This article was previously published on Plinq’s website, and a copy of it now also appears on Game Developer.
Even savvy marketing people sometimes misunderstand how to use games properly to accomplish their business goals. We made a list of the 50 biggest mistakes businesses make when commissioning or building an advergame.
This is a condensed version of the original article. The original gives a bit more explanation and includes three resource links for each tip.
If you are a developer reading this, most of this will be old hat to you, especially if you have made advergames yourself.
Mistake: Thinking short-term
Games are more complex and expensive than other media to produce. Therefore, using games for short term goals is a waste of money. Games can perform over longer periods, and successful titles can be expanded with more content.
Mistake: Going for conflicting business goals
It is possible for an advergame to have more than one business goal, but if goals work against each other, the game will be less effective in accomplishing any of them. If you want to raise brand awareness, you want as many players as possible. If you want to collect information, some consumers will not engage; these goals are in conflict and should not be the purpose of the same game.
Mistake: Using an advergame when you do not have sufficient channels to reach the required audience
If you upload your game to a store and expect thousands of people to play it, you’re setting your project up for failure. Without a huge marketing budget, but you need a sufficient number of channels to reach your target audience, to tell them about your game and where to find it.
Mistake: Ignoring the fun
Use your game to delight your customers; not just to promote your products and brand. By making the game fun (and providing real value to players), you can create a positive association with your brand. If the game is not fun, no-one will play it.
Mistake: Using your own game ideas
It is unlikely that your idea is original, supports the business goals and brand values, and works as a cohesive entertainment product. Get the experts in.
Mistake: Using a plain media company to build the game
Although games share some aspects with other media such as video, traditional media houses are not good at making games. There are several reasons; in short: they are prone to many of the mistakes on this list. Don’t do it.
Mistake: Not using your customer insight to inform game design
When designing a game for your audience, the most important asset is your knowledge about them. Prepare as much of this knowledge as possible for the game design team. The same background that goes into your other marketing activities must also shape the game; otherwise, it will miss the mark.
Mistake: Not prototyping
The most sure-fire way to arrive at a fun game is to follow an iterative process and test the game regularly with actual players. Form a beta group, and get them to test the game before you release it to the general public.
Mistake: Blindly cloning popular titles
Cloning existing popular titles has some advantages, but there is a downside:
- The advergame will often compare poorly with the original (especially when it has been made on a lower budget).
- The game may be ill-suited to your brand or business goals.
- Popular games get cloned al lot, and your game will be perceived as a “me too” product.
- Sophisticated gamers may frown on your attempts to capitalize on the success of others’ creativity.
Mistake: Not using KPIs to measure the success of the campaign to reach the business goal
In addition to business KPIs, you need to look at game KPIs to monitor the health of the game. You are not going to achieve your business goals if your game does not perform well as a game. Monitoring these will help you adapt and improve, which will ultimately also affect your business KPIs.
Mistake: Charging for content
Businesses sometimes try to offset the cost of developing an advergame by charging for it or additional content. Monetizing games is a business different from yours; trying to do this while trying to promote your main business reduces the chances of your advergame being effective.
Mistake: Trying to monetize your advergame through advertising
This is a bit like making a TV ad and charging other companies to have their billboard displayed in the ad. It does not make sense. Besides that, the secondary ads will annoy players and reduce the average session length and retention of your game.
Mistake: Making players sign up before letting them play
In one project we did, half the players that entered the game exited the game instead of moving through the signup form. You risk losing a lot of players by making them sign up first (and often those that do sign up provide false data).
Mistake: Asking for more information than you absolutely need
Ask the minimum information you need to give the player the best experience. The less data you ask, the less friction there is for users to play the game, the less attractive your game is for hackers, and the fewer hoops you have to jump through for GDPR.
Mistake: Trying to get players to share things that don’t make them look cool
If you want players to share game content, make sure it is the coolest thing in their feed. Keep branding light and relevant. The content should be unique and entertaining, and allow the player to brag. It should have high production quality.
Mistake: Not using virtual rewards
Physical rewards are great to help you get ahead in line with all the other things that interest people. But you are missing out on an opportunity if some of the rewards are not virtual.
Virtual rewards only work if your game is cool enough.
Mistake: Not making it possible to mute sound and music
There are three reasons why players may want to mute sound or music:
- It drives them crazy.
- They are playing in an environment where they cannot play sound (such as work).
- They want to listen to other music on the device they are playing on.
If they cannot switch off the sound or music, they may stop playing altogether.
Mistake: Choosing a game genre, a theme or mechanics that conflicts with your brand values.
If you want a non-violent game, do not make a first-person shooter. If you don’t want your products sliced up, do not make a Fruit Ninja clone. Brands are especially prone to fall into this trap when they decide to clone an existing popular title without considering the implications.
The first mistake leads to the second: removing the most important mechanic from a game to correct the incongruity. Fruit Ninja without slicing things up is not fun.
Mistake: Choosing a game genre, a theme or mechanics that conflicts with your business goal
For example: if your business goal is to communicate your brand’s values, a casino slots game will not be effective, even though it may be very effective for other business goals.
Mistake: Using text inside the game to educate customers
People do not read inside games (or other apps). Games are for playing, not reading. Show what you want to tell players through game design and mechanics.
Mistake: Relying on physical rewards too much
If you want to use rewards with the game, understand the role they play. The game should be fun enough to play without needing to bribe players to do it. Rewards cannot make up for bad game design.
Mistake: Making the wrong game for your target audience
Choose a game type that is popular with your target audience. Beyond demographics, appeal to a common of your target audience. Sports games are a good fit for sportswear; racing games for cars; and so on.
Mistake: Not understanding the pros and cons of embedded versus standalone games
Games embedded in your apps are a great way to increase app retention, engagement, and positive reviews in the App Store or Play Store. But embedded games have many limitations, and for some business goals, standalone games may make more sense.
Mistake: Not adding variety over time
People get bored with anything eventually. Mixing up content and even the rewards you use is an easy way to extend the lifetime of the game and build a loyal fanbase.
Mistake: Making peripheral features too important
Be stingy when it comes to peripheral features: sharing, recording, leaderboards, achievements. I am not saying you should neglect them, but they should support the game, not overshadow it in their complexity and production value.
Mistake: Misunderstanding the platform tradeoff
There have been advergames that were very successful on every platform. The problem is when you try to make a console-level title in the browser or try to use a flash game budget to make a AAA title. The result will typically be poor, and you will waste a lot of money.
Mistake: Not implementing a leaderboard
Leaderboards are a relatively simple feature to implement and provide a lot of value to players. You should include different leaderboards measuring different things.
Mistake: Not communicating game rules clearly
If players misunderstand how the game works, they will think the game is buggy (or worse, that you are trying to trick them). By communicating clearly how your game works, you can avoid these misconceptions.
Mistake: Not playing the game
You are probably not the target audience for the game. However, you cannot really understand how it works from looking at how other people play. If you don’t play the game, you will focus on things you can see or hear, instead of the feelings and thoughts you have as you navigate the game world.
Mistake: Making a game too complex for the technology or your budget
Fun is not proportional to complexity. Keep it simple, and spend to budget to make sure the game design is slick, the art pretty and the music catchy. Technically advanced advergames have their place, but they only have a chance to succeed if you spend enough money.
Mistake: Making a mini-game inside a game
It is a common misconception that this will make a game more fun. It won’t; it will increase the cost and annoy the player.
Mistake: Evaluating the fun of a game in production based on your judgment of the features
The correct way to judge whether a feature is fun or not is to watch the faces of players from your target audience. (This is true until you have enough players so that analytics kick in and you can make further decisions based on data.)
Mistake: Not stylizing your brand elements to fit the game
If your game is a stylized 2D drawing style, then your logos and products need to be stylized 2D drawings. If this goes completely against your brand rules, it is better to stick to an art style that does not require stylizing the logo or products.
If Coca-cola can do it, so can you.
Mistake: Not making sure the game works well technically
Technology is branding. If your game is glitchy, it affects your brand negatively. That also goes for any technology that surrounds the game, such as a web site or app used for redeeming rewards.
Mistake: Not spending enough on art
The game extends your branding; if it looks tacky, so will your brand.
Besides this, players are more likely to share screenshots when the art looks great.
Mistake: Not spending enough on music and sound
Because music inside a game plays on a loop, it is one of the things that most easily irritate players. Sound effects can be even more grating.
Mistake: Don’t overuse your logo
Aim for building worlds that radiate your brand without your logo needed everywhere. Use other design elements from your corporate identity, and use your logo sparingly. This will help keep the player immersed in the brand universe.
Mistake: Not marketing the game sufficiently.
If the game is decent, you may easily become your most popular marketing content. To maximize the number of people exposed to it, you need to market it:
- Make it the hero image on your home page.
- Announce the game with a short video-clip showing gameplay on social media.
- Contact streamers.
- Use non-digital channels: in-store posters, packaging, printed advertising.
Mistake: Overhyping the game
You will look like a fool if you pretend your game is better than it is. In your marketing, be measured. And don’t worry, your game needs not to be the best game to do well. A game that is fun and tied in with your brand in thoughtful ways, can outperform entertainment games when promoted well.
Mistake: Choosing a poor name
Like all names, the name of your advergame should be:
- Reasonably unique
- Easy to pronounce
- Easy to spell
- Evoke the brand
- Searchable (for example, not include non-alphabetic characters)
Mistake: Not having a mechanism in place to award players with credits manually
Things go wrong, and when they do, you want to be in a position to correct. If a player loses credits (perhaps by a bug), restoring the lost credits is a simple way to keep them playing and prevent a nasty review.
Mistake: Not using your game as an additional marketing channel
Once a player is engaging with your game, you can use it to communicate with the player and the game can be a great vehicle to deliver news and promotions. Push notifications or an in-game dialog or newsfeed are the typical strategies. But be careful — make sure it is relevant and with permission. If you abuse it the player will simply uninstall the game.
Mistake: Not doing A/B testing to optimize the game once it is live
You can improve the performance of the game by doing tests once the game is live. You should also A/B test changes to the game during the campaign, to ensure that you do not harm the game’s performance or introduce bugs that affect conversion.
Mistake: Not putting a system for a community in place
Games that are supported by strong communities live longer; they attract more players since existing community members will be advocates for the game. Make it easy for players to get together, and then manage it. If you don’t, the community may get out of hand and hurt your brand.
Mistake: Not providing a feedback mechanism
You will measure the success of your campaign with whatever relevant KPIs you identified. However, KPIs show only a partial picture. Asking for raw feedback from within the game gives you an opportunity to learn much more.
Mistake: Not planning for supporting the game
Things can go wrong. When it does, you should have a team ready to jump in and fix things as soon as possible. You also need to respond to customer questions or implement changes based on their behavior.
Mistake: Not thinking of cheating
Some players will cheat and spoil the fun for all the other players. Cheating reduces the stakes and renders leaderboards and achievements meaningless. You need a system to detect the most obvious forms of cheating, and a way to respond to cheating and perceived cheating.
Mistake: Not thinking of fraud
This is cheating with the purpose of getting physical rewards. In addition to all the problems with cheating stated above, this actually affects your bottom line and the effectiveness of the game campaign. The actions you take need to be considered carefully to balance loss against your brand image.
Mistake: Not considering the downsides of user-generated content
Where people can type, someone will put a dirty word; where they can build something, someone will build something vulgar. Think about where the line lies between acceptable and unacceptable content, and how you will detect and deal with unwanted content.
Mistake: Not implementing suitable analytics and feedback mechanisms
Analytics point out trouble spots in the conversion funnel. Why are people not signing up for the newsletter inside the game? Are they not reaching that page? Or do they quit the level before they finish it? The information will also be useful for the game design team to adjust the game and improve player engagement and retention.
Mistake: Not communicating game changes clearly
Players love new content, but they despise existing features changing (especially when there are real-life rewards involved). Therefore, changes to the rules of the game should be avoided. However, when you cannot, you need to make what is happening obvious to players, or you will face a lot of negative backlash from them.
Mistake: Not planning for retiring and preserving the game
Games are harder to preserve than other media, and as a result, many advergames made even a few years ago are not playable today. By thinking about the fate of your game when the campaign ends, you can prevent this fate from befalling your game.
Advergames, when made and used right, can have spectacular results. Avoid the mistakes listed here to give yourself the best chance of success.
Did we miss any? Please let me know in the comments.