NEW YORK: Creating “captivating and compelling” experiences is a more potent way for brands to achieve viral effects for online games than offering incentives for sharing, according to a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Damien Renard (Université Catholique de Louvain, Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium) and Denis Darpy (Université Paris/Dauphine PSL Research University) discussed this subject in their paper, What Makes Online Promotional Games Go Viral? Comparing the Impact of Player Skills versus Incentive Rewards on Game Recommendation.

“Viral games no longer should be considered a promotional tool but should be viewed as providing entertaining and enjoyable content. The aim of these games is to generate an immediate challenge in which players can immerse themselves,” they argued.

These games thus satisfy a desire for play, as well as letting users build and demonstrate their expertise in pursuing a final prize promised by the brand. Such traits can, in turn, encourage people to spread the word on social media.

“Players more likely will decide to recommend the game if they obtain something of considerable value in exchange. In a viral game, players are motivated to act because they believe that they have the ability to succeed in the game and to present themselves in a positive light,” Renard and Darpy wrote.

In reaching such conclusions, they weighed the merits of two methods for prompting the viral spread of branded online games, the first of which tested if players who enjoyed the experience would recommend it to others.

Through a field study, the researchers added a system of incentives to ascertain whether this might augment consumers’ intention to invite friends to join in.

And the research revealed a certain high-mindedness among online game players, as the extra incentives were not as powerful in securing virality as the pure pleasure of playing.

“When a game mobilized players’ mental skills, the intention to invite friends to join the game increased,” the authors reported.

“In contrast, when the game rewarded inviters’ behavior with additional chances, game recommendation did not significantly increase.”

Indeed, they discovered, “Rewarding inviters’ behavior had a negative impact on perceptions and behaviors when individuals had a feeling of control”.

Data sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff