WRITTEN BY MediaMonks
Retention has always been a challenge for both voice applications and chatbots: without dedicated space on a home screen or in an app drawer, it can be tough for users to serendipitously open a voice action (or recall that it even exists) unless they’ve formed a habit of using it.
In developing our first game with Google for the Google Nest Hub, Cookie Detective, the MediaMonks Labs team drew on its past experience of building games and in developing Google Assistant actions. The resulting game offers a nice benchmark for brands on how design elements and gamified features can come together and entice users to continue engaging with voice well into the long-term.
To be successful in voice, brands must understand that voice applications (and by extension, chatbots) aren’t a “set and forget” touchpoint. Just like with any interactive platform, you must commit to supporting a voice action into the long term, revising responses and the flow of conversation based on usage—for example, identifying which steps in the conversation users are likely to drop off and not come back.
“Your initial intuition during the creative process isn’t always right,” says Geert Eichhorn, Innovation Director at MediaMonks. “You must be willing to look at the data and see how people are using the voice action, or how they want to use it, and provide that for them. In the end, this leads to a better app and happier users.”
Realizing this, the mobile “games as a service” model—which has essentially boiled down FOMO into an art form—serves as a useful blueprint for how brands can achieve similar success in building loyalty through incremental updates. These games use a variety of fresh content, limited-time events, competitions and more to extend the shelf life of a game and keep players entertained over time. And with increased popularity of voice-enabled devices with screens like the Google Nest Hub or Amazon’s Echo Show, new possibilities will open up for brands to create more engaging and playful voice experiences.
Cookie Detective is focused on providing fun for young players, offering an appetizing, voice-based take on hide-and-seek, 20 Questions and Guess Who. It invites kids to ask ten questions to locate a hidden cookie within three virtual kitchens at varying difficulty. The Labs team approached this project by combining its experience as voice developers with its wealth of knowledge in gaming accumulated over the years—especially in mobile and web game development, which both share similarities with the Google Assistant platform.
“Your initial intuition during the creative process isn’t always right.”
The premise of searching for cookies in the kitchen is based on the fact that voice devices are often placed in common areas where families gather. We focused on one of the most-trafficked places in the home (the kitchen) to ensure the experience fits the overall context of when and where players will engage with the game—perhaps when they’re on the hunt for a sweet treat IRL.
“We wanted this game to be something a kid could do while mum is cooking—no supervision needed, but with them together in the room,” says Eichhorn. “A cool addition to the game is the option for the parent to hide the cookie in the virtual kitchen using the touch screen (so the child wouldn’t hear the hiding spot–this is the only touch-only feature in the game).”
Fitting your voice action within a daily ritual like this can make it more habit-forming for the user. “This brings a really nice parent-child dynamic into the kitchen during an everyday activity like cooking and allows a potential reward to be earned for the kid as well,” says Eichhorn.
It’s also worth noting that the voice medium is unique for mimicking conversation on a human level. Therefore, the team found it was important to center the game’s narrative and gameplay prompts on its characters, whose lively voices reveal their personalities and bring their stories to life. In this way, dialogue (and its delivery) is not only fun and memorable, but functional.
And that tip doesn’t just apply to sound; if your game is played on a device with a screen, art direction and fluid animation also add a lot to the experience. If your brand has an especially strong mascot or IP that it can leverage through these elements, it’s easy to see how a brand can use voice to forge a strong relationship with players as they engage over time.
In addition to some of the narrative and conceptual tips above about how a voice game can uniquely activate loyalty and retention, the team recommends that developers shift the approach from a one-off experience to an everlasting one where players can establish stronger connections with the game through added gamified elements.
One way to do this is to build a true sense of progression through unlocking items and rewards based on in-game performance or achieving milestones. This gives players a goal to aspire to and work toward. As they achieve new milestones, consider expanding the universe and story of the game to keep users interested or establish new habits.
This could be especially useful for brands related to health: imagine an assistant action that encourages children to brush their teeth twice a day without missing a day, perhaps using music and animations to ensure they brush for the correct amount of time. Likewise, a food brand might challenge members of the household to consume a well-rounded diet throughout the day.
Competition is another powerful motivator for encouraging replay value and loyalty. A leaderboard that refreshes on a timely basis (weekly or monthly, for example) is a simple way to achieve this. Notifications that players have just lost their leaderboard position can also get users back into the game. If your game is family-oriented, look for opportunities to pit family members against one another for some friendly competition!
Whether through lively characterization and narratives, brands can enable a closer relationship with consumers through voice—one strong enough to continue engaging over time. The competitive element that is unique to gaming, as well as frequent content updates that have worked so well for the mobile industry, can further encourage users to regularly check in and avoid churn. By combining these strategies together, voice becomes an effective channel for brands to build long-term relationships with consumers and fans.
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