Here’s How to Score a Shimmering Michael Jackson Jacket for $400 in Virtual Cash — and Win a Million in Real-World Dollars!
Cruise down “The Strip” in Las Vegas, Nevada, and, among a dazzling array of dancing lights, you’ll encounter the most extravagant, man-made monuments to high stakes gambling on the planet. But if you prefer to roll the dice, shout “Hit me!” or cry out “All In!” from the comfort of your desk chair in cyberspace, you’ll need to take a different route. Sail down the Alaskan Way Viaduct to FlowPlay, or head one street up to Western Avenue and GameHouse, or jump over to Elliott Avenue where you’ll find Big Fish Games, or up to Fifth Avenue and the home of DoubleDown Interactive.
On this hilly Seattle terrain you won’t need a stretch limo to ferry you from nightclub to luxury suite, only a personal computer, smartphone or tablet. While these local hosts may not feature “Donny and Marie Live,” (we do have Cirque du Soleil), all the hottest casual and social casino venues online originate right here in Seattle, the Internet capital of the social casino gaming world.
Although he doesn’t wear a cumberbund to work or shout “Shuffle up and deal” around the office,
FlowPlay’s Derrick Morton could be Seattle’s closest equivalent to Steve Wynn, or the fictional Robert De Niro or Andy Garcia of casino movie fame. Derrick is the CEO of FlowPlay, makers of VegasWorld, one of the most popular Internet destinations for simulating what goes on in the Nevada gaming world from the comfort of your easy chair and broadband connection, and from anywhere in the world.
What happens in VegasWorld doesn’t only stay in VegasWorld, here your every move is monitored with pixel-perfect precision compared to what either casino cameras or member-loyalty tracking cards can detect. Plus, it’s easy to get a room. There are virtual nightclubs and swimming pools, everyone has a deluxe suite in a lavish hotel, and you can upgrade to one of 35 ever more luxurious accommodations if you move fast and play the game a lot. (Play every day for a few months and you could wind up in the Diamond Suite.) Ready for a little gaming action? There are 23 slot machines, along with video poker, bingo, solitaire, Texas Hold-em’ Poker —all the games you’d normally play in a real casino made virtual.
How exactly did Seattle become the online destination for “casual” Las Vegas online? That’s an easy one. Computer-geekdom. We sat down with Mr. Morton to tell us how FlowPlay has brought the Vegas experience online, and can allow your brand name to private label your very own online casino.
Seattle24x7: Boy, it’s not even smokey here in cyberspace. Hello Derrick! Can you take us back to how FlowPlay got started?
Derrick: About seven years ago I was at RealNetworks, part of GameHouse, looking for my next idea. It was 2006, and both myself and my partner, Doug Pierson, who has a Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence, came to the realization that virtual goods and virtual currencies were going to be the next big thing in gaming. We started FlowPlay to attack that market. We wanted to combine all of the free content people were getting from playing games online for free, including watching movies online for free, and combine that with a virtual currency and a virtual world.
Seattle24x7: Interesting demographics. So you’re saying you approached online gaming from the standpoint of monetization?
Derrick: Yes, and in fact we are able to monetize much better than any of our competitors because ours is a community-based game where you really become immersed in a world with other people, compared to just playing computer slots by yourself.
Seattle24x7: How did private labeling of custom developed casinos come about?
Derrick: A lot of people began approaching us and saying, ‘What we would really like is to take your product and customize it with our brand and have it be our virtual casino.’ We started getting so many requests that we decided it needed to be a product. We were a B2C, company initially, but we decided we needed to venture off and become a B2B business. Right now we have several companies we’re working with and one that’s already launched around the idea of taking VegasWorld, customizing it, and putting their own brand around it.
Seattle24x7: What kinds of companies are most interested in branding their own social casinos?
Derrick: Well, we’ve had discussions with land based casino chains, a major motion picture studio’s interactive division, and another provider of social games who doesn’t yet have a social casino. So there are a lot of different scenarios.
Seattle24x7: Is the platform Web-based, mobile?
Derrick: It crosses all devices. You could be playing poker with somebody on a Kindle, and with somebody else playing on an iPad, another on an iPhone, another on Facebook —
Seattle24x7: That many platforms and devices sounds like a sizable publishing challenge?
Derrick: Using our platform you can compile the same game across all devices in a matter of seconds. For instance, we launched the Android and iOS game on the same day.
The most formidable challenge is that the game is big, in terms of size. So we’re just getting into handsets, we’re on tablets and we’e on the Open Web and Facebook. On a handset form factor, you’re really at the level where you can only play the games, not enjoy virtual places like a swimming pool or a nightclub. It makes less sense to do that on a phone.
Seattle24x7: How does the virtual currency get spent?
Derrick: You can spend your currency on clothes, hairdos, all kinds of stuff in the game. We have a virtual store where you can dress up your character so that when you go to a party you’re wearing something really cool that you purchased with coins you won playing the game.
Seattle24x7: So it’s all virtual currency? No real-world dollars?
Derrick: The only real world winnings will be if somebody hits the million–dollar jackpot. They will get a million dollars!
Seattle24x7: So your sponsor is actually supplying a million dollars, in real U.S. money?
Derrick: It’s run by the same company that does the monopoly games for McDonald’s. There’s a chance to win a million dollars, not a guarantee that someone will win. It’s kind of like a scratch card.
Seattle24x7: What qualifies someone to win the cool million?
Derrick: You just have to get to Level 2 in the game and then you’re entered to win a million dollars.
Seattle24x7: So you’ve approached the virtual environment from a gaming perspective first and built the world around it. Why hasn’t that happened before?
Derrick: Nobody’s done it yet, and I think that’s because the guys who have built Massive Multi-player Games are making them for hard
Seattle24x7: Give me an example over what the most expensive virtual good would be?
Derrick: We have virtual goods that sell for as much as $300-400 dollars. The most expensive item I’ve seen recently is a Michael Jackson Thriller Jacket.
Seattle24x7: Is it mostly apparel that is the hot seller?
Derrick: It is — so what we do is we produce the items for six weeks and then take them off the market. Then there is an after-market where players trade those goods so they can use our virtual currency to buy items have been discontinued and are rare.
Seattle24x7: What are the least expensive items?
Derrick: We have things for a nickel. A new hair cut. A new pair of shoes. Things like that.
Derrick: There’s a specific shopping mall in CasionoWorld and in OurWorld.
Seattle24x7: So it’s logical to assume that for marketers who customize their world, that they can do virtual product placements and put their own products up for sale?
Derrick: Yeah, so that’s the idea. You can take a beverage brand, and have that be in the nightclub. You could have a nightclub represented in that virtual world. You might have a branded swimming pool, all the way down to a level of individual game. If you want a slot machine built around a celebrity, we can do that too. Anything you’re looking to promote.
Seattle24x7: And for gaming, are we talking blackjack, bingo?
Derrick: Blackjack, bingo, poker, video poker, slots solitaire…anything you could play in a Casino.
Seattle24x7: Do you have an age limit?
Derrick: Eighteen or over. If you tell us you’re under eighteen we’ll send you off to our other product.
Seattle24x7: Why is that? Your preference?
Derrick: Yeah, there’s nothing legal about it. We just don’t think it’s appropriate for kids.
Seattle24x7: Where does the virtual world live physically? Is it in a Content Distribution Network? Parked on servers throughout the world?
Derrick: The actual files themselves are on a CDN distributed worldwide, so wherever you’re at, you’re getting files from your local servers. But the actual game state where we are tracking where you’re standing, how you’re standing, all of that runs through Tukwila.
Seattle24x7: The concept isn’t limited to only casinos. You could create any kind of world it seems.
Derrick: In OurWorld, we have a skating rink, a diner, a place called the “Garage” where you can play music. You can build whatever you want to build.
Seattle24x7: Can you give us an idea of the numbers you are hitting in terms of attendance?
Derrick: OurWorld was launched early on and started with 2.5 million registered users. Today there are over 50 million people registered to play the game.
Seattle24x7: In terms of player interaction, is there a messaging or gesturing capability back and forth? How do avatars communicate?
Derrick: So the characters have over a hundred dance moves they can do. When the characters want to talk, you can either do public chat where what you say appears above your head when you speak, or you can do a private chat where you whisper to another character one-to-one. Just click whisper and the message will be seen only to them.
Seattle24x7: What about expressing emotions? Is that related to dance moves? Can you change your mood?
Derrick: So there’s a series of emotions related to sound cues. If you see someone attractive, there’s a whistle emoticon. They also arise in gaming. For example, if you’re playing blackjack, the dealer will get a good card, or you will get a good card, and you will want to release your emotions at the table.
Seattle24x7: Would you like to be providing actual live gambling if the current laws are changed or restrictions are lifted?
Derrick: I don’t think it’s as close as people think. Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey are practically live already. But from my point of view, this is a great business we have, we’re making plenty of money at it. It’s a very complicated thing to become a gambling organization. There are a lot of fees, regulations on who can be a part of the company. Someday it could happen, but I’m not worried about it
Seattle24x7: So how much money do you start out with when you walk into one of your Casinos? Do you buy that money with a credit card?
Derrick: Well you could play for free everyday if you wanted to, we give you enough coins so that you could play for free. You don’t necessarily have to spend real money. It depends on what game you’re playing and how quickly you play.
Seattle24x7: So there is an in-app purchase, if you run out of coins you can buy more?
Derrick: Yeah, so most of our money is made selling what we call “lucky charms” which increase the luck of your game. So if you buy a martini for the room, it will increase your odds of winning in all the games. Most games have a pay-off percentage of 92-95%, so if you buy lobster or caviar, this will increase the odds of the game to over 100% so that you are a winner over time. So those lucky charms is where most of our money comes from.
Seattle24x7: Do you guys play Hold ’em’? How does the lucky charm work at the poker table?
Derrick: Well if you win in Hold
Seattle24x7: Are you doing any geo-locational targeting? Where people from your zip code could be in the room with you?
Derrick: What we do is more by large geographies. So we have a large group of people in the U.S., Brazil, and Europe. When you choose a room, say, our nightclub, we will create multiple instances of that nightclub because we can’t crowd 1,000 people into a single space. So we’ll put people into nightclubs according to their countries, it makes conversing easier. We don’t get down to the zip code level but we certainly try to group you with people you can talk to.
Seattle24x7: How many languages are featured?
Derrick: VegasWorld is only in English, but we are setting OurWorld up in eight languages, so we will soon be converting VegasWorld to eight as well.
Seattle24x7: Lastly, what is the business model? Are you being paid to develop your private label products? How much?
Derrick: So it’s a rev-share model. We’ll work with a partner to build the game to their needs and work together with them to market the game. We’ll support it, maintain it, and run the game for them, but the idea is that they become the brand that markets the product.
Seattle24x7: So that lowers the entry cost for the sponsor?
Derrick: It allows them to go to market very quickly. Less than a month in most cases, depending on what level of customization they need.
Seattle24x7: How many people work for you?
Derrick: We have 32 people here in Seattle and we have a small shop of artists working for us in Shanghai.
Seattle24x7: Is Shanghai
Derrick: It’s all arts. All graphics. The guys in Shanghai are specifically designing clothing for us.
Seattle24x7: Is that one of their strong suits (pun intended)?
Derrick: It is! This kind of avatar-based gaming stuff really started in Korea and is very popular in China. So finding artists that “get it ” was much easier to do in Shanghai.
Seattle24x7: Why are the far eastern countries so passionate about virtual games?
Derrick: I think, in the case of Korea and Japan, they were wired earlier than we were. There’s massive broad
Seattle24x7: Is Asia a market you’re looking to penetrate?
Derrick: You know, it’s tough for U.S. companies to get into China, from a governmental point of view. You have to apply with the government to allow your product to be allowed in the market, and almost no products are ever allowed. A U.S. company isn’t even allowed to invest in a Chinese gaming company. They look at games as a form of media, and their culture is very aware of what kind of media is displayed to the public.
Seattle24x7: Who do you consider to be your biggest competitor?
Derrick: The number one competitor is probably BigFish games. They have a casino. They are probably closer to us than any other competitor as they also have chatability in their games, one of the few that does.
Seattle24x7: Seattle is certainly the hub of social casinos. We’ve cornered the market.
Derrick: Yeah, I mean with DoubleDown, GameHouse, Big Fish, us, there are some really big players here. At leas 30% of the entire social casino business is in Seattle.
Seattle24x7: What do you attribute that to? Is it the obvious pool of technical talent?
Derrick: Yeah I think that’s it. We just have really great engineers here, there’s always been a slew of game work going on, being so close to Microsoft.
Seattle24x7: How are the Vegas casinos trying to do this for themselves?
Derrick: So Caesar’s has purchased two companies in the space, a company in Israel called Playtika, and a company in LA called Buffalo Studios. So Playtika makes a game called Slot-A-Mania, and Buffalo Studios makes a game called Bingo Blitz. They’ve spent a few hundred million in that space.
Seattle24x7: Summing up, to what do you attribute your obvious success?
Derrick: The reason why people look to us for this kind of product is because it’s not easy to build. We’ve been working on the platform for six years such that we can get clients going in four to six weeks.
From a payment method perspective, we’re also integrated with twenty different payment methods. From an analytics perspective, we’re tracking every single thing that people do in the game and have tons of reporting around it. And we have tons of great games. There’s a tremendous amount going on behind the scenes surface than what you see online,
In the “rev share” model there’s also advertising component. So we share a percentage of everything with our partners; virtual currency, advertising, everything.
Seattle24x7: Who are some of your largest advertisers?
Derrick: It’s strange to say, but some of our largest advertisers are people who want their YouTube videos seen. So we allow people to pay for YouTube views. So you can pay us two cents to get a YouTube view and your rankings on YouTube increase. Over 10% of our revenue comes from helping people get YouTube views.
Seattle24x7: Anything else?
Derrick: Movie trailers also, hardcore games are big on OurWorld.
Seattle24x7: And the ad networks?
Derrick: We go through eight different networks.
Seattle24x7: Thanks, Derrick. Let’s get those cards and chips in the air! [24×7]