Earlier this week Twitter announced an update to Twitter Cards, enabling mobile app developers to deep-link users to their app directly from a tweet. This could be used to simply launch the app, if already installed on the user’s device, or do something more creative by passing additional parameters into the app itself.
That’s right, Twitter just became a distribution platform for mobile apps but what’s even more interesting are the new possibilities this creates for mobile game developers.
New Interactions and Game Mechanics
Deep-linking enables creators to initiate custom events within their game when the user clicks the link. This opens up several new possibilities. Here are a few:
- Gifts and Rewards - unlock an item, virtual currency, or other game content to the referring or referred users.
- In-App Purchase Offers - present exclusive or discounted content available for in-app purchase.
- Invites - invites can be explicit (“play with me!”) or embedded within the core game loop as players post a challenge (“I just beat your score, sucka!”), inform friends it’s their turn (“your turn to draw something”), and other re-engagement mechanics.
- UGC - display a video replay, high-score, customized avatar, and other user-generated content. Although this is feasible by simply linking to the web, typically fidelity is often lost depending on the type of content shared, and referred users don’t have a means to interact with the content.
And we’ll see a gazillion
of other (more) creative mechanics. Many of these will be repurposed from traditional Facebook games in addition to new innovations unique to the Twitter platform.Closing the Loop - Measuring WOM
Freemium gaming, the increasingly dominant business model in games
, is driven by analytics. Unfortunately, word-of-mouth is notoriously difficult to measure in the closed app ecosystem.
Deep linking enables creators to include additional parameters within the link, passing this information into the app itself.
The game developer can now better measure the ROI of social sharing on Twitter, attributing downstream retention, monetization, and other contributors to lifetime value driven from the original tweet and referrer. This data provides new insight to feed back into product design decisions. Without this insight, it’s difficult to evaluate effectiveness these efforts and justify the investment.Twitter as a Platform for Gaming
Facebook owes much of its early success and growth to gaming, driving their efforts to increase their penetration into the mobile game market. It is wise for Twitter to do the same adding games, a $9 billion market
, to its expanding media platform.
The unique difference between the two platforms is that Facebook is a place to connect with people you know where as Twitter is a place to connect with people you want to know. Its open network enables users to engage with anyone and find others that share similar interests using hashtags. While this may lead to more noise, it also facilitates more connections, serendipity, and arguably a more curated experience based on trusted people and shared interests.
What do you think? Is Twitter the next big gaming platform?
——— The user must have the app installed when the link is clicked to capture custom events and tracking parameters. Users that download the app and launch it from outside the link will not include the necessary information.
 Everyplay and Kamcord are fairly new technologies that enable players to seamlessly record and share their gameplay.
 It’s no secret that Twitter is evolving into a media platform with its acquisition of Vine, development of its own photo-sharing, and continued additions of new media embedded within Twitter Cards.
Note: this post originally appeared on the PlayHaven Blog.
This is a continuation from part one where we discussed techniques for maximizing player value. Now let’s crank it to 11…
7. Reduce Friction and Reward UGC
User generated content (UGC) is a great way to add new content for “free”; however, only a small percentage of players actually contribute. As with purchase flows
, reducing the friction of creating and submitting content, will often increase UGC. How can you simplify the process? Is there a way to make UGC part of the primary gameplay? What happens when you reward players for submitting awesome content?Positive reinforcement
is critical for encouraging UGC. This feedback loop is strongly demonstrated on Facebook as its engaged users regularly post updates in hopes of receiving ‘likes’ for their “witty” posts. Consider surfacing user ratings, usage numbers, comments/reviews, and publicly praising valuable contributors.
The Sandbox highlights the best UGC and even promotes user contributions outside the game8. Be Careful What You Charge For
Many freemium titles monetize through advertising and often provide an ad-free option through a paid version or in-app purchase. This may sound like an excellent idea, after all some players will happily pull out their wallet in exchange for an uninterrupted experience, but choosing the wrong price point can have a negative impact on monetization.
Depending on the type of game and audience, in-game ads can generate significantly more revenue than the small fee paid to remove them. Be sure to calculate lifetime value from in-game ads and price appropriately.
Witch Wars banishes ads for a low charge of $0.999. Better with Friends
Gaming is naturally very social. We all have different motivations or preferences for playing games, as defined by Bartle’s Player Types
; however, the majority of players can be categorized as a “socializer”. Games built for social interaction not only appeal to this large audience but drive significant organic and viral growth.
Even games that are not pure social experience like Draw Something, tap into this with ancillary social elements (e.g. Diamond Dash’s weekly friend leaderboard, Family Feud & Friends’ multiplayer mode, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP’s contextual story tweets). Consider how players might want to interact with friends or express themselves through your game.
Now even if you build the most engaging, fun social experience, it’s worthless if players don’t connect with their friends. Players are often hesitant to immediately authenticate with Facebook or other social networks when first launching a new game. Communicate the value throughout the experience and upsell the benefits when relevant. For example, after a player achieves a new high score, ask if they want to compare their amazing new feat with friends. Additional incentives such as free virtual currency, friend “bonuses”, or other unlockable content may also help.
Left: Family Feud & Friends prompts users login after attempting to use social features. Right: Monster Burner upsells the benefits of using OpenFeint throughout the game experience.10. Encourage Positive Reviews
Ratings matter, everyone’s a critic, and more than ever today, quality is transparently judged by lovers and haters
. This is especially apparent in the App Store and Google Play as ratings sit beside the download button of every app.
You may not be able to influence users to praise a terrible game (so first make it awesome) but there are ways to encourage fans to share their love. Ask players to review your game after moments of joy or prompt users after they’ve invested several hours playing.
Hero Academy provides a review button on their main menu
On the other hand, minimizing negative reviews can be even more important. Crashes, griefers
, unmet expectations, and overly disruptive advertising can motivate a player to retaliate with a scathing, single-star rating. Minimize these as much as possible by monitoring crash reports using a tool similar to Crashlytics
, providing amazing customer support and community management through in-game support or feedback tools; clearly communicating in marketplace descriptions and within the game; and limiting interruptions or using more integrated, user-initiated ad experiences
As enjoyable or painful as it may be, it’s important to regularly read user reviews, especially after releasing new game updates. It’s a great resource and even the negative opinions can provide valuable feedback.11. Feedback is King
As we discussed previously, it’s critical to use quantifiable data to measure and optimize the business of your game
; however, that shouldn’t replace qualitative feedback (as supported by Steve Blank’s Customer Development Model
). Your players often know what they love and hate about your game and you should hear about it.
Zombie Ace rewards players that offer feedback
Make it dead simple and enjoyable for players to send feedback within your game:
- Add a feedback button to the main menu so that it’s always accessible
- Prompt users to fill out a short survey or poll using a mobile-friendly interface (think tapping and swiping)
- Encourage and reward players for submitting their thoughts or ideas
- When possible, add additional meta-information with each correspondence. Include device type, game version, location, game progression, and other data to provide additional context and help identify possible issues.
Of course, there are several other techniques for maximizing player value that we didn’t touch on. What other unique or effective approaches have you seen? Share in the comments below!
Note: this post originally appeared on the PlayHaven Blog.
Remember Bob? His awesome game, Angry Hedgehogs, attracted a small but engaged user base of hedgehog-launching fans, yet he’s not maximizing his game’s potential value. In the last post we discussed LTV and the components of value. Talk is cheap, actually increasing value is the challenge.
Here are the first 6 of 11 techniques for increasing player value.
1. Satiate your Whales’ Appetite
Dragonvale’s $99.99 currency bundle
As we all know, a very small percentage of players drive a LARGE portion of in-app purchases
. These whales love your game and want to give you tons of money yet many games don’t offer enough or underprice purchasable content. Don’t make that mistake.
It’s not a fluke that most of the top grossing games in the Apple App Store offer several thousands of dollars of content, maximizing IAP limits with $99.99 virtual currency packs to appease their marine mammals. As Kongregate recently stated at GDC SF 2012, make sure your players can spend $1,000+
.2. Offer a Balanced Diet
Top grossing Kingdom Age offers over 250 purchasable items and content of various types
If you walked into a grocery store that only sold bananas, would you return next time you need groceries? Probably not (unless you’re Donkey Kong). As with grocery stores, it’s important to provide a variety of options to appeal to a wider audience.
Some of the most successful freemium titles offer a varied mix of purchasable content
. Games that appeal to players’ inherit desires attract a larger audience of paying users and extend purchase activity. Consider how Gabe Zichermann’s SAPS model
can be applied by tapping into players’ desire for:S
tatus: e.g. avatar customization, limited or exclusive itemsA
ccess: e.g. new levels, unlockable abilities, expandable inventory or real-estateP
ower: e.g. power-ups, weapon upgrades, accelerators or boostsS
tuff: e.g. decorative or cosmetic items
It is also important to keep the fridge stocked with consumable content to facilitate repeated purchases. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, the majority of money spent is for non-durable, one-time-use content
.3. User-Initiated and Contextual, FTW
From top to bottom: The Moron Test: Section 2’s main menu Facebook page promotion, Zombie Farm 2’s loading screen virtual currency promotion, Contract Killer’s in-game cross-promotion
Much of today’s advertising and marketing promotions are designed to interrupt the game experience in an effort to drive a large volume of impressions; however, players will only tolerate so many pop-ups or banners within a single session before they wield blinders or leave the game frustrated. This concern is an even bigger issue for non-freemium titles.
But what do you do when you have several value- generating promotions? Take full advantage of your game’s real-estate and position user-initiated interactions in contextually relevant locations. Want to promote your other titles? Try adding a ‘more games’ button to your main menu. Seeking more loyal email subscribers? How about including a ‘newsletter’ button after your players finish a level. Wouldn’t it be nice to be popular? Link to your Facebook page in the pause menu. Disappointed that no one is purchasing your super discounted battle axe? Surface this special deal on the loading screen.
Not only do these provide a better user experience, but naturally users that choose to engage, convert much higher than from more disruptive presentations. At PlayHaven, we see 4-8x higher engagement rates for these type of interactions.4. Trust Your Gut But Verify
Monetize or cross-promote?
Face it, you can’t be right all the time. We all make bad choices
Game designers often rely on their experience and intuition; however, that shouldn’t be a replacement for A/B testing and experimentation. Presentation, copy, frequency, and context are just a few variables to tweak with any campaign but the proper formula can make the difference between success and failure.
More importantly, ensure all campaigns align with business goals and account for opportunity cost
. Although an interstitial ad may generate a lucrative $40 eCPM, a cross-promotion for your other game may yield twice the eCPM from the LTV generated from new players. Experiment with different ad networks to maximize eCPM and revenue. Determine the conversion rate and value of a new Facebook ‘like’ vs. Twitter follower. Identify the effectiveness of daily rewards to increase engagement compared to revenue generated from promoting purchasable content.
Don’t trust your instincts too much – quantify, measure, and evaluate.5. Players are Like Snowflakes
Small Street’s Memorial Day virtual currency sale
Every player is unique. Location, age, gender, device type, purchase behavior, virality, and engagement are just a few dimensions of a player, yet we often treat them all the same.
It’s important to customize the game experience to meet the expectations and needs of a varied user base. Some players are happy to spend $100’s on cows and carrots, others never drop a dime. Players in the U.S. patriotically celebrate Memorial Day as Chinese players introduce the Year of the Dragon. Veteran bird-flinging gamers enthusiastically launch birds all day as newbies start the tutorial for the first time.
While one promotion may appeal to a particular user, it may have the reverse effect on others. Games customized for these varied user segments will perform must better and ultimately lead to a better user experience.6. Expose and Make Purchases Dead Simple
Blood & Glory store promotion
Far too often games hide purchasable content deep within the store. This is particularly counterproductive when new content is added and never surfaced to the player. Shout it out, make it known. Promote purchasable items, level-packs, virtual currency bundles, and other content throughout the game experience.
The key is relevance. Promote content at contextually relevant moments such as:
- When the enemy defeats the player, introduce a power-up
- Upon game launch, promote a limited time, currency bundle sale
- After leveling up, present a newly unlocked items only available to experienced players
If you’re lucky enough to capture players’ interest, make sure it’s easy for them to complete the transaction. One-click in-app purchasing is great, simple, fast but many games that use virtual currency add unnecessary friction to the process. If players don’t have enough currency to purchase a particular item, immediately launch the in-app purchase (IAP) process or direct them through a streamlined flow to complete the transaction before they bail.
Take a queue from the guys and gals in e-commerce – every bit of friction impacts conversion.Cliffhanger!
For your own safety we won’t crank it to 11 in a single post so look forward to five more techniques for maximizing player value shortly. If you have any strategies, tricks, or great examples of your own, please drop them in the comments below!
Note: this post originally appeared on the PlayHaven Blog.
Bob is a game developer, creating his first mobile title, Angry Hedgehogs, aptly named after his love of the adorable (yet surprisingly ferocious) creatures. Armed with his laptop and creativity, Bob embarks on a quest to create the most successful game of all time.
After months of hard work, Bob publishes his game and anxiously monitors its performance. Success! His early fans can’t get enough of the cuddly hedgehogs. However, Bob’s leaving a lot on the table by not maximizing the LTV of his early fans.
LTV is ultimately a function of Value and Engagement. First, and most important is engagement. If the game sucks, players will bail and no amount of lipstick will make your pig pretty.
There are several techniques for increasing engagement and central to this is making sure the core gameplay is solid (improving engagement and managing player lifecycle will be covered in a future post).
Alright Bob, we know your fans love your hedgehogs. Way to engage! Now let’s talk Value…Value – the business side of gaming
The hustle of building and maintaining a fun game often results in the unintended consequence of neglecting the business side of gaming. While many create games simply for the love, lets face it, we all want (or need) to make money. That said, Value isn’t simply measured in dollars. Players generate Value in several ways.Virality – the friendly kind
Gaming is inherently a social activity and mobile game players more so than ever, love to share and discover games with friends. How many times have you whipped out your mobile device to share your latest addiction?
Each player has the potential to drive new user adoption through face-to-face recommendations, online word-of-mouth, or more formal viral loops. These socialites often re-engage existing and churned players through these organic notifications
.Marketplace Exposure – mobile gaming is like High School
Love it or hate it, apps often fly or die by their App Store/Play Store popularity. After all, this is the primary destination of discovery for the majority of players
Rankings drive free exposure and organic installs, providing ancillary Value for each new install. Consistent exposure is key to driving long-term organic installs.
Reviews, and more so ratings, influence user’s likelihood of tapping the install button. The more 5-star player ratings, the higher conversion and ultimately lower acquisition costs for paid user acquisition (UA).User-Generated Content (UGC) and Community – the meta-game
New, fresh content is key to keeping an engaged user base; however, this is typically the most costly investment for game creators. Games that support UGC not only benefit from “free” content but also create a meta-game that extends the life of their game, particularly for the most engaged, elder players.
Community interaction in forums, leaderboard rankings, and multiplayer/co-op experiences also contribute to Value creation. Although a player may never provide Value in other areas, their participation in multiplayer matches helps ensure players always have competition to quickly match up against and provides social proof that other are playing the game. It’s keeping up with the Jones, gaming style.Loyalty – for the love of it
The most successful gaming companies build a brand with a loyal following and although it may take 51 failures
before they strike gold, leveraging loyal fans makes success in future titles that much easier.
Players with brand affinity are more likely to download new titles from cross-promotions, while window-shopping in the App Store, or through other channels. It also opens up additional monetization channels such as merchandising
and cross-media expansion.
Loyal players tend to associate themselves with brands they love, promoting them on their sleeve or through online channels. They also thirst for behind-the-scenes info and sneak-peeks of new content or titles, often signing up for newsletters and other communication channels for future re-engagement.Feedback – ingredient #1
Flying blind usually isn’t a good idea and neither is building a game without feedback. Usability studies and playtesting are typically part of the early game development process but feedback can also be captured from daily usage to provide insights and ideas on how to improve the game.
Explicit feedback is provided through support emails, social network posts, forums, reviews, and in-game surveys. As creative and experienced as one may be, some of the best ideas come from players.
Arguably more important is understanding what your players actually do through implicit feedback. User behavior analytics (when are my players churning? what content is selling?) and crash reports (which devices and OS’ are experiencing issues?) provide empirical data on areas of improvement. Each player can contribute but statistical significance is required before making any strong conclusions.Monetization – show me the money
Of course the most obvious component of Value is direct monetization.
Direct payments through in-app purchases (IAP), “premium” game purchases, and pay-to-play transactions is the ideal type of monetization. Influencing a non-paying player to pull out their wallet increases their likelihood of spending in the future and becoming an invested, engaged player.
Advertising monetizes the 95%+ of players that never drop a dime through banner or interstitial ads; embedded cross-promotions; and integrated brand advertising. Ads have the potential to turn players away and ultimately have a negative effect. Those that generate the highest Value per interaction are contextual and the least disruptive to the user experience.Looking Forward – competing in a maturing market
Clearly Bob has a lot of work to do. LTV-maximization is increasingly important as the industry becomes more sophisticated. Those that take a holistic approach to generating Value across various dimensions will create a healthier relationship with their players and remain competitive in this increasingly freemium-dominated market
Stay tuned for the next post in the series as we discuss specific strategies for maximizing Value and Engagement. I’d love to get your feedback and thoughts on the topic in the comments below or drop me a line at @rrhoover
Below is my Quora answer to, What’s the Future of iPhone and iPad Games?
I agree with the previous answers given. Mobile gaming will be significantly different than traditional gaming largely because of these three unique characteristics:
- Location-aware and portable
- 24/7 access (we don’t take a sh*t without bringing our phones with us)
- Touch screen and photo capabilities
It’s still very early and as Daniel Campos pointed out, many game creators are still trying to shove traditional, crappy controls into this new interface. We’ve already seen entirely new gaming genres not possible on PC’s or consoles - and we’re just getting started. Here are a few examples:
- Grey Area’s Shadow Cities blends cyberspace with meatspace in an augmented reality, location-based game.
- Crowdmob’s Mob Empire and Booyah’s MyTown layers a Foursquare-like check-in mechanic around an actual game.
- Rexbox’s Epic Win productivity app makes menial tasks and chores into a game.
Mobile gaming (and usage in general) will continue to boom both…
- Horizontally - More people will upgrade to smartphones as prices decrease and late adopters warm up. Dumb phones will become “applified” to support apps and games (see Blaast).
- Vertically - Unlike computers and TV, there’s a limitation on how many hours one can interact with that medium each day. Mobile, on the other hand, is always accessible.
We’re still in the very early days of mobile gaming. The current environment reminds me a lot of the web in the mid-90’s and Facebook in 2007. It will be exciting to see how it evolves and the innovations that are introduced.
Disclosure: I’m a Product Manager at mobile game marketing platform, PlayHaven. Feel free to contact me at ryan [at] playhaven.com. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback.