Jackie Gaughan who his father worked for. Given his upbringing, it’s perhaps unsurprising how his career progressed.

“In fact, one of the most amazing things [Gaughan] did, and to this day, a key driver for me, was when my father was diagnosed with cancer and he ensured our family had all the resources we ever needed. So much so, that even during the last year of his time, when my father could not even go to work, Jackie kept him on the payroll, gave him his bonuses, and treated him as if he was in the office all day, every day. That kind of guy makes a huge impression on a 16 year old boy.”

“From that moment on, my whole life has revolved around the gaming industry,” Siddiqui explains. “I suppose it’s not hard to get involved when you are at the epicentre of it all.”

Breaking away from his Las Vegas background somewhat, Siddiqui went on to study computer science at university before working at a number of IT companies after deciding to pursue a career in management. “One of my mentors at the time told me something I will never forget. When I went to her, shortly after getting my promotion, I had mentioned that I didn’t quite know what I was doing.  She said: ‘Faisal, the minute you think you know what you are doing here, it will be time to get another job.’ I’ve always taken that to heart and continually try to push myself.”

However, Siddiqui then moved forward into what he would consider his true calling and something he certainly knows what he’s doing: the gaming sector. And after working in the casino sector and having stints at companies including TableMAX Gaming and Alan Azizollahoff, fate eventually took over.

Match made in heaven

After moving his family to California, Siddiqui happened upon a chance meeting with RDI’s current chief product officer Bart Yeary. “It happened to be that one of my wife’s school mates was also living in the Bay Area and we had them over for an afternoon. This is where I met Bart. We started talking about our professional backgrounds and we realised that we both had the entrepreneurial drive to build and scale innovative products.”

The two entrepreneurs met over a beer in the city one afternoon and decided on exactly what they wanted to do. They were going to go all-in on a mobile casino venture. And from there Real Deal Interactive was born.

While Siddiqui has vast experience in the casino industry, Yeary was the final piece of the puzzle bringing with him an impressive casual gaming background. “My career got started in Santa Monica, California, where I was hired as a web designer for FOX Sports about a year before the bubble burst. I enjoyed designing and building stat trackers and interactive micro-sites but the truth is I’m not much of a sports fan. I guess I can just fake it well,” Yeary explains.

He later went on to work for a number of developers including Faketown.com, which offered blackjack, slot games and even a multi-user poker game where players could bet virtual coins in the hopes of winning enough money to buy property in the virtual world. After freelancing in the advertising industry for a while, he went on to work for Razorfish and later FooMojo where his social game experience helped the firm launch its FootPets product.

“Most social casino gaming companies either begin as casual game studios with limited knowledge of the casino industry or they have a foundation as a casino gaming company and they have acquired people from the casual games industry,” Siddiqui says. “We realised we had something totally unique – a true merger, from the start, with two guys, one from casual gaming, one from casino gaming. That moment was incredible for both of us. We did some quick homework, made some calls, and within weeks, we had both decided this was it.”

“Although I had been looking at [the social space], I think if Bart and I had not met, it might not have happened. I have a good depth and experience on the casino side of gaming, but without that expert knowledge of the casual side of consumer experience engagement and monetisation. These are the things that are really part of Bart’s expertise,” Faisal says.

“Would I have met another Bart? Probably not. From my perspective it’s serendipity, and I think that meeting Bart was really the piece that got me through the other side.”

Down to business

Real Deal Interactive is not a content development company but acts as a platform company which it feels is part of its advantage, bringing the authentic slots games sitting on the casino floors in the United States to the social gaming experience.

Having only formed in January 2013, the operation is still relatively small and maintains its focus on the US specifically. The team consists of three official staff members, which Yeary describes as “lean and mean”, but brings in local contractors on an as-needed basis. Lucky Loot Casino, currently on Android and due to go live on Kindle and iOS in the near future, is the firm’s first product on offer to players. However, the co-founders have ambitious plans to grow at a rapid rate.

“We have a library of little over 50 games today and we’re in negotiations to acquire about 50 to 100 more. Some of those maybe exclusive, some of them may not be. We have quite an extensive library. In market live today are two and we should have three or four in hopefully 60 days,” Siddiqui says.

“We’re currently converting games at around two to four games per month. We’re confident we’re building efficiency and streamlining the process so we can do that quickly,” Yeary adds.

And Real Deal Interactive has just released a new version of its product offering after being astounded by the start it’s made. Although RDI is a private firm, it was able share some data with Social Casino Intelligence. Engagement is close to 6 sessions per day per player with an average time of 10.4 minutes, which it says is growing every day since it released its weekly competitions. The game is currently converting players at the social casino gaming industry average, but what it finds most interesting is that ARPU was at $0.78 and is now pushing over $1.04 at the time of writing.

“We believed our financial model was correct, but our investors are very excited to see our performance to say the least,” Siddiqui says. “I believe that we’re well above industry averages on all fronts and I think you can see a little bit from the ARPU number that we’re doing incredible.”

“RDI has a few unique propositions to present to the industry,” Siddiqui says. “Because we have deep connections to the casino industry we are able to offer mobile players the actual slot games as they are played on a casino floor. This may seem like a small nuanced item, but it is very powerful.

“Think about the economics of gaming. A single slot machine placed in a casino in the US can earn north of $300 per day in net revenue. Our games come right from the slot machine manufacturers directly. We are able to deliver to the mobile player the exact same graphics, the exact same mechanics, the exact same play experience on their mobile device as they would get from the game embedded in a physical slot machine.”

Doing what you do best

From the beginning, Real Deal Interactive had always planned to focus on mobile, believing it will become the dominant social gaming platform in the near future. And with many of its competitors having launched on desktop first, RDI believes being a new entrant is a luxury and starting out on mobile means a lack of baggage sometimes associated with desktop.

“Many of the people in the space are trying very hard to get to mobile, and I think it is quite difficult when you don’t start out that way. Since we focused on mobile first, we didn’t have the luxury to make mistakes,” Faisal says.

“Our design and user experience had to be correct, right out of the gate. A misstep in the mobile is death. You can get away with on a computer screen or through some third party platform as the user can click around and figure it out. But with Mobile, you get one chance to show the user. It has to be clean, simple, intuitive. When you start with a clean slate knowing you only have once chance, we had no choice but to get it right.”

While maintaining a relatively small operation, with only the one app under its belt, the US and real-money gaming markets further afield could provide new opportunities for RDI to expand going forward. Because of the way RDI designed the system, as a true remote game server, the team always had this in mind. Given the right set of circumstances and support, RDI could expand into other markets. “We’re self-funded, we’re cautious and every step we make has to be a good step, so we will take that under consideration when the time comes,” Siddiqui explains.

However, for the time being, RDI plans to remain focused on what it does best until circumstances change. “We’re focused today on working within the legal framework of the US. So although there are various legislature initiatives in different states, a federal for-money casino-slot regulation could potentially be a little way off.”