How Mobile Games Aim to Keep You Coming Back – By  Sarah E. Needleman Jan. 7, 2017 7:00 a.m. ET


‘Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes’ and others dole out prizes, challenges to get players to open the app every day

Electronic Arts says ‘Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes’ users play an average 2.5 hours a day, making it one of the company’s most popular mobile games.

Electronic Arts says ‘Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes’ users play an average 2.5 hours a day, making it one of the company’s most popular mobile games. Photo: EA

When making “Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes,” Electronic Arts Inc. knew it wasn’t enough to have a mobile videogame that featured some of the most popular movie characters of all time. To succeed, it had to get players to open the app every day.

Developers crafted a lengthy checklist of tasks—train a character, equip special gear, battle other players—that dole out digital currency and other rewards when completed each day. Players can use that loot to boost their characters’ fighting prowess, giving them a crucial edge against competitors.

The strategy worked. A little more than a year since launch, EA says users play an average 2.5 hours a day, putting “Galaxy of Heroes” among its most popular mobile games. It ranks among the top 25 revenue-generating apps on the Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc. U.S. app stores.

Daily rewards have emerged as the indispensable tool for hooking players in a field of more than a million game apps. The stakes are high: Mobile games are on track this year to become the biggest slice of the nearly $100 billion videogame industry.

Extracting as much time as possible out of users is critical because games like “Galaxy of Heroes” make money selling virtual goods. The more people play, the more likely they will spend.

Companies have myriad ways to encourage routine use, such as a monthly calendar that tracks a player’s progress or weeklong side missions with extra-valuable rewards. The latest mobile-game hit, “Super Mario Run,” rewards players for competing daily against friends.

Ingraining a game into a person’s daily routine is key, since that increases the chances a player will become a coveted spender, said Dr. Rachel Kowert, a research psychologist in Austin, Texas. “People are genuinely goal-driven and games are just providing goals to achieve,” she said.

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