Mobile Gaming + E-commerce = a Win for Brands

Why It's Time for Marketers to Tap Into Engaging and Viral Nature of Social Gaming

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Tony Hoskins
Tony Hoskins
Mobile-payment apps such as Starbucks Card Mobile are only the beginning. Brace yourself for a new generation of mobile apps that combine e-commerce with mobile gaming to create experiences that make today's branded apps look about as compelling as Tic-tac-toe and drive a new era of explosive mobile growth.

What are they waiting for?
To date, even the most well-intentioned mobile brand initiatives have suffered from a failure of imagination. Yes, being able to fill idle moments with mobile news and entertainment is nice. Being able to "like" things on Facebook fan sites ... OK, that sounds good, too. Being able to shop anywhere, anytime? Love it -- especially now that Target , Amazon, Crate and Barrel, REI, and now Starbucks have apps that let us buy and ship products with a single touch or swipe. But they still can't come close to the apps that truly capture consumers' hearts, thumbs, and coveted wallets.

Look around. What are people really doing with their smartphones? Men and women, young and old -- it's all about gaming. Angry Birds, anyone? With more than 50 million downloads and counting, maybe that should be: Angry Birds, everyone -- along with plenty of Cut The Rope, Bejeweled, and other incredibly addictive mobile-gaming apps. At the bus stop, in line at the bank, over lunch hour, and during conference calls (come on, admit it), we spend hours playing to beat our personal best, unlock content, and access new features. We build communities by saving progress or competing with other mobile users around us. And we're not just talking about "why not" freebies here; of the $1.5 billion in revenues projected for mobile gaming by 2014, more than $1.3 billion is expected to come from paid gaming.

Yet, as far as I can tell, in spite of this resounding vote from consumers, not a single one of the 300,000 iPhone apps now available bothers to incorporate mobile gaming into e-commerce. It's time for marketers to tap into the inherently engaging and viral nature of mobile games, leverage the loyalty of the consumers who love them, and cash in on the communities being built.

The verge of convergence
Until now, the rapid pace of development of mobile commerce, location-based marketing, and social gaming has meant that each has moved forward individually, but the real excitement begins when we step back and consider what happens when these capabilities are combined within a single mobile experience.

Mobile gaming can be the perfect introduction between brands and consumers. What better way to get me to register personal information than to entice me with a fantastic new game? Consumers crave the experience of moving forward in games and achieving the ever-higher rank, and if they're willing to pay $0.99 or $1.99 for games with only virtual rewards, imagine how much more compelling they'll find a game that can pay off in real-world tangible goodies. Reward high-ranking players and those who win special tests or levels with access to exclusive offers, coupons, and customer recognition and they'll come back again and again. Now, add in a little e-commerce: how about if that one-swipe purchase I make with my iPhone unlocks new levels or features to make my gaming experience even more engaging? Talk about a virtuous circle. Imagine:

  • Spending your time in the Starbucks line playing a game that could win you a free latte by the time you reach the counter.
  • Letting your son play for a discounted ski lift ticket on the way to the slopes.
  • Having a favorite game that gets bigger and better every time you use your phone to buy groceries.

    The possibilities are truly endless. In fact, there's no reason every large brand can't have a compelling game with an e-commerce component (or vice versa). Here's my prediction: In the not so distant future, sales, special offers, and free shipping will no longer be administered by the promotional schedule of the retailer, but by the gaming performance of the consumer. Playing and playing well will pay off in special access, special deals, and special treatment. What better way to build and move up the ladder of a social network than leveling? The more I play the more I get ... perfect!

    2011: Game on
    As you can tell, I'm excited about the junction of mobile functionality, sophisticated users, and the explosion of social gaming -- it's a digital marketer's dream. But the combination of gaming and e-commerce is just the tip of the iceberg. Have I mentioned what happens when you add geolocation, social scanning and group buying to the picture? Stay tuned.

    Tony Hoskins is principal of digital agency POP.
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