September 6, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Companies Must Do These 2 Things In Order To Innovate

At Dragon Army, we're laser-focused on mobile and innovation/emerging technology. All of us in the past have worked on large websites, integrated social media campaigns, robust email marketing strategies...and all of that is important within any digital marketing plan, but for us, its all about mobile.

One of the things I see our clients struggle with when it comes to mobile and emerging technology is the ability to move faster, iterate more effectively, and just generally "do more". Essentially, to act more like a startup.

In order to help our clients embrace their inner startup, I'm writing a book. I've posted on my personal blog about the process I've been going through while writing the book, but needless to say, its been a topsy-turvy journey so far.

Even though there is still a tremendous amount of work left to be done in order to get my book published, there are two things that have stood out during my research and interviews that companies must do in order to innovate. At their core, they need:

a flexible technology infrastructure and a culture that accepts, and even promotes, failure

I've seen companies that have a very fluid and flexible technology stack/infrastructure, but they don't have the mindset (from the top down) that allows them to embrace change and take advantage of their superior technology abilities. And on the flip side, it doesn't matter how willing a company is to change, if their technology infrastructure is too old and cumbersome, they won't have the flexibility to experiment effectively.

I'll update more on the process of writing the book as I make progress, but I thought I'd share this insight as more companies are planning their strategies and budgets for 2017 and beyond. Get your tech right and make sure you have a failure-led culture, and you'll be able to accomplish anything.

July 12, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Ryan Tuttle and Jeff Hilimire Interviewed on RadioX

Ryan Tuttle (COO, co-founder) and Jeff Hilimire (CEO, co-founder) were interviewed recently on RadioX. Among the things they discussed:

  • The future of Augmented and Virtual Reality
  • How they've worked together over the years
  • The idea behind Dragon Army
  • Company culture

July 7, 2016Comments are off for this post.

6 Reasons Why I’m Pumped That Mizuno Selected Dragon Army As Their Mobile Agency Of Record

We announced recently that Mizuno has chosen Dragon Army as their Mobile Agency of Record. I'll dive deeper into what that actually means in a future post, but I wanted to hit on a few reasons why we're FREAKING PUMPED about this relationship.

1. Mizuno is a killer brand. Amazing quality, great history, super loyal fan base, tons of upside in the market. Honestly, a dream client.

2. This is our first *official* Mobile Agency of Record relationship. My vision for the marketing industry is that more and more companies will see the importance of having a mobile-focused agency as a partner. I say *official* because we act in that capacity for several clients, but these guys were the first to make it legit 😉

3. We get to continue to play in the sports category. At Engauge, where a good deal of our Dragon Army team used to work, we had the opportunity to work with Nike. It's exciting to get to work on sports brands, and between our new relationship with Mizuno and our on-going relationship with Turner Sports, we're loving it.

4. The client team is fantastic. I'm not sure I've worked with more forward-thinking marketers before, and their interest in driving results from digital/mobile is going to match well with how we like to operate.

5. Mizuno already has a great list of agency partners, many of which we have worked with before. Working with great partners makes life more enjoyable, and superior results easier to obtain.

6. In some ways, Mizuno is just getting started in the mobile/digital space. Many clients we work with have a tremendous amount of legacy digital efforts and it becomes difficult to truly innovate and move quickly in the space. For the most part, we have a mostly blank slate to work with which is a fantastic place to start.

So, thanks to the Mizuno team for the faith in us! We look forward to helping you crush the competition in no time 😉

July 5, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Android Instant Apps

Smaller, faster, thinner, leaner, new, shiny….

Now a month since the Google I/O conference, and plenty of time to reflect on the many exciting announcements, concepts have gelled and discussions have been had surrounding the possibilities coming soon from within the walls of Castle Google. Smarter device assistants, new home automation assistants, help at every turn because Google is learning to truly anticipate our desires in the context of which we want them. This is all very exciting. However, one announcement caught my ear more than the others and that was the concept of Android Instant Apps.

Briefly, Instant Apps is the seed of an idea that we will soon be able to utilize the core functionality of many available apps on the fly and without actually installing the app itself. What sort of wizardry is this, you may ask? An app without install? How much of the app do I get? What is it for? Where does it go when I am done? Why do I want this? Don’t I need to keep my apps around for future use? It’s a strange idea until you see it put into practice.

Let’s paint a picture of a fairly typical use case scenario where your client, who sells a myriad of delightful and exciting widgets, is in dire need of mobile app presence, complete with product feature pages, in-app purchasing, store locators and the like. They already have a web presence, which, let’s be honest, is dated and badly in need of update. Let’s not even speak of their mobile web presence and lack of responsive design…

Naturally, we pitch our client a beautiful, cutting edge and user friendly app concept that solves all their problems and is sure to push their sales through the roof. However, there is still that pesky problem of dated web presence, mobile web experience and driving app conversion; problems that will require additional resource to solve and accomplish. Unless… There was a simple way to drive users to your app as conveniently as sending them a web link.

That is where Android Instant Apps could really shine as they are, quite simply, modules contained within the CORE of your existing app which allow a user to access singular activities tailored to their immediate needs, in the moment. Rather than sharing content from an app space to another individual which then forwards them to an inferior web experience, the user can literally share the same rich in-app experience to another person with little effort.

Share a product page with a friend? Instant Apps. Send a video experience? Instant Apps. Scan a QR code to interact with a POS system tailored to immediate purchases? Instant apps. Any instant gratification, surprise and delight, could be solved with Instant Apps. All of these, gateways to app conversion.

As a developer, whose primary function for years was pure web development having now progressed to all things mobile, this concept is immediately appealing. Allow me the ability to work within a single platform solution without the need for stripped down, web based, experiences that lack the shine and robustness of our product offering. This is an exciting and important progression of app development that I anticipate will become common practice when going through the paces of application architecture, flow and UX design.

There are, of course, drawbacks to this concept as well. At this time, this is an Android only solution, although the announcement of Apple’s own ‘App Thinning’ aims at much the same idea. Also, this is not going to work for every case that comes through the door. Instant Apps would not, necessarily, be ideal for apps requiring user registration, stored data, multi-activity navigation, etc. But they could certainly contain features that tease what your app has to offer and, again, drive conversion to full app installs. Expect your clients to want this functionality but be prepared to educate them on where and how this ability will and will NOT benefit them.

In the near future, I fully expect to find SEO strategies that, for the first time, direct a user inquiry to not only relevant web content or even play store apps that might be useful to them, but actual content found WITHIN apps. Pretty cool. I encourage you to keep an eye out in the coming months as this is released more broadly to the development channels and see where this might fit into projects you are currently working on as well as projects you have already released.

July 1, 2016Comments are off for this post.

5 Things Brands Can Learn From Mobile Games

Our fourth game here at Dragon Army, Little Broken Robots is a fan favorite and even this non-gamer is a convert. While repairing sad, lonely robots is certainly an emotional pick me up (our community has repaired more than 11 million robots to date), it’s not the only reason players are picking up Little Broken Robots.

As mobile matures in 2016 and beyond, we believe that brands will seek new forms of inspiration. For us, that inspiration comes from gaming. Below are five of the biggest lessons brands can take from mobile gaming.

1. On-board me like a player
What’s the first thing you do before playing any game? You reach for the rule book. Tell me how I can expect to win.

Your customer should understand their opportunities, and limitations, from their first play session. The best games use on-boarding to make their players feel exclusive, important and prepared to win. According to research from TechCrunch, 79% of users will give apps a second chance, but only 16% will come back for a third try if it fails to impress. Make sure your first session leaves an impression.

In app design, consider how and when you might ask a user for various permissions, for example, registering for an account. Take time to move a user through your world, rather than expecting that he/she is ready for every action on first open.

2. Motivate me to come back
As marketers, we have to stop expecting a mobile app to translate to our storefront on a customer's device.

After those first few opens, chances are your customer is going to forget that they even downloaded your app in the first place. Notifications, when used appropriately, offer the ultimate invite back into your customer’s life. In our Applied Game Theory™ model, we refer to this as an appointment mechanic.

Consider not only engaging users with push messages, but also pay close attention to when in the app lifecycle you ask for permission. A recent study by Localytics found that users who complete 1-3 sessions before seeing a push notification opt-in have a 35% rate of acceptance, but that rate jumps to 70% after users complete between 4-6 sessions in the app. When used successfully, both games and apps can build an understanding how to motivate their players and customers to anticipate the return.

3. Give me a CHANCE  to get something out of this
Super Mario Bros. wasn’t entertaining because I knew I was going to save the princess at the end. It was entertaining because I knew I’d have the chance to do so…if I survived the rest of the level.

Rewards don’t have to be absolute to offer satisfaction. We are naturally more motivated by the chance of a reward, rather than the guarantee of one. This is the same rationale that drove Powerball to a record breaking $1.5B dollar prize, urging us all to buy tickets. Keep your customer guessing and energized by what you have to offer and when the time comes, make that reward valuable and personalized.

4. Let me do something other than click
Mobile gaming unlocked a new genre of game creativity not only because of its pocket size, but also because the hardware gave us new ways to play. When designing for mobile, we’re often guilty of reverting to “design for the smaller screen.” Some of the most addicting games we've come across aren’t unique in content, but are unique in how you play them.

Mmm Fingers for example requires I keep my finger on the screen for the entire play session and losing goes as far as to send a vibration paired with a graphic of a monster cutting my finger. The real life reaction is so fun, players can’t help but try again. Consider what “mobile” elements you’ve employed to your experience beyond the click.

mmm fingers

5. Evolve the challenge
In 2015, the average time spent in mobile gaming fell from 32% to 15%, but this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. As the market has matured, players have begun investing less time in progressing through experiences and more time paying for upgrades to progress more quickly. As a result, the iTunes App Store saw a record of $1.7B in sales in July 2015 and released new models for subscription revenue just last month.

While the game doesn’t change every a long-time player opens an app, the challenges should. Consider how your customer will progress through your experience. Your mobile experience should be just as useful and entertaining the fiftieth time I open it as the first, but the first and fiftieth interactions shouldn't be the same. Challenge yourself to build an experience that matures as your customer does.

As we head into the second half of 2016, we challenge you to consider what role applying insights from gaming plays in your mobile strategy. To learn more about our approach with Applied Game Theory™ at the core, give us a shout.

June 14, 2016Comments are off for this post.

The Year Before “The Year of VR” – part 2

People are always asking me “What are some of the best new VR apps/experiences out there right now?” Then I'm like “Just go Google it yourself mom. You'll have to use the computer because you can't use Google on your flip phone.”

As you can imagine, I've Googled that same thing many times so that she never comes back and surprises me with more up to date VR knowledge than I have. I also have Google alerts set up, you know because I can't let her win.

Here are a few of the things I've found  (and in most cases used) that are out right now and are actually fun, useful, or just entertaining as opposed to the vast majority of the fledgling experiences out there on these platforms.

  • Games:
    • Minecraft in VR - Same old game, but up close and personal. You feel like you are actually in the blocky world and get a very close view of the things you craft. Getting surrounded by zombies in a 360, stereoscopic view is a lot more intense.
    • Land’s End - Simple environment and puzzles but well done. Moving objects around to solve puzzles is very satisfying and feels as if you have telekinesis at times. This continues to make the list because it’s one of the better games that doesn’t require a controller.
    • Hover Junkers - Only available on Vive right now because you need full motion control.
    • Defense Grid 2 - I haven’t played this yet but it looks like it’s a great tower defense game that meets VR.
  • Experiences:
    • Using VRSE to watch Celebrity Jeopardy from the SNL 40th anniversary special. VRSE has a lot of high-profile 360 videos. Watching the ones from SNL gives you an audience perspective so you get to see stagehands giving the actors cue cards, you see actors walking on set without being on camera, and if you don’t enjoy the skit itself you can turn around and see the celebrities watching who were in the audience that night.
    • Netflix is still one of my favorite VR apps. It allows me to watch any Netflix content in a mountain cabin. Very simple but very immersive and easy to forget you aren’t there when you start watching.
    • VirtualSpeech - A public speaking app. You are put in front of an audience to get over your fear of public speaking. There are actually several of these out there, not even sure this one if the best. I like the idea of this but the stock video may take you a little out of the moment.

Bonus: If I didn't already have VR goggles (or a Samsung VR ready phone) and I wanted to jump in, then I would get this… Bruce Wayne's S7

May 26, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Five Reasons Why Instagram Killed It

Over the past several years, Instagram has become a must-have mobile app. At it’s heart it’s a camera app, which is one of the most crowded spaces in today’s app landscape. It’s also a social app. Social has such a high barrier to entry that even Google has struggled to scale that wall. So how did Instagram manage to separate itself from the masses, and become a standout app?

There are many reasons why, but in the end they all come back to one overarching theme: Simplicity.

The theory that simpler is better is nothing new. I don’t know that I have ever been part of a project where simplicity wasn’t at least part of the goal. But to actually achieve that goal is a very rare thing. Simplicity actually means sacrifice. It means saying no, and cutting features, and recognizing that you can not make everyone happy all the time. Instagram has embraced simplicity time and again, and I believe that is truly the differentiator that makes it shine. Let’s take a closer look at five ways that Instagram embraced simplicity.

1. Single Platform. Mobile First.

When Instagram was initially rolled out it was iOS only. No Desktop. No Android. No Blackberry. That’s a difficult decision for a business to make. Instagram turned their back on half of their potential customer base, which is a huge risk for any product to take. Why was it the right decision? Because it allowed them to focus all of their efforts on a single platform, with no compromises. They could take full advantage of the benefits of iOS without having to worry about how they’d handle it elsewhere. It also meant that by the time they were ready to expand that strategy to multiple platforms, they had a better idea of what worked and what didn’t. Today they support a variety of platforms, but their desktop presence is still minimal. They recognize that their time and effort is better spent on mobile, so that is what they do.

2. A Minimal Feature Set 

The first version of Instagram wasn’t Instagram. It started out as an app prototype called Burbn. Burbn had a camera component, but it also had a lot of other features including a Foursquare inspired check in service, and a points based game experience. When it came time to transform Burbn into the Instagram we have come to know and love, it meant stripping out a lot of features, and tossing a lot of work. That’s a hard choice, but it allowed them to focus solely on creating the best possible camera functionality. Instagram didn’t include videos, or profiles, or direct messages when it launched. It was photos only, it had the most basic of privacy settings, and it had a small set of filters that you could use to edit your photos. How was it successful with so few bells and whistles? I think it’s because everything it did, it did well, and everything that wasn’t essential, wasn’t included.

3. Square Photos 

This is something so seemingly small, but so brilliant that I had to call it out as it’s own item. Square photos only. Instagram folded this into their marketing and tone so seamlessly that it appeared to be a cosmetic choice only. Their interface was a play on polaroids. Polaroids are square. Instagrams were therefore square. But it goes so much deeper than that. It meant that they never needed to worry about aspect ratio. They didn’t need to worry about layouts that accommodated images of all sizes. They didn’t need to dynamically calculate image heights so that pictures would always be full width. They didn’t need to worry about app rotation because their design always worked in portrait mode.

4. Simple, Effective Interface 

If you take a look at the Instagram app, one of the first things you’ll notice is the camera button. It’s big and it’s blue, and it’s right in the center. It’s not an accident that it’s conveniently located at the bottom of the screen, in easy reach of your thumb, regardless of whether you’re holding the phone with your right or left hand. Instagram wants you to add photos, and their interface reflects that.

Filters are another way that Instagram kept things simple. They recognized that people want their photos to look good online. They recognized that people don’t want to spend a long time fiddling with adjustment sliders. So they came up with a new way to tackle the problem. Filters let you completely change the look of your photo in one easy tap. It’s such an easy, elegant experience. It’s no surprise that users fell in love with it.

5. The Right Features at the Right Time 

Instagram has a pretty good track record of implementing the right features at the right time. In fact, most of the features that I’ve pointed to, as things they avoided, exist in the app today. The difference is that they didn’t jam all of it in during phase one, and hope that people liked it. They started small, paid attention to how people were using the app, and when they did add things, they did so to address a user need. One of the best examples of this is hashtags. In 2011 they implemented hashtags, and it changed the way people use Instagram, and the way people use hashtags. Being selective and smart about the way they roll out new features means that even as Instagram grows, it continues to be a meaningful, engaging user experience.

Instagram is a wonderful example of what is possible when a team understands what their product is, accepts what it is not, and executes against that with total focus. The app is simple, easy to use, and engaging. That’s what keeps 400 million users coming back month after month.

April 7, 2016Comments are off for this post.

The UI/UX Designer: So Many Hats

This post is a blind response to the article What do companies mean when they say they want a UI/UX Designer? written by Sarah Harrison.

I come from a family of teachers.  Despite the fact that I didn’t follow in their footsteps, my parents have been endlessly supportive of Read more

February 9, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Why We Hate The Word “Gamification”

Use the word gamification around our offices and you’re nearly guaranteed to hear a sigh. While in reality, gamification, as it was intended, creates the foundation of a lot of the work Dragon Army produces.

In order to understand the connection, animosity and our belief in what works, you have to first Read more

September 28, 2015Comments are off for this post.

Netflix Knows All About Your Binge Habits

When I was a kid and a song I disliked came on the radio, I remember thinking...if I turn the channel, maybe somewhere in the studio a listener count will tick down and they will remember not to play that again. I don’t think it ever worked.

But in the digital world, it just might, especially when Netflix is the one listening.

In case you missed it, The Wall Street Journal published an article last week sharing insight into behaviors of Netflix users toward certain shows.

The results are fascinating. While its safe to assume Netflix has dirty laundry on just how quickly we binged through Unbreakable Kimmy Schimdt this summer, based on data shared this week, they also know at which point we fell in love with the show, or when the relationship fizzled out.

New data suggests Netflix knows not only how many people stick with a show, but also at which episode they decide to commit. Perhaps what is most fascinating, is that they weren’t able to find a single pattern to adopt across shows.


Interestingly enough, our data approach at Dragon Army follows a very similar structure to what Netflix is uncovering. Patterns in behavior aren’t just unique to users, they’re unique to each game we create. Just as Netflix changed the paradigm for TV viewership, mobile gaming is also distinguishing itself from console game design, and we’re able to do it through data.

Almost exclusively, what we design here at Dragon Army is free-to-play. Which means, unlike designing for a console game, revenue comes not from the purchase of the game, but from the ongoing upgrades and purchases within the game as play progresses.

We can’t risk losing a player on day one. For Netflix, replace in-app purchases with continued subscription revenue and you have the same challenge.

What makes adapting new revenue models even more interesting lies is how it is applied. While Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos was quoted stating that these statistics do not influence creative decisions, in game design, our world is built on them.

Player Data & Defend the Dam 


In early tests, players of our most recent title, Defend the Dam, showed that those who made it past level seven they held a much stronger chance continuing on to complete the game. However, those that had more trouble in the earlier levels were much less likely to return.

We were then able to go back in and understand what actions the “advanced" players were taking in levels one through six and compare those actions to the population who abandoned.

We found “advanced" players were spending more time in the earliest levels garnering achievement points, rather than completing a level and moving on to the next. This would in turn, unlock opportunities to make later levels both easier and more fun.

Instead of asking users to defeat 10 waves of creatures with every level, we decreased that number, introducing 10 waves for the first time only in level seven. By decreasing the waves of creatures encountered in the early levels, players who wanted to play by moving from one level to the next felt accomplished sooner, thus encouraging them to stick around for longer.

Furthermore, when the next set levels were set to be released this fall, we had a known influencer group worth targeting with fresh content. Understanding these actions allows us to invest our time in analyzing the micro actions players are taking within the experience.

While this practice of data analysis is not new to the game design community, it is a fresh school of thought for us as marketers. As we think of building the apps, experiences and content of tomorrow, uncovering patterns in behavior is becoming less of a nice to understand, and more of a precursor to building differentiated success.

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