Over the last few years, games have increasingly moved from being products with a shelf-life to something more akin to services; with players as subscribers and game studios as service providers.
Given the opportunity for long term fans, should branded games do the same?
Historically branded games are launched, promoted and, whether they’re successful or not, the brand moves on to the next thing.
A lot of non-branded games used to follow a similar approach, but things have changed. In the past a successful game would probably be followed by a sequel, but with online updates, games can evolve and their success can live on endlessly.
Some games took to a service orientated approach by accident. Angry Birds wasn’t designed to have more and more levels poured into it for free, you only pay once for it.
If they had known it was going to be such a hit there would have been a better monetisation model from the start, but its popularity means it pays to have it as the poster boy and continually update it while money is made from spin-offs and sequels.
Above: Angry Birds creator Peter Vesterbacka making hay since the success of his game
Others have prepared for long term popularity and are services by design. Candy Crush Saga has a similar casual game model to Angry Birds – short levels you complete to unlock the next – but it’s designed for players to make in app purchases to be more successful in the game, so adding new levels and features keep players longer and makes more revenue.
Above: Candy Crush Saga had long-term success in mind from the outset
Few brands or agencies plan for the success of a game or capitalise when it happens. They’re actually more likely to say “‘that worked well, let’s make another’ and go through the whole process again.
Advantages of the long haul
Creating a really popular piece of content isn’t easy, and if players love playing your game and the brand likes to have its audience spending time with it, why not keep it going?
You’re building community and loyalty and an opportunity to have a continual relationship with your audience.
You’ve got an existing fan base to grow from, meaning a lower cost of acquisition than when launching something new.
It’s cheaper to create new content for an existing game than create an entirely new one. And a new one might not be as good (or terrible!)
And if you commit to the long term you can improve the product by learning from analytics and player behaviour. Even if your game isn’t an initial hit, thinking long term can make it one.
Sometimes a little tweak is all that’s needed to turn average to great and by evolving a game you can study the analytics and iron out the wrinkles.
So why haven’t brands done it?
The strategy for the brand and game has to be long-term. A change in strategy can kill the game. If the central character is bulleted from the brand or the risk-based theme of the game no longer fits with the new no-risk direction of the brand, it’s over.
Creating long term content isn’t in a typical agency’s DNA. They launch then rip it down and start again. And a large part of an agencies business model is built around new strategy, new ideas and new content. And dare I say it, new campaigns and content is better for PR and awards.
Arguably, a piece of long-term content, like a game, is best done by treating it like a product and keeping it away from campaign thinking and transient agencies. Imagine it like Nike Fuelband, something that generates long-term engagement and loyalty that’s inherently aligned with the brand.
Creative agencies might come and go, but the product remains – it’s their job to promote it, not to change it or rip it down.
It doesn’t take much more effort to get a long-term game to launch, but it takes commitment to give it a chance beyond. Not every branded game has to last forever, but if you have the right challenge it could be worth the effort.