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Mini-games, big potential

Andrew Hughes, co-founder and CEO of AbZorba, discusses the potential of mini-games, on a “Social Casino Intelligence” feature

As the sector matures, social casino titles are beginning to both look and feel more like authentic casino experiences with each passing update. Richer textures, graphics and animations have sought to replicate the live dealer experience, while a more detailed suite of sound effects have helped immerse players into games.

The other reality of simulating that casino experience is that players will, no matter how engrossing or de- tailed the game is, get bored. Whether it’s due to a play time that has stretched into hours rather than minutes or a losing streak that shows no sign of abating, the sad reality is that a game is only capable of attracting a user’s attention for a specific period of time.

In a bricks-and-mortar casino a player may leave the table, play another game or grab a drink, but more often than not they will stay within the establishment. Lacking that advantage, social casino products have had to think outside the box in order to keep players active.

One such way is through the addition of mini-games to an operator’s offering. These side games are used to compliment the main game rather than detract from it and provide the player with a conveniently timed break from the tables. Andrew Hughes, co-founder and CEO of AbZorba, said his company has experienced great success since adding mini-games to its offering, boosting the developer-gamer relationship.

“For us it was a way to introduce additional levels of interaction based around the ability to allow our gamers to win extra chips and extra in-game currency to keep them in our game longer,” Hughes said.

Kevin Frisch, CMO at GSN Games, is also quick to praise the addition of mini-games within more tradition- al games, but as a point of differentiation rather than a means of keeping players entertained. If you can provide more than one game within your application, it stands to reason that potential players are more likely to hit install than download separate apps to serve the same purpose.

STAY LONGER, SPEND MORE

Having enticed a user into your game – no mean feat in today’s saturated market – the next task is to entertain that user for as long as possible and keep them within the app or client. Mini-games can be used to meet that end by providing a way in which users can win more of the in-game currency. That currency can then be used to increase their engagement with the game and others playing, which again makes players far more likely to stick around.

“You’re more likely to want to stay in the game be- cause you’ve spent money dressing up or you’ve made a friend along the way, and you’ve got a whole bunch of credit so you can buy those virtual goods,” adds Hughes.

This influx of currency that mini-games can provide helps not only keep the customer entertained, but keeps them spending. Since adding mini-games to its offering AbZorba has noted its contribution towards cross-promoting players from one game to another. Players have proven more likely to move between blackjack, poker and roulette games just by having deeper pockets, while ancillary virtual good purchases such as avatar add-ons have also seen increases.

Monetisation has also received a positive boost, with the mini-games themselves requiring spending. Users might perhaps spend a fraction on the mini-games in comparison to what they might spend on the slot machine they loaded the game up to play, but it’s currency that may have otherwise gone unspent.

Those players who’ve won big on an instant win scratch card are also more likely to fritter away their winnings than they would be with currency they’ve had to purchase. “People are lucky and get back onto the table, and if they’re on the tables they’re engaging in the game process and that’s all positive,” Hughes adds.

AN INSTANT WIN

If players are indeed leaving the tables for a break, then mini-games need to offer a different experience from the poker grind or slots slog. Instant win scenarios, like that provided by scratch cards, has proven to be greatly received by players. Mobile devices – particularly those designed by Apple – now have gestures at the heart of their design, allowing players to physically reveal the result of a virtual scratch card by swiping at the screen.

It’s a level of engagement that replicates the real world experience of buying a scratch card without the need to spend money and this can be hugely compel- ling. “What you have there is a very clear format, so scratching is an interaction with both a device and the brand, and a very quick win,” Hughes says.

That instant gratification is an element that might be missing from the main game, and one that should be inherent in any successful mini-game. Scratch cards or a single spin on a miniature roulette wheel can provide that instant win, with Hughes regarding those instant win scenarios as lending themselves extremely well to mini-games.

There may however be something of a danger in luring players away from the tables. Mini-games and instant win scenarios remove players from the socially en- gaging element of the game and replace it with what is far more akin to hardened gambling. This may alien- ate some players or detract from the social experience of others, however Hughes also notes the potential for an opposite reaction.

Players often operate within a budget that they’re prepared to spend on a game. If their stockpile of chips runs dry and they’re not prepared to financially invest in others, a scratch card provides them with the chance to win extra currency and go back to the tables. The key lies in striking a balance between the two games.

“It’s important to not keep pushing these games in the way of the gameplay and the social part but I think it’s all complementary to the experience,” Hughes says.

ALL ABOUT ENTERTAINMENT

“People are here for entertainment, and we have to try and find ways that reward them, make it quick, make it fun, and then they can go back into the game and engage with social aspects,” Hughes says.

With an increasing amount of gameplay deriving from mobile devices, the social casino sector faces a future of providing bite-size gameplay of five minutes a time at the most. Instant win scenarios, or at least quicker wins, could well be a sign of things to come.

Hughes says that the benefits of including mini- games are visible for all to see. “Because of the cross promotion our lifetime play is a lot higher than the industry average, and others could be quite envious of our lifetime relationship,” he says, refusing to be drawn on precisely how popular these mini-games have proven.

Finding the right balance between converting players to mini-games and suffocating them with options remains the key challenge. Players may relish choice and having the option to do something else may increase the time spent in a game, but it’s important to not lose sight of why gamers have elected to load the application in the first place.

If that balance can be struck however, mini-games are already proving themselves to be a vital asset in keeping players active and spending. “All the signs are there. Keep it fresh, keep it mini and they’re a good addition to the arsenal,” Hughes says.

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