Game Discovery, Engagement and What the Big Players Are Doing

It’s clear that game and app discovery is no longer merely an emergent service or strategy, but is now a core concept that has arrived in full force. From our own GameCoins to RewardVille and TeePee, we’re seeing game discovery solution launches and funding announcements left and right. Some of the biggest players in the space are reacting in different ways: who’s jumping in the fray, are they doing it right, and what does it mean to game developers?


Apple’s App Store is an incredibly popular gaming destination with a huge amount of developer support and apps to offer. The problem with the latter is self-evident: thousands of apps are launched every month, making for an incredibly competitive marketplace in which it is extremely difficult for an app to get noticed. An app lives and dies by its chart rankings, which are driven by downloads… and no one downloads an app they don’t find. For those without huge marketing budgets behind a launch, discovery has become the crucial factor in the App Store, not only to help ensure success for developers but also to help consumers more easily find quality apps.

Apple has implemented a number of discovery mechanisms, like Genius to create dynamic music playlists or discover a new app based on what’s already been downloaded, but there’s still room for innovation. As it stands, developers do have a few proven options to drive discovery: free app distribution increases downloads (and thus ranking), while in-app cross promotion has been shown to be effective in driving user acquisition. However, other successful methods have seen backlash from Apple as the company more closely controls discovery and tests new methods. Incentivized discovery (e.g. pay-per-install models, in which users receive virtual goods by downloading a new app) has seen restrictions and elimination, while Apple continually tweaks its chart-ranking algorithms, most recently placing greater emphasis on usage.


The end result is that there are definitely efforts being made to ensure that Apple’s consumers are being connected with its content partners, but it remains very hard to be discovered in the App Store. There is no one answer to App Store overcrowding at the moment, but we can be sure Apple is working on something that helps with discovery and improves the bottom line for the company and the developers that are making the App Store such a success.


It’s no surprise that everyone’s favorite trillion dollar social network is well aware of discovery and its importance. As an emerging platform for online games, Facebook has, from the early days, both supported and inhibited game discovery mechanisms for developers. Having a game on Facebook presents great opportunities, but also risks encountering unexpected changes to the network’s communications policies, particularly in regards to how a game may communicate to users within the network. When Facebook first opened up to third-party developers, it was the Wild West for games, and many developers took advantage. With barely any limits to the ability to appear in news feeds, games rapidly attained viral awareness. This didn’t last; Facebook has, understandably, put tighter restrictions on these communications channels to maintain the integrity of social exchanges (i.e. eliminate spam).


As gaming becomes more important to Facebook’s engagement strategy, however, the company has repositioned itself and actively encourages the discovery of new games through the recently introduced Discover New Games module. This module is social discovery at a basic level: a sidebar shows users what games friends are playing. Users trust their friends and are likely to click as another form of connecting socially. A recent update added a customization option to show the module more or less often, allowing end users to more closely control their own discovery rate, adding an element of personalization that will improve their overall experience.

Facebook has taken some steps to help game discovery, but the real question is if the company will build a more robust discovery service to help developers flourish on an increasingly competitive platform. The discovery module is an indication the company realizes the importance of games, but Facebook itself is about much more than just games, and it’s not clear what level of support they’ll offer developers. Perhaps what’s coming is a dedicated Facebook games portal, which raises a much more interesting proposition about how games will be indexed, promoted and found. In the meantime there continues to be a need for specialized providers who can provide preference-based discovery, and more importantly, take discovery beyond one platform. Services like AppStrip and Applifier are indicative of this, and others are likely gearing up for launch.


Why examine Zynga separately from Facebook? After all, Zynga rose to dominance by building an audience through Facebook, and still largely operates through integration with the social network. But of course, that’s the very reason to discuss the two companies separately. As the biggest operator on Facebook, Zynga is also the company everyone is gunning for. With countless competitors entering the space and increasingly limited time for gamers to play all the different games available, Zynga knows it needs to do everything it can to reduce churn and drive continued engagement across its library of titles.


Enter RewardVille, launched this past March. A full game discovery and re-engagement platform, RewardVille incentivizes active play-time and cross-title loyalty among its user base through currency rewards. The destination also serves to attract new users who might stumble upon the site in search of rewards and special events – like, for instance the latest co-marketing campaign with Lady Gaga. RewardVille achieves two core discovery concepts that are clearly evident: centralization and incentives. Currency incentives encourage action, giving users tangible awards for trying and playing games, while centrality allows the developer to easily cross-promote within a communal environment that users can trust.

Zynga is doing it right, but RewardVille does have shortfalls if you’re looking for inspiration: it’s not a model easily copied (both expensive and technically difficult to execute) and is reserved only for Zynga titles.


What are you doing to make sure your game is getting discovered? Your options are greatly dependent on your platform, and different tools are available depending on where you’ll use them. It’s important to keep in mind that the big brands are increasingly focused on discovery and continued engagement. It will be important for all of us to acknowledge how discovery is being utilized as a tool across multiple platforms to drive success, and equally valuable to understand what might be missing so as to encourage new startup ventures that serve the needs of everyone involved: the platform holder, the developer, and the consumer. We can all learn by watching these companies adapt to an increasingly competitive marketplace – more importantly, we’ll definitely have to react to them.

As the Director of the property at Sometrics, Jennifer Bartlett is responsible for fostering new business partnerships and instrumental in product vision and execution. The company’s offerings allow partners to optimize in-game payments revenue as well as reach targeted gamers through the consumer site, which she was instrumental in helping to create.

Before joining Sometrics, Jennifer served as production manager for One Eighteen Advertising, a full-service agency. Prior to that she was the project/product manager for Tag Digital Media, an interactive marketing agency. Jennifer has a background in both online and traditional advertising, and specializes in cultivating success through strategic partnerships. She studied business statistics in college, and worked with Nobel Prize-winning professor Clive Granger on network research. Bartlett holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management Science and earned a minor in Chinese Studies from the University of California, San Diego. She was also the recipient of the Cal-IT2 Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Follow her on Twitter at @jmariebartlett

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