Gardenscapes: A Push Notification Teardown
For fans of the casual gaming classic Candy Crush, Gardenscapes by Playrix may be the superstar hit of the COVID-19 lockdown days. As of April 2020, it had hit #2 in overall mobile games downloads worldwide. So we decided to see what all the hype was about, and take a closer look at their push notification strategy. What works, what doesn’t, and how can they improve in future mobile engagement campaigns?
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What’s It Like to Play Gardenscapes?
The core game loop of Gardenscapes is pretty similar to Candy Crush. It offers bright colors, soothing noises, and low-energy gameplay that’s great for the end of the day when you need to unwind. The gist is you beat levels by swapping fruits, flowers, and acorns to get 3 in a row, thereby exploding them. Explode enough, and you can achieve small goals, such as finding all the garden gnomes. Get enough 4+ combos and the game rewards you with bombs, dynamite, and rainbow blasters that can clear out larger portions of the screen. The randomized patterns mean gameplay can be endless.
Adding variety to the core loop is the background story. You have inherited a decrepit mansion, and helping you clean it up is your trusty butler Austin. Austin assigns you various side tasks and mini-quests – such as build a treehouse, rake piles of leaves, etc. – as together you renovate the gardens. You get a touch of personalization, as Austin consults you on what types of trees to plant, what style of fountain to build, and so on.
Another creative touch that sets Gardenscapes apart from similar games is how there are different competitions and side quests to keep you entertained if you get bored with swapping fruits. There is a wild swamp to tame, apples to gather, and a fireworks show to manage. There’s even a low-key narrative that you unlock as you advance in the game. You can adopt a dog from a shelter and befriend other NPCs from around the neighborhood. You can even snoop on Austin’s social media feed, where you can see his friends and family leaving comments.
Gardenscapes Gameplay and Monetization
Gardenscapes’ monetization tactics are pretty straightforward. The game itself is free-to-play (F2P). However each time you fail to beat a round, you lose a heart. You can store 5 hearts at a time, and once you run out you need to wait for a set amount of time for them to recharge. (Or you can earn a set time period of infinite hearts, whether by completing side quests and opening treasure chests, or inviting friends to download the game.) Otherwise, you can purchase gold coins which you can then exchange for goodies to boost gameplay, such as bombs, rainbow blasters, and so on.
Image Source: Gardenscapes screenshot
However, if you’re patient, you can enjoy the game more pretty much the same without sinking money into it. In fact, there’s a nifty “Wheel of Fortune” feature that lets you spin for a random prize once per day. So you can rack up a decent stash of trinkets in a few days without much commitment. Otherwise, there are no ads or anything else you need to perform in exchange for gameplay.
How Were Their Push Notifications?
I was not overly impressed with the push notifications I received over a few weeks of playing Gardenscapes. None of them seemed to be necessary to gameplay. And I don’t think I ever actually clicked on one, except for when I received a notification telling me it was time for my daily wheel spin.
The pre-permission notification for iPhones was not particularly informative or inspiring. And if I didn’t have a blog post to write, I probably would have turned them off after the first day or so. Notifications weren’t invasive or annoying… I’d usually get one overnight, then a handful interspersed over the course of the day. However, neither were they very interesting. They were mostly just invitations to come back into the game, citing various activities going on in the Gardenscapes universe.
While offering a reward or a discount is always a shrewd move, the fact that I occasionally received multiple notifications at once meant I was more likely to ignore both.
The Gardenscapes app is translated into 13 different languages, and I was happy to see push notifications were localized to reflect that. However, after switching back and forth between English and Spanish, I noticed that their push notifications couldn’t keep track of which language I was playing in. So they just sent me ALL the notifications.
Overall, the notifications were very generic and unpersonalized. Although they made good use of emoticons and deep links, they seemed like automated, one-size-fits-all messages that get blasted out to all users. They came at randomized times, and were usually just trying to wheedle or bribe me back into the app. Sometimes it was to tell me that my hearts were renewed. Sometimes it was to inform me that a task had finished, and I should come back and look at the results. This was an unnecessary hassle which I didn’t care for… I will come back and look at your landscaping work when I’m good and ready, Austin the Butler!
For such a relaxing game, their push notification strategy seemed sadly misinformed. They seemed to be focusing on the wrong aspects of their game. They felt generic and poorly timed. Not once did they address me by name. Nor was their content interesting or engaging enough to motivate me to open the app. And for such a whimsical and wholesome game, I would have expected more from its notifications.
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