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The Art of Using Challenges within Facebook Applications

In our last post we looked at how Gifting can be used to help you acquire new users. In this post we’re going to look at how Challenges can be used to motivate your existing users to invite their friends.These challenges can be quite effective because they play on our competitive nature and they are a direct call to action.

To get an idea of how developers are using challenges within their applications, there’s no better company to look at than Playfish. Their games such as Bowling Buddies, Word Challenge and Who Has The Biggest Brain? are built around challenges. So, while these games are fun to play for a single user, they’re even more fun when you’re competing against your friends for high scores and bragging rights, which can really fuel the adoption and use of an application.

Let’s take a look at the challenge flows in Product Planner for some of these Playfish applications:

Again, Bowling Buddies is a lot of fun to play on your own, but challenging your friends doesn’t just serve your competitive side, it also allows you to gain “Bowling Bucks” at a faster rate. Single player game play results in 5 Bowling Bucks per game while a challenge allows you to gain 5 additional Bowling Bucks simply for challenging one of your friends and 5 more if you win the match. Challenging a friend to a game of bowling can potentially result in 15 Bowling Bucks compared to a measly 5 if you were to play by yourself.

Word Challenge

The challenge flow for Word Challenge is nearly identical to that of Bowling Buddies, however, there is no monetary system in place for purchasing things. This game mainly appeals to the competitive spirit in you and your friends.

Who Has The Biggest Brain?

Who Has The Biggest Brain? doesn’t have a very direct way to challenge other users (i.e. there is no “Challenge” link). Instead, it allows you to “taunt” your friends with your achievements. You can can send canned taunts such as “Who’s your daddy now!” or write your own. For those people with competitive natures, taunting is probably a very effective way to gain new users and keep existing users coming back for more.

A notable issue with the Playfish challenge flows is that challenges and taunts can only be sent to those friends that are already using the application. If, for example, you want to challenge one of your friends who isn’t currently using an application, you first have to invite them before you can challenge them. In Word Challenge, they’ve made an effort to simplify this by including a list of friends on the challenge screen who aren’t currently using the application, which you can use to send them an invite. However, it could be argued that challenges could be made more effective by allowing the ability to send them directly to users that aren’t currently using the application without first having to invite them. In this way the challenge would act as an invitation to the application as well as a challenge.

While Playfish is well known and has developed several successful applications, it isn’t the only company out there creating challenge-based Facebook applications. Let’s take a look at some of the other applications out there with challenge flows:

Speed Racing

Speed Racing allows you to race your car against other cars, including your friend’s cars. The more races you win, the more points you earn that can be used towards upgrading your car or buying a new car altogether. The makers of Speed Racer have addressed the issue that the Playfish applications have by making challenges serve as invites for those friends who aren’t currently using the application. In fact, when you first sign up, you’re brought to a screen where you’re asked if you’d like to challenge your friends right off the bat. This is a good practice for an application that is built around challenges as long as users don’t feel forced into inviting their friends.

Rock Legends!

Rock Legends! challenge flow comes in the form of battling other local bands (i.e. your friend’s band). The interesting thing here is that even if your friends aren’t currently using the application, they will show up as a band that you can challenge. What is equally interesting is that when you challenge your friend’s band, the notification that they receive makes it seem as if they are already using the application (see step #5 in the flow above). The notification, however, doesn’t really have a call to action for the friend, which may result in the friend ignoring or not really knowing what to do with the notification.

Challenges can be a very effective way to get new users and keep existing users coming back for more. Challenges help users grow a community with their friends and, in turn, help grow a community around your application. They also present calls to action that can be very effective in peaking the interest of new and existing users. If you’re thinking of developing an application around a challenge flow, be sure take a look at the “Challenge” category in Product Planner.

Now that we’ve looked at gifting and challenges, the next post in this series will examine how Facebook applications utilize Notifications to reach new users and keep existing users interested in their applications.

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