Referral Marketing for Online Gaming

The gaming industry hosts some of the most globally well-known and successful referral programs. Across the world, more than a billion and a half people are gaming, and about 700 million people are playing online games. Online gaming has become a much more mainstream activity in recent years and no particular age group or gender dominates the playing field. However, some research indicates that the average age of a gamer is around 31.

Mobile gaming is the biggest growth opportunity in online gaming right now. In the U.S., about 70% of mobile users play games on their devices, and games are consistently at the top of the download charts for iOS and Android devices. Young, Millennial women are the demographic most likely to play online games on a mobile device.

Time For a Referral Boom!

The dominance of mobile and the fact that female Millennials are the demographic most likely to play online mobile games suggests that we may be about to see an explosion in the number of referral programs launched by online or mobile gaming companies. There are three big reasons why:

  1. 18 to 35 years olds are the demographic most likely to partake in online referral activities
  2. Women are more likely than men to refer or recommend services, including games, to other people
  3. Mobile is increasingly becoming the main channel used to send referrals


As more and more online games adopt referral programs, here are some of the veteran gaming referral programs newbies may look too for some guidance.

Mobile Games

When it comes to mobile games, Zynga dominates the market, with the FarmVille series heading their list of most popular games. The FarmVille games operatve almost exclusively by requiring players to refer their friends, or invite their friends to play. It may seem like a simple arable game but at its core, FarmVille demands its players to partake in referral behaviours in order to grow their farms and earn rewards, though it is not what we might consider a traditional referral marketing campaign.

The FarmVille game play heavily revolves around social referrals. In order to progress in the game and grow a farm, players must invite friends or other players (who can be strangers) to be their neighbour. The rewards at stake are gifts and supplies which are then used to grow crops and feed farm animals. If players opt to not invite friends to play or be their neighbour, they can pay real money to gain virtual FarmVille currency. While a large section of people would rather not pay real cash for a digital farm, the alternative is to bombard friends with invitations to play, which could come with some reputational risk.

Currently, there aren’t many live referral program for mobile games but this is likely to change, especially on the back of FarmVille’s success and the increased influence young women are having digitally and on marketing.


Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs)

This is where the convergence of gaming and referral marketing currently thrives. There are three big guns in MMORPG and each has their own highly successful referral marketing program.

  • Destiny
  • League of Legends
  • World of Warcraft

Destiny encourages its existing players to refer friends, adventure together and earn rewards which can be used in-game. Launched in the fall of 2014, Destiny is considered to be the most successful new gaming franchise launch. Between August 2015 and November 2015, the game’s registered user base grew by 5 million to reach 25 million users. This phenomenal growth is no doubt partly due to the Destiny refer a friend program.

One of the more established MMORPG referral programs belongs to League of Legends. Their referral program has gone through a number of iterations down through the years and early iteration suffered heavily from fraudulent and dishonest play. In part, this was due to the high volume of referrals players had to make in order to receive certain high value rewards, which could be used in-game. The most recent version of LoL saw the number of required referrals needed to receive a reward drop significantly.

The World of Warcraft Recruit –A-Friend program is functionally similar to the League of Legends. However, WoW recruiters have the chance to earn free game time as well as in-game rewards. One could argue that in terms of MMORPG referral rewards, free game time is of more significant value to both the player and WoW than one-off in-game rewards.

As the newest game of the three, Destiny should be looking at the referral programs for LoL and WoW to watch out for potential pit-falls or red flags. For example, Destiny has 25 million registered users and, depending on the source, LoL has about 32.5 million users. LoL launched about five years before Destiny which makes the figures for Destiny even more incredible. Did Destiny’s referral program really help attract millions of new users or are they destined to succumb to dishonest play and fraudulent accounts like LoL?

Destiny may now be the golden child of MMORPG but there was a time, back in 2008, when WoW commanded 62% of the MMORPG market. However, in mid-2015, WoW shed 44% of their subscribers in just six months, dropping to about 5.6 million subscribers. It’s well established that referrals are the best way to grow a member or user base but the growth is usually a bit slower than that experience by Destiny. WoW’s story may be a warning for Destiny that this sudden burst of subscribers may not be sustainable, especially as new competitors come on the market.

Gambling & Betting

Online gambling and betting is a massive worldwide industry, particularly in Europe and Asia. Globally, the industry takes in about $33 billion each year. In contrast to the average player of mobile app games like FarmVille, young males are more likely to gamble or place bets online. Though not most popular with the demographic most likely to partake in online referrals, referral marketing is still a huge and successful part of the online gambling and betting world.

Refer a Friend Programs Build Immediate Trust
Refer a Friend Programs Build Immediate Trust

William Hill, a popular bookmaker and betting agency in the U.K., Ireland and Australia has active referral programs in each country. (It’s worth noting that Australia and Ireland come in first and third respectively in the list of top gambling nations.) The referral flow and sign up process is relatively simple and standard but considering how regulated the gambling and betting industry is, the rules are tighter than the average referral marketing program. A list of “exceptional groups” who are not permitted to participate is mentioned in the program rules and players found to have employed “minimal risk” tactics will have any referral bonuses or subsequent earnings revoked.

Unlike other online casinos and betting agencies, William Hill offers rewards of equal value to both referrer and the referred person. Winneroo offers £20 to referrers but only £5 to referred customers. The incentives offered by Winneroo are very imbalanced. There are no caps on how many new customers a referrer can invite to join. Referred customers are not equally rewarded for signing up and once a new customer has started playing, they cannot withdraw their earning until they hit £250. While the motivation for referrers is clear, the motivation for potential customers is less so. As a customer acquisition method, the Winneroo model doesn’t seem to have the makings of a long-term success and in a very crowded market, would-be gamblers will likely find a much more compelling offer elsewhere online.

Online gambling and betting providers really do need to offer something big to stand out from the crowd and Unibet knows this. Unibet offers referrers €20 for referring new customers. Customers can make up to 15 referrals which is a reasonable number and, unlike Winneroos’s program, minimizes the potential for fraud. In addition, for the duration of the Euro 2016 football championships, referrers will also receive a once-off bonus of €15 plus the people they refer will receive a €15 refund on their first bet if their bet is losing!


Lessons From the Gaming World

Other industries could learned a few things from the successes and failures of referral marketing campaigns within online gaming:

  • The incentive or reward needs to stand out from the crowd. With few exceptions, nearly every industry market is awash with choices today and consumers have more choice than ever about where to take their business.
  • Early successes aren’t everything. Referral marketing may be a customer acquisition tool but for referrals to work, you need to sustain your member or user base over time.
  • Consumers are open to the idea of referring strangers for a reward or incentive. As social media become more ubiquitous, it is now easy for consumers to refer this way and for businesses to monitor.
  • Whenever there is a reward on offer, there will always be a segment who try to manipulate the game and play dishonestly. Rules and restrictions need to be in place from the get go, even if it means limiting the number of eligible participants.
  • Referral marketing can be adapted and used in pretty much any industry!


Buyapowa specializes in the tactical execution of referral marketing programs that help brands to acquire, engage and retain customers. Get in touch today to learn more about how we can help you!


5 thoughts on “Referral Marketing for Online Gaming

  1. At all, Marketing is easy, if you are promoting white niche. When you have to work with gambling/betting companies ( doesn’t mean B2B or B2C ) it becomes hard. 90% of Marketing methods are not safe because of Google Anti-spam machines. So it needs patient and hard-working to achieve the goals you set. It might take years, but it worth.

    1. Good note James. That’s right, the same rules don’t apply for gambling or betting businesses. Marketers are required to get creative to bring inbound leads in.

  2. Here I get to know some useful ideas about referral marketing. This type of marketing is a good source of making money. Thanks for sharing such useful information.

  3. All of the gaming blog concept material is covered here. The article addresses the moving cause and functions as such. You wrote it in a layman way, so that everyone might appreciate it. Depending on its content, it’s an article worth applauding.

  4. thankyou for such a wonderful post. I was researching for online casinos and how to make money while playing one and came across your post. You have covered many points which might actually be helpful.

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