Our guest on the latest GeekWire radio show and podcast was Glenn Walcott, president of Seattle startup DoubleDown Interactive, which offers the DoubleDown Casino suite of casino-style casual games, using Facebook as its platform. We talked about the company’s strategy, the games it offers, and dove into the underlying economics of running games on the world’s largest social network.
This week the company had some additional news, introducing a new feature that lets players customize their slot reels with pictures of our friends.
If you missed the show or just prefer text, continue reading for edited excerpts from our conversation
Tell us the story of Double Down.
Walcott: We’re a social game company, and we focus on casino-style games. So the games we operate are blackjack, slots, roulette, video poker. Games you’d expect to find in a casino, but there’s no gambling. There’s no money you can win. You can’t exchange anything for real cash. It’s truly just play for entertainment. The more you play the more — I’m going to use the word engaged, not addicted — the more engaged you get. We hit a major milestone the other day. Back in January we set a goal for ourselves of having 1 million daily active users, and in September we hit a million daily active users, and the day that we hit it, we had a big mariachi band come into our office, we almost got kicked out of our building … and we told everyone we’re taking them all to Mexico in March.
Let’s get into the Facebook elements of this, because you’re on the Facebook platform.
Walcott: Facebook is funny, because they’re like no company you’ve ever done business with before. There’s no contracts, they don’t call you and tell you they’re doing something. They communicate with blogs, and you either read their blog every day or get a weekly summary of it. It’s an amazing platform to be able to deal with. But the reason we work with Facebook is, one, they have this platform that allows us to have games on it. It’s essentially a game portal, is how we view it, even though there’s millions of people who are on Facebook that don’t know you can play games on it. They’re getting better at being able to demonstrate to the users that you can play games there. But they offer us things like the virality that everyone talks about. Social games are very viral.
Walcott: It’s a very different mentality. When people are going to a casino, they’re looking for games that they think they can beat the odds with, or they’ve got a superstition that something is great about it. So the engagement and the reason they go there is very different. But the cool thing about our games is you can pop in for five minutes and play a game, or if you really are having a great time, you can sit there and play for an hour and a half. We find that people play for about an hour a day, on average, which is I think a really long time.
There’s been this question of what’s going to happen with online gambling. And I know you don’t describe yourselves as a gambling site, but do you see any possibility of that happening?
Walcott: The general consensus is that poker someday will become legalized on a state-by-state basis, and certain states are evaluating it right now. And maybe at the federal level, depending on funding, perhaps in a year or so. We don’t really care if it becomes legal or not. Our DNA is a casual/social gaming company. We’re a social gaming company. We aren’t a gambling company. Our games aren’t built to be bulletproof like you’d need to be if you’re a real gambling company. We can do things to make our games more phone that if you wer an operator in Vegas you’d go to jail for, because we change the odds just for fun.
You had to make this transition to Facebook Credits here recently.
Walcott: On July 1, Facebook mandated that if you’re on their platform, you’re required as a developer to use Facebook Credits as your sole way of getting money. To buy our virtual currency before, you could use a credit card, you could use your PayPal account. Now you can only use Facebook Credits. You can still use your credit card but you’re paying Facebook the money. And so now they take 30 percent of the money off the top for that privilege.
What did that do for your business when you had to go through that?
Walcott: Obviously we knew that there was going to be a 30 percent downside to it, but we didn’t know what the impact was going to be on the users — if users were going to be accepting of it, if it would be a net positive or not. What we found, oddly enough, is that 50 percent more people started spending money on our site after we started accepting Facebook Credits. So it was a net giant win for us.
Listen to the full interview here and check bac this weekend for a new episode on GeekWire.com, and airing at 7 a.m. Saturday on 97.3 KIRO-FM in Seattle.