January 18, 2021

Top Strategies to Grow the Retention Rates of your Mobile Games

Learn all the Key Retention metrics for your Mobile Game launch, how to build your Retention Formula and Top Strategies to Improve your Retention Rates.

You’re about to launch your next mobile game into the markets. You probably already have done it. You’re definitely expecting good results, and you’re checking the retention rates of your mobile games to see how the users are enjoying them.

However, the metrics you’re getting don’t reach your expectations, not even the industry standards. The panic runs into your veins, and you’re having second thoughts.

All mobile app developers who decide to launch their projects have felt this way before. Maybe even you, after reading these lines, can recognize yourself in the previous situation.

Lately, I have been receiving a lot of requests to get help on this topic. The struggle is so real that we have decided to create a series of articles around relevant topics. Starting from you need to know about LTV for Mobile Games; How to Improve the CPI & ARPU of your UA Campaigns; and tips for creating the best Video Ad Creatives for Mobile Games.

Today we’re bringing a list of all the Key Retention Metrics indie developers should focus on their Mobile Game Launch.

You will learn how to build your Retention Formula; and the most efficient Strategies to Improve the Retention Rates of your mobile games.

Summary for this article:

Key Retention Metrics for your Mobile Games

At Appodeal, we still find many game developers (mostly indies) that launch their games to the global market without doing a proper technical launch or even a soft launch.

We have often emphasized the importance of Soft Launching your projects. We have even created a “How to Run a Game Concept Test” 20-page guide that you can download for free.

However, some developers still ask us which retention metrics should they check during their soft launch.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. The answer will vary depending on the genre, the core audience, mechanics of your games... You’ll have to decide which ones fit better to your mobile game.

From our experience, quite often, developers check the wrong metrics or expect unrealistic high values. When that happens, it’s easy to take the wrong steps or make wrong decisions.

In Appodeal, we have already listed some of the most relevant retention metrics you can track from your Appodeal Dashboard. Below, you can find them in full detail:

Day 0 Retention

We’re starting with a metric that not many developers use, and it’s not 100% necessary either. Day-0 retention lets you know the percentage of users who return within 24h after installing the app on their devices.

A useful metric to quickly understand the retention of the features you’ve integrated. Find if they are working as intended or if anything is blocking the user’s game experience.

Day 1 Retention

Shows the percentage of users that open your app one day after the install. Learn the first impression that the players get from your mobile game. It will tell you how likely they are to remember your game and come back.

Tutorial Retention

Even hyper-casual games have a tutorial, and your game should have one too. It’s a good way to control the user's experience and be sure nothing awkward exists during their first encounter.

You don't have to bother that much with the industry averages for this metric during the soft launch phase. Instead, focus on growing your Tutorial Retention value after each new version you release.

Tutorial Conversion

Tutorial Conversions tells you how many users have already gone through the Learning Phase. Once they passed the tutorial, they (should have) understood what your game is about.

Your tutorial should have several events, depending on how many steps they have. This way, you can check at which specific moment they have churned during their tutorial experience. Don’t be shy about how many events you place in your tutorial. This is a crucial moment in the user experience. The tutorial is the first date they have with your game, and they must fall in love with it.

Depending on when they churn, you’ll get exactly what you need to tweak in your tutorial.

Every genre has its needs. Maybe your tutorial experience is too long, maybe too short. Or maybe it’s overly complicated, or it doesn't show enough meat. The best approach here is to segment your users and tweak them in both directions.

Speed of Tutorial Conversion

Related to the previous paragraph, you may want to check how much time the average user spends on your tutorial.

Do not worry too much about data anomalies. Some people do weird stuff. Users may get stuck in the tutorial for weeks or even months. Just focus on the average, and you’ll be safe.

Skip Rate

Some mobile games give the option to skip the tutorial. It’s something you should consider once you get several updates. Your churned users may come back, and they most definitely will want to skip the tutorial.

User Session Length

The user session length indicates how long users play your game. The user session starts when users open the app, until it is closed and sent to the background. That shouldn't vary, no matter what analytic tool you use.

User session length varies from game to game, but in most cases, longer is better.

Each genre has its average session length, and they vary a lot between each other. People spend an average of 4 minutes on Arcade games; in puzzle games, the average is up to 8 minutes; and average casino games have user session lengths over 12 minutes. And the user session lengths of top games go way longer than that.

User Sessions per Day

Sometimes indie game developers worry too much about the user session length. Still, they completely forget about the average number of sessions that a user plays their games in a day.

Check again your current monetization strategy and the mechanics of your game. You may get more Ad Impressions by having 7 daily sessions, each one of 5 minutes long (35 min total), rather than 3 daily sessions of 7 min each (21 min total).

There are dozens of case studies of games showing how longer user sessions burn players and reduce long-term retention. This ends up in a drop in the LTV.

You may have a growth opportunity by forcing your users to stop playing your mobile game. Make them come back later wanting for more. Still, do not approach this strategy without extensive testing.

User Progression Unit (AKA User Level)

This metric is mostly known as “% of users that reached X level.” However, after the tutorial, there are so many possibilities depending on the game genre that not everyone can track the “User Level.”

Create a metric based on the “currency” or “unit” that your game uses to track the user progression.

While most games use levels, there can be exceptions. An endless-runner may use meters/feet, a casino game may use “coins,” and a strategy game could even use “conquered territories.”

Use what you must, but don’t forget this one. It will be useful to create progression graphs, find bottlenecks, and increase your retention rates by improving in-game features. Not just in the gameplay, but also in marketing offers, bonuses, etc.

7-Day Retention

The number of players that have returned 7 days after they have installed the game. While D1 showed memorability and likeability, D7 (apart from the obvious mechanics’ engagement) shows your game's potential to convert non-paying users to paying users. They will help you generate constant flows of revenue.

30-Day Retention

The share of players that have returned 30 days after they have installed the game. This is a useful metric to detect if your game can attract paying users. Those that will spend higher amounts of money through in-app purchases.

30-Day retention is also a relevant metric for mobile games that expect to have a strong base of long-term non-paying users. It will determine if you need to integrate or optimize your rewarded video ads.

Mid-term & long-term such as 7D & 30D retention metrics are not that important during your game launch. Still, they are worth mentioning in this article since they have a strong importance in Ad Revenues.

The more your non-paying users stay on your app, the higher the opportunities for you to send them Ad Impressions and get revenues from them. 

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We’ve gone through the most important retention metrics in the mobile app & gaming industry. Now it is time to focus on skyrocketing those metrics.

Building the Retention Formula for your Mobile Games

As a mobile developer, you will definitely want to establish the most meaningful retention rates for your mobile games. For that, you need to stop thinking like a developer and think of the player that will enjoy your game.

First, Define which Actions your Players should take

Videogames are complex, and mobile games are no exception.

Imagine that your game is a ladder or a stair. Each step is a stage in your business conversion funnel. To move to the next step, users have to:

  1. Perform certain actions,
  2. Reach certain milestones,
  3. Or spend a specified amount of time.

Do you know which actions, milestones, or key points of interest your players have to do to move forward in each step of your game?

You may think this is a dumb question. Many apps and game developers get lost when trying to define these steps or actions. It is not because they don’t know which actions, but this is a tricky question; usually, what developers think is a simple action or an easy milestone. When users have to do it during their gameplays, they get completely lost.

In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf’s critical action was to reach Mordor and destroy the ring. However, the adventures the hobbits had to endure to reach Mount Doom were… well, we ended up with three long books/movies.

Gandalf, at the beginning of the story, never thought about traveling with the eagles. Otherwise, Frodo could have easily thrown the ring into the lava from the heights and fly away safely.

So, first things first, list all the critical actions that your players must go through. There, you will identify the so-called “pain points”. Pain points are places, features, or moments during your game where players will rather shoot themselves in the foot instead of going through them.

Only then, you’ll be able to divide them into several stages in your retention funnel. After that, elaborate and apply strategies & methodologies to ease the “pain” in these points.

You will be creating your unique Retention Formula for your game.

Then, Optimize your Critical Actions & Define the Retention Timeframes

If you find that your list of critical actions is too big, or you can’t totally identify if all the actions you listed are truly critical, there are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • What am I offering here?
  • What value does that give to my players?
  • Is this exciting enough for my players?
  • What would my players rather do instead?
  • What is the meaning of life?

The list of questions is infinite, and it will depend on the type of game you’re designing.

Be as critical as possible. If you are out of ideas, or you have a hard way finding your games' pain points, play your competitors' games. Sometimes it’s easier to point out the “pain points” of projects you’re not involved in.

Once you've finished listing all your critical actions, it will be time to...

Define the time frames that your players need to complete them

Some critical actions happen once, and some others are part of a loop in your players’ experience.

For example, finishing the tutorial is something that users will only do once. However, you may want your users to click on the "in-app purchase” or the “watch rewarded video ad” button as many times as possible.

To determine the timeframe of your critical actions and establish a course of action, you can follow this four-step process:

  1. Grab the data from all the users that have done the critical action.
  2. Check how long it took them to complete the action a second time.
  3. Divide them into groups/segments depending on how much time they need.
  4. Start defining strategies for each segment of users.

It’s easy to start but hard to master. Depending on your game's complexity, you’ll find that putting this 4-step process into practice is time-consuming… but your game deserves it.

In the future, we will make more articles expanding this process. By now you have already identified the two most important things in your Retention Formula. The steps & the Timeframes.

Now, let’s talk about how to increase the retention metrics we were talking about before.

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Strategies to Grow the Retention Rates of your Mobile Games

You have identified your Critical Actions. You have listed the Timeframes for each critical action. Now, you want to define strategies to boost the retention rates of your mobile games.

At this point, you may already have some ideas about what you want to improve. Still, we want your game to become a top-earning hit, and we have prepared some ideas for you.

Tweak your Tutorial: Make them fall in love with you.

The tutorial is the onboarding experience in your mobile game. That makes it one of the most crucial key processes of your retention strategy.

Players usually are impatient and don’t believe in second chances. They won’t think twice before leaving a F2P (free-to-play) game and never coming back.  It’s not that they have invested anything, and by leaving, they aren’t losing anything either. 

When a user opens your game for the first time, they are in an “exploration mode”. They wish to learn as minimum things as possible to start having the joyful experience the game promises them. Therefore, you must lead your users into optimal actions and make everything easy for them.

Once you’ve tweaked your tutorial, you reach its best possible version, and you can’t think of anything else to improve… check your analytics. They will tell you the truth and will point out if there’s any critical step during your tutorial where people are still churning.

The most common issues with tutorials are:

  1. very long,
  2. too complex,
  3. straightforward,
  4. over explanatory. 

The first one is quite obvious. The longer your tutorial is, the higher the chances you lose a share of your users on each stage. Users don’t usually want to stay long in the “exploration” phase and want the candy that they were promised.

If your game is complex, split the tutorials into several smaller ones and unlock mechanics as the user progresses. Give small triumphs before adding more complexity to the game, or you will frustrate them badly.

People also like to think that their game experience is unique. However, tutorials are usually always the same for everyone: a controlled environment to increase retention. Add non-relevant variables that vary between different gameplay. That can be a good incentive for users to stay in the tutorial.

And the last one, do not over-explain yourself. Allow your user to interact with other features that may grab their attention freely. If there’s a button, people will want to push it. If you don’t want them to go that way, don’t show that path… yet.

Push Notifications personalized & aligned with your Theme

When marketers talk about personalizing the Push notifications (and other types of communication), they usually mean two things:

The first one is that you must adapt and align your Push Notifications with your theme.

For example, let’s say you have created a city build manager mobile game. Certain characters around the city help you keep it in control: the mayor, the police officer, the accountant… a cool way to grab the user’s attention to use the user's favorite in-game character in your communication. Deliver your Push Notifications as if your characters were sending them.

A great push notification should not just look like that the app is trying to bring the player back. It should also add value to the user experience. Here's an eBook of 50 Best Examples of Push Notifications from Top Brands.

On the other side, personalizing a Push Notification it also means to...

Use the players’ data to deliver a unique experience

If your game asks your users a nickname, then use it! The same goes with their user level, their friends, the name of their favorite characters, the last feature they have used. Don't send them a generic message that will always be the same no matter what they’ve done. Go with something more unique. Make them feel acknowledged.

Following with the previous city manager, a personalized push notification would be something like: “Hey [username], you can’t abandon your city for [var_days-since-last-play]! The [var_feature-most-used] is in flames and [var_top-character] went rogue!

This kind of personalization goes to other communication methods. In-app messages, personalized offers, and any other way you reach your players' counts too.

Align your Retention Strategy with your Monetization Model

You want to retain your users for as long as possible. For that, your monetization model must be aligned with your retention strategy. 

Players will have longer user session lengths depending on the perceived quality of their game. Otherwise, users may not spend enough time on your app to consider purchasing in-apps or even watching rewarded video ads. 

Mobile game developers should find the balance between the UX (User eXperience) and the monetization methods in their games. 

Some game genres improve their retention rates by decreasing the number of promotions & in-app offers at the early stage of user experience. Instead, they monetize with non-intrusive in-app advertisements, such as rewarded video ads.

The rewards aren't just in-game money or hard currency.

Things you can trade through rewarded ads

  • unlock access to new areas,
  • temporary access to specific features,
  • multipliers of natural rewards,
  • even remove experience blockers (such as timers, lives, etc.)
  • and the list goes as long as your imagination can reach...

Players are always looking for the smartest and fastest approach to progress, and there are plenty of ways to make Retention and Monetization come together.

Encourage, Respond & React to your Feedback

Most of the players want to feel connected with the games they love.

Try to keep as many as possible ways for your players to reach you. They will tell you what they like, which features are frustrating them most, what they expect from your game, and new perspectives that you may not have considered.

Negative reviews can boost the retention rates of your mobile games too.

When negative reviews are answered back with a gentle and considerate touch, they can become positive reviews. Even more, you can turn a player who is about to churn into a loyal user. If you do, they may consider spending more time, more money, and even defend the glory of your game and assist other users in need of help.

Identify & Reward your Loyal Users

Usually, all the loyalty programs that work in mobile games have strong personalization features. The rewards they offer are valuable and meaningful for the player who receives them.

If your mobile game has 100k (or even 500k!) users, there’s a chance that they may have similar behavioral patterns and think more or less alike. However, the higher the number, the higher the chances your users don’t resemble each other at all. 

It’s common to classify top spenders or VIP users into one single category: loyal users. That becomes an issue when you decide to reward those users, and treat them the same way. As they say, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” 

Avoid irritating your loyal users by being attentive to what in-game features they use more, to which IAPs (In-App Purchases) do they spend more money, or their habits. You can even ask them what they want.

At this point, you may be thinking: “Why that much hassle about loyal users in a blog post focused on retention?”. 

First, because if you keep them entertained, engaged, and satisfied, they will...

  1. stay longer in your game,
  2. defend your brand against external toxic sources,
  3. debate about your game in public forums and communities,
  4. positively review it on the app stores,
  5. and fill the surroundings of your game with positive vibes. 

Top games have proved that feeling part of a greater cause, such as a community’s game, is a pulling effect that increases retention rates. And that pulling effect happens when these games generate those engaging vibes.

Summarizing: What is the best approach for you?

After listing all the metrics, ways to detect weaknesses in your retention models, and strategies to skyrocket the retention rates of your mobile games, there’s still something we still want to emphasize. There is no generic solution to boost your user engagement and retention metrics.

Just because the Push Notifications may seem to be working in your competitors’ apps, that does not mean that the same Push Nots will be the right ones for your mobile game.

Keep the perfect balance between all the retention strategies you decide to apply. Always assess and test, which is the best choice for your app. Ask yourself if that feature or method will be adding value to your users or if, instead, it will frustrate them. In the latter case, the best you can do is to review your options, improve them, and keep iterating.

The last thing you want is to push your users to another app that offers a greater value. Don't push them away from your game.

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