Guest Blog: What app makers can learn from games

23 FEB 2017

Abinash Tripathy (pictured), CEO and co-founder of Helpshift, believes app developers and marketers can learn a thing or two from how gaming apps monetise and engage with users.

In 1994, a little game called Tetris appeared on the Hagenuk MT-2000, a Danish mobile phone. This game birthed a behemoth; mobile gaming raked in a whopping $34.8 billion in 2015, accounting for approximately 85 percent of mobile app market revenue.

The average session length of a mobile game is 4.7 minutes longer than the average session lengths of e-commerce and retail apps, and when the average user spends $35 on mobile apps over the course of a year, $25 of that goes to mobile gaming.

Naturally, part of these impressive results can be attributed to the addictive nature of games. However, users aren’t just playing these games, they are paying for them, engaging with them, and returning to them for more. It is predicted by 2018 there will be over 200 million mobile gamers, showing a 21 per cent year-on-year growth rate.

Monetisation
Mobile games typically employ one of four monetisation strategies: VIP programmes, advertising (and the opportunity to upgrade to avoid them), freemium, and paid.

Some 90 per cent of in-app purchases are actually made by just 10 per cent of users. Mobile games have struck upon an important app landscape truth: most users will not want to pay for your product; the key is to offer incredibly appealing reasons to pay for certain features, be they VIP packages/loyalty programmes, the opportunity to play without ads, or just extra levels and upgrades.

Engagement
Mobile gamers generally play about three times a day, an impressive statistic, considering that users spend 80 per cent of their time in just five apps. Most other apps would kill to have users coming in more than once per day. But the engagement strategies mobile games employ can actually be applied to almost any mobile product.

Mobile games use two primary tools for engagement: multi-player and in-app chat. These two strategies get players involved in the community of the game, encouraging them to talk and interact. Once a dialogue has begun, the player is continually brought back into the game as they receive a challenge, message, or comment from a fellow player.

Specific ways to establish these communities include establishing micro-communities and having players add each other as friends to play against each other.

From “Clan Chat” and the ability to request cards from other users (as in Clash Royale), to “tournaments”, game development companies like Supercell use player-to-player engagement strategies to keep users in the game.

Oftentimes, interactions can also increase monetisation. For instance, if you have two players who are up against each other, but one player has the upper hand from buying extra packs and capabilities, this incentivises the lower-spending player to make new purchases.

Having in-app player-to-player communication also encourages users to talk about the app inside of the app, instead of going offline to other forums. Many mobile games offer in-app customer support, which helps users stay within the app.

This reduces the likelihood of a bad app store rating, and helps users become true brand evangelists – their community, support, and favourite pastime all live in one central hub.

For mobile gaming company Wooga, 96 per cent of people who accessed help within an app find a solution via FAQs.

The monetisation models gaming apps use can be directly replicated by almost any other type of app. For instance, Spotify offers a combination advertising/freemium model, in which customers can pay to unlock certain features and avoid advertising.

Much like a mobile game’s VIP programme, Starbucks has created the Starbucks Rewards app, which offers special deals and rewards for loyal users, including partnerships with Lyft and Spotify and the ability to pay via the app, thereby promoting engagement and retention.

Non-gaming apps can also take notes from mobile gaming engagement strategies. Creating communities built around in-app chat, for instance, is a strategy that both a makeup retailer and a food ordering service could employ.

At the heart of mobile gaming’s success, though, is a commitment to keeping users in the fantasy world that is the game. Games are allowing their users to escape real life, and journey through a fantasy world.

Where other industry apps should truly learn from gaming companies is in the core vision of what an app is: it is an experience. Mobile games understand this, they have built apps that allow users to effortlessly step in and out of their phones, apps that are not only painless, but pleasurable.

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.