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[Gamesbriefers] Should you market children’s apps with demos or trailers?

By on July 15, 2013
CC image by Anthony Kelly
CC image by Anthony Kelly
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This fascinating debate between evangelist Oscar Clark and CEO Patrick O’Luanaigh emerged as a side-note to a recent Gamesbriefers thread about how to monetise children’s apps


PatrickO'Luanaigh2Patrick O’Luanaigh CEO of nDreams

I think the best model for children’s apps is a demo with a paywall. I know it’s an old model and not in vogue, but I think it’s ideal.

Parents can let their kids try the game without paying anything, knowing it won’t hit them with $99 in-app bundle offers every few minutes. The kids play the game, and providing it’s good, hit the paywall and pester mum and dad. The parents know that it’s a good game, they’ve been able to watch the kids playing it and ‘vet’ it, the kids clearly love it, and it’s a small one-off fee.

And make the game replayable, so kids can keep replaying the initial section until Mum and Dad give in.


Oscar ClarkOscar Clark Evangelist for Applifier

Come now Patrick, we know that demos dont work… there was some data from Jesse Schell on how for XBOX they deliver half the sales of a game compared to a trailer… it’s because all the anticipation of the game is satisfied and you have to start again to get the excitement needed to buy the full thing.

The problem is that we are thinking like about in-app purchases (which aren’t evil!) rather than about delivering services.

Instead we need to realise that there are two different customers. The child (who consumes play/entertainment) and the parent (who acts as gateway and final arbiter of value). We have to understand the needs of both and deliver goods that align well with both.

Moshi and Club Penguin both worked well (at least for a time) with a subscription service. But I’m not sure that’s really ideal. I suspect that a more interesting approach would be to have a built in method for the parent to use the game wallet as a reward system for their child. One example for educational game could be where kids playing the game get achievements which are relevant to play and parents get a report on their progress on the material and a breakdown of what that means for their development.

Another example might be a wallet parents set up a subscription which releases a regular small amounts into the game, but where spending itself becomes a lesson in ‘resource management’; and where parents can top that up by giving children star’s for good behaviour.

To be honest perhaps we could be even simpler than this by making the purchase points clear & simple with a parent friendly message asking the child to show the parent and telling them both what to expect from the purchase.

Don’t nickel & dime players or parents, just show them where the value is… actually shouldn’t we do that anyway! Trust is a great motivation to repeated spending.

This is why I despair everytime I hear a developer say “I want to make a game for my kids”. Its usually naive and foolish. There is a burden of due diligence when selling to parents (on behalf of kids) above that of selling to adults. It goes beyond the way we handle in-app purchases. Its about being reliable, safe, trusted and trust worthy and you can’t afford to be evil. If you don’t have a trusted attitude sell your wares to a different audience… better yet file for bankruptcy; you’ll have to eventually.


PatrickO'Luanaigh2Patrick O’Luanaigh CEO of nDreams

Let’s disagree on that. I don’t think Xbox data is relevent to children using iPads where parents make the purchasing decision, and if in-app purchases are banned for children’s games in some territories (which I think it possible), it may be the only sensible option….


Oscar ClarkOscar Clark Evangelist for Applifier

Ok this data was just XBOX – but it supports my experiences on PC and mobile too. My memory is clouded but I also believe that the conversion from a one-time free play (i.e. essentially a demo) in PSHome was generally pretty low too – however you will know better than me.

Like going ‘Free’ making successful demos is extremely challenging and requires using that experience to build up a level of anticipation and expectation from unlocking the bigger experience. The trouble is that the moment we play the demo we hit the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’
Image785
The Gartner Hype Cycle was created to reflect the hype stage of an industry but it also reflects individual ’Purchase behaviour’ where ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ equates to ‘Buyer Remorse’. We need high expectations to get past the thresholds of Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action to make any purchase. If a purchase follows this cycle as I suggest, then once we give a demo we find users dropping down into the ‘Trough’ as there is no space for anticipation when we experience the reality of the game. Getting their anticipation level back up to the point needed to achieve the full price purchase will be extremely challenging. That’s why Trailers can be more successful as they simply reinforce expectations. We never get to the Slope of Enlightenment with a demo as to be able to do that we have to experience so much of the game that there would be little left to purchase. Getting to the threshold for the first micro-payment is less challenging not least as they tend to be lower in price and is more sustainable where it can repeat and we don’t need to restrict access to the content to form the demo.

I’m not saying that you are wrong that this might be better than some other options – I just want to highlight the problems this entails and that its not an easy choice. And we all remember how late in the development cycle most demo’s are built.

If you are right and in-app purchases to children were to be banned (which would in my view be colossal over-reaction–but I admit not impossible) I believe that will impoverish the market as a whole.

For me the issue is not about if we should use micro-transactions, its about how we use them responsibly. It’s a bit like comparing fishing with dynamite vs fishing with a line – I think we know which one is sustainable and which one leads to the most damage and waste.


PatrickO'Luanaigh2Patrick O’Luanaigh CEO of nDreams

I guess I just don’t think children buy games in the same way at all. They don’t watch trailers (I think the vast majority of kids mobille/tablet games don’t even have trailers). They don’t look forward to iOS releases and have expectations that can be knocked back when they play a demo. I think it makes sense on console and for adult gamers. But in my experience, kids just search on the AppStore and download stuff that looks cool and isn’t “paid for”. The only paid-for stuff they buy are IPs they know and games that have been recommended by their friends.


Oscar ClarkOscar Clark Evangelist for Applifier

Not sure if that’s contradictory to what I’m saying or not. Going by what I’ve seen and what my daughter does it seems very similar to how you describe it. She crawls through apps stores to find free games, plays them and asks me for permission to buy in-game stuff – although that’s very rare. She also looks at Youtube videos of games and of course video ads…

Interestingly she has no problem with ads although she considers them to be pointless from her perspective; although if there are ads and in-game purchases she does find it annoying. All that being said she is never really one to spend money on games.

My purchase habits are similar, although of course I have more exposure to new games professionally. The only thing I don’t do enough of is use YouTube to find new content. Although I am finding Everyplay video to be an amazing way to find new games that stimulates my anticipation in a way a demo never could. Honestly I wasn’t trying to make a point about Everyplay when I started this thread!

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  • Sik

    I was under the impression that trailers helping sell more than demos had simply to do with the fact that it’s easier to just click a link to stream a video from where you are right now than having to download the game and install it and then try it. I know there are many people who’ll refuse to even try the demo if they can’t watch a gameplay video first.

    EDIT: oh, on top of that, downloading a demo takes up permanent space in memory and if you don’t like the game you better remember to clean it up. Streamed videos are not stored permanently in the device, not to mention they start playing as soon as a small amount of data is available (for a demo you need to wait until it’s fully downloaded before you can even touch it). So the hassle is even much bigger than I mentioned before.

    It all boils down to convenience (and probably also explains why so many games tried to go the browser way – you don’t even need to download or stream anything, you start playing right away).

  • radlemur

    Judging from my own kids apps, I think it used to be better to have no demo/free version on iOS but that was a must on Android. These days however it depends on how marketable your brand is – a well known brand will get away with no free version but most apps will need free versions.

    As far as trailers go, I like that Google Play and Amazon allow videos. On my most successful app on Google play, I have about 1 view on the video for every 3 downloads (can’t track conversion rates and how much these populations overlap). I personally still find watching a video is easier than installing the app…