Viral Marketing and Mobile Gaming

Mobile gaming apps are somewhat of an odd beast when it comes to marketing. Most developers don’t have the manpower or the budget to create high visibility publicity campaigns for them, but at the same time creating a well tuned and fun game, and hoping it gets noticed on the Apple and Android app stores just simply isn’t enough. Matt Martin of Games Industry International says that mobile app marketing ‘doesn’t work at all’. With such gloomy light being shed on your work, how do you create interest in your app without breaking the bank?

It can be disheartening to see traditional Triple A games get prime marketing, with adverts everywhere you look. However, the adverts will be papered over or replaced in a month or two, and unless the game is a blockbuster then very few people will actually remember them. This is where the concept of viral marketing comes in.

Viral marketing is essentially marketing by word of mouth. If word of your product is being spread around social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and the like, it’s ‘gone viral’. Viral marketing is often prized as it is a much cheaper method of getting the word out about your product, but most importantly it is interactive. Because a person is actively passing on a picture or link about the product, they are much more likely to remember and buy, or in this case, download it.

To make this happen, a truly innovative and attention grabbing piece of media must be created, whether that be the aforementioned picture or link, or something more involved. Most games now include methods for players to share their achievements and top scores with their friends on social media, but this isn’t enough. Many players don’t use these features,  and most social media users are savvy enough to block the announcements from those who do.

Instead, something interactive and exciting needs to be created. There are some fantastic examples of this in the Triple A gaming world. In the run up to the release of Bioshock 2, Irrational Games created the website Something in the Sea, where players could examine evidence of Rapture as collected by a character called Mark Meltzer, a man whose daughter had been kidnapped and taken to the underwater city. Posters were spotted in real life, and the game culminated in events where players would have to meet up at a certain place and time, a lucky few receiving limited edition goodies.

One of the most famous viral marketing events was the one of Halo 2, known as ‘I Love Bees’. The URL www.ilovebees.com was hidden in the trailer for Halo 2, and when visited was found to be a bee enthusiast’s website that had been taken over by someone and covered in confusing messages, ultimatley revealed to be a stranded AI who had transferred herself to the site’s server. Players had to solve riddles with little to no help, and eventually a lucky few were invited to a cinema to play Halo 2 before release. The campaign won numerous awards and paved the way for similar campaigns.

Of course, campaigns don’t have to be this enormous or involved. To be shared, your content simply has to be entertaining or noteworthy enough to be shared. Minecraft has enjoyed millions of hours worth of essentially free advertising on Youtube, where players have recorded and uploaded their experiences playing the game. In one of the game’s latest updates, players have been given the ability to stream their play time directly to Twitch.tv, showing that Mojang, the game’s developers, want to make this process even easier for their fans.

The secret of viral marketing isn’t really a secret. If you want your product be shared and spread around the web, you need to create a new and exciting product that others will want to share. Lumping ‘share’ buttons into your game will probably net little success, but excitement can drummed up at little cost to the developer. Hopefully in 2014 we will see mobile gaming’s equivalent of ‘I Love Bees’.

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