Social game marketing

I’m not a game developer and was actually not planning on doing a game-related post for #idevblogaday, but I’m currently reading Game-Based Marketing about how marketers can use game mechanics to create and foster long term customer loyalty. Basically think frequent flyer programs, points cards and any other type of loyalty program out there.

As a marketer, the premise of the book is quite interesting, and today almost any major chain will have some sort of loyalty program – even in smaller businesses you will find sorts of loyalty program through which you can earn points, loyalty and status amongst peers (much like achievements, leaderboards, etc. that you’ll find in games).

It got me thinking a bit about how game developers should try and utilize the same kind of systems that are in place for loyalty programs. For example, a big part of loyalty programs is earning points, achievements and essentially status within a certain program. People love showing off and they love earning points and higher statuses – even if it doesn’t really get them anything in return.

So in this week’s post I’ll discuss various ways game developers can implement different strategies that are found in loyalty marketing. I’ll discuss features that are well known and quite common in most top 25 App Store games, but at the same time, I hope to bring to light some aspects of these features.

If you’re currently reading this and have a game in which you do not have a leaderboard, stop right now and start integrating one immediately.

A great part of the fun of playing games are being able to share with your friends your scores, points, etc. Also, being able to compare yourself directly with other players or friends playing the game is an important part of the fun.

The best way to do this is through an integrated leaderboard system. This allows the player to easily keep track of their score and abilities and compare them with their previous scores and how they rank amongst their friends and other players worldwide (or perhaps even cities, states, countries, etc.).

Game Center, OpenFeint, etc. provide easy-to-implement and solid foundations for leaderboards. These are also awesome (and free) marketing tools. For example, I have found myself looking through my GC friends games lists to find new games to play. It has also kept me coming back to certain games because GC has provided an opportunity to indirectly challenge me to continue playing the game to beat certain friends scores. This in return provides you as a game developer to cross-advertise your new game releases or sales for your other games.

Although competition is great, I wish more developers would integrate GC or OF (which also offer built-in GC integration), instead of trying to roll their own or using a less popular social game network. For example, when GC was released, I found myself revisiting old games to beat my friends’ scores or earn achievements. Those games that still do not offer a widely-used system just doesn’t draw enough attention, and I cannot be bothered to find out my friends’ usernames on the not-so-well-known social game networks.

Achievements are also a great way to provide a leaderboard-type system in your game. It also helps prolong the experience and fun with your game.

A few examples of use of achievements in games:
• Achievements provide an opportunity to easily reward the player throughout the game. Levels, new upgrades, etc. This helps create a path for your game and a path for completion.
• Think of achievements that would require more practice or more time playing, basically ones that would prolong the game for players for after they’ve finished all levels. For example, Cut the Rope could use a timer and an achievement for finishing certain levels in certain amount of time, instead of just the three stars. You do earn more points for finishing a level fast, however this isn’t apparent, and after finishing the levels I cannot see how much faster I should have been in order to earn more points. Another example of achievements is Trainyard, which could give an achievement for finishing all stations in one city by using only X amount of tracks. These two examples provide a way to challenge the more hardcore players since they’re considerable more difficult than pure completion of a level, and it also does not hinder the completion of the game for the more casual players.
• Be careful not to make achievement nearly impossible to obtain. For example don’t make an achievement for “Played 100 hours” if your game basically takes an hour or two to finish all levels. Unless there’s a lot more to your game after having finished it, you can’t expect anyone to want to spend so much time playing it – even if they love going for those achievements.

Again, Game Center and OpenFeint provide great frameworks for integrating achievements as well as achievement leaderboards and friending systems. Use one or both of the solutions and think of ways to achievements into your game to make it more fun and challenging. They’re completely free and helps save you a ton of work instead of trying to roll your own.

Small side-note to leaderboards and achievements: Add a button somewhere in your games’ menus that let’s the user see their scores and/or achievements. Both GC and OF offer modal views for these. This way the user doesn’t have to leave the game to check an achievement or whether they’ve now trumped their friend’s top score, and you also help bring them right to the information they’re seeking – not leaving them to go to GC via the app itself, for example, and drill through the view hierarchy in order to find what they’re looking for.

Social Sharing
Sharing high scores, achievements, etc. is great opportunity to advertise your game and something that players love to do!

However, instead of just providing a Facebook and Twitter button for sharing a score or achievement, why not go a littler further and help the player out with deciding when it’s appropriate to do so? For example, what might seem like a low score to one player, may turn out to be in the top 5% of the leaderboards. After completion of a level or game, the developer could integrate a system that looks up the score and based on various factors it may say something like “Holy shit, your score was super high, you’ve just entered the top 10%, you should totally brag about it on Twitter and/or Facebook!” – or something like that. This helps the player realize the worth of their skill and score and may actually be more effective than just having a button that enables sharing of a score on social networks.

Also, don’t just tweet a score plus a link. Players will look through this as a pathetic attempt from you to get some free advertising out of them. They already paid you money, why should they help you out more, even your game is the most awesome one ever made?

I realize you don’t have a lot of characters to work with on Twitter, but including more than just the score is important. If I see “John just scored 13,453 in [some game]!”, I don’t really know whether it’s a good score and it doesn’t provide me with a way of relating this score to my own skills (unless I have played it). However, if I see something like “John just placed in the top 5% in [some game] with 13,453 points!” I would be more interested and perhaps more inclined to try out the game and beat John’s score if I know we have similar skill and scores in most games. It also gives both John and his friends a better understanding of just how awesome getting 13,453 points is. Without relating the points to anything, no one can see whether it’s actually a good score if they don’t know the premise of the game and the value of those points. John might actually be tweeting a super low score (compared to his friends’ scores), so helping John decide when it’s an appropriate time to share his score helps him save the embarrassment of tweeting a humiliatingly low score.

Basically, adding more substance to your sharing feature gives you more respect from your user (surprise and delight) and also makes them more likely to actually indirectly want to help you advertise (which you have to admit; you’re adding this feature more for yourself to advertise than actually just scoring some random score).

Another great way of sharing content from your game is something like Matt Rix‘s Trainyard solution sharing system. It works both as a way for players to show off their skills, but also helps more casual players progress through the game. Hardcore players love showing off and it also provides a way to prolong the game for hardcore players as they may try and find new solutions that haven’t yet been done. Linking this with the previous paragraph, one thing the game could do was to provide a small notification if a solution is 100% unique by saying “You have created a unique solution not yet available on, would you like to share with the community?” This helps the player realize their skill compared to others and again provides the more hardcore gamers with replay value, as they may go back to some levels in order to make new solutions, not yet seen by the community. That in itself could create a separate leaderboard for players which shows the top 50 players who have come up with and shared unique solutions, again improving the experience and loyalty further for those committed to the game and the community that surrounds it.

Game save syncing
This is as much of an idea as it is a request to all game developers out there.

Universal games are starting to become more common, now with iPhones, iPods touches and of course iPads selling like crazy. I own both an iPhone and an iPad and love when developers take a bit of extra time to release their game as a Universal game – even if the iPad is pretty much the same as the iPhone game, just larger. Of course, not all games scale as easily from iPhone to iPad in terms of the experience with the extra space, but for games that I play both on my iPhone and iPad, I would love to see server-based game save syncing or whatever you want to call it. However, this doesn’t just go for Universal apps, since many people have several devices. If they have the same game installed on both their iPhone and iPod, why not make the game experience more fluid?

The premise of this idea is dead simple: I play a game on my iPhone on the subway home from work. When I get home and hit the couch later that night, I want to reach for my iPad on the coffee table and play the exact same game, from the exact point I left off. I don’t want to start over from level one. I don’t want to have to earn the exact same achievements I just unlocked four hours ago (especially since they’ll appear as unlocked just fine if I head into Game Center).

Again it might be something 80% of users wouldn’t need. You may never have had to bring your game saves on your Wii controller to your friend’s place or transfer your PS3 game saves to your buddies PS3 so you can show of your collection of sweet cars in GT5. But it’s something we have now seen in console games for well over a decade now. As much as it may be a less used feature, it’s something I just don’t understand why is missing on such a portable platform.

It could be somewhat simple, depending on what your game exists of. When you start adding stuff like specific amounts of bullet ammo left, percentage of health left, points in each cleared level, etc. we’re getting a bit more advanced, but it’s definitely possible, regardless.

Game saves could be saved on a server and retrieved using an email and password. I don’t know the exact workings of GameKit, but maybe a successful login to Game Center could prompt a “It appears you have a game save available in the cloud based on your GC username, would you like to sync this device and keep your progression in sync?”. (If anyone at Apple is reading this or if you know someone working on GameKit, please let them know to consider adding game save-syncing to Game Center :))

Or even something like bluetooth sharing of game save states, bumping devices, or sharing via a unique code displayed on one device and entering the code on the other device would retrieve whatever was just uploaded to the server.

Just a few ideas of how you may be able to work it out, but seriously, this is such a great feature that would really set your game apart from others (apart from being a unique experience in itself, of course) and your users will love it.

I have yet to come across a single iOS game that does this, so if you know of one, please do share it in the comments, so other developers can check out and perhaps get some ideas for their own game.

Wrapping up
I hope I have sparked some ideas into your head as to what you can do to enhance the experience with your game and creating some loyalty amongst your customers. Some of the above ideas definitely will enhance and prolong the game experience, adding value to your game from what is actually very little work in most cases, implementing GC or OF or enhancing score-sharing on social networks.

Thanks for reading and please do leave a comment!