Zynga Bringing Free Slots to Facebook First Before Gambling Takes Hold

Casino games, like poker and slots, make up one of the most popular categories on Facebook — even though players never get to cash out their winnings.

Zynga Elite Slots: Puss n Boots

Today, Zynga is announcing that it will soon launch its newest casino title, Elite Slots, on Facebook.

The game will be the company’s third title in the casino genre, following poker and bingo. It is critically important for Zynga to do well with this game, given that there is already a healthy audience that enjoys spinning the wheels for a chance to win virtual currency on Facebook.

Of course, this has nothing to do with Zynga’s plans to generate big money online through real-money gaming. Those efforts are still a year or more away, so in the meantime, getting a base of free-to-play players should help its prospects when the time comes to add real online gambling.

Over the past two years, the casino genre has been quietly racking up significant interest on Facebook.

Zynga has been phenomenally successful with its poker game, which attracts more than six million people a day on the social network, but other companies have dominated the broader casino sector, which includes games like bingo and slots.

In January, International Game Technology, which makes games found on casino floors, acquired Seattle-based Double Down Interactive for up to $500 million. Prior to the acquisition, AllThingsD reported Double Down was generating $140,000 a day in revenue at the end of 2011. Caesars Entertainment also entered the space when it purchased Playtika, an Israeli game company known for its Facebook title, Slotomania. And on mobile, Bash Gaming is on track to gross $55 million on its one bingo game this year.

While that may pale in comparison to the money that casinos make, it shows there’s an appetite for players to have the same experience online, even if there’s no chance at winning real money.

Zynga previously launched a slots game on mobile, but the one launching soon on Facebook will be completely different, with more game elements.

“There’s already a slots audience out there, but for people who don’t like slots, it’s normally not deep enough,” said Jesse Janosov, a general manager at Zynga.

To get a sense of how Zynga added depth to a game that doesn’t generally require much skill, I got a thorough demonstration of Elite Slots from Nathan Ratcliffe, the design director for the game, who works out of the company’s Austin studio.

Slots on Facebook are very similar to what you see in Las Vegas. You place your bet, choose the number of lines you want to play and then spin the wheels. Facebook games usually give players a number of free coins a day with the option of buying more.

In that regard, Zynga’s game is no different — it provides all of the basics that a slot player will be looking for. But it also offers a couple of side games, which players can either choose to participate in or ignore.

The game is played simultaneously with 150 people in a room who are not necessarily friends, but can chat and share goals. Together, the players rack up points to hit certain targets to fight a boss. In a fairyland setting, that might be a witch, but in a winter wonderland, it could be an abominable snowman. Players choose their avatars for the fight, anything from a white owl to a chihuahua or a cute bulldog.

Ratcliffe says the game will launch with six different themes, with all hand-drawn original artwork. The game also has 50 minutes of original music to replicate all the normal sounds heard on a casino floor.

While slots is all luck rather than skill, there is some strategy to this game. For instance, picking the bulldog over the chihuahua will allow you to progress faster to the goal, and the more you bet, the more you will win, which will give you more strength in fighting the boss. It’s important to note that “fighting” doesn’t entail any weapons or special game skill. It just requires players to continue spinning the wheels — each win results in an attack on the boss; the spins eventually take their toll and kill him.

Ratcliffe said the strategy elements were borrowed from Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, while the avatar components were copied directly from Zynga’s popular Ville games, where expression and collecting items is popular. It’s the combination of the two that they are hoping will attract a wide audience from the existing poker base to its Ville players to new players who are playing slots elsewhere.

Zynga’s Elite Slots is an important game launch for the company since players have grown tired of the mechanics of its other games. Plus, Janosov estimates that slots makes up 80 percent of the casino genre, so while Zynga has dominated poker, it still has a way to go in the other categories.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus