A Plea for Contests: Bring us Back to the Roots of Our Love for Digital

I remember back to 2012 and 2013. I started playing the apps because it combined card collecting with fantasy sports. You opened packs of cards to get players that you can use in a way that coincides with the live games. It was a revolutionary concept for me, and something that really got me interested in digital. Since that point, the apps have kind of broken from that formula, focusing more on deriving value in the cards and less in making gameplay the focus of each of the apps. Im sad about that, and from the way revenue has been performing according to public tracking aggregators, it looks like this might be a way to right the ship so to speak.

Revenue is generated in app from buying bundles. Bundles that include coins or bundles that include cards. Because users get daily coins, spending only occurs when someone wants coins that they dont have. There are a handful of users who will buy cards because they have already broken the normal spending cycles, but for the normal non-whale, spending is about coins, not cards.

Because contests are usually not purchased bundles, the revenue derived from their participation is likely viewed as passive. Im also guessing it can be hard to track, because in a lot of ways, its a multi touch attribution model. User A is participating in Contest A. He buys packs of product A to get better cards. Tying all the As together might be difficult, especially if it can be a lot of different products the person buys.

It can also be as complicated as User A wants better cards for Contest A, so he solicits User B to trade him what he wants. User B sees value in the trade and wants to acquire more bait, so he buys in further to open more packs. Its passive, not direct.

I will say the ripple effects of contests being amazing can be huge. Topps doesnt seem to want to put a ton of effort into the daily contests, as we have seen in Bunt this year. They are much more interested in releasing cards than being innovative with the gameplay, and I believe they are wrong in doing so. Very wrong.

Recently we saw new contest types added, but as I said at the time, that cant be the end of it. With more focus, all those ripple effects are greater, and greater ripples from the contests means more revenue for Topps. Plus, the users are more entertained in the mean time.

For whatever reason, I feel like Topps doesnt think this way. Because they cant see the lift a contest advanced plan would have directly, they dont want to invest. Its funny that this is the case, because contests are literally one of the main advantages Topps has over any competition. I also think the short term plan of trying to squeeze more out of the big spenders instead of creating new ones is horrible idea. Its the same approach that got physical cards into the unsustainable situation they are in currently. You need to grow the pie, not get more out of what you already own. Growth of population, not growth per capita.

I wholeheartedly believe that more innovation in gameplay will have a hugely positive effect. This begs the question, how do you do that?

  1. Rewards – contest rewards have to be better. Reward the effort needed to place high with some great cards. More cards should have signatures, cost to enter should be low or free, and more highlighted content around winners should be in place. The app should showcase the contest as the peak of the mountain
  2. Variety – It can just be the same contests every day and every week. More special contests need to be instated. The app team should have weekly plans to make each day of the week special, and the better the exclusive reward, the better the participation and ripple effects will be in place.
  3. Communication – Blow it up on Twitter. Blow it up in the app. Show the commitment in a way that equates fame with winning.
  4. Embrace criticism – The app should be its own biggest critic. It should also solicit ideas and crowdsource solutions. Let the fans tell you what they want!
  5. Rewards – so important its on here twice. Think outside the box. Physical rewards are not out of the question, but there are enough ideas that havent been used that the team can still save physical rewards for the playoffs.
  6. Rewards – Yup, still that important.

Again, contests are in a funk, and I dont see the team really taking a stance to making them better across the apps. We havent seen what Huddle has to offer, but there is a huge need to take contests and dedicate more time and resources to making them SPECIAL. Trust me, I know that this is a way to bring back some of that magic we have lost in Bunt and Huddle.

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3 Responses to A Plea for Contests: Bring us Back to the Roots of Our Love for Digital

  1. Very insightful and on point. When we developed contests, we wanted to go further. The attribution issue was difficult and hard to generate the revenue directly from contests. The other item is, even the earliest contents in BUNT (2012/2013) were never the most popular activity in the app. I think this would be true of any fantasy league if we could get the real numbers. People just don’t have the brain space to play fantasy.

  2. blevins26 says:

    I agree with you and I would take it a step further to say that a wider variety of contests should be available. As we saw with Fan Duel/Draft Kings, internet/app based gaming is basically the Wild West right now. You can get away with a lot of things that might be stale or even illegal in 2-3 years.

    One of the main problems I see with any of these games (Hearthstone, Clash of Clans, and Huddle) is that power-users of the app end up dominating novices as time goes on which creates a natural selection phenomena that whittles down the total # of players. This happened with DFS as sharks took over the game and basically made it impossible for beginners to win. The same thing can happen in the Huddle app–why should I bother playing the weekly fantasy game when I know I’ll never win? There are ways to combat this with tiered games or XP-based games but that takes a lot more coding power and it’s difficult to enforce anyway (looking at you DFS).

    The answer is to think beyond the DFS model and incorporate a variety of games. Predictive games (pick what team will win, who will have most passing yards, etc.) give everyone a chance to win. You can even scale those games where everyone who picks the player with most receiving yards gets a small prize but larger prizes are given for those who guess the correct amount of yards. This is just 1 idea–there are many others but the main point is to have a gaming platform that can let someone win the first day/week they download the app in order to continue their engagement with the app.

    Legally I’m not exactly sure of the implications of this but, I mean, they are already running a DFS league, not to mention offering “premium” games where there is a “buy-in” of coins. I think the legal loophole there is that the coins can be earn for free just by opening the app so therefore it’s not gambling because you haven’t actually spent any real money to enter. That same thinking would apply to the games I suggested as well.

  3. Ron Berry says:

    I think the main problem with the daily contests is the prize does not reward the effort / money involved to compete. For example, the 10k coin contests, if you finish 10th – 100th, you get a pack worth $15k, which usually isn’t a good selling pack to start with.

    If they want to really get some participation daily participation and DIRECT revenue, they could try these ideas
    1) do a daily contest with a $50 new release physical box as a reward (a higher priced box for weekly) or 1 million coins. This could be rewarded as a coin that can be exchanged for a gift certification on Topps.com or as a milion coin ticket. They could have a low entry point for these contests of 10k coins to get a ton of participation for the high prizes. The more people that participate, the more product that gets sold.
    2) The inserts released for the current set could score at a higher rate (like GO Boosts) to encourage buying the current releases on BUNT.
    It wouldn’t take many participants to pay for the box or the million coins and the revenue from the contests and the indirect revenue from selling more base would be huge.

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