Personalization in games

Shannon Forbes - Digifianz Marketing Analyst

Written by Shannon Forbes - Digifianz Marketing Analyst

 On 8/16/19 5:16 PM


How often have you been wrapping up your shopping at Amazon, only to be swayed by the “frequently bought together” or “customers who bought this item also bought” recommendations?  We can’t be the only ones! What you may not have realized is that those timely and helpful recs are actually a key part of the online shopping giant’s personalized marketing strategy.  

Wondering how this could work with games?  Advergames, or advertising games, are the secret weapon taking personalized marketing to the next level.  Games provide a unique medium for personalization, even more so than traditional media (which we refer to as  “plain media”).

Receiving an email that’s addressed to you is nice, but it’s now become the norm.  If you really want to wow customers, video games provide an amazing option to “level-up” your strategy. 


How do you personalize marketing?

Amazon knows your shopping habits and preferences better than anyone, even better than you know yourself!  They pay attention to whether you shop on your phone in the evening vs midday on your laptop during your lunch break. If it seems like they’ve got you pinned, it’s because they do!  

Personalized marketing is all about collecting information on customers’ buying habits and preferences, and then using that data to market to them on the channel they prefer (be it email or social media) with deals they care about.

Smart companies wield this information to provide the best possible experience for their customers.


How can you personalize a video game?

You don’t have to be an IT whiz in order to create your own personalized video game experience, you just need a game that allows customization!

Touchdown football game modifiers screen with personalized options for player jerseys, helmets, and shoes

Choosing the character you want to represent you (Mortal Kombat, anyone?) is a form of personalization.  If this sounds like a 90’s take on personalization, that’s because it is. It’s now common to be able to customize everything from your avatar’s skin tone to hair color and texture. 

Customization offers various options for your customers - players can create avatars (characters) that represent them, an idealized version of themselves (a kung fu warrior!), or even try out a different gender or sexual orientation.

Personalization brings players into game - if the player chose an avatar that looks like them, they can see themselves in the game.  Watching your virtual twin triumph pulls you deeper into the experience. On the flip side of the coin, games allow players to perceive themselves in alternate ways in imagined worlds.  Maybe your avatar can jump two stories or take down a whole band of enemies - imagining yourself as your avatar - with all the powers and abilities that come with them - makes personalization all the more engaging (and fun!). 



Games beat plain media any day, even without taking into account the myriad of options for personalization!  Why? Games are defined by a level of interaction and engagement that simply isn’t possible in plain media.  While plain media is passively viewed (if watched at all), advergames are interactive by definition.

Allowing players to customize their avatars is key because player identification with the avatar/character is central to how players experience the game. and identification impacts player engagement with, and enjoyment of, the game.  The more your customers enjoy your game, the more they’ll want to play it.

Touchdown football game screen with personalized color options for player jerseys

Games are already a highly-effective means of increasing engagement - add in the appeal of personalization and players will spend even more time interacting with your brand.


Further personalization 

Having agency over your character’s looks is just the beginning - personalization involves constructing a system capable of tailoring video game rules and content to suit some aspect of the player, e.g., a player’s gameplay preferences, playing style, or skill level. 

How does this work in practice?   ‘‘GameForge’’ is a project that currently personalises maps and plot points in a role-playing game to preferences expressed either via survey or previous in-game behaviour.  If you say that you’d like to explore a tropical jungle more than a mountainscape, a game could potentially serve up just that.

The difficulty of the gameplay can also be adjusted based on skill level.  This concept is often called Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment (DDA) and aims to keep the game’s difficulty at a level balanced between boredom and frustration as dictated by the theory of Flow.  This type of customization keeps gameplay at the sweet spot of experiencing both challenge and a sense of achievement, keeping players coming back for more.


Personalized User Interface (UI)

Your customer’s experience all starts with their user interface.  This is a prime opportunity to pleasantly surprise the player with some personalization.  It starts with something as simple as addressing the customer by their first name and welcoming them back to the game (or welcoming them, if it’s their first time to play).  

Be sure to take a look at the pitfalls section at the end of the post, though, to make sure you aren’t accidentally pushing customers away with this tactic. 

Netflix showcases user interface personalization done right.  They recommend new series and movies based on your latest Friends marathons, but they don’t stop there.  Netflix even personalizes film covers, giving prominence to actors or actresses you’re familiar with!  So if Jennifer Aniston keeps popping up on your screen after another binge sesh, it’s no coincidence.


Embrace Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Bots are our friends!  We’re not talking about them taking over (yet), but rather working with people to make personalization possible.

Touchdown football game screen with personalized options for players

It may all sound like fun and games, but personalization can be tricky to achieve.  Collecting, interpreting, and managing data on all of your customers can be overwhelming, but AI can take all of this off your hands. 

What does AI mean for personalization?  One AI task is the analysis of what visitors do on your website, which is integral for personalization because you’re not simply banking on demographics but getting close to behaviors.  The psychology of buying is the cornerstone of personalization - why we buy what, plus the when and how.

More than just pulling stats out of consumer behavior on your site, double up by applying AI to find patterns in these behaviors, look for repetitions in patterns, and continually adjust to reach me with the right message at the right time through the most appropriate channel. 

Your AI should know if a website visitor is a potential customer or a longtime supporter - and tailor your look and offers accordingly.  If a customer always buys a certain product, AI can offer a deal to buy more than one, or show a more expensive option (that provides the same functions) first - maybe your customer will decide to splurge.


Pitfalls of personalization

As with anything, it’s not all rosy.  There are some disadvantages to be aware of and to mitigate when implementing a personalized advergame. 

  • It’s nice when someone knows your name… unless you cannot figure out how they know your name, in which case it becomes creepy.  And companies that use customer knowledge in a non-transparent way comes off as invasive and creepy too.  (Just see how many people wonder if an add they saw relates to some activity or is just a coincidence.) Don’t be a creep.  Use knowledge in a transparent way. If you use a customer's name, make sure they know how you got it (by asking, or from an existing relationship.) 
  • Computers are necessarily more limited than the real world, so you need to be careful not to exclude a segment of your customers by not considering carefully the full scope of people. For example, if you allow character modification, it’s important to have skin colors and hairstyles that are as diverse as your audience. 
  • User choice increases engagement, and user-generated content not only gives you more content, but also make promoters of creators. Keep in mind, though, all that freedom comes with risks. If there is free text, someone will swear. If there is free image, there will be a vulgar drawing. You need to have enough moderations in place (automatic or human) to quickly remove content that hurts your brand. 
  • The more custom, the more expensive is development. 
  • The UI needs careful design, otherwise the customization becomes too complicated for players and they will just drop it. 

Don’t just settle for personalizing your emails or plain media, captivate customers through the ultimate personalization experience - games!  Interested in diving further into the world of advergames? Take a look at how games increase brand awareness and three games every executive should play for inspiration! 

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