How do you make sports gambling more addictive? Make a role-playing game where you level up by completing quests of placing specific fake-money bets. And how does a sports community app like Hitpost build such a smart game? It hires lead producer Courtland Alves from games giant Crowdstar as its new CEO. After four years in sports, Hitpost is making a play for the social gaming big leagues.
Hitpost’s founder and former Chief Executive Aaron Krane tells me, “The team doesn’t care that I’m not the CEO anymore. They’re all obsessed with sports and it bonds them. They are thick as thieves. I love gambling but I don’t watch sports on TV. Getting Courtland in as CEO is the best contribution I can give.” Alves led monetization for three of Crowdstar’s top mobile titles, and is a beloved manager that could attract serious talent to Hitpost.
Krane will stay on as chairman and will advise the company on design. His passing of the torch doesn’t mean he thought the startup wasn’t going anywhere, but just that someone else was clearly more fit to lead. “This was such an obvious choice to better the business, the product, and the team, and all have noticeably improved already. Courtland’s network enables us to recruit an entirely different class of game builder.”
Getting into the games business and pulling in Alves has delighted Mike Maples, partner at Floodgate who fundedHitpost’s $2 million second round a year ago. Maples tells TechCrunch, “Hitpost is the only company I’ve seen that has successfully merged casual game mechanics with sports. Courtland is a proven leader to further this vision.”
How exactly did Hitpost merge gaming and sports? By scrapping much of what used to be Hitpost’s OnSports app. It offered live discussion of sports events, polls and news in a combo of asynchronous and second-screen entertainment. But it was a small betting feature where people could make pretend wagers about the outcomes of matches that really took off, so Hitpost doubled down on gambling. Some users might not be as excited about the loss of other functionality as Maples, Alves, and Krane are, but the team is convinced they’ll learn to love it. “Outrage is passion for your product,” Krane tells me.
Rather than just checking which teams are winning, Sports Bet for iOS and Android is designed to get your skin in the game. Fake skin, but that doesn’t make it much less addictive. You start with some chips that you can wager on who will win upcoming major U.S. league sports matches. Win and you’ll get more chips. But what’s truly innovative about Sports Bet is that it borrows role-playing game mechanics like leveling up. You gain experience points for placing any bet, win or lose, as well as completing missions like “bet on a hockey game” or “win with 2.5X odds against you.”
Combining the thrill of chance with the steady progression of an RPG makes Sports Bet remarkably addictive, and that’s where the monetization comes in. If you want to bet multiple times per hour you’ll run out of “energy” and need to buy more. Originally you could bet as often as you wanted, but people were betting as much as 500 times a week. That proved people would pay if asked. You can also buy extra chips or instant power-ups if you need them. The mechanics could give Sports Bet serious engagement. When you use gambling to tie someone’s emotions to a sports match, you can count on them coming back to collect their winnings or try again for glory.
Bouncing around the app is fun thanks to some remarkably slick design. Big photos of the teams you’re betting on slide into the background while you consider a wager, the tiles all look sharp and glossy, and there are plenty of little flourishes. Krane believes users won’t get tired of Sports Bet and stop playing like most social games. “It could have the shelf life of years and years because sports is a perennially engaging experience. If you’re a sports fan, sports never get boring. Sports Bet could become a very sustainable platform like World Of Warcraft.”
Considering the rabid fan base and need for better mobile engagement, I’m surprised ESPN and Yahoo Sports haven’t thought to build something like Sports Bet. Instead they may come knocking on Hitpost’s door.