Growth Hacking has been around for some time now and has come a long way since Sean Ellis coined the term ‘growth hackers’ in 2010. Businesses have been implementing processes for rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to determine the most efficient ways to grow a business. These companies are witnessing huge growth using this approach.

Take Pokémon Go as an example.  The typical growth hacking principles were applied; built-in viral loops, social proof and community.  On top of these basic hacks, the addition of its innovative combination of virtual and real, geo-location feature made this a hit with players. Despite little advertising, a few tweets and retweets, done by Niantic Labs and Nintendo, it went viral. The results speak for themselves – released in July 2016, Nintendo said that as of May 2016, more than 280 million units of software relating to the game had been sold and the game has to date generated more than 76 billion yen in revenue.

The online games industry still continues to grow, despite mobile gaming apps on the rise. Worldwide revenues from digital PC games rose 5 percent year-on-year and is estimated to bring in $19.8 billion this year, accounting for around 60% of all digital PC game revenue.

Here are the top 10 performing online games, measured by SuperData and based on revenue;  League of Legends,  World of Warcraft,  Crossfire, Dungeon Fighter Online,  Overwatch, World of Tanks, DOTA 2, Fantasy Westward Journey Online II,  Maplestory and Lineage I.

Growth hacking is a great strategy fit for free-to-play games. We take a look at 5 hacks working right now for these top 10 performing online games, plus other industries.

Social Influence

According to SuperData, MMO gamers tend to leave in groups, its estimated that 34 percent leave a title behind mainly because “friends stop playing.” Approximately 81 percent enjoy playing with others they know, and 58 percent follow their friends and family over to a new title they’re introduced to.

Other research done by Nielsen also indicates that, 92% of people would trust a recommendation from a peer. And 70% of people will trust a recommendation from a person they don’t even know!

These stats prove that social proof has massive influence on your players. There are various individuals who can provide you with social proof;  experts, celebrities and your own users. Harnessing the power of these influencers is a powerful tool, but social influence is not just about including testimonials and case studies nor getting thousands of people to comment or re-tweet your content.

If you already have a large community, take a look at how you can display your social proof in a more relatable way to potential players.  Bringing in that FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) factor. Take for example leading hotel search engine and booking site,

They have a feature on all of their hotel landing pages called “Tribes: Who likes this place?”.  It lists 5 different groups of travelers. For each group segment you can see a number that tells users what percentage from each group likes that specific hotel. A  simple feature, but one that can sway a user in making their decision.

You can take this concept one step further and enhance it with Facebook integration to let players see who of their friends liked which title.


Another example of user generated social proof is IMDb. With over 250 million unique visitors per month, its taken movie reviews to the next level. It’s a savvy use of social proof.


Dota 2 has created an entire documented video series of professional Dota 2 teams, as they make their way to The Boston Major. Each episode has been viewed over 200,000 times.

Clash of Clans is another great example, it combines both viral and social influence. They created a 360 virtual reality video which allows you to experience the Clash world through the eyes of the Hog Rider. Uploaded to both Facebook and YouTube and in just over a week its received over 28 million views on YouTube and 2.6 million on Facebook. By including a link in the video, they will be enticing existing and new players to play the game.


View the 360 virtual reality videos here:

People are driven by social proof. In the book, “Influence,”  Robert Cialdini describes social proof as “the tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it.” Cialdini claims social proof is more powerful when we’re uncertain what to do.


The 80/20 rule definitely rings true with free-to-play games. 80 percent of your revenue will no doubt come from repeat customers. No game can succeed without a solid base of loyal players. Understanding core metrics is key to this growth hack.

Retention is probably the most important metric in a free-to-play game.  Long-term relationships are created with users and an online game needs to have a good retention strategy to build these long-term relationships.

According to research, online gamers spend 6.5 hours a week on average playing with others. With 54 percent of respondents playing games with other people, including friends (40 percent) and family members (21 percent).

Whatever your user sessions are, if you get a glimpse of where your players fall, you will be able to implement engagement and re-engagement techniques to fit your strategy, such as:

  • Push-Notifications – at the point of player’s current level or status which will compel them to return to the game, increasing sessions per day.
  • Chatbot Messages – with specific actions to take (for e.g. challenge another player, purchase a supply) as it encourages them to continue playing, increasing session length.
  • Promotions – loyalty programs, cross-selling, cash back promos, frequent player promotion.
  • Time Limitations – in-game events that offer players rewards for completing certain tasks and encouraging them to keep on playing.
  • CRM systems – in-game CRM systems are extremely powerful as they store important information about your players, data that can help you to retain the best players and maximize returns on your marketing investments.
  • Community Affiliates – providing fresh, unique content and driving players to an online forum, helps build engagement and drive your users back to your site.
  • Contests – creating competition and tournaments helps bring your players back wanting more in a competitive environment.
  • VIP service – offering full time VIP service to your top players, this will encourage your top spenders to stay and play.
  • Social Feeds – creating a feed for social improves overall player engagement and builds a community.

League of Legends had a strong engagement strategy by sharing video tutorials of the game for first time users which was very well received.

Another good example of a clever campaign like this, is one that Kiip has run:

They ran a monthly contest in the game MegaJump, where the grand prize was $5,000 in cash. By doing this, the contest enormously increased viral awareness about the game.

Crossfire, the third top performing online game according to SuperData,  is a good example of encouraging contests. Crossfire promote on their site a ‘Competitive Ranking’ in the form of a table listing their top players. This encourages users to keep returning time-after-time to this competitive game. They have cleverly analyzed their user audience and identified what drives them, then developed a tool to keep them coming back for more.


Make sure you learn as much about your player base as possible. Analyze your player stats and movement, this is powerful data. Communicate with your players regularly and ensure your monetization strategy matches your audience profile.

Exclusive Community

If you’re going to build an exclusive community, you need to get buy-in first. The best way to do this is via loyalty platforms. These programs need to focus on delivering valuable rewards from advertisers to gamers.

These rewards are normally pushed through disguised advertising offered at an emotionally positive moment when a gamer unlocks an in-game achievement.  This is about the most successful form of advertising.

Candy Crush is probably one of the best examples of how well this could work. In the first six months of 2014, its players spent close to 800 million dollars. The key to its success is that when you share your progress, you will get something back – more lives or more levels to play.

A more recent example is World of Tanks. For thanks giving they created a rewards program called ‘Tanksgiving’ – for the month of Thanksgiving, they gave their players a prize and the option to choose a player of their choice. Plus earning players rewards for themselves and a friend in this month.


Another good example of building an engaged audience, is‘s Twitch streaming service. Its that live engagement which gets people ticking. The uncertainty as to what will  happen next, the possibility of witnessing a new world record or a hack of note and the ability to ask chat-room questions live during the stream all attributes to the popularity.

Streaming services cultivate and empower communities of fans and creators.

For example Dungeon Fighter Online annual DNF Wold Championships was streamed live on Twitch TV., with over 250,000 views.


Twitch also launched a number initiatives in the last year, such as tying Twitch subscriptions to its core Amazon Prime service. Amazon Game Studios is also aiming to allow Twitch audience members to place bets on games. Subscribers will get the exclusivity of a new interactive console which allows viewers to earn loyalty points, wager their points on key moments in the game they are watching, participate in viewer polls and will also have access to real-time stats.

The exclusivity offered to members helps to build an engaged community. Here are a few other ways to build it up:

  • Have a clear purpose  – the intention of your community must be clear. The vision of the community must be able to be put into a single sentence.
  • Incentivized  reviews – a review and rating system should be fair and a helpful way to assist online gamers. Amazon recently made a significant change to its community guidelines which will eliminate incentivized reviews. This program is the only way for Amazon to identify trusted reviewers, and has a number of controls in place in order to keep bias out of the review process.
  • Valuable rewards – HubPages, a revenue-sharing article-writing site, did this well by  allowing its users to post pages on just about anything without any coding knowledge. They could earn  badges and rewards for activity as well as revenue from ads/affiliate sales.

Space Ape Games  shared last year that out of all of their users;

  • 30% have come from paid UA
  • 20% have come from featured spots on various app marketplaces and
  • the remaining 50% has come from organic traffic.

They attribute these figures to the attention they give to their existing user base, by way of community management. In most instances and as part of their in-game UI, they’ve added a very important feature – a feedback button. In just a single click, players are able to submit feedback, ideas and bug reports.

Social game developers should go back to this same exclusive community and listen about game improvements and new features. This is the only way to constantly improve the user experience and increase user retention.


Although it’s been prevalent for a while, the MMO market has dramatically altered in terms of the preferences of players, the audience as well as revenue generated over the last few years. Integration and collaboration play a huge part in many of the MMO game successes.

Facebook, being the most mature API integration, has the benefit of increasing your chances of someone stumbling back into your game, as they are logging into Facebook a number of times each day.

Users had very little to complain about when Riot incorporated Facebook into League of Legends. This Facebook Login feature allows for connection to a player’s account on the MOBA with their Facebook social profile. It has nothing to do with invites and posting wall messages, but rather helping people find their friends who also play League of Legends.

Facebook reported that 4 million players have used this functionality to make 15 million friend connections- which is a huge chunk of people who actively play League every month. 

A good example from another industry using integration to drive more traffic is Apptive, who aligned with leading e-commerce providers Shopify, Volusion and BigCommerce. They integrated their mobile commerce tools with the service providers’ existing click-and-build e-commerce templates, giving customers a really easy way to interact with the stores from their smartphone which gained them a new direct communication channel as well as push notifications.


Facebook’s new gaming platform called Gameroom recently launched, taking on the already established Valve’s Steam platform. Facebook hopes to succeed with its massive audience reach. Essentially Gameroom lets users play web, ported mobile and native Gameroom games in a dedicated PC app, free from the distractions of the News Feed.


Built-in Viral Loops

It is about the most important part of growth hacking and for it to work, virality needs to be a fundamental part of your game. A few well-known examples of built-in success case studies include:

Candy Crush


Probably one of the best known viral games and one of the first  and most successful uses of freemium model. Developed by King and in the first six months of 2014, its players spent close to 800 million dollars. The key to its success is its simplicity and built-in referral program. You can ask your friends for extra lives, along with by sharing your progress you receive more lives or more levels to play.

Success: 93 million daily active users (DAUs).

Facebook Messenger

In a bid to drive more people to download Facebook’s Messenger App, Facebook recently launched a built-in viral gamification feature into their IM App. Users are now able to play games and challenge their friends and family members to games such as PAC-MAN, Words With Friends: Frenzy, SPACE INVADERS, EverWing and more.

After a user is finished playing a game, other people in the conversation will see their score and will have the opportunity to challenge them. People can also search for games within the Messenger, or on Facebook News Feed where they can play solo or challenge friends back in Messenger.



Again a unique but such a simple concept. They offered free space if you invited your friends.

Success: Launched in 2007, Dropbox currently has over 500 million users with over 1.2 billion files uploaded daily.



Warframe pushes their simple 3 step referral program throughout the game and on their site. The more friends you recruit, the higher the rewards.

Success: 68,530 players online at once and 1.2 million hours of playtime in a single day.

To summarize, here are 5 facts for successfully growth hacking:

  1. You have to have actionable goals for what growth means to your company.
  2. Experimenting requires testing various formats and methods. Have the right analytics to monitor your progress.
  3. Use your strengths to your advantage. This includes employee and user engagement on idea generations and product development.
  4. Experiment but listen to feedback and optimize on it.
  5. Repeat the process.