Acquiring 3.5M users on a zero budget

User content — A screenshot of a room decorated by a game user

ABOUT BABY WORLD

Babyworld was a pet nurturing social game targeted towards the female audience. With 3.5 Million users, 350k MAU and 500k facebook fans, it was the largest social media game from a south asian studio in 2013. Created by a tiny team of 5 and grown with $0 advertising spend.

GOAL

Grow game to over 1 million users in 6 months with a team of 5 and zero budget.

ROLE

  • Growth Hacker
  • Game Designer
  • Game Programmer

OVERVIEW

We had worked on a game for more than 2 years, shipped it and it was time to grow. Here is the summary of the key points that we focused on:

  • Create a viral game concept: Make a game that market itself. Make something cute.
  • Make a socially dependent game core: You can win this game by two ways, get your friends to play it or spend money on it.
  • Grow Facebook page: Get direct access to users feeds and notification bar.
  • Create communities of players: Since it’s a Facebook game fuel the growth of game groups on Facebook.
  • Use the access to notifications: Get the user back into the game through notifications. Send notifications not only from game but from friends creating social pressure.
  • Create competitions that matter: Don’t create empty leaderboards but a chance for everyone to win, show off and repeat.
  • Cross promotions: Find developers like yourself leverage on each other’s user base.

RESULTS

  • Userbase growth to 3.5 Million users in 1 year.
  • Top game in the category / features on store.
  • 500k + likes on Facebook.
  • A community of over 30,000 engaged users on Facebook.
Baby World’s rankings on facebook after it’s launch in october 2012

THE PROCESS

A VIRAL GAME CONCEPT FOR THE RIGHT AUDIENCE

  • THE RIGHT AUDIENCE: Who in your timeline shares the most on social media? Parents. Specially mom’s share the most on social media, whether it’s a baby photo of her first milkshake or the face he makes when he poops. As a twenty-something you can be annoyed by your timeline or you can leverage this sharable content in your latest game.
  • SHARABLE CONTENT: The idea was to create a game adorable and screamed to be shared by moms not once but daily. Our shops in the game contained more than 1500+ individual items and more released daily to be added in the game shops. Each of them will pass the cuteness test of any generation and culture.
Babysitting was integrated as core gameplay — You can chose to babysit or have a playdate

SOCIAL DEPENDENCY AT GAME CORE

Social games had built-in leaderboards. They also allowed users to visit ‘friends’ see their farms & earn money.

We took this a step further by introducing the concept of babysitting. Your baby is an alive cute little thing (tamaguchi) you need to make sure he is healthy and well taken care of. You do it with a little help from your friends. When you’re away your friends visit and feed your child in return they will earn points.

If you leave your baby unfed or unclean for too long she will die and that has monetary repercussions as well as emotional. So the choice is to buy expensive long lasting food or have a friend see your baby when you’re not there.

This was one of the big successes our Facebook posts, group’s, interactions were always filled with requests for neighbors for babysitting.

The bar on top of the game prompted for social interactions namely — Gifting, Messaging, Neighbors, Updates

FACEBOOK PAGE GROWTH

In 2012 a Facebook like was as good as an email address. To grow we needed all users to like our page. This was the key to retention, re-engagement and growth. Here is how we experimented and grew our page.

  • Just Ask: The simplest way to get someone to do something is to just ask at the right time. No promotions no nothing, If they like just ask.
  • Like box after quest completion: One of the most positive interaction in the game was when a user just completed a quest and received a reward for it. On each quest completion a small like box did the trick for us.
  • Like box on preloader: The loading time of Baby World was one minute. We placed a simple like box on the loading screen. This was the trigger point that derived the most likes for us.
  • Like & get a gift: Below the game canvas we had a good permanent space which we used for advertising. One of the slot was permanently for the page like. Like the page and receive an in game gift.
Adverts below the game helped grow facebook communities the most.

SUPER USERS & FACEBOOK GROUPS

  • Baby World Facebook group: Since our babysitting feature was working people automatically started adding strangers in the game and started sharing gifts in the game. This was a great opportunity to build a community where users interacted and shared. So we started a Facebook group, advertised it in the game and on the Facebook page, the group started growing.
  • Exclusive content for the groups: To get the conversation going we started to share guides and sneak peaks of the things to come in the game. This started to become the exclusive club where people were direct access to developers. We made sure it was a private group and people needed an invitation later to ensure that people felt it was an exclusive group.
  • Super users group & responsibilities: At this time we had a group of 10–20 super users who were the most active in the game and socially. We treated them as one of the team and made an exclusive group for it. By making these super users as moderators for the other groups. We shifted the responsibility of community management to them.
  • We loved our super users: These users were our customer service, our testers and our idea generators. We loved them to bits, they had full access to everything and created a wonderful thriving community of mothers, we never could ourselves. We had people creating plush dolls, fan art and concept for items in a year.

SHARING MECHANISMS & NOTIFICATIONS

These were the good days when game shares came in your news feed and applications could send notifications to anyone and I mean anyone.

WOULD YOU LIKE SPAM WITH THAT?

It was after midnight some days after the game launch that we figured out oh snap we can actually send a notification to anyone in the world if we knew their Facebook ID. So we started with our friends made a quick script and send it to everyone from the baby world page and we had users getting in.

We knew we couldn’t keep this up forever so we made the most of it while we could. For a week all our servers did was send invites to the game to people in the states and people were clicking and coming in the game, we had a couple of thousand people in the game while Facebook took back our water canon.

COME BACK! YOUR BABY NEEDS YOU

The users that dropped in the tutorials or the users that stayed one session and never came back. This was the audience who was never going to come back to our game. So we started sending out notifications to these guys often. Because every conversion of this user base was a bonus. Many these people were for whom the game didn’t load due to a technical reason or they just got stuck.

We did significant A/B tests for these until we narrowed it down to your baby needs you and it worked we got 5% of these people back in a week.

GAME ENGAGEMENT NOTIFICATIONS

These notifications were generated on a certain time of the game state when an action was required by the user. These were used to re-engage users within 24 hours. These included:

  • Hunger
  • Cleaning required
  • Energy full ready to play
  • New contest ready.
  • 24 hour reward about to expire.
  • A new quest ready

CALLING OUT ALL THE NICE MOMS!

Not everyone shares game feeds and even fewer people like it or interact with it. Except for mom’s. They also happen to be the nicest people on the planet, you need help in your baby game? I don’t play games but let me help you out with that.

So we had a help message in the game which you could share on your feed and your friend can come and help babysit your baby.

SHARE ONLY ITEMS

Want that exclusive awesome new thing. Do 5 shares. Want something even more brilliant? Look for someone’s rare item share in the news feed, click it and collect your item.

The user who clicked to collect the gift, maybe it was an abandoned user and came back due to the gift.

User generated Facebook Profile photos — Users could take an avatar photo & directly set it as facebook profile photo

FACEBOOK COVERS, DISPLAY PHOTOS

You could even dress up your baby, chose a cute animation to play and take a photo put it directly as your Facebook display photo. Or you could decorate your room take a cover size photo and directly set it as a cover from within the game.

Default popup mechanism set to sharing — Each level up / quest had it’s own shared image

ACHIEVEMENT SHARING

We tried to name achievements, quests as fun as we could. Normal game sharings are useless for people who don’t play the game.

Having them as something witty worked. The other thing that worked is having the game players get a reward for clicking on someone’s share.

COMPETITIONS

User generated content — Images created using photobooth a hot or not style minigame in Baby World

HOT OR NOT BATTLE

To increase in game interaction with strangers, we introduced a hot or not style mini game.

Dress up your avatar. Chose a background. Chose an animation. Take a snapshot. Compete.

  • Strangers were shown two photos and they picked one, you got little rewards for voting.
  • 24 hours competition, winners generated at the end of it.
  • People who voted could add people with the babies and become their neighbors if they accepted. This generated more in game activity.
  • In addition to neighbors, the competition generated relevant notifications: You win, you lose, baby you voted for won, you got notification and a reward when you click on it. And a chance to do it again.
  • Competition winners generated more meaningful shares and created more engaging posts.
Results from curated competitions — These competitions were based on themes

WEEKLY CURATED GLOBAL COMPETITIONS

  • A theme was announced at the start of the week, everybody decorated their avatars and rooms based on the theme.
  • People voted on the photos and a winner was picked by the jury of super users.
  • Winners were featured on the Facebook page and each was given rare rewards not available in the game and currency otherwise purchased.
  • Everyone who entered the competition always shared their rooms and created engaging content for us.

LEADERBOARDS

A conventional leaderboard with your friends level their quest level and status of their baby. The issue with this leaderboard is the top 5 in the fronts are more engaged and the long tail feels like it doesn’t compete so it doesn’t take part. This was mostly used for babysitting by people.

CROSS PROMOTIONS

We figured if we’re stuck in a situation, there will be other developers in the same situation. We reached out to different games on Facebook and got some cross-promotion deals. We showed their adverts inside our games and they did the same. This started generating some good traffic for us.

We also found a service that did the same thing. So the space above the game canvas and on the left on the bottom of the game canvas was used for cross promotions along with the in game advertising.

This got us a thousand clicks a day without any spend at all and these were users who played other pet games and were our perfect audience.

FACEBOOK FEATURES

We never completely understood the feature mechanism behind the games category. It was a mixture of your MAU and new users coming into the game.

With our growth we starting climbing in the charts and reached the top three place in the category and remained in the charts for the year. This not only helped us generate traffic but it helped us build the baby world brand and get more games to cross-promote us helped us get other deals.

LEARNING & INSIGHTS

  • Notifications Notifications Notifications
  • Sharable content, generic doesn’t work. It’s to be super cute, super funny, animated or something you consider an achievement and your friends engage with it.
  • Find people like you learn from them help them and yourself along the way. Users can play two games buy two products don’t compete.
  • Don’t do it yourself find super users, provide the building stones to build communities let them nurture themselves.
  • Always have more for your top players that small elite group is going to get more people in than your other players.
  • Do small incremental experiments. Don’t build a growth experiment in a couple of months only to see it fail.

Bonus user generated content