Never underestimate the power of Christmas and seasonal marketing.
Released only 3 days ago, at time of writing Magic Solver’s app 25 Days To Christmas: Holiday Advent Calendar is ranking in the top five game apps in over 32 countries.
Naturally when you see a statistic like this you want to see what all the fuss is about, so I downloaded the app.
When you open up 25 days you’re greeted with tinkling, holiday bells, chimes and shakers in a cacophony of obnoxious Christmas jingling. You can scroll across the screen as pure white snowflakes gently float down and across your screen. As with any advent calendar, you can open a ‘door’ each day of December until the 25th, which is Christmas.
If you’ve grown up in a culture that celebrates Christmas, there is a sense of learned anticipation to open each door of an advent calendar to see what will be behind it. You have to open it. Nobody is going to get an advent calendar and NOT open the doors.
Why does this work from a marketing perspective? It is tapping into some psychological principles behind our innate desire to uncover things, search for and obtain new items. Startup culture has popularized the term FOMO, referring to the ‘fear of missing out’. This strategy is employed to put pressure on you to complete something or make a decision, because if you don’t the opportunity will pass you by. We humans are extremely susceptible to this strategy and it is employed in 25 Days to Christmas to increase the likelihood of engagement.
Games often utilise the effectiveness of timers and competition. They encourage us to try harder and therefore invest more emotionally in what we are doing, this in turn often means that we care more about our score relative to others which is why we engage with leaderboards. Yet another principle marketing engages with.
So of course, I open the door in 25 Days to Christmas, still wondering how this is a game.
Upon opening the first door, I’m greeted with a Christmas Santa cookie and charming change of music. This is a minigame, I must complete this task to get my reward. Hooray! What could my gift be?
I tap on the santa cookie and it breaks apart so I can tap on each section individually to symbolically eat the cookie.
In addition to this mechanic, there is a countdown timer to compel me to complete the task in a certain amount of seconds. This is linked to a Game Center leaderboard, for players who are emotionally rewarded by competing with their friends over breaking a Santa cookie apart and pretending to eat it. This short, simple mechanic is not dissimilar to the way Warioware encourages you to complete simple tasks very quickly.
Following my cookie-devouring, I am visually offered my ‘free gift’ which is giftwrapped in a green and red box. It wiggles to draw my attention, and has an arrow pointing to it saying ‘unwrap your free gift’.
This moment is a demonstration of so many subtle psychological marketing tricks, jammed into one tiny in-game moment. No wonder is doing so well.
Marketers and advertisers use specific colours to sell things. The area is often referred to as colour psychology, outlining how colours can influence our perceptions of things – products, services or concepts.
Studies have shown that red is consistently associated with an increase in excitement and stimulation and green is shown to be associated with feelings of safety, health and nature. The combination both colours in a digital environment means we are drawn to these colours and are more likely to click those colours first when presented to us. They are also conveniently associated with Christmas colours, which also has positive emotional rewards and links back up with the strongest marketing method they are using, seasonal marketing.
What could be inside this enticing gift?
I tap on it, and in a large swooping movement a pop-up download screen for Blossom Blast Saga (by King, makers of Candy Crush) appears with the following text:
“Download Blossom Blast Saga for free for flower linking fun.”
I am furious. I am impressed.
Is this whole app simply a mechanical advertising machine for free apps? It certainly seems like it, expensing every psychological trick in the book to create an emotionally rewarding yet shallow mechanic. Note how Magic Solver also use the red and green colours on the download screens to subconsciously associate excitement with downloading yourself a gift.
I check the next day, and the ‘free gift’ is yet another ad for another F2P mobile game. My free gift is a free download of a free game. It’s jaw-dropping to see the ouroborosian levels of F2P faffery in a game that still sitting pretty at the top of many international charts.
Brilliant. I am so angry. I hate this, and yet it is an astoundingly effective advertising platform, dressed with light game mechanics. I’d love to see the data on the conversion rates from these ‘free gift’ ads.
I have yet to see if this ‘free gift’ content pattern continues all the way until Christmas, but I have NO doubt in my mind that each day will somehow include a promotion and direct download link to a F2P mobile game. The audacity of it all is both shocking and impressive – they did not even front-load their free gifts with anything of actual in-game value to players, such as a special currency or even art assets as a reward to establish an enjoyable loop before feeding in ads. *update, the third date did offer the equivalent of $2.99 in in-game currency when you download.
I’m not sure of Magic Solver’s process, but suspect they have partnerships with the game developers (or more likely publishers) of these games. I’m assuming they are either being paid for advertising space, or they are receiving a cut of the revenue made from people downloading the game directly through their app. I’d be willing to bet I’ll see, Rovio and Ketchapp games pop up in the next few days.
In either scenario, i’d say this is money well spent for any of the developers who put their app in this “game”.
By combining seasonal marketing with colour psychology, FOMO, countdowns and gamification, Magic Solver has lived up to its name. It’s solved how to advertise effectively on the App store, magically.
These tactics may may seem blatant to the point of tackiness – and certainly contributes to the eye-rolling dismissal of F2P as a legitimate game form by developers who love to draw lines in the sand about creative merit – the success of F2P is futile to ignore.
It’s important to analyse games like this because even if you, or your business doesn’t like it, there are still huge consumer audiences for games that include mechanics you may dislike.
The pool of gamers is getting larger and that means more diverse. Diversity doesn’t just mean gender and race, it also means that the audience becomes less niche and more general.
Large corporations in retail and product manufacturing have lived and died by the mantra “average products for average people”. A game doesn’t have to be a ground breaking nuanced art piece to find success in the same way that Target isn’t making Haute Couture.
It doesn’t mean that developers must adopt them all or die, but it means that we MUST critically analyse and understand more about what in these games are ‘working’ from an audience-building standpoint, and exactly why and how they are emotionally rewarding players.
Don’t hate the player OR the game. Just get working and engage with free learning experiences such as these – we can all learn much from the successes on the app charts, and do something better with those mechanics or emotional rewards.
We are in the consumer age, where our consumers are the ones driving the market. We need to get past disliking the influence consumers have over the market and get back to understanding the how and why of their consumer choices.