Sprint brands Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile will soon offer customers access to PlayPhone's mobile gaming platform. The deal was announced July 22, opens a door that has until now been closed to customers of prepaid wireless service.
"These customers have never been able to download games before," PlayPhone CMO Anders Evju told eWEEK.
PlayPhone focuses on Android phones—many of its carrier partners ship their Android phones with the platform preloaded—and allows games to be charged to a user's phone bill, instead of requiring a credit card. For many consumers, their lack of a credit card is the reason they choose a prepaid phone service.
PlayPhone's gaming platform uses a currency system it calls "play credits."
"If you have a $50 prepaid plan, you can buy $5 of play credits on top of that," explained Evju.
As for getting the word out, that will fall to Sprint.
"Any time a prepaid customer goes into a store, say to pay a bill, the sales representative will say, 'Thanks for using Sprint, here's a top-up.' And then they'll upsell things like $5 play credits. Or if a person calls with a question, the rep will say, 'We've announced this new gaming service. Are you interested?'" said Evju.
In some instances, he added, users will be allowed to run up a limited tab—a game won't turn off midway through if a player runs out of credits—that can be paid off the next time they top up their subscription.
Carriers have historically shied away from such offers "because they were worried that if customers downloaded games, they wouldn't have credit left for calls" and wouldn't use the phones, said Evju. "This is a big vote of confidence from Sprint."
Keeping Carriers in the Game
Before Apple and Google created mobile app stores in which customers could shop for and download games, wireless carriers were offering games directly to subscribers.
"The games were $5 or $6 a piece, and they were making revenue on the games," said Evju. "Now, they're seeing a small revenue from Apple and Google, and they can't see the customer anymore."
PlayPhone re-creates the connection. Its game store integrates with social apps and is highly social, encouraging users to make recommendations and invite friends to play.
Asian carrier SingTel was an early PlayPhone backer and continues to embrace the platform.
"They've relaunched their whole brand around it, for all eight of their carriers. They're really pushing us," said Evju.
The carriers can see things like customers' social graphs, and PlayPhone uses analytics and shares information with the carriers such as which games people are playing.
"When you talk about the challenges of retaining customers, this is very important to them," Evju adds. Still, he says, "Our focus isn't just on the carriers; it's on the developers. They're the key to everything. They're our partners, and we want to make sure they have a platform they can monetize on."