One of the hottest trends in gaming right now isn’t mobile, social, or massively multiplayer games, but online casinos. This may seem somewhat surprising considering that it was only a year ago that the Justice Department seized the domain names of some of the country’s largest online poker platforms, like PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, UB.com, and Absolute Poker, charging their founders with bank fraud, money laundering, illegal gambling, among other offenses. And five years prior, the Unlawful Gambling Act effectively putting a stop to online gambling in the U.S. and sending the market into a tailspin.
However, in December, the Justice Department reversed its stance on many forms of online gambling, paving the way for what is becoming a revitalization of the social gambling market. Naturally, with activity in the space increasing, a number of startups have popped up to take advantage, like the rebranded Titan Gaming, for example.
Today brings another entrant into the social gambling space with RocketFrog, which is setting out to bring casino entertainment to Facebook with the launch of a free-to-play online casino that offers players the chance to win real prizes. Traditionally, online casino players participate in the casino gaming experience recreationally, with the rewards being the opportunity to socialize with friends or earn a few virtual badges.
So, RocketFrog wants to change this by leveraging the Facebook platform — where all of your friends are already — to create social tournaments, where players can interact and compete against their friends to win real prizes, not just accumulate points on leaderboards or vie for status increases.
Each day, the startup will run poker, blackjack, and slot tournaments in small-ish fields of 80 to 300 players, with levels lasting two to five minutes. In a somewhat unusual business model, RocketFrog plans to recruit a different advertiser each day to sponsor a variety of prizes, including movie tickets, music, and good, with prizes obviously being related to whatever company happens to be paying for the ads. If it’s Pizza Hut, prizes will likely include coupons, meal offers, and probably some free pepperoni.
The platform intends to accomodate gamers of all abilities, so that if a user is new to a game, for example, they can peruse through the startup’s suite of learning tutorials, game strategy articles, and expert tips. Its games also allow players to choose their stakes and limits in an effort to customize the overall gaming experience, while challenging friends, tracking their bank roll, sharing achievements, earning loyalty rewards, and comparing game stats and rankings.
RocketFrog was founded in 2010 by Brett Calapp, Matthew Osborn, and Uri Kozai. Calapp is the former CEO and co-founder of Centaurus Games, a subscription-based gaming network that sold to PartyGaming in 2010.
The startup’s leadership, along with the potential market opportunity, has attracted a familiar face in social networking. Tom Anderson, also known as the co-founder and former president of Myspace, has joined RocketFrog’s advisory board alongside reality TV star and celebrity poker player Brody Jenner.
When asked what he sees as RocketFrog’s core value proposition, the former Myspace president said that few have “really pushed incentive-based gaming on the Facebook platform.” It’s as simple as the fact that millions of people play online poker for free, he says, so if they’re given an engaging platform and gaming experience, why wouldn’t they want to play for realworld prizes? What’s more, “RocketFrog is also giving advertisers what they always want but can’t seem to get — an immersive and deep experience that actually features their brand — banners alone aren’t enough.”
CEO Brett Calapp says that, while legislation and regulations will take time to iron themselves out (legislation may not be put in place until next year, or 2014) and casino platforms are popping up by the minute, RocketFrog’s core strategy is to avoid making players feel inferior about their bankroll in order to drive sales of virtual currency, but instead to reward its players by offering them the ability to compete in tournaments for quality, realworld prizes.
Rather than relying on a small, obsessive segment of addicted players, Calapp says that RocketFrog wants to expand its community to include new players, those not typically classified as gamblers, but who don’t want to just play for meaningless virtual rewards.
RocketFrog has a steep uphill climb to track down the bigs in the space, like DoubleDown Casinos and Zynga’s Texas Hold ‘em, but with some influential advisors and a mission to bring social, tournament-style gamble-gaming to the masses, the startup may just be onto something.
For more, check out RocketFrog at home here.