Now sticking an ad in a game is nothing new — and there are no apparent ads in The Heist. So what’s the biggie?
Shell out $0.99 for the privilege of playing, and if you make it through enough of the game’s puzzles, you can actually win a prize: A promotional code for a free license for Eets, a game available in the Steam Marketplace. Eets retails for $9.99.
According to Fake IITian, the folks behind Heist (closely related companies MacHeist and tap tap tap) are paying the Eets developers a fee for the rights to distribute the free licenses and Eets also expects to sell more copies at full price based on the publicity. Meantime, The Heist quickly ended Angry Birds seemingly never-ending run as the top selling game in the App Store.
There’s lots to recommend the game, which uses a series of puzzles as a vehicle for a larger safecracking adventure. In addition to being well-designed and fun to play, it uses the genius conceit of regular “phone calls,” actively mimicking the iPhone’s actual phone functionality, to drive the story forwards.
But I’m most interested in how the business model works:
- The ostensible advertising client here is Eets, but it is Heist, as the publisher, that is the one paying. This goes even further than the pay-per-action revenue split of the daily deals model from businesses like Groupon and Living Social.
- Heist is, in essence, paying the advertiser for discounted product in the hopes that it will goose sales of the app. Now this is not a perishable product or something with an incremental cost like a meal or a cup of coffee; nor will every buyer of The Heist win or use a promo code.
- Even though this is a $0.99 game promoting a $9.99 game, it’s not a piece of advertorial crapware. It’s quality all the way.
- Interestingly, the game does not tell you what you’re playing to win, promising only a “valuable prize.” I found out it was Eet via posts on the web. This both creates an alluring air of mystery and potentially reduces the exposure for “the client.”
- The end user is paying to participate in the promotion.
Admittedly, there are some potential red herrings in looking at this as a replicable business model. The Heist is a good enough game that it might be doing this well, or nearly so, without the prize at the end. (Although, I don’t believe it would be this much of a hit without this angle.) Also, the note on the App page that Apple is neither participating in nor endorsing the promotion suggests that Apple might not let future iterations of a deal like this pass muster.
[NOTE: In comments below, Josh informs that this is standard boilerplate.]
Still, this naturally leads me to wonder how The Heist’s clever scheme could be applied to media. As I mull the scenarios, it strikes me that most are models that have been followed for ages in traditional media, but with two key differences (which I’ll get to after the scenarios):
- Maybe you offer a free gym membership to readers who win a quiz game based on health content in your publication?
- Subscribers who log into your website three out of seven days in a week get a gift certificate to an area restaurant?
- Offer an undisclosed relevant prize to members of your community who show up at an event?
Industry folk will say that these are old, old ideas. The first two are like Sports Illustrated giving you a free mug or NPR rewarding donations with a tote bag. And the third is a long-standing incentive model, with the prize coming from an advertiser.
But I see two big lessons in The Heist, ideas that might breathe new life into old promotions:
- Gamification. As much as I’m tired of the term, there’s not question that both the game mechanics and the sense of mystery help drive this promotion. Conventional wisdom on media contesting is to make it as simple and dumb as possible: Register to win; be the ninth caller; agree to be marketed X product. In this case, a fairly meaty game means that there is a time and financial investment that is more likely to make the player value the prize. You may get less gross participation, but a much higher percentage of net customers from that pool. Sounds like ad targeting, versus run-of-site, as applied to promotions, no?
- Quality. Let’s face it — most media companies who create content around a promotion deliver crappy advertorial that almost no one would ever want to consume. Perhaps that’s because of the separation between ad and edit staffs, but that’s another discussion. But The Heist works as a promotional vehicle because it stands on its own. So, media companies, if your product is of quality, why not use it in a more promotional sense? You can certainly do that without compromising your ideals — remember that The Heist doesn’t hawk its advertiser at all.There’s another key piece to that quality equation — the quality of offer to the advertiser. How many media companies would offer a proposition this good?: “We’ll prepay you at a discount for your product and use that as a prize to entice our readers/viewers/users. You’ll benefit from the buzz and know exactly what you’ve sold upfront.”
I’m not running out to start a game-based, fee-supported local news service. But this certainly opens up some avenues in my mind for how to profit
- MacHeist Releases Official iPhone Game “The Heist” (macstories.net)
- The Secret to The Heist’s Success (fakeiitian.com)
- Selling A Copy Every Second, The Heist Overtakes Angry Birds (macstories.net)
- The Heist, a gorgeous iPhone puzzle game from MacHeist (thenextweb.com)
- Angry Birds knocked off App Store’s top spot after 275 days (thenextweb.com)