[Originally posted on ClickZ on August 10th 2010]
Increasing app usage is essential to a thriving app business. Studies show that it costs five times more to attract new customers than it does to get repeat customers and less acquisition costs equate to higher profits. One reason is that current customers are easier to convert as they gain trust and experience the value of the app. To measure success, a game developer uses this rule of thumb: more than 50 percent of total revenue should be from repeat players, and second purchases should be 30 to 40 percent of sales, according to Lisa Marino, chief revenue officer at RockYou.
Here are some tips to increase app usage and safeguard an app business used by game developers:
- Know the users/players: While planning an app, determine the target audience and what features will be sticky for that audience. Pretty basic, but it’s the key to building and marketing an engaging app.
- Entertainment value: Again basic, but it’s much easier to increase application use with strong entertainment value. Incorporate human triggers: lust, mystique, prestige, alarm, power, vice, and trust. A narrative will increase interest in the app as well as rules, time pressure, ranks and levels, marketplace, different environments, and winning assets.
- Tips about use (a start to advancing the user through the app): Reveal the rules as necessary, educate the user about app usage, reveal secrets or hints on improving the experience, or add features for additional interest (be sure to inform the user). Continued feedback accelerates mastery and increases application use.In Bookworm, basic rules are presented to the player prior to the start of app play.
- Creating a community: Not only does it defray distribution costs, creating a social outlet for the audience increases buzz about the app. App promotion could include sending requests to friends or getting friends to work together to win a prize or achieve a goal.Apps like Resident Evil 5, Unreal Tournament III, Guitar Hero/Band Hero, and Mercenaries have features where the user gets a friend to join as they play through the normal game mode. This fosters community by encouraging play with others (regardless of their location or progress within the game). Facebook is a great place to start a community and then promote the app profile in the app to increase friends.
Many games, like Bejeweled, have started Facebook pages for passionate app users.
- Collecting: Most people love to collect; it is innate in our nature. Provide opportunities for players to collect something to gain bragging rights with their friends.Games like LittleBigPlanet encourage players to collect as many items as possible. Some of these items improve the user’s status by changing the way the character looks. Players who have obtained items difficult to acquire will generally flaunt their success by dressing their avatars with these items.
- Exchanges: Two-player games or teams encourage engagement by adding a social element and increasing competition. Exchanges can include: taking turns, making allies, getting app usage advice, sharing weapons or accessories, etc. Is there a way to add a social element to the app?The best game to demonstrate this is Nintendo’s Pokémon games. Each player is allocated only a certain number of items (in this case, Pokémon). In order to collect them all, the user must trade with other players. Some Pokémon will change forms while being traded, while others are simply not available unless traded. This also fosters community by forcing trades between players.
- Customization: The more a user can customize the app and the interface, the more invested the user is in the app. Tests show that creating a character for the opponent instead of just labeling the opponent as the “computer” will create more player involvement.Customization is a game marketer’s friend. The Sims is a good example; games have slowly integrated the ability to create a custom character or shape experience to preferences. Games like Guitar Hero allow players to create a custom star. Customization gets as detailed as settings for four points on the cheek and three points on the chin for each character. Playing with the customization, players have recreated their favorite heroes/villains as well as creating self portraits to immerse themselves further in gameplay.
- Points: Can some scoring method be built into the app to challenge the user to increase app usage? Psychologically, redeemable points drive loyalty as users equate earning points (especially to earn something) to not wasting time.PlayStation and Xbox use a trophy/achievement system to encourage users to compete against friends to see who can score higher or complete more objectives.
- Create competition among friends using visible metrics: People are social beings; the more interaction the user has with the app, the more engaged the user will be. Some additional features could include:
- Friend walls
- User vs. user engagements
- Instant messaging interfaces
Console apps use messaging systems for players to keep in touch and send app invites. For example, while playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, the user can send a message to other friends requesting they join them in play. When friends are offline, messages can be sent through the app system similar to e-mail. In many cases, players on the friends’ list are more apt to check their gaming message box over their traditional e-mail box. For example, the app’s messaging box is used as a means to set up times to play apps with friends at a later point.
- Messaging when inactive: It’s important to build rapport and maintain relationships. Be sure to build a messaging platform into the app. Make messages interesting: new features, promotions, cross-selling opportunities, etc. Don’t drop the connection with the user if at all possible, but beware not to message too much to cause irritation.
- Fresh content: Continue to perfect the app and use messaging to tell users when there is something new. Many games now utilize downloadable content (aka DLC) to expand the experience for gamers with brand new content, like additional stories, side quests, characters, or costumes. Sony’s Heavy Rain released a brand new side story as downloadable content, allowing the gamer to broaden their experience with the game for a nominal fee.
- Incentives for returning: Give the user a reason to return – bonuses, additional app usage tips, special privileges, etc. Nintendo’s Animal Crossing is a perfect example, always giving players reasons to return. Depending on the date that the user fires up the app, they experience different events, meet new characters, or find new collectibles, like bugs or fish.
- Accessible: Build the app for multiple platforms to ensure continued use. With the introduction of smartphones and now the iPad, loyal players want to engage where and when they have free time.
- Mashups: If possible, build ways that an app can be repurposed/embedded on other sites, blogs, or apps. Can you create a teaser app with content from the app?
- Syndicated: For speed to market, a sure bet is leveraging the success of an established brand.Many apps are syndicated. If you grew up in the 1980s, you’ll recognize Mario and Sonic. Both mascots are still heroes to the current generation. Mario was a villain (Donkey Kong Jr.), a Plumber, a Doctor (Dr. Mario), a racer (Mario Kart), and more. While Sonic’s resume isn’t nearly as impressive, Sega managed to slap Sonic in more titles than most people realize. In the Dreamcast Title Shenmue, players collected Sonic the Hedgehog action figures. Keeping this brand recognition, both Sega and Nintendo have managed to chain games together around a character. When players hear the names Mario or Sonic, sales are guaranteed.
Now that you have a checklist and some examples, build features to increase app usage into the app design or add them as the app gets more traffic; and they become the foundation to a thriving app business. As revenue increases, you may want to buy traffic for your app.