Using rewarded referrals to grow your mobile game

You’ve designed, developed, and produced your new mobile game, and released it into the wild. You’ve got your initial playerbase; now it’s time to grow it to the next stage. There are many methods you can use as part of this growth, and in this post we’ll explore one that we at Megacool think is among the most powerful: rewarded referrals.

What are referrals, and why are they so important?

With user acquisition costs increasing year on year, the marketing spend required to grow your game can be astronomical. We at Megacool decided to take a different route, and shifted our focus towards user-to-user marketing.

There is enormous social strength in getting a personal recommendation from someone you know and trust, particularly compared to how likely you might be to follow an ad’s call-to-action. A referral is just that: the mobile app equivalent of a friend telling you “hey, this is cool, you should check this out.”

With Megacool, you can encourage your players to give those referrals to their friends — that’s what’s known as rewarded referrals. In the simplest terms, your players receive a small incentive for recommending your game to others. However, there’s plenty of subtle ways you can optimize the return you get out of these referrals.

Make rewards enticing… but not too enticing

There are plenty of ways you can reward referring players. In-game coins or currency is an obvious starting point, although carries the risk that a player won’t care too much about the amount offered, or feel any tangible “gain” from having received the reward. Naturally, you don’t want to give too much away unless you impact the game’s economy. If you do decide to go with in-game currency, in our experience it’s best to keep it to a value of around a $2 IAP.

Other rewards could be special characters or items within your game, that only unlock once a referral target has been met. These could be exclusive items that your players can’t obtain in any other way, although be aware that if your game is multiplayer, then this could annoy the rest of your playerbase if the items are powerful or give some significant gameplay advantages. Cool, exclusive cosmetic items are often the way forward.

Make the experience personal

It may not surprise you to learn that not everyone loves a stream of invite messages clogging up up your Facebook feed or your Twitter timeline. At Megacool, we have seen that the majority of players actually look to use messaging services when sharing, instead of social media. This means that instead of spamming five hundred friends, a player specifically chooses one (or a handful) who they think will enjoy the game too.

You can take this level of personalisation a step further, to make the experience as customised and engaging as possible for both the the referrer and the person they’re sending it to. Make sure the referral message includes the name of the person who’s sending the referral. “Hey, Ben doesn’t think you can beat his score in Crossy Road! is likely to be far more engaging for the recipient than a generic-looking “Download this game now.

Megacool’s SDK can also ensure that when a friend acts on a referral, they’ll be instantly added to the referrer’s in-game friend list. Not only does this boost engagement and retention, it also allows for seamless matchmaking in synchronous multiplayer games.

Use gameplay GIFs to increase engagement

There’s one other thing that needs to be part of your personalised referral message, and it’s a pretty big one — the branding of the game itself.

Even better is if your referral comes with a GIF of gameplay to really get the message across and entice new players. Game studios consistently see that their best-performing UA creatives are those that make use of real gameplay, in a way that gives a taste of the game to new potential new players.

Below is an example from C.A.T.S. using Megacool’s SDK, showing how fast and easy it is for players to send a referral to a friend. That friend then receives not only a personalised message, but also a cool gameplay GIF designed to show them a snapshot of what the game’s about: this is likely to be much more appealing than a screenshot, image or simple line of text.

Clearly communicate the reward, and how to get it

This may sound super-obvious, but… whatever reward you choose to go with, make sure it’s clearly communicated to your players! “Clear” means concise (your players might not have time for too much detail), but you should also give multiple opportunities for them to see the reward. Some players might be tap-happy when it comes to pop-ups and menus (guilty…) so might miss your referral campaign altogether unless it’s shown multiple times, or is easily discoverable in the app.

The same applies for the actual process that a player needs to follow in order to get their reward. Take a look at this example from C.A.T.S., which nails both what the reward is, and how do players get it.

Think about gamifying referrals

Rather than just giving a straight-up tit-for-tat reward for a referral, consider gamifying it by adding a target for the player. So instead of getting a reward for referring one player, they have to refer five. Or, build in different tiers of rewards for the amount of players that they refer to the game, with new and better rewards for every new tier that they reach.

Once again, clear communication is important: if you’re asking players to jump through hoops, they need to be able to see the hoops. A progress bar could fill up as friends join, showing progression towards the goal. If a player is just one or two friends away from filling the bar, this may even motivate them to go on another referral push to try and get to completion.

Conclusion

Referrals are one of the most effective ways to grow your game to the next stage, leveraging your already-engaged players to tell their friends to jump on board. There are many optimization techniques you can use in order to get the most out of this marketing tool — we’ve scratched the surface here, but to find out more about how best to implement referrals and GIF sharing in your game, check out our Best Practice guide.

As always, if you have any comments or questions about this post, we’d love to hear from you. To talk about all things Megacool, email us at hello@megacool.co or drop us a tweet. Thanks for reading!