App Competitions and Prizes

Need another great, potentially free, way to promote your apps? Challenge your players to compete for prizes and bragging rights. We’ll take a look at some of the benefits, options and possibilities that you can explore to help you get the greatest benefit from engaging your players with contests.

First, competitions can be announced any time as special events, or on an ongoing monthly or seasonal basis. They mainly require some creativity coupled with time and effort to promote. Where possible, keep the theme and rewards central to the nature of your app. It’s appropriate to try planning a month ahead of time and having everything set up at least two weeks before the competition is announced. Plan on at least a week’s worth of promoting the event – getting announcements out to web sites, posted on social networking channels, perhaps even updating your app’s description on app stores.

Types of Competitions

The type of competition should be centered around the kind of app you have and the elements of it that can be easily measured – whether in a video, screenshot or through your own in-app tracking. This might be associated with doing something the fastest, getting the highest score, being the first to reach a certain level or unlock.

However, competitions do not need to be performance-based. Coolest screenshots, puzzles based on in-game content, Easter Egg hunts, most interesting build or load-out, funniest captions, even fan fiction, can all serve as a cool event to promote your apps and games.

Real vs. Virtual Rewards

Real prizes like free mobile devices or cash are great. Most developers, however, tend to be short on cash, so first we will take a look at Virtual and Vanity Item rewards. After that, we’ll return to more tangible prizes.

One only needs to consider that Blizzard generated $2.1 million in sales of its Celestial Steed mount in 2010 to realize that virtual vanity items have “real value.” Value has always been subjective, and it’s become even more abstract in the digital age.

Virtual rewards can include anything that equates to a “quality of life” improvement for the player – being able to run faster, have a faster mount, extra storage, be able to summon bankers or vendors, have extra crafting professions, swap builds for free, in-game or in-app store discounts, account upgrades, a free month of premium game time, etc. They can include performance enhancing prizes – better gear, vehicle upgrades, stat boosts. Rewards could just as easily be a new “skin”, a rare pet or mount, unique items or titles.

The benefits of virtual rewards are that, aside from your development time, they are free – can be given away as many times as you like. The main concerns with these rewards are maintaining balance in the game and its economy. That said, you can easily establish multiple tiers of rewards so that everyone who participates gets something, while the “best” and perhaps “wild card” winners get something better.

Real rewards, in the sense of something more tangible, do not necessarily require a large budget. Here, again, you have many options available to you. You can offer rewards out of your own pocket or budget, or you can coordinate with another app developer or business to sponsor your competition.

Offering real rewards will usually require you to observe local laws regarding contests, and it may be necessary to limit eligibility on a regional and/or age basis.

Taking money out of your own budget is the “easiest” approach. It is not necessarily the best approach, but in certain cases could be a good option to consider. Cash prizes are offered by some games and most tournaments. Instead of cash prizes, you could offer digital devices, t-shirts and other “paraphernalia” (via sites like Café Press), gift certificates, or other mobile app or software products. This lets you shop around with whatever budget you may have.

But, you don’t necessarily have to foot the bill yourself. You have the option to approach other businesses to sponsor your event, too! This approach sets up the potential that they may help promote your event – wherein your event offers prizes that promote them. Win-Win. Make sure to give your sponsors like this a nice write up in conjunction alongside your promotion of the event.

Say you have a F2P “Racing” app, good but not top of the line. You could approach the developer of a premium “Racing” app offering to promote it in exchange for one or more free copies to offer as prizes. All the way around, this would be a mutually beneficial arrangement.

In some cases, you may be able to arrange an extra commission with the developer of the premium app for any purchases and downloads you are able to generate for them. This is heavily dependent upon their tracking mechanisms and would be easier if you are able to provide coupon/discount codes.

Functionally, your prizes could be just about anything – virtual items or currency, unlocks, an account upgrade, a slot on your beta test team, cash, tangible products or simply bragging rights.  The greater the perceived “relative value” – the more compelling the competition is likely to be.

Promoting Fan Contests

You have the capacity to enable others to announce competitions on your behalf!

This is a great way to gain “evangelists” in promoting your app. Remember, there are two types of “super users” – those who help monetize it for you by using your app and purchasing in-app products, and those who help promote your app. Both are important, suffice that your “evangelists” are the ones who are best able to help you attract paying customers. There are even game sites that cater to announcing game competitions – and you don’t need to be the latest and greatest app to get a mention.

Offer your “evangelists” incentives for their own game play and prizes they can distribute to their audience.  The easier you make it for your closest followers and greatest fans to promote you – the more likely they are to do so.  The more you promote them – the more likely they are to run events.  And, the more you are able to help them monetize those events or expand their own audience encourages them all the more.

Project Manager at the Opera Mobile Store providing Sales-Marketing support. Content development and research.

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