Brands are struggling with ways to connect with users on mobile. Video ads feel intrusive on a phone, and banner ads are not all that effective. Moreover, saying witty things in 140 characters is getting harder every day. What brands need to do is engage with their mobile users in a way that resonates with users—namely with mobile games.
More than 32% of people's time on smart devices is spent playing games; on tablets, that percentage rises to 67%. However, for a long time, the only way for brands to get games on mobile was by producing native games for the Apple App Store or Google Play, and native games was creating a host of challenges for brands.
The landscape is changing, however, with mobile Web gaming becoming a viable alternative for branded mobile games.
What Exactly Is a Mobile Web Game?
A mobile Web game is a game that plays directly out of the mobile browser—just tap and play directly from a mobile Website or link within a tweet, chat, or post. Unlike native games, there is no requirement to go to an app store to download the game. That friction is removed. The games themselves are built using HTML5 and can be supported on all smartphones and tablets, regardless of operating system or device type.
And unlike native games, mobile Web games also work on desktops and even on connected TVs. Basically, they work wherever a browser exists. And because all native apps include browser support, a mobile Web game can easily be "wrapped" as a native app for the app store or exist within a native app with minimal effort.
Mobile Web games are ultra-portable and can be shared directly by the brands through their existing sites and social channels like Twitter and Facebook with just a tap of a link within Twitter or Facebook on mobile or a desktop.
The games can also be distributed to millions within the brand's target demographics through emerging mobile Web game distribution channels, including popular mobile media sites, portals, messaging apps, and storefronts. And the games themselves can be used to engage users by including achievements, leaderboards, challenge-a-friend functionality, video trailers, photos, and more.
Benefits of Branded Mobile Web Games
There are many advantages for brands in producing mobile web games as opposed to native games for the Apple App Store or Google Play.
First, creating a native game is an expensive proposition, especially when it requires producing both an IOS and Android (and Kindle Fire, Windows 8, etc.) version of the game. However, mobile Web games can be produced in a fraction of the time and cost of a native game, and they work everywhere.
Second, the download requirement in the app stores is a huge hurdle for a branded game. People are just not very likely to download a branded game unless they are heavily motivated to do so and that costs money. In comparison, mobile Web games do not require any download.
Third, a branded mobile Web game has the real possibility of going viral should it resonate with the audience.
Finally, mobile Web games can be updated with fresh content or messaging much easier than a native game can because timing of Apple approvals is always a wild card. That flexibility is crucial for any campaign that is tied to a TV spot, has an evolving story arc, or has a countdown to a particular event.
(The one main disadvantage of a mobile Web game is that it requires a Web connection to play for the first time. Once played the first time, the game can be cached for offline play.)
Are big brands jumping at this opportunity? Absolutely. Leading the way are major brands like HBO, Progressive Insurance, McDonald's, Nickelodeon, and WWE.
Here is an example of a branded mobile web game to promote for HBO's True Blood series and a game to promote WWE/WB's recent Scooby Doo Wrestlemania Mystery movie.
Building a Branded Mobile Web Game
The following are some best-practices for a successful branded mobile Web game:
- Set the goals and success criteria for the game at the start. Clarify your brand's objectives then decide if a mobile Web game is the appropriate solution. Games developed without a clear understanding of why they are being made fail to meet expectations.
- Keep it simple. People need to intuitively understand how to play and engage with the experience within seconds. Once they are past that initial hurdle, people are receptive to deeper experiences, but keep the initial on boarding simple.
- Virality and longevity takes planning. If your goal is to initiate a viral wave, a large group of players at game launch is often necessary to can get the ball rolling. Use ties to your other marketing activities and cross promotion to drive that first wave of players to your game. And to keep users coming back, keep the content fresh by introducing new levels or characters and include a game leader board from which you can issue daily or weekly challenges to your user base.
- Find new markets. The cost to localize a mobile Web game is trivial, and there are ample channels for international distribution of a mobile Web game. If the goal of your campaign is eyeballs and the brand is borderless, get it out there for the world to play.
In many ways, mobile Web games can be thought of as the ultimate mobile engagement ad unit: A brand can engage its target audience at scale through a preferred activity on mobile, and cost-effectively do in a way that fosters social and viral growth. The engagement time brands are seeing with mobile Web games has been impressive, averaging between 5 and 10 minutes in most cases.
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With mobile gaming now representing such a substantial percentage of people's daily media time, why not extend your brand marketing to the largest addressable market in history? Brands simply cannot afford to sit on the sidelines.