Branded games are not new, brands have been enjoying the benefits of including games in marketing since video games existed, however until recently they were exclusively developed by the Coca-Cola’s and Lego’s of the world. Advances in mobile technology have widened the playing field for all types of businesses to reap the rewards and pre-built white label games have made it much more cost effective too.
If you’re thinking of commissioning a game or customising an existing one for your brand for the first time, here’s what you need to know.
LEVEL 1 – SETTING THE SCENE
The first thing to consider before you do anything else is ask yourself the following question….
Is my company ready for a branded game?
Might seem obvious and we don’t mean to teach you to suck eggs, but a branded game is not a marketing magic bullet and you need the foundations in place first.
Do you have a mailing list that you regularly send marketing mailers to? Do you have an active social media channel to promote a game on? Do you have a website that is easily updated with consistent visitor numbers?
If the answer to some of these is no, then perhaps it’s not quite the right time for a game just yet. Focus on building your audience foundations first before rewarding them with competitions and fun.
But, if you are looking to boost your existing marketing or seasonal campaigns, you want to increase your audience engagement or drive traffic to your event or exhibition stand, then a game can be the perfect antidote to all the standard tools.
So read on, it’s time to level up!
LEVEL 2 – STARTING YOUR JOURNEY
It’s time to start considering your options, but first…
What are you hoping to achieve?
There’s no shortage of great customer success stories when it comes to game campaigns and it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of doing something different and fun.
But make sure you keep the objectives, and your brief, at the forefront of your mind.
What is it about having a branded game that interests you and how does that apply to what you want to do? Is it just a bit of fun? Do you want to direct traffic to a webpage? Raise awareness or promote a new product or range? Maybe it’s to encourage social media shares and engagement.
Whatever it is, have your end goals and objectives clear from the outset and this will help define the best approach, and will keep you (and your developers) focused on what’s important.
How do we do this?
Once you’ve worked out your objectives it’s time to work out the best solution, based on what you need your branded game to do.
Does it need to be a game that simply acts as a fun competition mechanic or does it need to carry a weightier message? Does it need to have some sort of educational aspects? Do you have an existing brand or campaign narrative that the game needs to follow.
Generally speaking you have two options to choose from:
If you need a game to follow your narrative and story arc, you have your own world to bring to life or have a brand new idea for a game, then you need to consider bespoke development. For these you’ll need to seek out a team of experienced developers, or someone who can take your concept, help you flesh it out and turn it into reality. This option will likely be expensive, but you will get what you want.
What sort of budget will I need for bespoke development?
Although it’s very hard to put a figure on bespoke development, as a rough guide – a small, fairly simple, 2D, one-level, bespoke project would sit within the £20k to £60k bracket, and up to £120k for a medium sized game. For more on the subject of bespoke game development costs see our blog on how much does a mobile game cost?
Be careful here though, bespoke development can take a long time and without the proper budgets and fundamentals of good game design, it might fall short of your expectations.
Pre-developed white label games / Re-skin / tailored games
A more cost effective option is to invest in the customisation of an existing game, rather than developing one from scratch. You can generally licence a game that has already been built and simply add your company logo and copy, or take it up a notch by changing the colours to your brand palette, adapting the characters to reflect your company mascots or even updating the environment to suit your industry.
The benefit of this approach is that it is much more cost effective, and you will have a greater understanding of what the final game will look like up front. It will also be quicker to produce as it’s possible that these games can be turned around in as little as two to six weeks.
However, as with most white label products, you won’t OWN the game, like you would if you were commissioning a game from scratch. And there could be scenario where other companies, possibly even your competitors, are using the same game as you. If this is a concern, speak to your team and be open about your campaign, they’ll be able to help you navigate the best way forward.
What sort of budget will I need for pre-developed games?
As a rough guide, games that already exist and allow for you to add minimal customisation like adding your logo and copy can be available for less than £1k, which is perfect for testing a game campaign with your audience without a massive investment.
Further customisations and re-skins can cost anything between £2k and £20k dependent on your scope and game functionality. Some game developers can offer base pre-built engines but then add various levels, character selection, additional content like power ups and hidden Easter eggs (not the chocolate kind, but little hidden items that the player has to uncover!). All these elements can make the game feel more bespoke and, at around £20k to £50k, a much more sophisticated game than one built from scratch for the same budget.
There are pros and cons to both options as with everything, so think carefully about which route you decide to pursue and which suits your budget, timescales and campaign best.
LEVEL 3 – GETTING TECHNICAL
Another thing to consider is the technicalities, which again come back to your objectives.
Where in the campaign do I want my game to sit?
Do you want the game to sit in an app or on a staff engagement platform? Does it need to sit on a subdomain of your website or hosted for you? Should it link back to a campaign landing page with special offers? Is it going to sit on an iPad or within an arcade machine on an exhibition stand.
These are all important questions to think about up front and ask your development partners which options are feasible. If you have a technical department, get them involved right at the very beginning and plug them in with your game dev team too, so any issues with compatibility and functionality can be ironed out at the beginning.
LAST LEVEL – NAVIGATING THE PITFALLS
Hopefully this guide will have given you some food for thought when setting out on your first branded game campaign journey, before you go, here are some common pitfalls you should avoid in order to create a successful game campaign that works for you and your audience.
- It’s not about you
A little harsh? Sorry but we can’t highlight this one enough…
We understand that you have objectives and that your brand and messaging need to be represented within a game, otherwise what’s the point, right? BUT, make sure that you’re thinking of the player’s experience too. If your branding is getting in the way of gameplay, you run the risk of it having a negative impact.
If you’re commissioning a bespoke game, make sure that good game play principles are at the forefront of the brief. If you’re tailoring a game engine that already exists, be sure to demo it. Play it for yourself and check it’s been proven to be fun and has a good balance between brand integration and game play.
- Absolutely no share-gates
Share-gates are a way of trying to increase social media sharing and engagement by only allowing a player to play the game once, then blocking competition entry or repeat plays until they share the game to social media.
This is a bad user experience and defeats the point of having a game in the first place – they are supposed to create positive connections, not dark patterns that will not only put people off playing. Besides, share gates are more likely to result in fake email addresses that mean nothing to your brand.
- No barriers to play
Equally, don’t create a barrier to play – we often get asked to put the email submit screen at the front of the game. We understand that you want to collect email addresses but you don’t want to put people off before they start. Engaging audiences and creating genuinely meaningful connections, should be a two-way street. You have to think about it from your audience’s perspective – what is in it for them? And why would they give up their precious details, without even having a chance to play.
The only exception to this rule of course is when it’s a legal requirement to do so, in the alcoholic drinks or gambling sectors for example.
- It ain’t no marketing magic bullet
We’ve touched on this earlier and we know it seems obvious, but it’s worth pointing out that if you’re investing in a game, you need to consider how you’re going to tell people about it.
Have a solid marketing plan in place to give it the best possible chance to reach as many people as possible. Don’t just include it in your email bulletin once, share it multiple times, create conversations on social media and engage with players, create competition and excitement around your campaign.
- Measure and learn
Make sure that you have analytics available for your game, so you can evaluate its success against your objectives. If you don’t, you won’t be able to measure how many people have played, engagement time, CTR to special offers or weblinks, re-engagement, score submits, or any social sharing.
The more analytics you can compile, the better. It will give you the tools to evaluate, review and learn.
Hopefully this guide gives you a solid starting point to creating you first branded game and the things you need to consider.
If you have any questions about building a game campaign or would like to talk through any of your own ideas, reach out via email or give us a call, we’ll happily share our thoughts.