How sweepstakes, contests can drive app downloads, usage

One startup is banking that contests and game leaderboards can spark interest and engagement in new apps.

People love prizes. And that's the core belief animating a start up called SherLabs.

Through a product called TapFame, the company offers game developers the ability to drop an instant sweepstakes or leaderboard contest into their apps, which presumably would drive interest and downloads.

It's a unique take on the issue of app discovery, which I've written a lot about -- and which continues to be an issue for the middle and lower tiers of developers. Developers want their apps to be noticed, but the market is so crowded, it's hard to stand out without spending a lot of money.

That was the issue with Satjot Sawhney, CEO of SherLabs. Last year, he and a partner were working on a mobile game. But halfway through the development process, they realized they lacked the resources to promote it.

"We were too scared to launch that thing," Sawhney told CNET. "I really have a lot of respect for game publishers now."

In coming up with an answer to the discoverability problem, Sawhney stumbled upon what is now TapFame's core business. TapFame supplies developers with a software development kit that can easily be dropped into an app. That SDK then allows the developers to hold contests or sweepstakes. While initially designed as a tool to drive downloads, Sawhney said the app has actually spurred user engagement. That's become the company's main focus.

Users who participate in the contest are given the option to join TapFame's network and get alerts on future promotions, giving the company a base of customers it can direct to future apps. Ultimately, the company hopes to have a big enough network of gamers that it can charge developers for the additional traffic and downloads. Also in the works is a potential revenue-sharing agreement, where TapFame would kick money back to developers that have helped the company grow its base.

For now, SherLabs is still a nascent start-up that's part of the New York Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator program, which is helping to drive the technology and start-up scene in the New York area.

The company is testing out TapFame on two games, although only one is truly mature. One of the games, a puzzle dice game called Lock 'n' Roll, has seen players on the TapFame contest play more than 7 times a day, as opposed to regular players who play less than 5 times a day. An ad-supported free game, Lock 'n' Roll, generates more revenue when players more.

An example of a contest would be a prize given out to the top score after the next 24 hours. The chance to win that prize drives a lot of gamers back to the app.

SherLabs, which is still looking for funding, is still working out the kinks of the product. It is testing on a few apps now so it can more broadly roll out this product to more companies. He said about half a dozen more developers are working to get the TapFame code into their apps.

Because it is so young, the company is only working on an iOS version of its service for now. As it gets more mature, it plans to expand to Android, Sawhney said.

On a broader level, apps will likely be judged more on engagement and user interest level than sheer downloads, Sawhney said. Apple's acquisition of app search engine Chomp will likely lead to a shift to better app searches and lists, he added. One part of Chomp's service was its ability to rate apps based on usage, which is key for TapFame.

"We're positioning ourselves to drive download and boosting engagement," he said.

About the author

Roger Cheng is the executive editor in charge of breaking news for CNET News. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade. He's a devoted Trojan alum and Los Angeles Lakers fan.

 

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