Seattle-based developer FlowPlay went live this week with its newest project, Casino World, a free-to-play collection of gambling-themed mini-games that you can access through your web browser. It’s so interested in getting you directly into the game that even registering an account on the website is treated like it’s optional. Within about 45 seconds of pushing the “Play Now” button for the first time, I was in a tutorial mode, getting showered with a typical assortment of “freemium” thanks-for-showing-up gifts.
I tried out the mahjong and solitaire modes, played some bingo, checked out the slots, played with some of its features, and promptly misplaced the next nine hours or so. I’m glad this was actually assigned to me by my editor, because that means the attendant productivity loss isn’t my fault.
If you’re familiar with FlowPlay’s previous project, 2012’s Vegas World, you’ll be on immediately familiar ground with Casino World. (In fact, several of the minigames have been ported over directly.) Both games feature a full suite of social environments alongside their gameplay, with the idea being that you can hang out online with your friends while you gamble with your fake internet money. The social aspect is popular enough, according to FlowPlay, that people have actually gotten married in real life after first meeting in Vegas World.
The big difference between Vegas and Casino World, aside from some new minigames and a solid graphical upgrade, is that Casino World is also a tycoon game. Thanks to a suspiciously generous southern-fried multi-billionaire who’s literally named Mr. Cash, you’ve got access to a big empty lot in Casino World that you can populate with an assortment of buildings and attractions. Every time you log in afterward, your personal casino empire provides you with a small but significant cash flow, and you can invite friends and acquaintances over to party at your own personal version of the Vegas strip.
That sets up the basic loop of Casino World. You play an assortment of gambling games to earn currency, and every time you hit a certain plateau, Cash shows up with his long-suffering assistant to reward you with more Building Bucks – used to build new attractions in your personal park – and a couple of free attractions. It doesn’t matter which games you play or how, just so long as you’re building your bankroll.
All of the casino attractions are available for free, and you can play blackjack, poker, and bingo against human opponents right out of the gate, but you can speed up the process by paying real money for Gems. Those, in turn, can be redeemed for Charms, consumable items that give you a small but significant income with every action you take during a game. It doesn’t look like much in the moment, but you get handed a bunch of Charms for free when you start a new Casino World account, and once they’re gone, you really do feel their absence. You can also pay a monthly fee to become a VIP customer, with a few extra benefits, or pick up some prize packages from an in-game store.
It’s a fairly typical “freemium” model, although Casino World’s feels more generous than some I’ve played. Everything you can purchase either speeds the game up or gives you some new cosmetic options. You don’t have to pay for a thing.
It does take up a lot of time, though. I probably lost the most time playing the mahjong “story mode,” a series of themed fantasy challenges with narration by a talking dragon sidekick, and the solitaire puzzles. But the slot machines are colorful and imaginative, the video poker’s got some cute graphics, and I found some surprisingly stiff competition in Texas Hold ‘Em considering that I played on the first day the game was out. There’s a lot here to explore.
“FlowPlay isn’t just developing the best free-to-play online casino games, we’re fostering social and real-world relationships through the communities that we construct for our players,” Derrick Morton, CEO of FlowPlay, said in a statement. “With Casino World, we wanted players to experience a new way to interact with the casino landscape, allowing players to build their own slot and bingo halls that reward them with additional coins. Now, players can create the city of their dreams all while sharing the experience with their Casino World friends.”
The biggest surprise is that for as much emphasis as Casino World’s website places on its “casino tycoon” mode – it makes a point of referring to itself as a “massively multiplayer casino RPG” – it’s easy to miss in-game. Cash will show up occasionally to shower you with tycoon-specific rewards, sure, but otherwise, there’s just a single icon on the UI to take you to your personal casino empire. You can actually ignore it completely if you like, or just check in once a day to raid it for spare change.
That’s a fairly mild complaint, though. It may sound like I’m damning Casino World with faint praise, but it is one of the rare freemium games I’ve played that actually feels like a video game in its own right. It may be a grind – the first 1.5 million comes in fairly quick on a new account, but after that, you’ll need some luck and patience – but for some reason, the game about being a casino magnate is surprisingly good about not constantly shaking you down for money.
Casino World has been in development for the last two years, with a version coming to mobile devices at some point in the future. It’s the third major project from FlowPlay, behind Vegas World and 2008’s ourWorld, a virtual community built in Flash that’s designed “to offer teen girls a place to get away.” Between the two previous games, FlowPlay has a community of over 75 million registered users.