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What is Zynga’s approach to user acquisition and growth?

This is a cross-post of my answer to a question posted on Quora:

Zynga: Why does Zynga lead its competitors by an 80 million plus monthly active users margin?

My Answer:

Zynga’s approach is to leverage its scale, organic retention, virality, metrics, and infrastructure.

Zynga spends more than most gaming companies to acquire users (its acquisition costs are currently estimated at an average $120/user).  Once a user is acquired, Zynga makes a significant effort to retain the user in the product (through  in-product retention tactics and game mechanics) and in its portfolio of games (through cross-game promotions).

It also  embraces virality as an acquisition tool to acquire “free” users through through its current users in-game (for example, when Facebook created its real-time streaming feature, Zynga was one of the first to design a communications platform around it to ensure that game play status updates would appear).

An added advantage is its custom infrastructure to leverage data.  Zynga built many of its own systems including its own ad bidding system for Facebook to maximize ROI on paid social ads.  Zynga also built its own analytics and data systems to capture and leverage over 1 pentabyte of data daily on its games.

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Mobile Games: What are some user retention strategies for mobile games?

This is a cross-post of my answer to a question posted on Quora:

Mobile Games: What are some user retention strategies for mobile games?

It’s  important to understand what attracts your users to your game in the first place (why users are playing your game).  Try to apply retention strategies, game mechanics, and tactics that enable users to enjoy that aspect of your game as soon as possible in gameplay.

Here are a few related tactics and game mechanics that you can think about applying to retain and engage your users:

Making a quality product (obviously the most important thing on this list).

Increasing difficulty. Make it easy to level up at the beginning of the game, and then make it increasingly harder and take longer.  This will make the game more challenging.  This is also a monetization technique because users will buy coins, etc. to speed up gameplay.

Mobile push notifications. Remind users to to log back into the game when you publish new content, or when they need to take an action (feed a pet, etc.).

Energy. If users need energy to keep going, they will either buy energy or wait and come back several times a day.

Providing deep content. Publish new themed content on a regular basis.

Seasonal content.  Offer content specific to the season or holidays.  For example, Tiny Zoo recently offered special animals for Father’s Day and decorations for the Queen’s Jubilee, and Zynga launched an entire new version of CityVille for the winter holidays.

Collection completion.  Users will repeat actions to complete collections or gain a new skill.

Story development/Quest unlocks.  Users are incentivized to engage in the game—or pay for coins/energy/gems– to advance an interesting story/plot.  Zynga is very weak in this area, but it’s getting better.

Identity development.  Users can develop a sense of identity through playing a game.  An example is Vampire Wars, which was very attractive and engaging to young people interested in goth culture/fashion.

Building a hardcore community. You can do this with wikis, Facebook pages, and other social platforms, or more sophisticated custom solutions.

Offering shareable power.  Players help other players.  Tiny Zoo and Tiny Village both offer this with tips– users can leave tips for other players after they visit others zoos/villages.  You can see another example of shareable power in Mafia Wars—users can “save” a player/friend that’s losing in a fight.

Care obligation/Tamagotchi (users will log in to take care of characters in the game).  Tiny Zoo uses this technique with babies that must be placed in their pens before they get “sick,” requiring users to log back into the game to take care of them.  One of the earliest examples of Tamagotchi are those virtual pets on keychains sold by Bandai (below).

Announcements of new content in-game. At game launch, when leveling up, etc., announce the latest animals or content themes.

Daily rewards for returning. There is some argument about the effectiveness of daily rewards, so you may want to read up about this or run your own A/B test.

User Generated Content (UGC). A great engagement tool, both for content creators and content consumers.

User profiles.  This allows users to develop a sense of identity in the game (more essential in social mobile games)– it also generates a sense of investment in the game.  The more sophisticated, the better.

Network effects (users are drawn to the product because their friends are already there).  Truly social games like Draw Something rely on network effects to both attract and retain users.

Engagement loops with organic notifications from other users’ actions.  For example, receiving an email from Facebook when a friend posts a picture of you and tags you.  The message from Facebook is something like “Your friend has posted a picture of you on Facebook.”  Even if you’re not an active Facebook user, you will be compelled to log in.  This essentially draws you into the network via your friends.

Stat boosts/ skill specialization (users buy or earn points that give them a specific kind of skill in the game).  This was used in Mafia wars, where users could become specific kinds of mobsters with specific skills if they earned enough points.  This is also a form of identity development.

For ideas about organic (in-game) user acquisition: Annabell Satterfield’s answer to Mobile Games: What are some of the best techniques to increase virality in mobile games?

Hope this is helpful!

What Was Draw Something’s User Acquisition Strategy?

This is a cross-post of my answer to a question posted on Quora:

Draw Something: How did Draw Something seed initial users?

My Answer:

OMGPOP’s approach to user acquisition for Draw Something was to build a great, simple product with virality and word-of mouth incorporated into the heart of the game, and then use marketing to get its first high ranking in the app store.  Their CEO, Dan Porter, likened their first paid acquisition effort to starting a fire: “it was just enough to light the match.  The huge fire came after that.  We spent a little money the first weekend to climb to number 6. We never spent a penny afterwards.”
Only 5% of Draw Something’s users came from paid advertising– and that advertising only appeared on other apps.  (I’m sure they did cross-promote via Facebook as well, as Steve said, but Mr. Porter must not have considered that advertising.)  Dan Porter confirmed this with a quote: “The only place to advertise an app is in another app,” Porter said, “Nowhere else matters.”  OMGPOP also only used minimal PR (though not by choice—the media wasn’t interested in their announcements).

A chart of Draw Something’s first month, courtesy Business Insider:

How to Increase Virality in Mobile Games

This is a cross-post of my answer to a question posted on Quora:

Question: Mobile Games: What are some of the best techniques to increase virality in mobile games?

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

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