User retention in mobile games is what every free-to-play indie developer wishes for. To ensure the retention rates of your Mobile Games, you need to plan ahead & elaborate a sound strategy. Otherwise, your users will never integrate your game as a part of their daily (or hourly) routine.
We gathered the most valuable tips from Industry Experts to help you tweak & boost the user retention of your Mobile Games. Keep growing your user base, as well as improve your short & long-term user retention rates.
We also encourage you to check our related article, "Strategies to grow the retention metrics of your Mobile Games" where you can find all the Key Retention Metrics you must know & learn how to build your own user retention formula.
- Make your First Impression Count
- Optimizing the Loading Screen
- Do NOT download everything at Once
- Create Interactive & Personalized Tutorials
- Time and Energy Mechanics
- Check Markets with Geopolitical Changes
- Personalized Push Notifications to Reactivate Users
- In-App Events & Promos to boost User Loyalty
- Do NOT Overload Users with Ads, make them Relevant
- Use Rewarded Ads to balance your In-App Purchases
- Surprise Your Valuable Players with Bonuses
- Extend Premium Services to Increase User Retention
- Use the right Channels to build Long-Term Relationships
- ALWAYS Soft Launch your Games
- Iterate the User Retention of your Mobile Games
1. Make Your First Impression Count
First impressions count even in the world of mobile.
On average, user retention in mobile games is around 20% to 40% one day after install. On top of that, more than half of the users retained after Day 1 abandon the app after a week.
The only thing a user is looking for when running the app for the first time is to get to know it. Your goal is to introduce your app in a simple but effective way.
It takes just 2 minutes for a user to define whether he likes your app or not. Players aren’t interested in spending a lot of time learning how to use your game (or any app, for that matter). Once they turn it on, they want to start playing it immediately.
To put the best version of your app forward, show your user what he’s looking for. With a cooking app, that might be a recipe for gourmet meals. If you’re working with a game, waste no time and send him directly to the gameplay.
Be easy on Ads or Forms during the First Session
Next, make things easy on your new audience by allowing them to skip log-ins and get started playing. Removing this barricade to access gets them playing right away and increases your user retention rates. If you include intuitive controls and quick tutorials, you can translate this instant access into a hooked player.
Pro-tip: Go easy on your new users and allow them to enjoy the game a bit before introducing ads.
At all costs, avoid sections that require filling something in.
Demonstrating the app first is more efficient than distracting the user with various registrations and having to enter personal information.
The less action they have to take before enjoying your game and its benefits, the lower the probability that your users skip out. That will boost the user retention metrics in your mobile game.
2. Optimize the Loading Screen
Curiosity strikes every app user. With so many applications and games, it’s hard to resist taking a peek at them all.
While curiosity might encourage a user to give your app a try, it’s a double-edged sword. Who’s to say that anyone will be patient enough to wait for your app to finish downloading. There are so many eye-catching options on the market!
To mitigate the problem, consider your user’s ever-shortening attention span.
A mobile app or game download shouldn’t take longer than 10 seconds. Each second of delay results in the loss of users and decreases your user retention metrics. Challenge your developers to optimize the application so that the download takes as little time as possible.
Some important resources might be downloaded after the user sees the main menu or enjoys picking the funky screensaver.
Even if your application requires an internet connection, it should not interfere with the overall load. Let the user know that the internet is off while the application is running.
Keep users around and boost your user retention by making the download of the application interactive. Using an indicator of the load is a good starting point.
The downside of Loading Bars: When the mobile game download slowly or the progress bar freezes for a second or two, users may start to wonder if the app works at all or if the download is frozen.
Show your users the app works before they decide to drop it like yesterday’s news.
Tips to increase User Retention on Loading Screens
- Add animated elements to the download bar to show that the application is running.
- Use a bright and detailed image at the loading screen to give a positive first impression.
- Divide a long-lasting download into several steps with a separate image attached to each one.
The previous ones are smart ways to reset the internal clock of the user. They won’t say exactly how long the download actually took but will have noticed 2 or 3 snazzy loading screens.
3. Do Not Download Everything at Once
Many developers create an application of a random volume, and then reduce its amount to 10MB, so all the data can be downloaded right at the start.
This method has its pros and cons in your user retention metrics. It may look more attractive to the user, but it also comes at a risk, as it increases the loading time by minutes and eliminates the ability to run the application offline.
The bigger problem? It widens the gap between the installation and the actual usage of the application.
Pro Tip: Minimize spooling by cutting the downloadable content into blocks, and download it gradually as the user moves on the application.
As a developer, you should always ask yourself: “What do I want to show in the first place?” Most likely, the downloaded data won’t be necessary right from the start or in the first 10 minutes.
4. Create Interactive & Personalized Tutorials
How do you lose a user in less than 10 seconds? Screen tutorial text, and watch him drift away.
Instead, let your user get his feet wet without much interference. Suggest performing basic tasks by himself, make directions via pointers and let him experiment.
First, always get your players involved in the game from the start; if you can get them to understand the objective of your game in 3 taps, the higher will be your user retention rate.
You’ll have to A/B test your tutorial a lot. First, predict the script of the user’s behavior and help them to get through all the stages of learning consistently without overloading them with too much information. Teach them the basics, and he will overcome the rest of the information on his own.
You may split your tutorial into parts if it’s complex or long. Create multiple blocks of information – the user will absorb it easier step by step.
For a game, you may show tutorials as new content appears.
If it is an app, start the interactive part of the tutorial when the user opens a new chapter for the first time. This gives you a chance to onboard the user and showcases the app’s functionality, while increasing your user retention metrics.
For more tips on how to make a good tutorial that will increase the user retention of your mobile game, check this article.
5. Consider Your Time and Energy Mechanics
To keep your player involved in your game, include time and duration mechanics. Always focus on the game’s fundamental source of entertainment.
When looking at these mechanics, keep the game’s value front and center. Activities that tap into the value and pleasure of the game can be broken up into more than one session. This encourages the user to return again and again to check on its status. Mechanics like these can really increase user retention in your mobile games.
As you can see below, Episode by PocketGems follows a similar strategy. Passes are required to continue each story by starting a new episode; players can either wait for them to replenish their passes, or purchase additional ones:
6. Check Markets with Geopolitical Changes
If your app has an international reach, one of the first things you can do—if you haven't already— is to analyze how the geopolitical changes in specific countries are impacting your users.
Covid-19 showed us how relevant are the social movements inside a country or state. In geographical areas with a hard lockdown, people had to spend more time inside their homes with lots of spare time. This new routine changed the behavior of users with their mobile apps and video games.
In the analytics tool for your mobile video game, you may detect new user-flows, longer user sessions, and more daily sessions for specific markets.
Detect changes in the user behavior of certain markets, and use these new data to come up with new approaches to increase your user retention metrics.
Improve your Marketing Campaigns, optimize your Push Notification strategy, and adapt your Ad Placements to improve your monetization. You can also detect which features users are your users interacting with, collect data usage, redesign them, and promote them to new audiences.
7. Personalized Push Notifications to Reactivate Users
You may already have searched for new patterns and user behaviors in your app. And yet the KPIs and user retention rates in your mobile game remain the same. There doesn't seem to be any noticeable changes in any of your markets.
Push Notifications are the best way to make your users remember that your app exists.
The trick is to avoid generic messages and personalize them to your audience instead. For activities or goals that require multiple sessions, encourage players to return with push notifications about what’s been completed or how many minutes they have remaining to move to the next stage.
A sense of urgency always motivates players. Retention rates get especially boosted if users feel they may lose progress and have a solid idea of what is waiting for them.
Incorporate weekly releases of new content with your notifications. This way you tap into a sense of predictability as people know when to check back, but you also leverage that element of surprise as they don’t know they’ll find it when they return.
Also, think about the timing of your request for push notification privileges. A request right after launch is likely to be ignored. Let your players feel the value of your game; then, make the request for push notifications with a personalized message.
Send relevant messages to your users to boost user retention in mobile games & apps. Connect with them through this challenging situation that we are all experiencing. Find ways to cover their new needs, promote features that you have detected your users interacting with the most, and above all, give them something valuable.
You will find in your analytic tools what your users are waiting for from you.
8. In-App Events & Promos to boost User Loyalty
You have sent your Push Notification, and your inactive users are now returning to your application. Your KPIs improve! However, after a few days, your metrics stop growing, and you are back to the way you were before.
Prepare an action plan with lots of content to boost your user retention rates.
Your users will devour your app, and you better be ready with some new content for them. Plan in-app events, marketing promotions, or trial features. Add new features to your user experience.
It is time to be creative. Show your users that you really care and you're here for them.
To keep your players involved in your game, build in customization. A personalized playing experience is much more engaging than a generic one, no matter the genre. Allow players to choose their own names, backgrounds, avatars, music, language and more whenever possible, and create content using the data they provided to you.
Cross-Promotions may increase your user retention too
If you have launched other apps, you can promote them too.
Mobile games that promote other games in the form of daily challenges, quests, and tournaments often see higher conversion rates and more engaged players. This strategy is called meta-games and is designed to cross-sell. The right meta-game on the welcome screen can encourage a player to try another game from your portfolio while increasing session length and/or frequency in the current game at hand.
If you do it right, not only will you boost your short-term user retention, but you will also improve your User Loyalty and get better metrics in the long run.
9. Do NOT Overload Users with Ads, make them Relevant
If you have a free app and mobile ads are your only monetization channel, ad revenue is your bread and butter. But before you begin showing ads, focus on engagement.
Your first step is to get your new user eager for more by showing off the app’s highlights. This technique results in a much warmer welcome than a full-on ad assault. It also gives the user a chance to like the app and come back, thereby maximizing your customer’s lifetime value.
If you’re worried about the revenue you lost by not displaying ads immediately, consider a different approach by using mediation.
By automatically mediating the price of every ad impression with over 70 networks through Appodeal, you’ll make the most of your revenue. The time you save on not having to manage waterfalls can be reinvested into making your apps as entertaining and captivating as possible.
10. Use Rewarded Ads to balance your In-App Purchases
The right ad format can increase user retention in mobile games.
Rewarded videos give users a taste of in-app purchases, encourage them to interact with the game, and truly reward them for engagement.
Use them as boosters within your game after the player levels up or otherwise achieves a difficult goal. If you do decide to show rewarded videos after a failure, limit them to once per session, so they retain their value.
Free-to-play games give you the perfect environment to A/B test your ad placements, optimize the ad frequency of your Rewarded Videos, and even offer new rewarded in-app features.
Powering up your Rewarded Ads, and we could include here the two previous tips too, can benefit you in the long-term by:
- Increasing the tolerance of users to receive more ad impacts and marketing communications
- Improving the conversion funnels of premium features for your VIP users
- Boosting your Long-Term User Retention and the Loyalty of your overall community.
11. Surprise Your Valuable Players with Bonuses
If your metrics show that your paying users are lowering the frequency of In-App Purchases, your ARPPU will most likely decrease.
For Free-to-play games, it is highly important to retain VIP Users. When your most valuable players lose their premium privileges, they may feel unmotivated, start playing less frequently, and ultimately uninstall the app.
One way to avoid decreasing your user retention in a mobile game, is to give virtual credits or currencies to your players.
The same way banks give loans, most of the mobile games have virtual currencies that developers can leverage.
You can open a free pass to premium game levels in exchange for a percentage of their rewards, or open a piggy bank where they store the earnings they acquired on those premium features.
Giving users virtual credits, however, does have its pitfalls. A poorly thought out approach can unbalance your game economy and negatively affect the user experience. But those devs who take the time to test virtual credits with their VIP users so that they can keep their current status may get a better chance to retain them.
This way, you will boost the retention of your most valuable and loyal users even when they need to take a break of your IAPs. They will continue engaging in current or future events and enjoy all the benefits of premium In-App features for a while.
Two big don’ts when rewarding users:
- Don’t punish players for failing to log in by taking away too many vital resources. You may find yourself pushing away reactivated players. If a player comes back and finds all of his hard work has been destroyed, he has little to no motivation to return.
- Don’t give out the same bonuses every single time a player launches a session. If you eliminate the surprise factor, whatever you’re giving away feels less valuable and players may lose interest.
And an even bigger do:
- Do reward players with special currency, tools, or some other key item regularly in the beginning and taper it off as needed. Double up on rewards periodically to maintain that element of surprise.
12. Extend Premium Services to Increase User Retention
Some mobile apps & game experts have started extending the premium services to their loyal users.
If your mobile app or game has a premium service, you can boost user retention in your mobile game when you notice that many users are canceling their subscriptions. Turn this problem into an opportunity.
Online universities started free courses; streaming companies offered premium videos to profoundly affected regions during Covid lockdown. Even some stores offer essential goods for free, like food and soap, to those who are struggling.
You may release your premium services for free to shifting markets during short periods of time. Or even send automated messages to users who unsubscribe from your VIP programs. Offer them personalized discounts, or extend that premium service.
Take the personalization factor up a notch by segmenting your users into targeted groups. Allow new users to get accumulated to the game by only showing ads after 5 minutes of gameplay or disabling ads altogether for power players who have already made in-app purchases.
Tactics like those may make a dent in your app revenue. But, letting your users free limited access to your premium service, may convince them to acquire it in the future when the promotion is over.
If you struggle with PR (Public Relations), here's an excellent guide on How to Develop a Successful PR Strategy in 2021, by Vlad Orlov from Respona.
If you give it a try, be sure to coordinate it with a proper public relations strategy. Solidary actions usually get people's attention & positive comments on Social Media, and users receive them with great enthusiasm. Share it on social media and get the press and the relevant media to talk about it if possible.
Your app may even go viral and increase, not only the user retention rates but, also, your Organic traffic & installs.
13. Use the right Channels to build Long-Term Relationships
Once you put into action your user retention strategy and marketing promotions, you will get all kinds of reactions from your users.
Your app may receive positive feedback, good reviews, questions, suggestions, and even comments from users who have gone through bad experiences and unexpected errors.
Once that happens -and, be sure, it will happen- you must direct each user to the channel where you're able to give them the best user experience.
When automating engagement actions in your marketing channels (such as in-app messages, social media, etc.), check that your users reach the platforms you want them to land.
Many indie devs with poor user retention rates believe that their users have seamless experiences because they hardly receive support tickets. And yet, when they dive deep into their App Stores and social media, it's not hard to find lots of unsolved complaints and bug reports that never got an answer.
Loyal users that spend plenty of time in your game app love to share their experiences. Be aware that they aren't trying to contact you through channels that you may not be tracking.
Analyze the engagement ratio on your channels: your social media, community forums, App Store, etc.
Find out if your users reach the support platform you have chosen. Are they comfortable and using it correctly? Or are you receiving all sorts of communications through other channels that you didn't anticipate?
Loyal users may become Evangelists
Once your player is hooked on your game, it’s time to bring in friends to keep the user retention up high. Allow players to invite friends via social media; let them work together to achieve the game’s objectives.
You can even build a “sharing community” where players share advice and help each other. As this community develops, use your own social media platforms such as an internal forum, Facebook page, or wiki to interact with diehard fans.
14. To succeed, ALWAYS Soft Launch your Games
Prepare for a soft launch. It will give you insights into where your users abandon your game so that you can make adjustments quickly. Look for feedback on your game’s performance on different devices and in different regions.
As you tweak your game based on the feedback, keep notes of any troubleshooting tips you might want to include in your ASO (App Store Optimization) description. Letting your user base that you're still working and improving your game may increase your retention rates too.
Know your metrics. Check our articles on LTV for Mobile Games (Life-Time Value), and ARPDAU & other retention metrics. Those are all good starting points. If you want more in-depth info, you can also take a look at our Definitive Guide of Growth 2021 for a better idea of which metrics you should be tracking.
15. Iterate the User Retention in your Mobile Games
It is easier said than done, but it is the reality. To increase the User Retention in your Mobile Games, you must be constant, iterate and A/B testing new things.
The feeling among Indie Developers is that user retention in mobile games is getting harder and more complex. Markets are shifting, and more consolidated publishers are entering the scene. However, the opportunities are still there, and we can find lots of new games climbing up the top charts.
From Appodeal, we believe in you, and we have released our Accelerator Program. Hundreds of Indie Developers are self-publishing their games through our growth platform, keeping their IP (Intellectual Property) rights. Feel free to discover all the advantages of self-publishing your mobile games.
But most importantly, we hope we have thrown some light in this article.
Use all the previous tips to improve user retention in your mobile games and apps. Rethink your ad and monetization strategy, fix measurement issues, try new waterfall setups, configure new price floors, and be sure that your maximum demand is included in your mediation setup.
Prepare your tech stack, strengthen your relationships with your existing customers, and be creative. Contact our support team in case you have any questions or issues with your monetization performance.
Now is the time to turn your app into a top-earning hit!