Can Virtual Rewards Keep Mobile App Users Engaged?


A recent study found that 26 percent of mobile apps downloaded last year were used only once, a warning to developers that app downloads don’t equal long term engagement. But what if a developer or publisher could incentivize extended engagement through a virtual reward system? That’s what Tapjoy, an app distribution and monetization company, hopes to find out.

The company is launching a new pay-per-action service that allows Android and iOS app makers to offer virtual currency or goods to users who complete actions within an app. A developer or brand could offer a reward for completing a tutorial or getting to the second level of a game or uploading a photo. Essentially you’re getting paid in scrip to play the game. The idea is that incentives laid out inside the app can keep people tuned in and help turn them into more loyal and potentially more lucrative customers.

The pay-per-action service builds off of Tapjoy’s pay-per-install service in which app developers offer virtual currency and goods to users who download an advertised app. That service has proven to be a good alternative payment system for users who want virtual goods and currency but can’t or don’t want to pay with a credit card. Pay-per-action allows developers to use those same goods to keep people marching through an app instead of walking away. Tapjoy is partnering with Apsalar, an analytics company that is providing the in-app behavior tracking portion of the pay-per-action system.

It’s an interesting idea, though its usefulness will be limited to mostly games that make use of virtual goods. The bigger play would be if the system can tie into more real world incentives. But it makes sense to try and use rewards to keep people engaged. We’re seeing that badges and titles can have an effect on some users in apps, motivating them to keep using the software. But being able to offer a wider variety of rewards is one way to keep users moving deeper into a game or program. Churn is a major issue for developers, who are finding that app users are quick to move on to another app if one doesn’t keep their interest. It’s not enough to get installs if users just abandon the app. That’s the reality of apps; their simplicity is part of their appeal but it also makes them disposable especially as entertainment. Developers still have to work on design and the user experience but having another tool in their belt can be helpful if employed well.

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Essentially what Tapjoy is doing is building in a scalable community development and management feature, which up until now. has been elusive for individual community managers. I commend them.


It’s interesting that you would mention the statistic of one-time use in a story about Tapjoy.

By definition, Tapjoy’s pay-per-download model incents users to download an App only once (to get their virtual reward). So they are simultaneously creating the industry stats that describe the problem, and the solution. I haven’t seen that kind of genius since a pop-up ad that sells anti-pop-up ad software.


Actually, both positive and negative feed back provides increased engagement. A solid balance between the two provides engagement levels well above those experienced by positive feedback only.


While I feel it’s cool that Tapjoy is helping to legitimize the trend towards gamification, brands and app-makers should take heed: adding points or badges or rewards of any kind without first designing a sensible virtual economy and players’ journeys that rest atop it, the probabilities of failure skyrocket. Spend some time thinking about how loyalty program + social graph + game mechanics = gamified social loyalty. And design *everything* on paper before coding it (even big game designs do this), and ensure you’re choosing a platform that can support your gamification TRANSMEDIA (that is, cross-platform– web, browser apps, facebook, mobile apps, etc) because that’s how your customer is behaving. Social loyalty is not single-mode, single platform. Match your customers’ behavior. Great freebie resource on the subject here:

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