In my last article, I set out to acquaint you with the concept of advergaming – the use of video games for advertising purposes. Here I explore the practicalities of having such a game, or branded app, developed. The ‘data’ for this article come from a series of interviews with specialized developers as well as professional experience in the field.

When you are in the business of pet products (or any non-digital goods industry for that matter), having a branded app or video game developed for the proliferation of your brand can seem like a daunting task. How do I materialize my vision into a functional product? How can I best allocate my financial resources? And, how will I yield the biggest return from my investments? Notwithstanding the medium’s sticky and viral nature, if you don’t have the right ingredients to work with, you are poised for costly failure. Although nobody really knows what ultimately drives the adoption of creative goods such as video games, there are certain guidelines that facilitate a smooth development process and which may increase your chances for success. In this article, I highlight four such guidelines.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Nowadays almost anyone can obtain a developer’s license for digital distribution platforms such as Apple’s App Store or Google Play at virtually no cost. Programming interns are plentiful and offer cheap labor, and with the right guidance from internal staff members, surely it should be possible to develop something that’s fun and appealing, right? Not quite. The notion that you are not restricted in doing something doesn’t necessarily mean that you should actually go and do it. Video game development comprises a complex interplay between creativity and technology, and the added objective of favorably changing end-users’ behavior or attitudes towards your brand further complicates things in a non-trivial way. Ample firms exist that have core competencies in creating video games with the sole purpose of brand proliferation (I list some reputable firms in the “More information” section below). The $3bn+ USD advergaming industry is densely populated with skillful digital production agencies, applied gaming studios, and advergaming firms each with their own bag of tricks. Instead of trying to compete, you are best positioned by contracting a team that knows how to translate your objectives into a compelling experience.

Know Your Objectives

Advergames lend themselves well to an array of different objectives. However,
before you start issuing RFP’s (or, requests for proposals) to developers, think long and hard about what it is that you want an app or game to accomplish. Different objectives require different production trajectories and vary in budgets. Also, specialized firms tend to have key areas of expertise that may fit certain objectives better than others. Advergames can be designed to fit into a campaign for promoting a specific product or brand, and act as a tool for creating customer awareness herein (e.g. a new collection of pet accessories). Yet advergames can also act as a standalone platform for customer loyalty, spanning longer timeframes and thus be campaign agnostic (e.g. an app for an entire product line of food products over a pet’s life). Even other objectives may include educating a target audience with the purpose of behavioral change towards a particular subject matter (e.g. how to potty train puppies or kittens). The latter may emerge from intra-firm cooperation or even at the industry level. One rather important caveat is that advergames’ effectiveness is hard to measure. Besides adoption (no. users), retention rates (time spent), and identification of user characteristics, advergames suffer from a lack of accountability that marketers should be willing to overcome.

Choose Your Platforms Wisely

One of the key strategic decisions for apps and games is the choice of platform(s). This choice influences many things including the size of the addressable audience, characteristics of the addressable audience, possible features of the product, and (in part) development costs. Popular platforms for advergaming include mobile (e.g. Android), tablet (e.g. iOS), browser (e.g. Chrome), social (e.g. Facebook), and increasingly, virtual reality or VR (e.g. Oculus). Rather than letting the technological capabilities of the developer dictate, the choice of platforms is best determined by studying the target audience and the app or game’s intended use. For example, when targeting a young demographic of dog walkers a smartphone app may be a good idea, while for an audience of cat owners who spend more time with their pets sitting on the couch a tablet game is the better choice. Oftentimes, multiple platforms are in fact combined.

The cost increase of adding platforms, perhaps surprisingly, is non-linear. Since the bulk of labor needed to develop a game goes into the actual creation of gameplay mechanics and in-game assets, platforms can generally be added at little extra cost. With the prerequisite of deciding on a platform strategy prior to production, about 80% of all activities can be deployed across platforms. The exact cost increase then depends on the specific mix of platforms chosen. Mobile platforms such as iOS and Android share a common technological architecture and can therefore easily be combined, while the combination of mobile and browser-based games, let alone the combination of mobile and VR, is more challenging, and therefore costlier. Generally speaking, you’d do well by launching your game simultaneously on various compatible platforms.

Be Willing to Invest

The cost of developing advergames isn’t cheap. While smaller firms may offer to re-skin their preexisting titles for as little as $30,000 USD, typical budgets for custom-made products fall in the range of $100,000 – $500,000 USD. The exact price is contingent on the objectives and scope of a project (i.e. features, duration, platforms). Production times range from one to three months for standalone games that are part of a broader marketing campaign (for which there exist tight deadlines), to ongoing development contracts that can be terminated at two weeks’ notice (for elaborate service offerings such as customer loyalty platforms). Indeed, parallel to trends in the overall video game industry, advergames are moving away from a purely product-driven model to service-like innovation programs where clients can buy chunks of time that can be allocated at will. An advantage of this transition is that you can start out small and gradually transition into more substantial endeavors (e.g. from a single game to an all-encompassing customer loyalty platform). On the downside, it can create serious lock-in effects where the switching costs of going from one developer to the next can be detrimental.

Advergames and branded apps can serve a wide array of objectives and can add significant value to your product, organization and/or cause. Like any other creative good, however, success is hard to predict and even harder to quantify and measure. By following the four guidelines documented in this article (selecting the right partner, identifying your objectives up front, deciding on which platforms to target, and committing time and money to a project) you will create a strong foundation to build on. Success ultimately depends on a mix of factors including the creative concept, the target audience, and certain environmental/competitive factors that are beyond any single firm’s grasp. Regardless, with over half of the US population playing video games, it is indispensable for any marketer to consider advergames as a viable option.


Advergaming studios:

Facts about the video game industry:

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