December 5th, 2012 | 5 MIN READ

The Neuromarketing of Mobile Games

Written by Lisa Walker

According to Catagena Capital, the total number of Americans that play games on their smartphone, tablet or iPod Touch has now surpassed the 100 million mark, a year-on-year increase of 35%. Europe shows a growth of 15%, totaling 70 million gamers for seven key territories. Men slightly outnumber women in the US (52%) as well as in key European countries (55%).

Gaming is one of the fastest-growing usage categories in mobile, with huge growth seen in Apple's iOS and Google's Android platforms.

Mobile gamers have a plethora of choice with over 120,000 games in the Apple Store alone with over 4000 new games being submitted each week.

In 2011, mobile gaming took 13% of all time spent on games worldwide, totaling more than 130 million hours a day, and 9% of total money spent on games, grossing $5.8bn.

While competition is fierce, the mobile game space is only beginning to realize its potential and one can expect to see all types of game innovations and capabilities emerge as graphic engines improve and larger budgets are applied to development of mobile games.

The challenge for businesses getting into mobile gaming is to position themselves effectively as possible to take advantage of new trends as they emerge.

What can companies do to best prepare for entry into this market and increase their staying power once established?

Tailoring the Experience For Smartphones

One might assume you need to provide a limited gaming experience for smartphones, but in reality what is required is a more tailored experience.

The reality of the mobile world is that its gamers may play for only small increments of time and may not be fully engaged in the experience, for instance they game while waiting for the bus or standing in line for coffee. These smaller, divided increments of time call for a game to be instantly playable with rewards and new levels achievable in quick bursts of play.

Smaller screen real estate means that what may be a minor annoyance on a web browser can be an overall deal breaker on a smartphone. Attention to detail when preparing a game’s interface can mean the difference between success and failure, especially as it relates to monetization strategies such as pop-ups ads, push notifications and the like.

If a user accidentally clicks an offer when reaching for a weapon, or encounters a push notification or pop up ad in the middle of gameplay, these simple interface flaws can cause a user to lose interest in playing, cutting into your potential revenue stream, especially if you have adopted the “freemium” model.

The wide range of demographics playing mobile games and locations where games will be played requires testing with male and female audiences, young, old, left handed, right handed, light and dark rooms. As the market for tablets expand, game dynamics, actions and notifications also need to be tested against and adjusted for the larger screen real estate.

Tracking Everything

While games on smartphones come with particular constraints, they also comes with benefits related to the number of things you can track and exploit, especially with respect to location, time and social based parameters.

Is there a specific time period when your players are playing? A link to a physical location? By understanding the relationship between achieved scores and the data the mobile phone provides regarding the users playing time and location, you can create instantly compelling rewards such as a time-limited morning coffee offer if a particular level is achieved.

If your game is linked to a Facebook login, you will also have access to your user’s basic info, email address, birthday, education history, relationship status, religious and political views and status updates. This data provides powerful insight into the “persona” of the gamer and through the use of offer management tools you can create engagement by delivering relevant, personalized content or specific game challenges to your various user segments.

Timing the Offer

While studies show that conversions and average revenue per user (ARPU) increase dramatically when players are able to buy upgrades, new content, currency, and other virtual goods without leaving the game, with a little thought you can design the timing of your in-game offers to take advantage of the mind in gaming mode.

Consider this:

“Testosterone has been tied to encouraging what is termed as the “winner effect”; a scenario in which testosterone helps increase a subject’s confidence, which in turn aids his performance, which in turn increases his chances of victory. And if victory is achieved, the subject’s testosterone levels increase even further, creating a feedback loop where he will be more predisposed to taking on increasingly riskier decisions to continue achieving more victories.” Source

What the author is speaking about is an instinctual response that can be generated by game play – the “rush” that accompanies achieving a goal. In terms of planning your monetization strategy, this could mean that the mind is primed for receiving a new offer upon successful completion of a level.

This type of insight delves into the fascinating new field of Neuromarketing which studies consumers' sensorimotor, cognitive and affective response to marketing stimuli. To truly understand when the gamer’s mind is most open to content upgrades or purchasing virtual goods, you will want to closely monitor not only the specific moment of purchase, but all the micro-decisions or actions that led up to the purchase: Are more weapons purchased after successfully completing a particular level or after numerous failed attempts?

Combining all the knowledge you have of your user’s game habits, location and achievement levels you can begin to make sense from the data and roll out specials across time zones or particular levels achieved as best suits your players. In this way, you continually re-engage the player by revitalizing and personalizing the gaming experience.

New Possibilities of Engagement

Games developed for smartphones have the capacity to stimulate the intellect, creativity and emotions and with the data they produce new possibilities emerge for personalisation and offer management. Once your gaming app is installed on a phone you are in business - you effectively own a part of the mobile player’s real estate through which you can re-create, reimagine and re-fuel for further engagement.

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