Developers have long understood the addictive quality of games. When we start to play, we become instantly unaware of what’s around us – we’re so lost in the world of the game. Technically, what’s happening in our mind is a dopamine release. This neurotransmitter controls pleasure and happiness, and makes it so that we want to keep playing in order to feel good.
Brands have recently taken notice of the power of games and are looking for ways to harness it in order to reach customers. Take for example Zynga’s partnership with Hidden Valley, Naked Juice and others to bring sponsored levels to games like Farmville. The move gives Zynga a new form of ad revenue, while at the same time providing brands with a way to engage audiences that is much more effective than a banner ad or popup.
This emphasis on games in marketing opens up a massive opportunity for developers to not only monetize their games, but to reach new audiences and raise awareness for sponsorship. So what do the most effective games have in common – and as a game developer, what can you do to ensure your brand-sponsored games are a cut above the competition? As someone who consults brands on a daily basis, here’s my advice for creating compelling games that cultivate loyal customers:
Think real-life rewards – Too many game developers view coins or tokens as an adequate reward for players – but when it comes to creating brand-sponsored games, this kind of thinking isn’t going to cut it. Tokens may provide value within the world of the game, but the fact remains that brands want interaction beyond the screen. The only way to get it is by rewarding players with a prize that has real-world value.
For example, let’s say you’re a spirits company engaging players through a game. You might offer a free drink at a local bar as a prize for completing a level. This kind of reward further incentives players to interact with the brand yet again when claiming their prize.
The best thing about offering real-life rewards is that they don’t have to come at a stiff price point. Unique content or exclusive access often has higher value than dollars. As a developer, you should work with your brand to identify what rewards resonate the strongest with the audience you’re trying to reach, and build that prize into the game.
Don’t withhold rewards, add to them instead – Games are inherently about instant gratification, and rewarding players – instantly and consistently – results in higher rates of player retention. Don’t just offer a reward: give players the chance to actually win it in order to build trust with the brand.
One thing developers might consider is to offer the chance to win a big prize in conjunction with standard prizes. This can help extend the life of the game and keep players coming back for more.
In a test with a company that was in the business of working with brands to give away prizes at the end of games, adding a chance to win $10,000 on top of a standard prize giveaway at the end of each level increased the take rate from 1–3 percent to 61 percent.
Adding the possibility of a bigger prize on top of an existing prize gives players a reason to keep playing which, in turn, leads to brand loyalty.
Tap into other people’s IP – Another way game developers can stand out from the crowd is by tapping into an entertainment property’s IP. Whether it is a novel, film or television show, entertainment properties are unique because consumers feel an emotional bond to the characters or story-line. Game developers who work with these entertainment companies can leverage this connection to develop games that will genuinely resonate with the intended audience. Additionally, tying into a pop cultural phenomenon or entertainment property allows game developers to elevate their brand to a larger audience and break through the clutter.
Entertainment companies are also much more susceptible to working with game developers because they are constantly looking at new technologies, such as mobile, to leverage social networking capabilities and extend the reach of branded campaigns that connect even more deeply with consumers.
At the end of the day, the secret to crafting compelling brand-sponsored games lies in delivering the right concept to the right audience, and incentivizing their gameplay with enticing rewards. By doing so, brands can grow and retain customers, and developers will find a way to consistently monetize their games.
Todd McGee of Cataboom
Todd is the CEO of CataBoom, a behavioral marketing platform that enables brands to instantly reward consumers for taking actions they value. As CEO, Todd is responsible for overseeing CataBoom’s marketing, business development, and strategy, as well as building partnerships with key players in the gaming, app development, advertising, and entertainment industries. Todd holds a Bachelor’s degree in Advertising from the University of Texas at Austin and currently resides in Dallas, Texas.