Referral programs are one of the best ways to pick up new players for your game, by leveraging the engagement of your existing players who then invite their friends to play. We’ve looked at what kinds of incentives to offer for referrals, as well as how to promote it in-game and externally – but what type of program is actually right for your game?

In this post we’ll explore some of the different referral marketing programs that are frequently used in mobile gaming today:

  • Content sharing
  • Refer a friend
  • Tiered rewards based on milestones
  • Leaderboards
  • Giveaways

We’ll look at how they work, and some of our recommendations based on helping to boost organic growth in a wide variety of mobile games. Let’s start with the basics.

Rewarding players for sharing content

We recently looked at some of the best ways to record replays of gameplay and package them in a way that motivates players to share. Unsurprisingly, incentives motivate players even more!

There are many benefits to getting your players to share in-game content with their friends or on social media. As well as potentially bringing in referrals from those friends who see your content and want to check out the game, you also spread awareness of your app which may lead to indirect referrals further down the line.

No Humanity gives players a reward for sharing replays.

Refer a friend

Referrals may happen naturally – or indirectly – through content sharing as mentioned above, but you can go one better by directly incentivizing players to refer a friend.

Be sure that the referral loop requires a new player to download the game and open it (and possibly complete an action within it, such as creating an account or completing the tutorial) before you start giving out the rewards.

At Megacool, we’ve seen first-hand that players are increasingly turning to messaging apps over social media when it comes to sharing. The social importance of making a personalized, one-to-one recommendation is growing. With the deeplinking enabled by our SDK, new players can jump right into a game with their friends or even appear instantly on in-game friends lists.

Tiered rewards for referral milestones

Now we’re getting into some slightly more sophisticated solutions.

Offering rewards for a successful referral should be just the start. An even more engaging form of a referral program is to give different “tiers” of rewards based on how many friends a player refers to the game. The more players they refer, the bigger their reward.

C.A.T.S. clearly shows the different tiers of rewards available for referrals.

Here are a few key tips for tiered referral rewards:

  • Don’t make it too hard to achieve the first milestone – otherwise your players won’t engage with the extra tiers. We recommend no more than 2 referrals needed to reach the first reward.

  • Be sure to clearly communicate that there are different tiers. This is where great copy is essential – and for a guide on that, check out this blog post.

  • Show the rewards! Don’t give vague promises as to what the higher-tier rewards are – show them on the screen to help players visualize what they could be getting their hands on. It’ll also help motivate them to try and reach the higher tiers.

  • Show progress! A player should always know how close they are to hitting the next tier. A progress bar, or periodic reminders that they need to refer a couple more friends, can be a great way to help them get there (and help you get new players).

Critter Clash shows players their progress towards hitting another referral reward.

Use leaderboards to gamify referrals

Leaderboards are commonly used as a metagame device, to add another layer of gameplay. But you can also use them to help gamify your game’s referral program, and make it even more engaging for players.

The concept is simple enough: the more friends a player refers, the higher up the leaderboard they place. As with milestone-based rewards tiers, players should also be incentivized to finish as high up the leaderboard as possible.

The big difference between milestone-based rewards is that a leaderboard is time-limited. For example, you could have weekly leaderboards with prizes given out every 7 days for the top 100 players who have referred the most friends. That way the rewards are frequently refreshed, and feel achievable to every player: if they miss out one week, hey, there’s always next week.

Again, your communication and copy are key here. Be creative with how this is presented. You’re appealing to your game’s biggest fans – the advocates and ambassadors for your app. Make sure they feel like that, and that placing high on the leaderboard is worth their time and effort.

Giveaways can incentivize players to refer

Finally, a special event – involving a giveaway – is a great way to give your referral marketing a boost. Offer up an enticing prize draw in the game and on your social media, with the condition that players have to refer a friend in order to enter.

The more friends they refer, the more entries they get – like a lottery ticket.

There are all kinds of rewards that you could offer to players, from in-game currency to merchandise. We broke down all the different referral rewards types, but we recommend going for something truly enticing and unique – like real-life merch – for a special event like this.


There are many different ways in which you can use referral marketing in your game, from simple share-to-social cues to special events and leaderboards.

We recommend that you don’t think of these referral program types as individual marketing strategies, but as part of one larger strategy for boosting user acquisition. Just because you have one of these programs in place, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look to build some of the additional referral layers on top. When it comes to acquiring new players, every additional one is of value!

For more information about how best to integrate referral programs in your game, and other mobile development best practices, check out the best practice section on our blog. You can also learn more on how to integrate Megacool’s referral program from the Megacool Documentation.