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5 common mistakes in branded mobile games

5 common mistakes in branded mobile games Rob Grossberg

According to a recent report by the research firm Digi-Capital, roughly one third of time spent on smart devices is spent playing games. Gaming has become the dominant media on mobile, which means brands must begin to embrace mobile games as the vehicle through which to connect and engage with their audiences on mobile. Branded mobile web games, as opposed to branded native app games, are emerging as the optimal way for brands to embrace gaming on mobile.

A few benefits of branded mobile web games include:

  • Typical engagement times of between three and 15 minutes, making them superior to virtually all other forms of digital advertising.

  • They are very accessible to users, in that all it takes to play is a tap of a link on the web, Twitter, or Facebook and users are up and running.

  • Mobile games can be distributed to millions within the brand's target demographic through emerging mobile web game distribution channels, including mobile media sites, portals, social networks, messaging apps, and carrier storefronts.

  • The game itself can be used to engage users by including achievements, leaderboards, challenge-a-friend functionality, video trailers, photos, etc. It can also include physical good transaction capability directly within the game (e.g., liked the game? Click here to purchase the DVD on Amazon).

Even though the upside is huge, many brands are hesitant to jump into the mobile game waters, as it is new territory and fraught with potential pitfalls.

Following are five of the most common mistakes brands and their agencies make when creating and distributing a branded mobile game -- and how to avoid them.

Not setting a clear objective

Don't make a game because it's the trend du jour. Create a game because it helps solve a problem. Your first priority is clarifying objectives. Then, decide if a branded game is the appropriate solution. Many games are developed without a clear understanding of why they are being made.

Is the game meant to promote brand awareness or a specific brand message? Is it meant to drive certain actions, such as app downloads, subscriptions, email sign ups, Facebook likes, etc.? Figure this out and then design the game to drive home those goals.

For example, the "KetchupCraze" game that Heinz created several years back for the app store is a fun little game where you squeeze, squirt, and dip various food items with ketchup, but that is all there is to it -- no deeper marketing goals are evident.

On the other hand, Toyota is successfully using HTML5 games to drive one of its core goals -- social engagement with consumers. Last fall, for example, Toyota created a "RAV4 Rubik's Cube" game as a key component to an interactive campaign targeting Hispanic consumers.

Not measuring results and defining success

Another common mistake we see is not outlining what constitutes success. Specifically, be sure to identify and track for appropriate metrics within the game so you can accurately gauge the success of the game. Typical metrics include total game plays, unique users, time of engagement, Facebook likes, Twitter shares, and sign ups.

The most important metric to track is the one that ties closest to your main objective or goal for the game. For example, if social sharing were an important campaign goal, then tracking Facebook shares and tweets generated through the game would be key. Of course, if no one is playing your game, it is a problem -- so total game plays is also a key metric.

Failure to incorporate a marketing message

Often, companies create a great game but forget to add in a strong message and call-to-action -- voiding the purpose of a branded game.

In the Heinz "KetchupCraze" game, there was no call to action or discernable marketing pitch to sell more ketchup, educate the user about the unique quality of its brand, or tie in to its other marketing efforts.

Here is an example of a Progressive Insurance game that uses game play to support their marketing message that you save money by bundling your home and car insurance (note: Progressive is a client of my company, TreSensa). In the game, if you catch the home insurance icon right after catching the car insurance icon, you get extra powers, with the coins in the game doubling in size and points. 

Another common mistake is to create a branded game that is just a tired re-skin with a slapped on logo. A truly successful game creates an environment where the messaging is seamlessly woven into the experience. Remember, people learn by doing. So design an experience where your customers do your message -- not just see your message. For example, instead of blathering on about how your toothpaste gets teeth whiter, design an experience where players zap yellowing teeth with whitening blasts of your brand.

Going native app only

People will not download a branded game app. People are increasingly particular about which apps to download and take up real estate on their devices, and branded content does not make the cut. Apps are expensive to build and support, so save your money. Just say no.

And if your goal is to initiate a viral wave, social sharing amongst native apps simply does not work. Just ask the folks at Zynga who leveraged social sharing better than any other company for desktop games, but have struggled to make the model work on mobile.

With no download requirement and the fact that mobile web games can work directly within the existing mobile social channels like Twitter and Facebook and emerging ones like Kik, a branded mobile web game has the real possibility of going viral should it resonate with the audience.

Making things too complicated

Mobile games aren't meant to be complicated and to be successful, users need to intuitively understand how to play and engage with the branded experience within seconds. Branded mobile games should be fun, snackable experiences for any user, regardless of demographic. And, often, the most successful branded games don't try to reinvent the wheel. This McDonald's game, for example, leverages a popular "runner" mechanic and provides a quick, lite tutorial at the start of a user's first play.

Even major players like Rovio get caught making this mistake. "Bad Piggies" by Rovio institutes a more complicated game mechanic and game arc than "Angry Birds" and has not come close to matching the success of the brilliantly simple and addicting "Angry Birds."

Not planning on how to drive traffic to your game

Just because you build it doesn't mean they will come. You need to figure out how to get people to your game. One, often overlooked distribution method is the mobile web (HTML5). Because HTML5 games play in a mobile browser, they are just a click away, no app store download required. The game URL can be included in online or broadcast video campaigns to drive traffic. The games can be tweeted or posted within social media and played with a simple tap or click. QR codes can be placed on print ads, brochures, or in-store displays. Even traditional online advertising can benefit, as the promise of a game can drastically increase click-through rates. Mobile web games can also be embedded within native applications opening up interesting cross-promotional opportunities.
In many ways mobile web games can be thought of as the ultimate mobile engagement ad unit: allowing a brand to engage its target audience at scale through a preferred activity on mobile, and to do so in a cost effective manner in a way that fosters social and viral growth. With mobile gaming now representing such a substantial percentage of people's daily media engagement, brands simply cannot afford to sit on the sidelines.

Rob Grossberg is the CEO of TreSensa.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Rob Grossberg is the CEO of TreSensa. He  brings over twelve years of digital advertising experience to the company. A corporate lawyer by trade, Rob spent almost 8 years at DoubleClick, first as Deputy General Counsel and then as VP of Sales...

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