Play money social casino games and real money online casinos don’t inhabit separate universes.
Sure, some companies focus exclusively on one or the other. However, for many real money gambling companies, social versions of their products provide a convenient and relatively inexpensive customer acquisition tool. Tribal gaming company Wind Creek Hospitality – owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians – counts itself among these.
Last week, Wind Creek announced the release of what it calls its “third generation” social casino product. The app, Casinoverse, promises to add a new layer of gameplay to the company’s previous play money offerings.
Wind Creek CEO Jay Dorris says:
Providing our guests an escape from daily life to a fantasy world of fun and excitement is a core belief of Wind Creek Hospitality. We know that guests can’t always be at one of our physical locations, so we feel having an online brand experience that enables those same elements of escape, fantasy and game play available at home or on the go is paramount.
In its press release, the company claims its current social platform gets about 85,000 daily average users. It hopes that Casinoverse will help grow this number into six-figure territory.
We’ve also seen companies cross the play money/real money divide in the opposite direction. Boom Entertainment recently made its real money slots debut in Michigan, for instance. Aristocrat Leisure has taken a complex path, branching out from real money slots for retail casinos into mobile social gaming and now coming back the other way by establishing a real money online gaming division.
And then there are the companies that exist somewhere in between the two. Sweepstakes casino companies like Chumba produce play money games that nonetheless offer players the chance to win real cash prizes.
The Bizarre Phenomenon of Gamifying Games
Wind Creek’s strategy falls under the umbrella of what’s known as gamification. The word itself dates back to 2002, coined by the game designer Nick Pelling. However, companies have been doing gamification, or something like it, for much longer than that.
Most definitions of gamification run along the lines of: “Applying game design concepts to something that isn’t a game to create engagement.”
That makes it strange to talk about gamifiying casino products since the products themselves are, in fact, games. Nevertheless, it’s a buzzword in the industry at the moment, especially when it comes to promotions and customer loyalty programs.
In this context, it often means improving the overarching experience which connects the individual casino games. Loyalty tiers, for instance, provide players something to shoot for that follows them, game to game and session to session.
Casinoverse takes that concept very literally. It promises to allow players to “explore the Wind Creek globe and play at virtual representations of the various brick and mortar Wind Creek venues in North America and the Caribbean.”
To do so, it borrows several concepts from casual role-playing games. For instance, players can take on quests in pursuit of rewards and search the game world for loot, which takes the form of multiple in-game currencies.
Wind Creek’s Online Ambitions
It’s pretty apparent that Wind Creek sees online gaming as an important avenue to explore.
While commercial casino companies include geographic considerations in their strategies, tribal gaming entities tend to stay put. After all, on the reservation, they benefit from the terms of the Indian Gaming Act. In many cases, the compacts they’ve worked out with the state provide some protection against non-tribal competition. The downside is that it means waiting for their home state to legalize online gambling (as has happened for tribes in Michigan and Connecticut) rather than seeking out existing markets.
Wind Creek Hospitality has bucked that trend. In 2019, it acquired and rebranded what had been the Sands Bethlehem in Pennsylvania. Part of the rationale for that move was that Pennsylvania online casinos had recently become legal. At the time, Sands was still under the control of the late Sheldon Adelson, a stubborn opponent of online gambling.
Wind Creek had no such objections and was quick to launch an online casino product, though it remains a bit player in the market to date.
Casinoverse looks to expand the company’s online footprint further while supporting its retail business. For now, though, the two products are entirely separate. Wind Creek’s Director of Corporate Communications, Julia Corwin, confirmed to Bonus that the free play credits players can earn in the game can only be used at the company’s retail casinos. Eventually, that may change.
Casinoverse Looks Like a Work in Progress
Despite Wind Creek’s big plans for Casinoverse, the app in its current form seems to be primarily a foundation to build on. Bonus downloaded the app to test it and found that many new features haven’t been implemented yet.
There’s plenty of functionality in the app, but most of it is the same as you’d find on the company’s second-generation social casino website:
- Play money slots
- Slots tournaments
- Draws (using tickets won in the tournaments)
The groundwork for the new features is in place. There’s an interactive tutorial and a 3D world map you can explore, but there’s very little to do there. Some scenery objects can be tapped to earn rewards, and there’s precisely one game you can play there, called Snake Eyes.
Snake Eyes is simplistic even by the standards of casino games. You roll two dice and collect points equal to the total. That continues until you roll “snake eyes,” i.e., double ones, ending the game. You’ll then receive a reward based on your total score and can try to place highly on a leaderboard. That’s the entire game.
The various islands in the game world correspond to Wind Creek’s retail properties. However, tapping a casino just produces a “coming soon” message. The tutorial promises quests you can purchase in the store and then complete to earn rewards. Currently, the only available quest seems to be the introductory one given as part of the tutorial. That may be why there is presently no apparent way to earn some of the in-game currencies.
So, the jury is still out on whether Casinoverse is much of a step forward. The possibilities are intriguing, but right now, it’s just a cosmetic improvement on the existing social casino, with space for more features in the future.