This article first ran on this site in October 2013. We re-run it in the wake of the author’s appointment as the Conservative Party’s Deputy Chairman. He is MP for Braintree.
Many of you will have played this addictive on-line game. For those who haven’t let me explain, Candy Crush presents the player with a series of puzzles. To solve them you need to arrange brightly coloured sweets into groups of three or more to clear them from the board. Compared to some of the ultra-realistic games currently available the graphics are simple; indeed, the whole game has an unsophisticated feel.
Despite this, Candy Crush has earned the company that created it, King Digital, hundreds of millions of dollars through direct payments and a $6 billion valuation at their recent IPO. We should learn from their success.
Look on any commuter train, and you will see people hunched over their phones or iPads trying to get past a particularly tricky level. People who could, and probably should, be doing something more productive are spending both time and money (more on this later) on this seemingly childish and basic-looking game.
The game is free and available via Facebook or the app stores on mobile phones. It requires no trip to the shops, no software upgrade and no up-front financial transaction. Candy Crush sits on digital platforms that people already use and that already have their payment details. Being both free and readily available means that it is easy for people just to give it a try: almost all of the barriers to entry have been removed.
Lesson one: make it free and really easy to get involved with the party. The Connect 2015 system is a massive step in the right direction in terms of convenience, but we still have a long way to go in removing the barriers between the party and potential activists/members. How many Associations set aside free tickets at events for regular Conservative pledges as a means to convert them into activists or members? There are plenty of other things which draw on people’s time and money, and we need to recognise that and change our habits accordingly.
Once someone has dipped their toe in the water, what next? Candy Crush, like most other successful computer games, makes its early levels very easy and initial progress fast. This quick success provides almost instant gratification and emotional pay-off. This is followed by another opportunities for success which takes a little longer and are progressively harder. It is all designed to get people into the habit of playing the game.
So our second lesson is to ensure that we deliver quick wins to new activists. Imagine what a buzz it would be if your first involvement with the party had been in the last few weeks of the Newark or Crewe & Nantwich by-elections. New activists would quickly see the impact of their actions and a positive election result would leave them wanting more. Think of how many activists we’ve lost because their first time out with us was on a cold and dreary night, in a Labour stronghold, with two other people who went straight home afterwards! A mantra of the Obama campaign was that everyone who came into contact with it, in whatever capacity, should have a positive experience.
Clearly, we don’t have a ready supply of winnable by elections, but a bit of thought can ensure that we link newly recruited activists to positive outcomes; that we take them for a coffee or a beer after their first time out; that when they first see us, they see us at our best.
Although online games like Candy Crush are free to play they generate a huge amount of revenue via in game purchases. These are often less than a pound, and enable players to overcome a particularly difficult section by buying a boost. Bought via the credit/debit card details which are already in the ITunes or Facebook system these micro-payments are both quick and convenient. One or two clicks and the player has spent 68p, easy! Now, 68p won’t buy much, but if enough people do it often enough it starts to add up, Kind Digital made $568 Million profit last year, mainly from Candy Crush..
Lesson three is to make fundraising as convenient, quick and relevant as it is in the game. I flick back through my chequebook stubs and the only entries are for Conservative functions. I don’t use it for anything else; indeed, almost no one else wants cheques these days. Why can’t I donate via iTunes or by text?
The other big advantage of digital payments is the potential for topical and tactical use. In the games you spend money to achieve a specific and immediate goals, we should do likewise. When UKIP’s candidate in Croydon called the area he hopes to represent “a dump”, I should have received a message saying something like “UKIP have just called Croydon a dump, click here to help Croydon Conservatives remind people how much they’ve done to help the area improve”. If a day or two after donating I received another message saying “have a look at the video we produced with your help”, I might be well inclined to donate again the next time I’m asked.
Micro-payments only work when you’ve got a large user base, which is why Candy Crush is always recruiting players. At every stage in the game you are given the opportunity to flaunt your achievements to your social media friends and invite them to emulate your success. In addition to spending money to get boosts, you can get an even bigger advantage by recruiting new players or getting lapsed players to start playing again.
The fourth lesson, then, is: always be recruiting. Bragging rights, as the Americans would say, are important. Social media games provide opportunities for people to show their high scores, share their medal tally or attach success markers to their on-line avatars. Such things should not be underestimated. Public recognition of effort and success are now and have always been powerful motivators.
Lesson five: the party should publicly reward activists’ achievements. We have an excellent telephone canvassing system that can be used from home: how about the top ten callers each year get a free conference pass, and an invite to a reception with David Cameron and other senior party members? Similar schemes could be put in place for the top recruiters, top deliverers etc. To keep those who aren’t in the very top tiers motivated, we could have a series of regional receptions to thank and reward those who have helped the party most, and how about a distinctive and exclusive pin or tie for them to wear at party events. It could be the political equivalent of a sporting blue.
Political parties and online computer games are not the same, but one sector is seeing massive year on year growth and the other, quite frankly, isn’t. As a party we need to learn from the games sector which has got mass participation right, and use their strategies to recruit, retain and utilise supporters, activists and members.