Let Players Do Marketing

Hey everyone! Wrote an resourceful piece on how to acquire players to your game, for free through your already existing players. If you enjoyed the article as much as I enjoyed writing it, share it with your friends :)

I find marketing very funny thing in game industry. My image of game developers are that they understand it is important to create well planned and executed marketing campaigns to have success in the game markets, but then they just run away when it is time take the hammer and nails and build the marketing strategy. When they are finally forced back to their work desk to think about marketing, they quickly yell “User-acquisition! Facebook ads!” and then run away again.

Well, were you a game publisher, designer, marketer or whatever, let me introduce you to the solution: viral design or simply said, “ Let Players Do Marketing for you.” I have full faith that every euro spent in this type of design to improve free user-acquisition pays itself at least 10x more effectively than putting those euros to other ways of acquiring users.
So, today, I would like to go through general concepts of viral design and how you, too, can change your game to gather free game installs by using existing players.
The basic idea of the viral design is to get existing players share and promote your game advertisements and promotions to their friends, family, and strangers.

Formula for Viral Design is as follows:
Need of users + opportunity to get users = Player-made promotion
Player-made promotion + share-worthy content = viral player-made promotion
Viral player-made promotion = free user acquisition

When you create a need for your players to have more users, they start to seek opportunities to do so (clan feature, friend feature, facebook connection). When you offer ways to get users by social sharing, friend invitations, or posting a promotion, you have player-made promotion.
When player shares content in social media that is share-worthy, it receives a great deal of visibility, retweets, shares, likes, new installs, and so on, making it viral.
Virality is key factor as when we are doing viral design, our main focus is not just to get players to share our game promotion in social media, but also to get new players through social media shares.


Creating a need for existing users to get more users (in-game or outside) is the easiest part of this design.
You can look tactics of ad monetization and interstellar's and how they have made them work. Often, a player is set to need some in-game items, premium currency, etc., to progress faster or to get over the difficult situations.

You can use the same strategies in your viral design.
“Get 5 friends to join the game and unlock this permanent boost”
“Gain 48hr immunity for every friend joined to the game”
“Unlock 2nd builder by connecting with 1 friend”

See, the thing here is that you need to imagine the player effort of Facebook connection/feed share/friend invitation/tweet and make the reward from such behavior much more precious. It is important to reward users well for all social actions they take.
Think, which one is more valuable for you? 1.99$ worth of premium currency that cost you 0$ (making players to buy all premiums) or ~50 social share (giving one premium item for free). What if the user does not convert to a paying user? Then it would be 0$ or ~50 social share. All user acquisitions by players should be highly rewarded, making it desirable for the user to promote your game.

Takeaway: Create the need to get friends, reward it highly.


When this need has been set, now we need to have solutions for their burning pain. “How I can get my friends to the game?”
There are huge variety of solutions to use, from simple and low marketing knowledge required to challenging but highly rewarding solutions. You can offer users the option of Facebook connect and/or invite friends through Facebook and Twitter, but we are here for the many and not for the few so let’s start usings biggers nets to catch fish.
I recommend investing lot of effort in encouraging users to share a post you have designed or get them like/comment/share your company’s published post. The focus in this opportunity of acquisition is to get as many people (existing users & new users) see our promotion and so increasing the possibility of acquiring new users.

This attached to some type of competition and lottery of consumer products can turn out to be extremely effective. Consider if you offer the newest iPad Mini 2, costing you 400€, as a competition reward. In your game, you promote this competition and tell your users, “Invite friends to gain 15 bonus competition coupons for yourself.” This incentive motivates your game’s users to share and promote your promotion, gathering lot of attention because who does not want to have iPad Mini 2? (or other wanted consumer product) This way you get ton of new installs, viral sharing, and after a month, the competition has ended, costing you 400€ but bringing you a ton of new users, conversions, a lot of money (more than 400€), a lot of visibility, and more. You literally have nothing to lose if you execute the viral design properly.


“Jero has earned level 21 in the game x!” Thank you for telling me this earth shattering news in my Facebook feed! Hide all feeds from this person. Pop!

Social-media feed is a perfect hunting ground to catch new users through existing user’s social shares and posts. It is good because usually, humans befriend people who are like them, so there is a high chance that your existing user’s friends also like the same genre game that he is already playing. This is also good place to remind users who have already churned out of the game to return and give another try. When you are designing the content that users should share on a Facebook wall, find ways to make it viral. By viral, I mean something that other people have interest in and might want to engage with and share/comment/like.

Would a person have interest to see that his friend has leveled up in that game? no!
Would a person have interest to see that his friend has earned achievement in that game? Hell no!
Would a person have interest to see that his friend is looking for a more friends to play with? Maybe. (Good reason to share on social-media (for existing user) and good reason to join the game (for new user)
Would a person have interest to play the game that has competition to win new iPad? Definitely. (Excellent reason for players to join your game, People value physical products over virtual + that is a trend item)


Creating share-worthy content is all about understanding your target audience. You really need to be able to wrap your mind around how your target audience thinks and behaves. Always keep the magic words, “What’s in it for me?”, in mind.
Consider things your target audience would have interest in engaging with. If you offer a hardcore gamer a “If you are not hardcore-gamer, don’t even try this game” content, they will engage with that advertisement immediately. Think like your target audience and find ways to get your attention as them. Also, each user of your target audience knows another like-minded person, this is the reason social media marketing is very effective strategy to find more users for your game.

Good thing is that our western narcissistic culture has manifested into our social media behavior and so, many of us want to become an opinion leader. Many of us want to be the guy who is a god-like, smart, and all-knowing being that knows how every single thing works in this world whatever the subject is. With social media and growing Internet personalities, we also have lots of people who are looking to get more attention or acceptance (especially feminine creatures). They are telling us in our Facebook feed how their morning yogurt tasted and other burning news of the day. Also, we must remember the group of people who dies of the boredom every day. Common death places of these people is 9gag or other similar sites such as Damn!LOL and to spice up their ultimate boredom, they choose to share funny pictures and videos on Facebook and Twitter for everyone to laugh at.
Your goal when designing viral design in your game is to find ways to create share-worthy content (examples written earlier) that is attractive to your target audience and gets them take the action. So if your game is match-3 game, remember to add pictures of kittens on the front of your in-game screenshot and lot of sparkles as well :) (it is a joke!)

Let’s try to squeeze this all into one paragraph. First, think about what your target audience wants (simple fun? strategy?) After discovering this, your goal is to add into these some of the following qualities: Funny, New/Cool, Crazy/Shocking, Something to Show, Something to Brag or Something to Request/Benefit. (These are very common elements of incentive to share and also provides incentive for viewers to take action on it.)


Having a simple campaign, for example, to “Get rare reagent for every friend you have in-game”, boosts your free user acquisition somewhat, but to get people to really spread your game advertisements in social media, you need to provide them with stronger incentive to get into action!
Think of the before mentioned items that people really want (consumer product, preferably physical) and then demand effort to join to the competition. “Install game to enter the competition, add friends to have +1000% higher chance to be the winner!”
To boost this viral marketing campaign double time, you need to make participants feel rewarded through the process as only one can win the prize. Let me introduce you to Step Engager.

Step Engager is a tactic to engage users by steps. Think it as steps a player has to take to reach top of the mountain (highest reward) and each step contains a small reward to make the user feel good and happy that he is investing more and more effort to reach the mountain.
When you are asking the user to invest effort, you must reward him or point to another hill where the reward awaits. For example, in your competition, you try bring new users into your game, and when they install your game through a user-published post, you reward them with a cute vanity item or something they can perceive value in. After the welcome present, you point them toward the big motivator, why they came here for: the competition and chance of winning cool stuff. They take part in it and get offered to publish your post to gain more friends to game + a higher chance to win the main prize.

Takeaway: Keep giving small rewards that players value and then point to the highest prize to direct their motivation to achieve it.


Players perceive developers as gods for our players. This is no democracy, we can listen our followers but we make the decisions from our minds, not the players. You can use this godlike image in some extent by recruiting “Community Team” of fanboys and fangirls.
Think PlayClashOfClans and Chief Pat or League of Legends and their weekly updates. Those people were not hired into community management position among game developers, they were fans of the game through YouTube, Forums, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc.

This unrefined gold is ready for you to take, but sadly, most game developers have not realized how to refine this gold. Your players get excited if they are able to communicate with the game developers of the games they like. They become extremely loyal to a game when they feel that you are listening them (giving attention = giving value).
To give the gist of this, you should try seek bloggers, strategy sites, Youtubers, etc., who have made content/guides from your game, go talk to them, and offer some help.
This help should be in form of graphic art, sounds, support, knowledge of upcoming updates, feedback, and communication lines between him and the developer. Support them and soon, you have gathered a team of people who do ton of marketing “for free”.

When you make this, they are passionate to be in this “high” position and are ready to put lot of hours and effort to make high quality content and promote your game(s) for a long period of time.
As always, value rises from the effort required to achieve the goal. You should give them goals or milestones to achieve and reward them from it. Inviting them to your developer groups and chat channels, and let them to get more emotionally attached to the developers, giving some freebies of t-shirts when they provide a lot of visibility and benefits for the developers.
Now these guys will do free marketing for you and your games. Now zoom out and see all 5,10, 20, 50, 100 others who can do the same. If you can create a huge 50 member marketing team with salary of 1 community manager who communicates them, I call that a very efficient solution for marketing.


Ahoy Cap’n! Shallow shores ahead! What shall we do?
Yarr! No man is man if thee fears of shallow shores, through the shipwreck and storms! We are here for da booty and not for da fish food!

Anti-marketing is extremely effective strategy to use but includes very high risks for unskilled marketeers. Being able to execute anti-marketing requires lot of wisdom of marketing and knowledge of current trends and human behavior.
Anti-Marketing does not mean no marketing at all. Anti-marketing is way of making people feel inferior, angry, annoyed, butthurt, mad, crazy, and so on.

When people have strong negative emotions, they want to unload all this anger to somewhere. It is not hard to find these emotionally negatively addicted humans in modern world, just go on the Internet and you can find ton of SJWs and other Keyboard warriors surfing on the huge waves of social media.
This rage is what we will use as fuel for our anti-marketing. When people have negative emotions, they want you to listen them. They want that others will acknowledge their victimhood and approve their point of perspective. As developers, when planning anti-marketing campaign, we should not offer them possibilities to communicate with us. When you close this communication, they have only two choices to unload their negative feedback: real-life friends or social media.

You can find lot of excellent examples for your marketing campaign from current radical groups that are very narrow-minded.
Example: Image of kitchen “You wife wants me”
Example: Image of beautiful, thin, hot woman “Are you beach body ready?”

All things that you can use to provoke people, make them butthurt, get them mad, and make them unload their feelings on Twitter and Facebook, creates publicity for your game. Of course, many of these offended persons do not play your game, but friends of these people who have seen your game mentioned in their social media feed may.
You should use this only if you are low on your marketing budget and/or you have failed in all other marketing attempts. (-25K € Budget) This works very well, but you should not use it as your long-term plan.

Because we currently live in very butthurt times in western world, it does not matter if your game and your company gets negative reputation for a moment as new dramas will rise again and again and all the negative attitudes toward your game vanishes in half year or less, but all the free marketing and revenue gained from anti-marketing do not.
Though, keep in mind that this should not be part of your marketing positioning to offend people. The image of Microsoft or EA is very negative and if you do not have same revenue sources as they do, you will get slammed really hard.


So, if you found this helpful, I want you to hit the share buttons and let your friends learn ways of acquiring free users!
Stop! After sharing, let me hear your thoughts. What is your opinion on acquiring users by these guerrila tactics? I read every comment.

Best Regards,
Jero Juujärvi

P.S. If you are hungry for more content, check out my blog

Latest Jobs


Playa Vista, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Senior Level Designer (Zombies)

PlayStation Studios Creative Arts

Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia
Lead Concept Artist

High Moon Studios

Carlsbad, CA, USA
Technical Designer at High Moon Studios

High Moon Studios

Carlsbad, CA, USA
VFX Artist
More Jobs   


Explore the
Advertise with
Follow us

Game Developer Job Board

Game Developer


Explore the

Game Developer Job Board

Browse open positions across the game industry or recruit new talent for your studio

Advertise with

Game Developer

Engage game professionals and drive sales using an array of Game Developer media solutions to meet your objectives.

Learn More
Follow us


Follow us @gamedevdotcom to stay up-to-date with the latest news & insider information about events & more