Comment & Opinion

Kind of a big deal: The rise of social casino games

Kind of a big deal: The rise of social casino games

Sam Forrest is Director of Global Communications and Content at KamaGames.

What do you think of when you hear 'social casino games'? A common, inaccurate assumption is that they're gambling-based. This isn't the case, as players only compete for virtual chips, which have no monetary value outside of the games.

Another misconception is that these games are niche or under threat, as gaming habits and demands constantly evolve.

In fact, social casino games are soaring in popularity across all territories, from Dublin to Dubai, from New Guinea to New York, and everywhere in between. For our part, 90 million players have accounts with us, a number that’s climbing by 1.2 million every month. And we’re not the only social casino providers in town.

Despite the “casino” tag, players of these games don’t gamble any real money. In fact, gambling is illegal in many of the territories where Pokerist enjoys a huge audience. So why are they so popular?

The answer involves the social and competitive element. However, let’s start where every game discussion should; playability.

Shut up and deal

While poker and gambling are often intertwined in people’s minds, they frequently exist on different planes. Poker is one of the most iconic and enduring games (of any genre) in the world. Its popularity ebbs and flows, but it never disappears.

Yes, it’s played in casinos and gambling dens around the globe, but real-life poker is also frequently played for pennies or tiny tokens such as plastic, worthless chips, toothpicks or matchsticks. In other words, it’s played for its own sake, for the love of the game.

This is because poker shares the same qualities as the best games in history (from Scrabble to Tetris to Halo and everything in between): It’s simple to learn, but players can improve over their entire lives.

Despite being nearly 200 years old, poker is surprisingly and strangely suited to modern gaming.
(Poker’s likely inspiration, As-Nas, began in Persia even longer ago - a century or so beforehand.)

Like many digital versions of analogue games, such as Risk, Warhammer and Magic: The Gathering, video games of poker remove much of the admin (evaluating value of hands dealt, payouts, etc), while maintaining the addictive gameplay.

Poker, in game app form (like our Pokerist), is much faster paced than in real life. Just like in a casino or your friend’s living room, it’s for two or more players. Each player is dealt two cards, while the dealer’s deck has three hidden. You place your bet, raise, or fold, depending on your hand. The dealer’s cards are revealed incrementally, and the player combines his hand with the dealer’s, so the player eventually has a hand of five cards. The player with the best hand wins.

In many poker video games, players have access to a list of winning combinations (full house, flush etc) and can cross-reference them with the cards they’ve been dealt. This removes some of the guesswork and memory associated with analogue poker-playing and helps players to improve.

While many of our players engage in Pokerist for gameplay and socialising, others play it to improve their poker skills in a no-risk environment.

When playing a social, online poker game you only have a few seconds to decide what to do. This is a feature, not a bug: With other real-life players waiting their turn, it makes sense to speed things up. An added bonus is that it adds a sense of momentum and excitement to a traditionally sedate game.

Playing poker at this velocity is a heady and exciting experience: It combines the dopamine hits of a first-person shooter combined with the quick-witted response and tactics of a real-time strategy game.

The speedier game also means a flexible commitment for the player: A game of Pokerist can be as brief as being dealt a hand (less than five minutes, one stop on a train commute or the time it takes a kettle to boil) or as long as every last player’s supply of chips (literally days on end).

While many of our players engage in Pokerist for gameplay and socialising, others play it to improve their poker skills in a no-risk environment. Unsurprisingly, playing fast-paced, digital poker, with real-time hints and access to instructions, easily translates to real-life poker skills.

Poker – the first social media

Like many 21st century video games, poker has always combined skill, luck and a social element. (To paraphrase the film Rounders, if poker is luck-based, why is it the same few people in the finals of every poker championship?)

The social aspect in real life, just like online, is based on healthy competition, reading the opponents’ actions and using a clear common interest to spark conversation.

The past few years have shown us how we can communicate differently, both in online gaming and on social media. And the likes of Pokerist exist in a Venn diagram between the two.

Naturally, some poker games, including ours, include emojis and gifts to go along with the banter. Happy for someone’s win? Pop them an emoji. Want to encourage a faster game? Send a “gift” of a hot cup of coffee. Want to show a little kindness? Throw over a big or small “gift” (a t-shirt, say, or a yacht).

Some players communicate with conventional text, or even audio communication. Others have put their own spin on their use of emojis: They use the ‘pray’ emoji when waiting for their cards to be dealt, for instance, or if they think their hand is a “dog” they can add an adorable pooch picture. Cigar pics are used to show celebration, or unwinding during a game, while a picture of a fly could be a puny hand, a pesky player or a compliment (“pretty fly”).

There’s no shortage of places to spend, squander and gamble your money online. Social casino games are not among those places.

Emojis are not the death of language: They’re more like a seasoning – a humorous peppering to add a little flavour and spice to text chats.

(Don’t) Place your bets

There’s no shortage of places to spend, squander and gamble your money online. Social casino games are not among those places. In fact, that’s part of its appeal.

Poker without gambling is just poker. As any gamer will tell you, you don’t need financial incentive for emotive, exciting competition. Winning a million dollars feels great, regardless of whether that money is virtual or real.

Video games have always been about approximating and recreating visceral feelings; the dangerous thrill of outrunning the cops in Grand Theft Auto, the excitement of running faster than the speediest hedgehog or the wonder of exploring alien and fantasy landscapes.

Similarly, poker games recreate the tension, thrills and joy of playing in a high-stakes casino, without having to worry about racking up gambling debts or eating into your Las Vegas holiday spending money.

There is no minimum real-life stake: The barrier for entry is zero, in fact, as games like Pokerist are usually free (with occasional microtransactions for virtual chips).

The real life stakes are practically zero, while the rewards are fun, engaging game-play and a potential new host of friends. You couldn’t ask for better odds in Vegas.

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