Games dominated free app downloads for both iPhone and iPad last year, according to Apple’s Best of 2013 list. Among free apps,Candy Crush Saga took the #1 spot for both devices, while Temple Run 2 took #3. Despicable Me: Minion Rush also came into the top 10 for both iPhone and iPad, joined by Subway Surfers on the latter, according to PC Mag.
From a marketing perspective, perhaps the bigger story was the success of paid gaming apps. Apple’s top 10 lists of paid apps included Minecraft, Heads Up!, Temple Run: Oz, Angry Birds Star Wars, Plague Inc., Bloons TD 5, Plants vs. Zombies, Bad Piggies, Survivalcraft, and Toca Hair Salon 2.
Reviewing these results takes on added relevance as industry watchers debate Zynga’s future, with last year’s concerns about the company’s future yielding to cautious optimism about the company’s improved year-end performance, according to Seeking Alpha. Zynga and Apple’s results in 2013 suggest that there are ways for video game companies to leverage social media successfully, and the key to success is identifying what distinguishes effective sales tactics.
Referrals are one of the most effective forms of marketing for any business, and video games are no exception. Tommy Palm, creator of King’s Candy Crush Saga, says that a number of viral marketing factors helped propel the game’s rapid rise, according to GamesIndustry.biz. Getting up to 150,000 new installations a day on the iOS free downloads chart was key to gaining viral momentum, he recalls. Achieving this was driven by multiple referral methods, including leveraging King’s existing user base, word-of-mouth, and Facebook friend referrals. Farmville’s prior success offers a similar example.
Upselling is another sales strategy video games have successfully adapted to social media with, as illustrated by the Temple Run series. Temple Run is free, but progress is fueled by gold coins, and players can purchase additional gold coins with real money as an upsell if they want to advance faster. This represents an improvement upon Farmville’s strategy of constantly nagging players for money in order to enjoy superior game play.
Cross-selling has also worked well for many video games, such as the Angry Birds Star Wars series. Former Rovio Senior Vice President of Marketing Ville Heijari explained that Angry Birds’ Star Wars spinoff tapped into two distinct streams of cross-promotional publicity. The large Star Wars fan base combined with Angry Birds’ own following to give Rovio its fastest iPhone chart-topper. If you visit the websites of established brands such as EA’s Origin line, you can see other examples of how building a following for one successful game creates opportunities to cross-promote new games in the same line to buyers of the first game.
A subtle benefit of social media for video game marketing is market research. For instance, the demographic data available from Facebook enables Market Research Reports to make predictions about trends in Facebook vs. non-Facebook gaming markets, and to project which game genres will be most popular over the next five years. By 2018, Facebook gaming revenue will grow to $5.6 billion annually, compared to $9.6 billion for non-Facebook games. Trends suggest that social casino and second-screen gaming on mobile social networks will be key growth drivers.