Why Games Could Rescue MySpace And Your Free App

Is there a game or an application that you can’t stop yourself from repeatedly logging into multiple times throughout the day? May would say that Facebook is one of those applications, but for others is may be a mobile application that they log in to every morning on the way to work. Whatever the reason is for it, the motivation behind this is what any successful application developer needs to capture if they want a sustainable business.

MySpace Loses The Login Incentive

If you were ever a MySpace user, what was the reason that you kept logging in each day? My guess is that it was because your friends were also on the site and you wanted to keep in touch with them. Eventually your friends moved on to Facebook and MySpace fell out of your regular vocabulary. The problem with this strategy is that MySpace was simply playing off their “cool factor” for driving users back to the site and the only game dynamic involved was increasing the number of friends you had on the site.

So now that all the “cool people” left the site, how can MySpace keep users coming back? Right now the company has effectively identified games as a key focus, however they are more focused on developing a platform for games rather than integrating more effective game dynamics into the core product. While adding Farmville to MySpace may ensure some users come back every day, those users can play Farmville on Facebook or Farmville.com.

The Product Becomes The Game

At this point everybody is trying to develop a platform for games, but the odds of a platform becoming a massive gaming platform is much less than the odds of a company developing a popular game. So if your company’s popularity is waning (even if you aren’t MySpace), it’s time that you integrate more game dynamics into your core product.

Are you still hesitant? Maybe I hear you saying “I have all of my users’ friends and I am the cool product!” That’s great! However having all of a user’s friends is an easy thing to accomplish by implementing Facebook Connect. So there’s really nothing left keeping the user in your application unless you give them a reason to come back.

What Happens When The Game Gets Old?

Can you name a single game that you’ve continued playing every day for one year or more? If you’re like me, that group is probably extremely small. While it’s easy to dismiss the value of game dynamics because of their overuse in web apps, companies like Blizzard (the developers of World of Warcraft) have figured out ways to keep the user engaged.

While World of Warcraft is one example, your game does not need to be the most graphic intensive game ever. For example, while it may be creepy, integrating some behavioral game design (as described here) into your applications will keep users coming back. Is it manipulation of the user? That only depends on how aggressive you are with these tactics. One thing is sure though: you can never remove a user’s power of choice (and the option to choose to play something else).

If your application’s success relies simply on the social graph or other developers building for you, you may want to consider integrating features that add a more game-like user interaction. Not only will you increase engagement but you can instantly build in revenue generating features as well. While like all things there is a fine balance, if you avoid game dynamics within your free application, your success will be based on it’s “cool factor” and its ability to provide a ton of value for absolutely nothing.

If you want to read more about improving products through making them more fun, check out this guest post from Gabe Zichermann on Techcrunch. Do you think adding game features help to improve the engagement of games? What risks do you see from adding such features?