Everyone is trying to think of ways to drive customer interaction and increase brand affinity. Loyalty programs are a big help, but when every brand offers something similar, how can you differentiate yours? Have you thought of creating a mobile game?

Your company already has a mobile app for ordering and loyalty. Why? We look at our mobile phones about 80 times per day. Having your logo on someone’s home screen is the best digital billboard you could buy.

According to Apptopia estimates, in Q2 2021, people around the world spent 1.1 billion hours inside of food and drink apps. In the same quarter, people spent 13,627 percent more time playing mobile games. We’re talking 151 billion hours. That’s a lot of time and opportunity in front of people’s faces.

You’re probably thinking, “Instead of building a mobile game, why don’t we simply advertise in already existing mobile games?” The answer is, you definitely should. The addressable eyeballs are massive and diverse. But anyone can advertise—building a mobile game into your loyalty program puts you ahead of the competition and makes you a bit of a trendsetter. As long as the game is fun, most people would rather play a game that helps them get food than a game that doesn’t.

Mobile gaming is a $70 billion industry and growing. Newzoo estimates that almost a third of the global population (2.4 billion) now plays mobile games. Mobile has sparked a massive demographic shift in gaming, ushering in an era of “casual gaming.” Consumers no longer have to buy a game console or a computer program to be a “gamer.” We just need access to a smartphone and to be bored on our commute to work, or waiting in our doctor’s office.

The point is, more people play games than you probably think. There is a difference between what many people would describe as “gamers” and people who play games. From the article; “The Electronic Software Association revealed in its 2019 Essential Facts report that 65 percent of the general American population plays video games—and that the most common gaming device for 60 percent of those people is a smartphone.”

Apptopia, which has access to performance data estimates for roughly seven million mobile apps, ran data analysis of the 10-highest grossing mobile games in the U.S. (the top 10 gaming apps where people spend the most money) and, perhaps to the surprise of many, found that an average of 52 percent of their players were female.

Domino’s had the right idea

The best mobile games are highly engaging. Of course, I’m not trying to convince you that brand engagement is good—you already know that. It’s one of the main reasons your brand is already active on social media. I believe mobile gaming is the best platform for you to continue to increase engagement. Creating a good, goal-oriented mobile game is not easy, but it is highly unique and likely to drive more interest than paying big bucks to globally recognized celebrities. 

Domino’s was onto something when it launched its Piece of the Pie Pursuit mobile offering in April 2018. The game consisted of six levels, each with a simple goal, such as moving a ball from point A to point B with obstacles/pitfalls along the way. Once a player completed the game, they received 10 “piece of the pie” points, and 60 points could be redeemed for a free medium two-topping pizza.

In reviewing performance estimates for the Domino’s app, downloads and engagement were not significantly impacted, however, and the game was retired after a short period of time. So why didn’t it work out better? The game lacked staying power and there was only one rewards opportunity on the table. Compared to other games on the market, its biggest driving force was the points and not the fun of the game. The controls were not intuitive or very responsive. Put simply, the work was elementary. Brands should think about the success of the game first, and then figure out how to convert the engagement into something meaningful for them.

Loyalty is dead—most brands have rewards

Traditional loyalty programs—coupons, rewards, cash-back—are antiquated and don’t create the loyalty they used to. Across big box stores, restaurants, airlines, and more, I am part of more rewards programs than I can possibly remember. As a customer, it’s smart to enroll in all of these. They’re places we shop at and will continue to shop at, so why not reap some benefits? 

Think about Chipotle. It isn’t just competing with QDOBA and like-chains, it’s also competing with Subway, Panera Bread, and all other fast-casual restaurants. We all agree loyalty/rewards programs help, but your rewards members have also enrolled in the programs of your competitors. It’s because of this that brand loyalty doesn’t go as far as most people think. 

How to think about your brand’s mobile game

While creating a standalone game would provide for more real estate on a customer’s smartphone, building the game inside of your existing app is another enticing avenue. When people want to play the game, they are essentially entering the restaurant, which creates more opportunities for online orders.

The entire game should be a steady drip of brand awareness without it being overly annoying. Make sure the color scheme of the game is the same the customer is used to seeing everywhere else. Try to use components of the game to either educate customers about the company or show off the brand’s vibe/lifestyle. Most importantly, the game needs to be a piece of your loyalty/rewards program. Winning and unlocking rewards through gameplay is unique and habit-driving. 

What type of game should you choose and how can you make sure to incorporate elements that tie the game to your brand? There’s many different types of mobile games out there; Word games (Words With Friends), Match3 games (Candy Crush Saga), Endless runners (Temple Run), Tower defense games (Clash of Clans), Interactive story games (Episode), and much more. Here are a few thought starters for two well-known quick-serves out there:

McDonald’s: I’m betting an endless runner starring the Hamburglar would be fun. Collect hamburgers and make sure you don’t get caught in the act. Beating levels and gaining points can feed into your rewards account. 

Pizza Hut: Nobody out-pizzas the hut, but maybe you can. A great fit for a time management game where the player has to create delicious pizzas and cook them on time for guests.

Need further inspiration? Let’s look at two examples already in production from brands who truly understand consumer engagement.

Starbucks released an augmented reality mobile game called Starland. It’s trying to be similar to Pokémon Go in that people will need to get out and walk around to play. “When players open the game, they will see floating stars in their surroundings [you don’t have to be in a Starbucks store] through the phone’s camera. Stars may change positions as players shift their phones around. Catching the stars will give players the chance to win various prizes, including free drinks for an entire year, the ability to earn triple stars [Starbucks Rewards points], free breakfast for a year, a $500 Starbucks gift card or 15,000 stars—which is about 100 Starbucks drinks or about 75 lunch items.” Read this for more specifics of the gameplay and prizes.

A little bit different of a concept is the game Covet Fashion from Glu Mobile, which has actually been around since 2013. This is not specific to food but a good example of gamification nonetheless. Covet Fashion itself is not the brand that made a mobile game, but rather a vehicle for fashion brands to be included in a mobile game. Players create outfits from more than 150 real brands such as Calvin Klein, Badgley Mischka and more. From the game’s App Store description: “Build your virtual dream closet as you shop and discover clothing and brands you love, plus get recognized for your style with incredible in-game prizes!” According to Apptopia, the game averages about two million monthly active users. Badgley Mischka reported Covet Fashion is “the third highest traffic driver to the fashion label’s website.”

If your brand is looking to take a risk for a massive reward, creating a fun, well-designed, game is the way to go. Tie it to your rewards program but focus on the player/your customer having fun. You want your game to be something people who may not normally love your brand will want to play.

Adam Blacker is the VP of Insights at Apptopia, the leader in real-time competitive intelligence. Brands use the platform to generate insights across mobile apps and connected devices. They rely on Apptopia to better understand consumer behavior and intent across app-based devices to gain a competitive advantage.

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