How brands can tap into the $25bn mobile gaming market

With mobile gaming soon to take over from consoles, brands have an opportunity to use the channel to raise brand awareness and engage with existing and new audiences, but the offering has to be right – games aligned with a brand’s core purpose are most likely to succeed.

Games in space

This year the global mobile gaming market is set to overtake consoles for the first time, according to market research firm Newzoo. Mobile games therefore represent a growing channel through which brands can engage existing customers and extend their appeal to new ones, but only if they can strike the right balance between design, development and promotion.

In 2014, the mobile games market was worth $25bn (£16bn) – up 42% on the previous year – and it shows no signs of slowing any time soon, with estimates for 2017 topping $40bn (£25bn).

“It’s a very interesting area,” says Paul Wishman, group ecommerce director at insurance firm LV=, which launched a mobile game alongside its first TV ad for home insurance last year.

“Gamification is a great way of amplifying the brand and our new campaign,” he says. “It complements the above-the-line activity so seemed like the perfect opportunity to do something new.”

The LV= Drift game, which was created by games company BeefJack, mirrors the TV ad featuring a boy racing a remote control car in his home. The game allows players to take control of the car and drive it around a replica of the house while gaining points by collecting hearts along the way. At the end of the race, users are able to find out more information about the insurer or share their score on social media, which was also used to promote the game.

Insurer LV=’s TV ad for home insurance and its game LV=Drift mirror each other

“Insurance is a bit [dry] so we’re trying to inject fun and give our customers and potential customers something different,” explains Wishman. It is being used purely as a brand building mechanism, though, rather than to recruit new customers.

“There isn’t a heavy sales angle,” he says. “Users only need to  register their score to see how they do on the leader board. There’s no heavy plug [for insurance]; it is more about brand engagement and has worked well, so I would look at it again for future campaigns if the fit was right.”

“Gamification is a great way of amplifying the brand and our new campaign. It complements the above-the-line activity, so seemed like the perfect opportunity to do something new”

Paul Wishman, LV=

While the game proved popular with LV= customers, the reaction from the wider gaming community was not so positive, but Wishman is unfazed by the criticism.

“When we shared the game with customers we had a rating of five, but it went down to three after we started promoting it to serious gamers, who said they had seen better driving games – which of course they have. We’re not in that market and they are not our target audience. Our target audience is our customers and on that basis it has been received well,” he insists.

Cancer Research UK has attracted a new audience with the launch of its Genes in Space game, which it claims is the first mobile game that users players collectively to analyse real genetic data.

“We know how big the mobile gaming market is, so if we were able to take a fraction of that and use people’s gaming power for good it could be incredible,” says Zohra Hirji, senior marketing manager at Citizen Science, Cancer Research UK’s app and games division.

Reaching a wider audience

The charity’s supporter base is skewed towards an older female demographic but the game has resonated particularly well with a male audience, so it has been a useful way to reach that group.

Users have to map a route and collect a fictional substance called Element Alpha, but the game is designed as an interface representing real DNA ‘microarray’ data, so by progressing through the game, players are also indicating where cancer-causing anomalies might lie in the human genome.

“We recognise that people might make mistakes and that is fine,” adds Hirji. “We get accuracy through the power of the crowd. Every piece of DNA is looked at more than 50 times so if someone makes a mistake, there will be at least 49 other people looking at that same DNA.”

That data is then fed back to researchers at the charity, who are able to pinpoint where they should be looking for faults within genes. In the first four weeks, players analysed 1.4 million DNA parts, which would have taken a research team six months to do.

Since launching the game last year with the help of comedian Dara O’Briain, 2.9 million DNA classifications have been performed by players, and the game has been downloaded 340,000 times with people playing for an average of eight minutes. Although the game has helped Cancer Research UK connect with a new audience, they are not being asked to part with any cash, says Hirji.

“Citizen Science products are about science first,” she explains. “We don’t expect people to donate, but it is a good touchpoint to start talking to consumers in a different way.”

“We know how big the mobile gaming market is, so if we were able to take a fraction of that and use people’s gaming power for good, it could be incredible”

Zohra Hirji, Cancer Research UK

Not to alienate its core female demographic, Cancer Research UK recently launched the Reverse the Odds mobile game as part of Channel 4’s Stand Up To Cancer initiative. Players are asked to take part in mini puzzle games while at the same time analysing images of cancer samples. Accurate game play is incentivised too, so users can earn upgrades.

“As it’s a puzzle game, it’s more popular with a female demographic aged between 25 and 35,” says Hirji. “They are more likely to get all the way through the game so we will get good repeat rates.” Players spend an average of five minutes in the game and to date 2.1 million images have been looked at.

Additional benefits

Rather than using mobile gaming as a stand-alone platform, cinema companion app Cinime is designed to offer moviegoers an additional way to interact with the big screen and play games before the film starts. The app is being tested in Odeon, Cineworld and Vue cinemas across the UK and in addition to playing quizzes, users can win prizes and unlock content from new films.

Businesses including BMW have also partnered with the app on dual-branded games. As part of its launch campaign for the BMW 2 Series, for example, the car marque created an interactive driving experience game. Using the Cinime app, cinemagoers were able to take part in a virtual race by choosing the optimum driving lines, time for acceleration, braking and cornering points, which were all recorded. After the race, each participant was sent a video of their performance, which they could share via Facebook.

The gamers who recorded the fastest time were invited to battle it out on a live track for a day to win the opportunity to test-drive new BMW models. Over the course of the three-week campaign, the game was played nearly 25,000 times and over 22,000 lap videos were watched with 2,911 people entering the competition.

Launch and brand manager Laura Stead says: “We place innovation at the core of our business, so it’s important that we continue to find new and engaging ways to talk to our audience.” She stresses the importance of putting audience participation and social media at the heart of communication. Often this differentiates one game from another, since a branded game probably will not rise in the rankings of Apple’s App Store or Google Play – where consumers are most likely to see and download them – without some kind of active promotion.

Gamification across assets

Alastair Simpson, CEO at Yummi Media Group, which owns the Cinime app, believes gamification across assets is increasingly important for consumers. “Consumers want to be entertained on their phone. They see their mobile as a controller of content and there is a trend towards people becoming casual gamers on their phone,” he says. Indeed, 32% of the time consumers spend on their mobile is to play games – the highest proportion for any activity – according to a US study by research firm Flurry Analytics.

Game-like interactions are also a useful way of replacing the tedious but necessary aspects of online browsing, such as online security controls. In order to increase awareness of its new box set offer, which allows subscribers to access more than 300 titles including The Wire and True Detective, broadcaster Sky and its provider Adludio created a PlayCaptcha game, which replaces the Captcha online security test of scrambled numbers and letters used on websites.

Sky customers had to drag a hand to knock over a row of DVD box sets within their browsers, which triggered a domino effect to help illustrate the range of titles on offer. According to Sky’s measurements, 85% of customers recalled the Sky brand after being exposed to the game and 94% remembered it was for Sky’s box set offer. More than half (51%) of those who played the game did so on a mobile device, with a frequency of 1.24 times per user, and 30% said it was an ad they would tell others about.

Although mobile games should not be shoehorned into every campaign, if there is a good fit it can help boost engagement and brand awareness in a more powerful way, adds LV=’s Wishman.

“I wouldn’t say that it is mandatory and we won’t make a game for every ad, but there is enough good feeling about LV= Drift that we will be looking to do something similar again in 2015. Whatever we do must be aligned with our brand, though. We have sponsorship in rugby and cricket, for example, so there is plenty of scope for ideas in the future,” he says.

Three things you need to get right


Brands need to make sure mobile games are compatible across operating systems, or otherwise accept losing a large part of the potential audience. “If you look at the reviews of mobile games, the biggest gripe is that the device people are trying to use it on doesn’t work,” says LV= group ecommerce director Paul Wishman.

“People tend to build things for iPhone predominantly and therefore Android users have issues. We’ve learnt that with previous games and apps, so we now take more time to make sure anything we launch is fairly ubiquitous so that everyone can use it.”

Life cycles

“Mobile game life cycles are generally quite short, so to get constant repeat rates is a challenge for any type of mobile game,” says Zohra Hirji, senior marketing manager at Citizen Science, Cancer Research UK’s app and games division.

As a result, it is important to test and learn continually to discover what creates the biggest cut-through in the long term.

Get the right fit

Mobile gaming will not be right for every brand every time, so businesses need to ensure they use gaming in a way that is appropriate for their offer. The games that work best are always closely aligned to a brand’s core purpose.