Social Games | 4 User Profiling Essentials for Branding and Apps Development

Topics: Advertising, App Development, Branding, Business, Ideas, Innovation, Inspiration, Leadership, Marketing, Mobile Apps, Sales, Social Media, Strategy, Success, Technology, Web Design By: Jackie Ta

Are you turning your life into a game? Some consumers are. To some, life is just a game. With the recent, increased rise of gamification, companies are taking notice and using gamification-related activities and mobile devices to entice users to interact with their brands.  Gamification is an integration of game design concepts and mechanics into non-game scenarios.

With the advent of affordable and high-end smartphones, mobile and social gaming has increasingly created noticeable ripples with the mobile gaming industry, allowing us not only to communicate with each other in unprecedented ways, but to create a pervasive social network that covers the whole globe. As a result, social gaming is one of those facets that are becoming an increasingly big part of how we stay socially connected in a world that’s all about social engagement. The proliferation of social gaming creates great opportunities for brands to engage with users and ultimately convert them into customers. When designing and developing social games or any apps, one of the most crucial aspects of creating a winning app is to know your customer base. In this article, we’ll address user profile to help determine what gamers want from their social games and app experience. It’s more than just being entertained. To fully take advantage of the digital marketing opportunities for your brand, you will need to create entertaining, viral games or apps with brand-centered content delivered through frequent social media touch points. Seamlessly integrate your branding image into these apps to help establish and build customer relationships, strengthen your brand image, and deliver increased user engagement and brand advocacy. This can be anything that your customers or users can interact with that’s also related to your brand. When you incorporate your brand into your app, you’re adding value to the user experience where your game is valuable and brand meaningful.

How do you find ways to create a social game or app that appeals to a wider audience while seamlessly incorporating your brand content? It’s all about user profile and your understanding of your target audience. Let’s examine some of the existing social media games to help come up with some ideas to include in your user profiling exercise as well as apps. Note that although the below points primarily address social games, they are not exclusive to gaming apps; they can apply to any app you want to build. It’s about using the methods and ideas of gamification to build an app that fit the profile of your user base. Through the trend of gamification, some brands are betting that app users like to play games by building games into situations like purchasing items and checking into restaurants or places to earn virtual points and badges that can be converted into actual rewards or discounts. Consider the following when building your app:

1.       Know the engagement style of your players. Who are playing, why are they playing, what’s their style, how do they like to engage, and what problems are they solving? Are they using apps such as Foursquare to check in and receive rewards or discounts from places that they go? Their engagement style can be to a) express or explore content; or b) compete or collaborate with other players. Create a game that touch on any one or more of the following for your target audience:

  • Compete. Games where players compete with one another through social media touch points allow players to win, brag, taunt, or challenge. Games in general are competitive in nature whether it’s with each other or against a computer generated player. Players in this category are competitive and mostly, if not always, want to do better than others while playing. Understand the level of your audience competitive nature and the degree of domination desired.
  • Collaborate. Games that require constant teamwork and collaboration allow players to share, help, gift, exchange, or trade. Players in this category like games that are community focus. These players like to maintain a constant connection with other players within their social gaming community where each player mutually depends on the other for success. A good example is any social games developed by Zynga such as Words with Friends where the gameplay requires at least two participants. Another type of games that requires an even more constant collaboration can be seen as community focused gameplay. Think of it as a good real life analogy of a team sport like basketball. Travian is a good social game to profile, for example. Each player creates a virtual tribe and is required to lead with other social players to form a nation. The aim of these community focused games is for each player to contribute fully for the continuity of the game and their success and failure is shared equally. Hence, if your user profile includes liking team sports, then a collaborative feature will suit their needs.
  • Customize. Social games typically provide the players with option to choose, customize, and creatively design their own layout, profile, etc. Farming games such as Farmville, Hayday and Farm Story give players many different options to display their self-expression to decorate their landscape. These games invoke creativity and develop team skills. Players who like to customize love social network games that offer them a way to express themselves through self-expression means.
  • Explore. Apps provide players the option to view, search, and curate. Players who fall in this category love to explore the possibilities of what a social network game offers. Foursquare has the “Explore” feature where users can see places that are trending and recommended within a 5-mile radius. This is social at its best, providing useful information and recommendation that can appear to the social consumers. It also gives its enthusiasts recognition and exclusivity when they “check-in here”.  Consider this as a reality focus gameplay where they provide real-time updates to their social network about their locations and activities where they’re rewarded for consistent, active mobile activity.
  • Social Connections. People play games to socially connect with other people. This type of players views the people with whom they play games as being more important than the games themselves. Access the level of importance this is to them. If the level is high, then your game should definitely emphasize social connection.  Your brand needs a credible presence on social networks, and what’s the best way to do that than to give them a way to interact with their friends and at the same time, connect with your brand?

2.       Design for on boarding and hardcore gamers. What games are they already playing? What motivate them? What kind of help, if any, do they need?  Gamers or players are no different from users or consumers of any product. They all fall under any one of these stages and may progress from one to the next. They can be newbies and will need help with on boarding to get them going and onto the next level. They can be habit-building regulars. Or, they can be hardcore enthusiasts whose aim is to master every level and beyond. Foursquare and Farmville are two good ones to examine and emulate.

  • Simplicity. Think in terms of a kid’s mindset. Make your games easy to understand the vocabulary and structure of level ups, power ups, bonus levels, etc. that anyone can play. Farmville is easy to understand and play because its concept is simple. Determine the demographic of your user profile. Consider across age and gender categories, even devices.
  • Motivation. Games are a powerful motivator simply because they can change our behavior. Everywhere we look, we see advertisements that use game dynamics to sell and market products. Use this same concept to motivate your target audience. Reward players with power and autonomy. Provide newbies welcome gifts, goals to achieve, and achievable rewards to ease them into the game. Give regulars fresh content and activities or challenges that motivate them to consistently play. Track and reward effort, not just achievement. This also gives game enthusiasts recognition and exclusivity. Provide leader boards to showcase active, engaged players as well as most skilled and devoted players. Build a game that’s easy to learn, but hard to master as it progresses, increasing the challenge and the complexity.
  • Engagement. Give players a view of their progress such as stats, awards, message boards. Give them a call to action where they can share their status and results with others. Give them positive reinforcement such as achievement levels, bragging rights, badges, gifts, unlockable features, etc. to encourage them to re-engage in the task, the mission, the game, etc. Make your games fun. Everyone likes humor, quirky characters, animated graphics, and wacky (fun) audio. A good game takes them on an emotional journey over time. Take a lesson from Foursquare by adding in-game rewards such as badges which they can use to avail real world rewards such as discounts and offers. Depending on your gameplay and user profile, unexpected surprises where players don’t realize they’re getting bonuses until they do can be an incentive to engage.
  • Drive behavior. When building a social game, think in terms of popular games such as Angry Birds with their use of levels, rewards, and unlocks to drive players’ behavior. Turn real-world activities, like Foursquare, into games. Releasing certain types of content, rewards, levels, features, etc. frequently may be optimal to align with your user gaming consumption patterns.
  • Provide to do list. Take a look at any social media game that has a mass appeal, and you will most likely see some kind of to do list for the players. Whether it gives them bonus coins, unlock features, gifts, or completion of a task, to do list is a great motivator to encourage a particular behavior.
  • Provide tutorials, scaffolding of content.  Your players may need tutorials that help them with their gameplay. Determine all types of levels – from beginners to hard core gamers – and determine how their skill level dictates your game design and feature. User profiling requires an understanding of their skills and how to create a better user experience.

3.       Bring real life into the virtual world. Everywhere we look, we see tons of game apps that are bringing some elements of real life into the virtual world. Given the growth and importance of technology and social connectivity in today’s digital world, brands are staying up-to-date and trying to be ahead of the curve tech-wise. Your brand should too in order to survive and thrive in what has now become an increasingly, highly competitive tech world. Follow the leaders by either incorporating a digital twist into your existing products or introducing a more interactive, innovative real world app that will surprise, engage, and excite your users. A good example of this is Hasbro’s Game of Life zAPPed which incorporates an iPad app into the traditional Life board game. These types of games have players spinning a virtual wheel. Or, what about incorporating an add-in toy (device) that can control what happens in iPad games when it’s placed on the screen? Brands such as Mattel are being innovative and doing just that with their Apptivity toys.

4.       Consider advertisements and branding. Some players don’t mind ads; others are annoyed by them. Include in your user profile two types of users – the one who pay real money in social games and the one that doesn’t. The latter requires you to create a game that generates revenue through in game branding in form of ads, in game experience, and brand sponsorship.  Determine what types of ads interest them. You’ll find that you may need to create multiple user profiles to cater to these interests. Social game shopping/paying is gaining adoption. Users are becoming more comfortable paying in-app features to unlock better, enhanced user experience.  Doing a user profile will help you determine the level of investment you want to include this into your social games while catering to your desired and ideal audience.

Bottom line – Build something we all care about. This requires a good understanding of user interest levels, gaming experience, engagement level, time spent on social games, and user preferences. It’s quite impossible to satisfy all the users or players. That’s why it’s so important to create multiple user profiles to help you determine what features to build and prioritize the development of them according to need. This may mean releasing them in versions.

Understanding social gaming user engagement is critical to success. Identifying the most lucrative audiences in the social gaming or mobile app space presents unique challenges. While users expect the same ease of use, navigation, and design features of traditional gaming platforms, their preferences depend on their expectations of social network games and interests that go beyond simple entertainment. Hence, as mentioned above, it’s crucial to understand your user profile to create a app that has a mass appeal. Your brand image and reputation depends on and impacted by how well you understand your user base and how well you translate that understanding to the users with your app.


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