Insert Coin: Bringing Freemium Game Design Concepts to Mobile Retail

September 6, 2013 Jarrett Quan-Hin

The Games section of the App Store has been the dominant force in mobile revenue for quite some time, and the sector where engagement is everything is on track to top $12 billion in revenue this year alone. The landscape of iOS games has changed drastically since the beginning of the App Store, when $4.99 games were the norm. Freemium titles, with their $0 upfront price tag and in-app purchase revenue model, hold the lion’s share of the profits – top developers like Super Cell haul in around $2.4 million per day using this monetization model. Clearly, they are doing something right. The question that remains is, how can non-gaming apps approach this level of success?

Engagement is the bread and butter of video games. In an industry of virtual experiences, if you can make the user feel highly involved in the content you provide, you are on the right track towards monetary success. Someone with a high level of emotional attachment to a game usually won’t mind tossing a few dollars its way to enhance the experience. In a similar manner, consumers who feel they can easily access relevant content in a retail app will be more willing to make that first purchase. Frank & Oak does a great job of distilling their retail experience down to quickly identifiable and accessible categories, in order to get users to product pages as quickly as possible.

The Importance of Speed

Most smartphone owners are not going to sit down for a 1-2 hour session of a game at a time, or idly browse an online store as they would sift through a clothing rack in real life. It is important for developers of games and retail apps alike to recognize this. An important question to ask yourself when evaluating your existing or prospective mobile offering is whether or not a user is able to derive value from your retail app in the time it takes for a barista to make their order at a coffee shop. Mobile games have perfected the art of snack-sized experiences, and subsequently reap the rewards because they can maintain relevance in their players’ lives. Halfbrick’s Jetpack Joyride is a finely tuned exercise in this, among several other masterfully executed design concepts.

Retailers and web-based services are cluing in as well, taking this mentality to heart and modifying their existing processes in order to keep their mobile experiences light and fast. Sign-up flows are faster than ever, and in many cases are broken up into manageable chunks in order to make the same amount of content appear smaller than it really is. Rather than presenting users with 20 empty cells of information they need to fill out, registration processes can start off with the simple entry of an email address. Sending a registration link to the email address can allow a company to pre-populate a few elements of the remainder of the form for the user, removing the mental friction of starting to complete a form by showing them that it has already been started for them. This small shift in perception is all it takes to help keep a customer moving through the conversion funnel and overcome barriers that would have otherwise stopped them cold.

Closing Thoughts

While there are many remaining elements of freemium game design that can be applied to the retail space to help drive conversion, treat the above as a strong starting point. If your mobile solution does not allow your customers to interact with your brand in a meaningful way in those 30-60 seconds it takes to get their latte, you are likely doing yourself and your customers a disservice.


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