What Alphabear Taught Me About Marketing

I’ve been playing Alphabear by Spry Fox since early July. It’s a word puzzle game with progressive difficulty, tons of unlockables, and adorable graphics. Right out the gate, Alphabear is hitting me on a lot of levels. These are some of my favorite things! But I’m not interested in talking about the game mechanics.

I want to talk about its growth engine. The team at Spry Fox built some clever growth mechanics into the game, and it’s made me think about how I approach marketing. I’m a huge fan of treating marketing like any other product feature, and I love what Spry Fox has done here.

Let’s get some backstory out of the way. I don’t play many iOS games, but sometimes I’ll cruise through the app store’s top rated games, or check out a game recommended by a friend. I first heard about Alphabear through a tweet from my friend Steve. Friend Steve is a skilled and skeptical programmer. He’s as resistant to marketing as anyone I’ve ever met. But Steve has shared screenshots from his own Alphabear games several times. In fact, he’s still sharing screens from Alphabear.

My friend Steve is actively hostile to marketing. So why did he choose to spread the word about Alphabear? Why this game, and not some other game? It’s thanks to Alphabear’s ingenious growth engine. At the end of a game, you’re presented with a bear saying a funny phrase. Think MadLibs, with certain key words filled in from words you created during your game.

Funky Bears in Alphabear

You can hit a button to regenerate phrases, cycling through different templates and word combinations until you get one you like. Then you can share this image via email, message, or on social media.

It’s a nice growth engine, and it’s gotten better since launch. I first noticed the shuffle button after a recent update. I thought it was a new feature, but it wasn’t. The team just made it more noticeable.

Making an existing feature more discoverable was a great idea. I didn’t notice the shuffle button before the update. I was much more likely to spread the word now that I knew I could change my result.

I had a nice Twitter exchange with Spry Fox after noticing this:

Twitter chat

That’s the thing about building a growth engine into your product. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be simple, compelling, and automatic. It should offer something to your users in exchange for spreading the word about your product.

I didn’t help Spry Fox spread the word about Alphabear because I wanted to help Spry Fox make more money. Neither did my friend Steve. We helped Spry Fox spread the word because we had a reason to share - a cute little bear saying something hilarious. It was funny content for our own audiences, and it was easy to publish. This is how you turn users into signal boosters for your idea. Give people a reason to share, make it seamless, and make it easy.

It’s a low-effort, highly-scalable marketing tool for Alphabear, and it worked.

I'm Tyler, and I blog about marketing, programming, writing, and things I'm working on.

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