How to Increase Virality in Mobile Games
This is a cross-post of my answer to a question posted on Quora:
My Answer: Agreed, eCPI is on the rise. I do think that the best counter action for this is to (1) look very closely at ways to increase organic discovery (and social is a critical part of that), (2) find other ways to drive quality traffic to your game (with emphasis on quality) through things like partnerships, and (3) use paid discovery carefully, making sure that your ROI for driving quality traffic is high.
Because it seems that you’re interested in fostering unpaid discovery, here is a short list of some organic discovery tactics to start thinking about.
Note: Organic discovery is, first and foremost, driven by great product quality and exposure in app stores. However, there are techniques that mobile gaming companies can use to enable it.
Make a quality product and earn high ratings. Quality is the most important driver for organic acquisition and retention. If you don’t have a quality product, people will not be motivated to download and use it. A high average rating is an indicator of quality, so the higher the ratings are, the higher the conversion rate and, interestingly, the lower the user cost per conversion (due to the higher conversion rate). (A new trend: reaching out to your loyal users to ask them to rate you in the app store.)
High Apple app store rankings in relevant categories. (free games, etc.) The primary destination of discovery for the majority of players for iOS is the app store—and being ranked highly gives a game visibility and free exposure. (You can manage this with a major marketing campaign burst at launch and additional ones as needed to maintain your high rank.) Think about focusing on a niche category that would be easier to dominate.
Featured placement in editorially-curated sections of the Apple app store. (e.g. Editor’s choice, New and Noteworthy). A high ranking is helpful when requesting a featured placement, but that is only a part of the strategy required to be chosen. Other criteria include presentation, uniqueness, timing, and mentions by top app sites. It also helps to cultivate a relationship with Apple’s editorial team. Rovio’s Angry Birds early success was partly due to featured placement in the UK app store, which it obtained partially through connections.
Google Play Visibility. The strategy for gainingapp visibility is a bit different for Google Play. 80% of the organic users in Google Play come from searches in the store, so keywords are important. It’s also helpful to treat development for Android as a priority. For example, TinyCo has done that with their Griffin game engine.
Offline word-of-mouth. Very difficult to track. This is an extremely valuable driver of traffic, especially for mobile apps. (Users are more likely to discuss mobile apps then desktop apps, and users are far more likely to accept a word-of-mouth invitation to try an app than convert from an ad placement.)
Unpaid PR via social influencers, media. This is a source of organic discovery, but a company can help by effectively using PR and business development to partner with media outlets, bloggers, and other influencers— and proactively announce news about its products.
Cross-game promotion using your existing portfolio of games to distribute traffic between your games. There is an opportunity to do this (and share news of upcoming games) from within the game. Zynga uses this technique a lot within its games. See example of a cross-promotion during gameplay, below (yes, this is a PC example, but you get the idea).
Direct marketing (email). Find a way to collect your players’ email addresses and email them to share new games or drive engagement. Don’t spam; make sure you’re providing value to them in these emails. Tiny Zoo and Tiny Village publish the Tiny Times newsletter, for example, which players can sign up for within the game.
Enable users to post progress on social networks or invite friends to the game. Enabling someone to use Twitter to post a high score, or use Facebook to tell friends to download and play the game with them is the softest way to build an audience. It might be helpful to remind users of this feature in the game, perhaps in notification interstitials when users level up.
Incentivize first-time sharers to share the game on social networks. Offer incentives for referrals. It might help to offer more for that first referral to help players get over that first share hurdle.
Brand affinity. Think about using a “family branding” strategy. This allows you to cash in on the name recognition you paid for when marketing your earlier products. TinyCo wisely uses a “family branding” strategy with its “Tiny” brand name, which enhances the marketability of all the games that carry the same “Tiny” prefix. Zynga does the same with its ‘ville’ naming. Apple does something similar with its “i” prefix to its product names, iPad, iPhone, iPod, etc.
Automatic notifications on Facebook. (Not sure about doing this with a pure mobile game, but this is extremely useful on PC games.) Zynga uses this lot, though not as much as it did early on. They also very quickly developed a notification strategy to take advantage of Facebook’s new newsfeed bar as soon as it launched.
Help users share what they’ve built via social media. Some loyal users are really motivated to share their amazing zoos/towns/fish/zombie farms, etc. It would be an interesting to see what would happened if you allowed users to display their towns/zoos, etc. on social networks—and see if that wins the game additional exposure or drives trials